Require the Pledge?

2011-11-12T13:10:00Z 2011-11-15T12:18:04Z Require the Pledge?By JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
November 12, 2011 1:10 pm  • 

Thirty-one words.

That's the focus of a bill Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton said he will introduce in January when the state Legislature convenes in its regular session.

It's the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag that millions of children learn right away in school, and then recite hundreds of times a year.

The bill would require all K-12 classes in public schools to be led in a group recitation of the pledge.

And each classroom would be required to have an American flag displayed.

Now, schools are required only to have an American flag prominently displayed. And while many students across the state say the pledge each school day, it's not required by state law.

The Nebraska bill would be modeled after a Massachusetts law, which does not compel students to participate in the pledge. Michigan, one of the states that does not have a pledge law, has a bill before its senate that would mandate that every student recite the pledge.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled requiring the pledge in schools is unconstitutional unless it provides for parents or students to opt out.

The idea for Nebraska's bill came from Lincoln businessman Richard Zierke.

The ex-Marine was doing research one day for a flag-folding ceremony he does for school children and came across a page on the Internet that outlined state laws regarding the pledge in schools.

Nebraska, he learned, and six other states, the District of Columbia and two territories do not have a law that addresses the pledge.

"I said, 'This is crazy,'" Zierke said.

He called Fulton to report the craziness, and Fulton agreed to carry the bill.

Reciting the pledge teaches patriotism, Zierke said. It instills American exceptionalism. In that moment that kids are saying the pledge, they are thinking about their country. At least that's the hope.

In Zierke's mind, it's also a stepping stone to young people making decisions about how they could serve their country, he said, including stints in the military.

"I don't want to say my country is slipping away, but teaching patriotism and the flag is not being done," he said.

Zierke has been visiting superintendents and school principals to find out whether schools say the pledge.

In Lincoln Public Schools, it is most prevalent in elementary schools, said Randy Ernst, the district's social studies curriculum specialist. Kids in upper grades also may say the pledge, but there's no district requirement to do so daily.

All LPS students learn the Pledge of Allegiance, its meaning and its history, as a part of the elementary social studies curriculum.

There isn't a flag in every one of district's 2,000 classrooms, Ernst said, but most have one.

Students learn about patriotism. There's no high-stakes test for it, he said, but there is a high-stakes reality. Teachers are asked to help students understand what it means to support their country and keep a watchful eye as a citizen.

"We do what we can to produce good citizens," Ernst said.

Whether saying the Pledge of Allegiance daily makes students more patriotic has never been put to any kind of test, he said.

In most Omaha Public Schools classrooms, students are led in the pledge, which comes over the intercom into individual classrooms, spokeswoman Luanne Nelson said. Elementary classrooms have flags, but perhaps not all middle and high school classes, she said.

At Jackson Elementary, a pre-K-6 school that serves a diverse population at 31st and Leavenworth streets, students say the pledge every morning, along with an anti-bullying pledge, Principal Bryan Dunne said.

It's important to have a daily reminder to show the proper respect for the country and classmates, he said.

Mike Mason, curriculum and instruction director at Scottsbluff Public Schools, said the pledge is part of the morning routine in schools, particularly elementary schools. It is usually led by students.

And there's a flag in every classroom, he said.

At Raymond Central, the pledge is recited every morning in all grades, Superintendent Paul Hull said.

A bill requiring the pledge likely would go to the Legislature's Education Committee, headed by Sen. Greg Adams of York. The key to the bill getting out of committee, he said, is whether it can accomplish what its advocates say it can.

Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, chairman of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, said Nebraska has a strong ethic of local control of schools, and he would be reluctant to tell districts what they must do every day in the classroom.

As the saying goes, "If it's not broken, don't fix it," he said.

"What's the problem we're trying to fix here?" Avery asked.

He would want all kids to know the Pledge of Allegiance, but it sounds like they are learning it, he said.

The symbols of nationalism and statehood are unifying, he said. But it doesn't mean much if a person doesn't have an attachment and affection for those symbols.

"You can't make kids be patriotic," Avery said. "You can force kids to observe the symbols of patriotism under duress, but that's not going to make then internalize it."

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

 

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