by Max Brantley
John Brummett joins those defending young Will Phillips, the thoughtful West Fork fifth-grader who decided his conscience wouldn't allow him to mindlessly recite the Pledge of Allegiance in class each morning. He came up against a bull-headed substitute teacher who tried to coerce him and he wound up disciplined -- not for refusing the pledge, supposedly -- but on the pretext that he sassed the teacher.
Having our little kids stand up in public school and salute a piece of cloth to vow faithfulness to their nation is harmless in nearly all cases, like a rhythmic and memorized child’s prayer before meals or at bedtime.
But a mass forced pledging of nationalistic allegiance is, when you really think about it, a perversion of the greater notion that we love and support our country by our own choice and for the very freedoms it grants us, including the freedom not to have to spew officially required words or mantras or chants.
I’m not saying we need to stop the rote practice each morning in our schools. I’m just saying we should leave a 10-year-old alone if he doesn’t participate.
I chatted this week with 10-year-old Will's mom and got a full rundown on the family discussion that led the fifth-grader (he skipped fourth) to make his considered decision. I also heard how the teacher had pressured him and invoked his mother's and grandmother's supposed wishes (wrongly) for four days before he finally snapped that the old bat (my words, not Will's) should jump off a bridge with her coercion. I heard about their Unitarian church-going and participation in shows of solidarity with the gay community in Fayetteville. I heard about mom and dad's differences on the issue -- she wouldn't say the pledge, he would -- but about their tolerance for each other's point of view. I heared about the rough reception Will has received from the over-abundance of authoritarians in his neck of the woods.
To all of which I add, you go, Will.