FOR EDUCATION IN LAW AND DEMOCRACY
Pledge of Allegiance: A Teachable Moment
Law requiring daily recitation of the Pledge passed in May 2003.
However, following a temporary Federal Court injunction, this law
will be re-considered by legislators during the 2004 legislative session.
about controversial public issues is an effective method for engaging
students in the work of citizens. Of course, teachers have numerous
controversial issues from which they can choose; even what appears to
be one issue—mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance,
for example—can embody several different issues and conflicts.
For example, some see the issue as involving freedom of religion, while
others see it as involving freedom of speech. Still others question
the efficacy of the policy (i.e., whether reciting the Pledge does develop
In deciding what issues to use in the classroom, teachers should consider
students—Is the issue age appropriate for the students?
Is it interesting enough to engage student interest but not so "hot"
that students cannot comfortably move past their own positions to
participate in reasoned inquiry and dialogue?
issue—Is the issue truly contested (that is, is opinion
about the right solution divided)? Does the issue present a clear
conflict between two "goods" (e.g., patriotism and individual
liberty)? Is the conflict one that has endured over time, manifesting
itself in different specific issues? Will teaching the issue help
reach an important curricular goal?
we would not advocate that all teachers should necessarily address the
issue of mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in their classes,
many will find themselves answering all of the above questions "Yes"
with respect to this issue. If they do—and they make the decision
to teach about the issue—they must decide how to frame the issue.
the Colorado legislation was passed, teachers Jason Barnes of Bear Creek
High School (Jefferson County Schools) and John Zola of New Vista High
School (Boulder Valley Schools) developed a lesson in which they framed
the issue as: "Should the phrase 'under God' be retained in or
removed from the Pledge of Allegiance?" Through a series of readings
related to the case from the 9th Circuit Federal Court for the Eastern
District of California, Michael
P. Newdow v. United States, students develop an understanding
of the arguments supporting and opposing the inclusion of this phrase
in the Pledge. They then write a persuasive letter advocating a position
on the phrase. A class discussion culminates the lesson. To get a copy
of this lesson, contact Jason
questions that might be used to frame the issue are:
the new law mandating recitation of the Pledge good public policy?
(Is it an effective way to achieve the legislature’s purpose
with minimal burdens on individuals?)
the new law constitutional?
the issues surrounding Colorado’s new Pledge of Allegiance
law are seen as a conflict between the need for national unity/patriotism
and individual liberty, does the law find the correct balance
between these competing values?