Lessons in Teaching November 6, 2010

Lessons in Teaching

I had my annual observation earlier this week — for me, that involves an administrator visiting my classroom and taking extensive minute-by-minute notes on what I’m doing, what I’m not doing, how I can improve, etc.

My boss happened to visit me early in the day — around the time the Pledge of Allegiance is said over the loudspeaker.

I never say the Pledge. As it turns out, neither do my students. They don’t stand either. I chalk that up to laziness and not any political stance on their part, but no matter. They know I’m not going to be upset if they stay seated. The Pledge ends. We go on with class. That’s the routine. If anyone did stand up, there wouldn’t be any problem. It’s just not a big deal.

So the boss is in my room when the Pledge comes on. And, expecting that we’d all do the same, she stood up.

She was the only one.

Oh boy…

This is the boss who was so awesome during the whole IFI debacle last year. The last thing I want to do is give her reason to think there is more drama coming.

She asked about that later. I told her I had never said anything to the students regarding the Pledge — it was their own choice whether to stand or sit. We left it at that and the rest of the review went very well.

Do other atheist teachers have to deal with this…? I wonder how you all would handle this.

On a more positive note, we were discussing examples of good and bad ways to design an experiment in my AP Stats class.

One example of a bad way to obtain data? Online polls. Because they’re not scientific and they can be easily manipulated (among other things).

But wait… I teach that class in a computer lab… (cue lightbulb)… might as well make the most of it!

Me: Everyone log on to your computer! Now!

Them: Done.

Me: Go to the website of that small local newspaper.

Them: Done.

Me: See the survey in the sidebar?

Them: Yes…

Me: Look at the results. See how there’s a total of 10 votes and how choice A has the fewest?

Them: Yes…

Me: You know how they publish the results of this survey in the weekly print edition?

Them: Yes…

Me: Everyone go click on choice A.

I can’t wait to see next week’s issue 🙂

Pharyngulation isn’t a term in my school’s Statistics textbook. But my kids just learned all about it.

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  • 🙂 Yeah!

  • trevor

    I’m not a teacher, but when I was in school we stopped doing the pledge after 5th grade. I don’t know why, state law? District’s decision? Either way we as students didn’t mind, and I didn’t even notice until the next year.

  • Pwned, small paper. Pwned.

  • Daniel

    I am a teacher and a veteran.

    My last district had daily intercom announcements (1st period was 5 min longer to account for it) that ended with a request for the pledge to be said and the student reading the news leading it. I always said it, omitting two words. Maybe three students a year noticed, asked me about it, and were ambivalent to the answer.

    My current district doesn’t do any sort of pledge or announcements and instruction time is tight enough I don’t do it on my own.

  • Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    Is it the “under God” part or just the idea of allegiance to the United States that bothers you, or both?

  • rbray18

    it’s the repetive nature of the political talking point that rubs bertram

  • Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    By the way, you say it would not be a problem if one of the students stood up?

    Gimme a break, the students know your views. And they would not want to be ridiculed by the other students, and you KNOW that would happen. (Of course not in front of you.)

    My my, you are such a FRIENDLY atheist.

  • Bertram Cabot, Jr.

    rbray, I asked a serious question.

    Needless to say, there will be no answer, just ridicule.

    After all, thats what FRIENDLY ATHEISTS do! Hahahaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

  • My daughter started preschool this year. During the walk through, I noticed the flag hanging in the classroom, so I asked her teacher if they were taught the pledge. Her teacher, who I assume is a Christian because of her cross necklace and ‘Jesus Lives’ paper holder on her desk, said that they do not because of Separation of Church and State.

    This is Indiana we are talking about here and her teacher said that so matter-of-fact, like how could I not already know that. I was relieved.

    I said the pledge everyday in school, up through graduation. At the time I believed in a god and didn’t know anyone who didn’t. So I never thought about the Church and State argument. But as a mother, that isn’t what bothers me most about the pledge. I am 100% against indoctrinating children.

    Especially such a lame pledge. We don’t pledge allegiance to truth, freedom, curiosity, the Constitution, love, Science, peace or any other valuable thing. It rings too true to Nationalism to me.

    I love my country. Sometimes I am not too fond of our government, and the 4th of July is my favorite holiday. I love that my grandpa fought in WWII for our freedoms and I sobbed the entire time I visited Pearl Harbor. But I honestly feel it’s outdated and useless. I didn’t learn anything from it that I didn’t learn through Social Science and History. It didn’t make me loyal to my country, the love I have for my country did that.

    Maybe my reasons aren’t perfect, but I am glad I won’t be dealing with that issue this year. We are all human before we are anything else, I wish schools focused more on that. A blind, unquestioning pledge doesn’t belong in our schools. I mean, I have socialist leanings, but the pledge crosses the line for me.

  • Luc Duval

    I absolutely run into issues with the pledge. I’m student teaching in a high school and have a class during the morning pledge. My experience is almost exactly the opposite of Hemant’s — I don’t say the pledge but everyone else does. To be less conspicuous, I stand with my hand over my heart, facing the flag, and quietly recite a stanza by Langston Hughes.

    Let America be American again.
    Let it be the dream it used to be.
    Let it be the pioneer on the plain
    Seeking a home where he himself is free.

    It’s pretty close to perfect for my purpose. I know that a couple of students have seen my mouth moving differently, and my cooperating teacher finally asked me, yesterday, what I’m saying instead of the pledge (without any implications that I should, fortunately), but no one else has asked and there hasn’t been anything close to the backlash that there would be if I simply didn’t stand or say anything.

    The teacher in the class is expected to start everyone off. My co-op usually does, but I’ve been stuck as the teacher in the class during the pledge a couple times and it’s always awkward.

    Re: Bertram — The “under God” bothers me a lot, but so does the inherently significant and oath-like nature of a nationalistic pledge. I feel uncomfortable pledging (a meaningful word) my allegiance (a powerful word) to a symbol.

  • Matto the Hun

    Well said Leilani!

    That may be one of the best explanations of the problem of the pledge I’ve read.

  • Kelsey Danae

    Bertram, what are you talking about?
    There wasn’t any ridicule in that statement, and I don’t know where you got the idea that there was. I am often the only person to stand for the pledge in a class (I am also atheist, but no one else in the room is aware), and I am never ridiculed. This may be just because my classmates are lazy, but anyway…
    PS I know this friendly atheist (Im in the class in this post!) and he definitely wouldn’t ridicule his students for disagreeing with him.

  • tim

    The only time in high school that we were forced to stand for the pledge of allegiance was in my math class in 8th grade. That teacher was busted a decade later for … ah … lewd acts with a minor.

    So to this day – whenever I hear the Pledge – his image comes to mind.

    Outside of that thought – saying the same words to anything on a daily basis is silly and does not enforce or distract anyone’s patriotism. I also don’t believe that its a church/state issue. Just a waste of time issue. The same goes for “moments of silence”.

  • muggle

    I had to say it kindergarten to graduation in New York.

    However, it’s basically a loyalty pledge being forced on minors (okay, well some seniors may be legal adults; I was half my senior year) who cannot legally make a contract. How absurd is that?

    I object to it even if the “under God” bullshit is removed on that basis alone.

  • OK Bert,
    So it would be OK for kids to be ridiculed for NOT saying the pledge while the teacher did, but not OK for kids to be ridiculed for saying it when the teacher ignored it? Nice double standard.

    What bothers me is the daily loyalty oath endorsed by the state-run school. Calling it an “allegiance pledge” doesn’t change anything. You know who else had loyalty oaths? Hitler!

    Original pledge being recited. As a side note, some students in my high school started using the straight arm salute during the pledge. It became very disturbing to watch.

    Especially considering the Nazis may have gotten their salute from us, I find that disturbing.

    The “under God” part, to me, is small beans. Yes, it is technically an endorsement of religion by the state, but it is a pretty weak one. And considering the widespread need for people to imagine a supernatural being, I feel lucky it is not more invasive. It could have been “one nation, under our Lord Jesus Christ, whose words are interpreted by the Westboro Baptist Church of America and our dear Reverend Phelps, indivisible, with liberty and justice…”. I feel dirty just typing that.
    Anyway, in a perfect world, the pledge would be gone. In a not quite perfect one, it would not include “God”, but I don’t lose sleep over it. However, I don’t have kids in school, so maybe it draws more attention from schoolkids’s parents.

  • I stand and put my hand over my heart, but I don’t say it. One of my co-teachers, if she’s in the room, will usually recite it along with the speaker. My first-hour students? They couldn’t care less. Maybe four or five of them stand up like me, and I don’t think any of them bother ‘singing’ along. If it ever becomes a thing, I’ll just state the truth: as far as I know, they all have religious objections to it (I had a Jehovah’s Witness student last year, and got a pamphlet from her parents about how their beliefs might manifest in the classroom). I’m not going to force students to stand up and do something that’s optional, and risk singling out religious minorities in the classroom.

    Seems to me like the biggest problem with this daily recitation, at least from the patriotic perspective, is that it makes something that ought to be meaningful into a rote activity, something that you have to wait through before you can do anything interesting. And the way we teach it to kids who are too young to understand what the words mean only exacerbates that. All the conservative nationalists who worked so hard to put God in the pledge and make it mandatory in (our) schools have succeeded in giving it as much reverence in the students’ eyes as WYSE tryouts.

    Less, actually; I’ve seen kids interested in trying out for WYSE.

  • Shawn

    Needless to say, there will be no answer, just ridicule.

    After all, thats what FRIENDLY ATHEISTS do

    Hemant has stated several times that his views on the “Friendly” part of his moniker have changed somewhat since he started the blog. I don’t recall him ridiculing commenters who weren’t rude first. Your first post reads as dickish. I guess it could be a serious enquiry, and just read poorly because of the nature of the web, but your follow-up posts are undeniably dickish.

    So you’re basically being a dick, while predicting that people won’t want to talk nicely to you. When your prediction is confirmed, you’ll take that as a confirmation of their dickishness.

  • My eight year old says he stands, out of respect for others, while the rest of the students recite the pledge.

  • Meg

    My DD is a high school student and I work as a substitute teacher in a small town in Indiana.

    Around here the kids get sent to the Dean if they don’t at least stand up and then stay quietly standing during the “moment of silence.”

    At some schools all the kids will recite the pledge and at others no one will.

    Personally, I say the pledge minus the “under god” part (still waiting for a kid to ask me about that) and then deal with papers (or start taking attendance if I know the kids) during the “moment.”

    My DD has had friends harass her not saying the pledge at all – friendly harassment I should say.

  • Robert W.

    Since we are on an atheist website and there seem to be quite a few people against the pledge, I am curious if it is the “under God” part or something else.

    Another question came to mind when I watched the World Series last week or so- every 7th inning stretch they sang God Bless America. Did you have any thoughts about that?

  • Shawn

    Coercing people into making loyalty pledges is weird. It gets weirder when the people you’re coercing are too young to understand all of the words, let alone the concepts. Even if they understood what they were saying, kids would not have the background to evaluate whether the republic is worthy of allegiance.

    Also, I can understand pledging allegiance to the flag as a symbol of the republic. But why pledge allegiance to flag and the republic? A flag, removed of symbolism, is cloth.

  • Christopher Petroni

    State law in Washington required us to lead students in the Pledge, and it didn’t come over the PA, so I just left out “under God.” I was famous for being the village atheist by then so I didn’t get any questions about it.

  • Raghu Mani

    Well, I have no real problem the pledge – not even the “under god” part. Overall, it strikes me as being pretty innocuous and doesn’t feel like an attempt to push religion down anyone’s throat. And yes, I do know the history of the pledge.

    My objection to the pledge is something almost no one brings up. Here in the Bay Area, there are a significant number of kids of immigrants who are not citizens. Making them say the pledge is ridiculous. Their allegiance (until they get US citizenship) is to their country of origin – not America.


  • beckster

    I taught 8th grade history. My principal did not make anyone stand during the pledge although most of the students in my class did. A new teacher, who was older and reentering the workforce, tried to force her students to stand when it was said over the loudspeaker and that didn’t play out well. Our principal was former military and a conservative Lutheran who took the freedom of speech of speech and religion seriously and informed her that her students were within their rights to sit during the pledge.

  • eladnarra


    My objection to the pledge is something almost no one brings up. Here in the Bay Area, there are a significant number of kids of immigrants who are not citizens. Making them say the pledge is ridiculous. Their allegiance (until they get US citizenship) is to their country of origin – not America.

    I started saying the pledge when I was in Kindergarten, and it really is such a mindless act that it wasn’t until middle school that I realized two things: I was invoking a god I didn’t believe in, and pledging allegiance to the US when I wasn’t even a citizen.

    The first thing I did was simply stop saying “Under God,” but eventually I just stood there. It was during my slightly rebellious stage, so I’m actually surprised I didn’t stay seated and glare at those who might make fun of me.

    It’s just so meaningless. I understand some people find it patriotic, or whatever, but when you’re 5 years old it’s no different than chanting a nursery rhyme.

  • I stopped saying “the pledge” after my (honorable) discharge from the military back in 1988. Not only that, I also refuse to stand during “the pledge”. Such a thing as “the pledge” has no place in a free country. It seems to me that “the pledge” is pledging allegiance to the government and not to the ideals that formed the USA.

    I guess you could say that I refuse to say, or respect, “the pledge” because I am a patriot, in the Patrick Henry sense of the term.

  • Tam

    It’s always nice to see the dissidents giving their opinions. And how they don’t care about others’ opinions.

    Way to go, Leilani! I totally agree!

  • trevor

    The pledge is useless, outdates, mindless, and kinda scary to watch happen. Its like a prayer service. When I was young I would go to church, I would repeat the words without caring or understanding the meaning of the words. Do I love america? Yes, but I would rather pledge my allegiance to reason and logic, not place blind allegiance to the nation I was born in.

  • Doug

    As an elementary and middle school teacher, I’ve been expectec to lead the pledge in my TEXAS (yuck) classroom for the 13 year that I taught there. I stood, never encountered problems with the students standing, and recited the pledge up to
    “in God we trust” (I always left that part out). As a teacher, there are certain things which are simply expected, whether you believe in them or not. I live in Asia now, and I realize tha the expectations in the US exceed the norm. Nevertheless, as a teacher, you sign to teach and to influence the students’ perception. I’m and extreme liberal–tht’s why I left the states, and most expecially Texas. Still, the pledge is part of your job in the (backwards) United

  • I recite the pledge of allegiance if I ever find myself in a position to do so. Likewise with the lord’s prayer. I also know Jabberwocky and American Pie in their entireties. (Alas, I’ve lost the ability to sing the whole Abbey Road album in order.)

    I guess I just think of it as culture, no more or less silly than other sorts of culture. But then, I’m not in any position of authority, and I set an example for no one’s children but my own, so I’m sure I could make a habit of singing the Chinese national anthem every Tuesday wearing a clown nose and no one would be affected either way.

  • CatBallou

    Do other western democracies have similar pledges? I never really thought about ours as a cultural artifact.
    I said the pledge routinely as a child, with the same emotional fervor I brought to church services—trying to invoke in myself strong feelings of loyalty and belonging.
    Now I love my country and my home sincerely, but I also recognize that this is a natural human response, and almost everyone has it. I don’t need to imagine that the US is the greatest country in the world in order to appreciate it and value its virtues, and I don’t need to ignore its flaws.
    Bertram, your original question was NOT serious. It was patently insincere. You already know that atheists prefer the original version of the pledge. Why would you even mention allegiance to the United States? A sincere question would have been open-ended. It would have invited a variety of responses. You should ask yourself what’s stopping you from being honest.

  • rbray18

    well my answer up there was serious.but my main complaint with the pledge is we shouldn’t pledge our selves to one nation.if we must mindlessly pledge loyalty to anything,it should be all humans,and the planet.national pride can be as bad as religious pride.it can just as easily start wars and discrimination and subjugation and so on.so yeah,saying the pledge,more i think of it,under “god” or not really doesn’t matter.

  • In high school I would usually stand quietly during the pledge, or sit quietly if I was in the middle of reading/writing something. Honestly, I had more problems with the whole blindly swearing an oath to your country part than the “in god” part.

  • cat

    I always just thought the pledge was meant to be giving a big f-you to the south. You know, it even has that dig about the nation being ‘indivisible’ in it.

    That said, even before I was an atheist at about twelve, I hated the pledge. I have never really gotten nationalism and the idea of being forced to swear allegiance to some bizarre imaginary thing weirded me out. Also, I damn well knew I wasn’t getting ‘liberty and justice for all’ so that pissed me off. I stopped actually saying it around first grade, when I just randomly moved my mouth to make it look like I was saying something. I used reciting Tolkien poems in my head to time the moment of silence. Turns out that the one about ‘All that is gold does not glitter’ takes about as long as your average moment of silence.

  • Dezinerau

    Catballou: I can’t speak for other countries but Australia has no such thing. Like everyone we have an anthem, and new citizens must swear fealty oath at their swearing in ceremony, but that’s it. Honestly, I find the pledge business particularly bizarre. The concept seems like pure propaganda.

  • Greg

    CatBallou, Britain and Ireland have no such things, either. AFAIK neither do Germany or France, but I may be wrong there (I just suspect that if they did I would have heard about it when I took them as subjects in school).

    It seems to me to be a very peculiar American trait, which (and this is just my opinion) is rarely seen outside fascist/authoritarian states.

  • Charon

    West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943.

    “You know who else had loyalty oaths? Hitler!

    This made me laugh, because I was reminded of the line, “You know who else measured time in hours? Hitler!” from a comic I read a while ago. But actually, the Supreme Court used a similar comparison in the Barnette decision, particularly about the salute that was in use at the time. And Barnette overturned Gobitis (1940) just 3 years after that was decided. Hmm, wonder what happened between 1940 and 1943…

  • I work as a paraeducator in a junior high and the pledge is recited every morning. I actually asked the new principal her opinion last year and she said that students are not required to say the pledge but that they, “Damn well better stand and show some respect for our boys fighting overseas.”

    I decided that I needed to pick my battle here, so, when I am in the room, I’ll stand, but it is obvious that I am not reciting the words. The kids hate being forced to say it, but are afraid of the principal, so they do it to avoid detention.

    I know a young man who will be at the junior high next year and he and his family do not stand or recite the pledge (I believe they’re Mormon). I’m curious to see what will happen when he gets to the junior high next year as his elementary school just said, “Okay, no problem.” If he has science 1st period next year, he will end up at war with the science teacher over it (I’ve sparred in the past with her over it).

    To be honest, I have an outside duty in the morning, so, I dawdle getting to class so I can just avoid the situation and, for the past year, everyone has been okay with that. Still, it sucks that I have had to make compromises when I don’t want to stand at all.

  • Common Nonsense

    I used to say it as a kid, but around late junior high, high school, I gave it up. My high school has this obnoxious habit of leading the pledge over the intercom right after the first morning bell.

    I personally don’t say it–I sit in my seat and either work or clasp my hands and wait. The “under God” has always been a little annoying, but I’ve always been bothered more about being forced to pledge to a country and a piece of cloth that, frankly, I’m rather indifferent towards. I was born and raised here, but that’s about it.

    Thankfully, my morning teacher appears to be amused more than anything–if I have to stand up for whatever reason and the pledge starts, he teases me about finally standing, but has never forced me to. As for the librarian and my AP Bio teacher (?) however . . . yeah, neither of them have listened to me say I don’t desire to stand. Such is life.

  • Roselyn

    I was born and raised as a Christian in a small Eastern European country, and I recently became a US citizen. From a country that was poor and wrecked from Communism, I came to a country where anything was possible: education, work, freedom etc. In high school the pledge represented all the good, the opportunities, the American dream. As an Atheist, I found the “under God” rather silly; however, I felt very lucky that I even had the chance to say the pledge. So I guess, it depends on your point of view. For me, I will never take this land for granted 🙂

  • JB Tait

    In the schools where it is required, have the administrators not noticed how silly it is for children who are so young that they would not be allowed to swear an oath in court to tell the truth (a concept they probably understand) to pledge in this manner? And to compound the silliness, it is allegiance (a concept they don’t yet understand) to a piece of cloth?
    They might as well state how much they love their blanky.
    The concept of the Republic for which it stands is beyond them, when they haven’t even learned to take turns at the crayon box.

    So they learn the words by repetition, the same way they learn the words to the “Itty Bitty Spider,” and it has about as much meaning to them.

    By making them repeat it before they understand it, even if the concept would have been meaningful later, the words are devalued.

    Too bad this is so entrenched. It would make more sense to modify the Oath of Office:

    I pledge that I will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

    It’s a little short, so maybe it could be filled out with some mention of practicing good citizenship.

    Why so much fuss over a textile in an interesting and colorful pattern? Why has it become more important than the national identity it was meant to represent?

  • Wow, I’ve been out of school a long time. I just kind of assumed that no one did that anymore. We certainly never did it at my school.

  • tom

    I am a student in high school and im just lazy i dont feel like standing or plegeing or what ever. i dont belive in god and i dont like the idea that the corperate governmental school can force me to stand with my hand over my heart. it is my choice to sit down and even tho the entire class is standing it their beliefs,(if they all jump off a brige im gonna jump? no) i dont wanna stand and i dont care what the teacher says im not being disruptive during the plege so i just sit there

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