Sunday, November 24, 2013

Forcing Kids to Say the Pledge of Allegiance

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Today is Sunday, November 24, 2013.

OK, this hits close to home.  Sioux Falls is only about 5 miles from where I live.  It's a very small city with a population of 159,908 as of 2012, located in extreme eastern South Dakota. 

On November 14, Fox News reporters Megyn Kelley and Trace Gallagher were doing a story about how the Sioux Falls School District had handled the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. The school board had been asked by a group of local veterans to require recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance from all students in grades K-12.  The board agreed with the vets, and did vote to require the pledge in the elementary and middle schools, but they felt that the way high school classes are scheduled, the pledge would not be able to be said consistently, so they did not require it for high school students on a daily basis, but only for high school assemblies.  The vote was unanimous.  Previously, although the elementary students have always said the pledge, the middle and high school students have not done so since the 1970s, so the effect of the board's action was to expand the use of the pledge in Sioux Falls public schools.

This isn't what came across in Kelly and Gallagher's report on Fox News, however.  Kelly said, 'A school board there has decided there's just no time in the day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, despite a desperate attempt from a local vets group to keep the pledge."   

"The veterans, by the way, are not giving up," chimed in Gallagher.  "They say they will continue fighting to see if they can get the pledge reinstated."

Sounds like the board actually refused to allow the pledge at all, doesn't it?  And that's what a lot of parents thought when they heard this report on Fox News.

You have to understand that this is a pretty conservative community, located in a conservative state.  And it's a relatively small community, where people know other people. And some people started to threaten the board members.  One person said they should be "lined up and shot."  And there are a lot of gun owners around here, too. 

So where did Fox get the story?  Well, it was reported on November 14 on KELO News and KDLT News, and on November 12, the day of the board meeting, on KSFY News.  The KELO and KSFY stories included photos of the actual board meeting.  The KDLT story did not.  

According to school board member Kent Alberty, the person whose name was on the byline, "...wasn't at the School Board meeting, didn't interview any members of the School Board, didn't interview the person who spoke to the School Board, but then the ran this story and didn't have in the story the fact that we actually expanded the policy."  Alberty didn't name names when he contacted KSFY to complain, but if he was referring to the person who wrote the KDLT story, he was talking about Breanna Fuss, who interviewed for her story the principal of a school in one of the small towns surrounding Sioux Falls.  She also included in her story, a statement that people who oppose requiring the pledge think that the Pledge of Allegiance is a feature "of totalitarian states, like Nazi Germany."  An incendiary statement, if there ever was one.

It isn't clear which local story Fox got their information from, but they obviously did not verify it very carefully, and they certainly framed it in a way that gave the wrong impression. As far as I'm concerned, this is "yellow journalism" at its worst.

The school district has acted to remove all personal information about the school board members from its web site, for safety reasons, and it has been surveying parents about their wishes in the matter.  It seems clear that at least 70% of parents would like the school to require the pledge up to grade 12.  If this is the case, the board will have to find a way to make the pledge a standard feature of the high school day. 

I'd like to point out, however, that the population of Sioux Falls is not as homogeneous as a lot of people think.  Since the year 2000, it has grown by nearly 30% – that's a lot.  Part of that growth can be traced to the expansion of Sanford Hospital and the Sanford Health Care facilities.  It's true that the population is overwhelmingly white, at 84% in 2009.  As of that same year, statistics show that 4.6% of the population of the city was foreign-born, and the vast majority of those foreign-born citizens of Sioux Falls came to the United States after 1990.  Many of them still don't speak English very well.  The statistics did not state why they came.

Some of them may be refugees or immigrants, but others are most likely just visitors, here to get a university degree or to work for a time in the Sanford Health facilities.  (I was hospitalized twice last November, and the vast, vast majority of the doctors who attended me were foreigners!) A number of them have chosen to bring their families to the United States while they are completing their studies or their jobs here, and they put their kids in Sioux Falls schools.

In the high schools for the 2012-2013 school year, there were 6,588 students, of whom 459 were classified as ELL (English Language Learners) and 82 were classified as "migrant," which generally means Spanish-speaking students from Mexico.  The ELLs and migrant students comprised only 8% of the high school population.  The total population for middle school was 4901, of whom 396 were ELL and 69 were migrant, a total of 9% non-native speakers of English.   In the elementary schools, the combined population was 11,397, of whom 1,277 were ELL and 168 were migrant, 12.6% of them non-native English speakers.

In other words, the number of kids whose first language is not English is increasing, although it's still hard to notice them in a crowd of mostly white kids.  In the future, the number of foreign-born students may actually increase.  

Think of it this way: If you or your spouse had a chance to study or work in Saudi Arabia, for example, and you decided to move the whole family there for the experience of living abroad for a short time, and if you put your kids in a Saudi school, what would happen if they required your kids to bow down to the Saudi king and recite a pledge of fealty to the king every day?  Would you make your kids do it?  Would you keep them in that school?  Or would you lobby the school to allow your kids to stand respectfully while other kids made their pledge?  

Here's the thing, one thing we hold very dear in this country is freedom, and that means the freedom not to be coerced into doing something.  That's the strength of this nation.  At events for adults, we don't force people to salute the flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance.  We don't force people to sing the national anthem. Isn't it OK if the kids are simply asked to stand respectfully while others are saying the pledge?  Do we have to force kids to say the pledge if they don't want to?  

It's certainly a good thing for kids to study the words to the Pledge of Allegiance so that they know what it is all about, and it's fine to give students time to say this each day, if their parents want them to.  But I really think it's not a good idea to force anyone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  

And I think it's really important for national news agencies to get their facts straight.

And no, I don't think it's a good idea to line up the school board members and have them shot, just because you don't agree with them.  Sheesh!   :-(

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