Beyond Old Windows: A Teacher's Thoughts Between Centuries

                           Word by Word, Hand in Hand,                                               The Pledge of Allegiance, Understood

My goal here is to communicate, first with text, and eventually with pictures, the beauty and clarity of the words we say in American public classrooms every day. That we say them has often been questioned ... that children understand them has often been doubted, and negative confrontations regarding this pledge have gone as high as the United States Supreme Court.

As in the style of good writers through time, who have respected and appreciated their readers' dedication of time and interest to the task of reading, I will present this  portion by portion, and will add to it piece by piece, allowing you time to process, practice, and perfect the promise it asks of us.

. We'll start with a brief explanation, and then "Chapter One". I invite you to share this with the children and adults in your life. I appreciate and welcome your feedback, either at the Guestbook page, or as a member of the site.

Understanding the Pledge of Allegiance and saying it with pride

 

The Pledge of Allegiance, in American Sign Language

Taught to me by a student named Joey, years ago, sung later to me by my son, Rob, and remembered here as best I can.

INTRODUCTION

There is a kindergarten song out there, perhaps still sung in local schools, which begins with the lines “When I pledge allegiance, I make a promise, that I will always be true … to the country that I love, home of the red, white and blue…”

For years thereafter, school children stand to recite the pledge each morning.  Those more formal words are memorized years before they are developmentally ready to understand them, which is probably why schools are sometimes criticized for encouraging (or, critics say, "coercing") participation in the daily pledge.

I was fortunate to have a deaf student in my classroom for a few years, and he and his interpreter were able to teach me and the students of that class the American Sign Language pledge of allegiance; I have taught it every year since, no matter what grade my classroom held in that year. I have taught it to 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classes, as well as to groups of parents and teachers. Each group gains a deeper understanding of the pledge, at a level their own development allows.

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CHAPTER 1 (Elementary students love chapter books!)

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America

Let’s start with the first word: I. “I” is a letter in the manual alphabet, formed by closing your fist and holding your pinkie finger erect. But “I” is also a personal pronoun, and so you "sign" that symbol by bringing your fist close to the center of your chest, with you pinkie still held high. This is part of the American Sign Language.

Pledge means promise, saying something and keeping your word, and so the sign for pledge involves placing two fingers on your closed lips, then bringing them down to your other hand, which is loosely closed as a vertical cylinder, forming a container that you can close with your descending fingers … “keeping” your word.

Allegiance is not a word easily understood by young school children … but its synonyms are - help, support - words used and modeled by such children every day,  These words are made with the same sign. You sign “allegiance” by holding one hand, palm up, in front of your chest, and then lightly placing the closed fist of your other hand on the palm, and making a gentle lifting motion. (A similar word, “work” is signed by more forcefully bringing your fist down onto the palm … it’s important to distinguish these two words for clarity.)

In American Sign Language, smaller, less significant words are often omitted in the interest of keeping up with the oral pace of the larger group, and so the preposition “to” and the article “the,” although they have signs, are not typically included in the ASL pledge.

We then make the sign for flag next: again with one hand palm up, chest height, you place your other elbow on your palm, and wave your other hand gently to and fro, like a flag waving in a breeze.  (Please remind them not to flap rapidly, as though shooing away flies!)

Once again, we will omit the preposition “of” and the article “the” and go on.

To sign the name of our country, we use a combination of the manual alphabet letters  “U” -for United - index and next finger close together and raised, other fingers down …( not to be confused with V for Victory, where the two fingers would open as a V.) Then the letter “S” - for States - which is formed by wrapping your thumb across the front of the closed fist, all fingers down, looking very much like the sign for solidarity). But rather than use the manual alphabet for “A” (which is simply the closed fist with the thumb back at its original post next to the pointer finger) we instead used an American Sign Language symbol for “America” with both hands open, interlocking their fingers forming what looks like a log cabin corner, we then move our hands in a square horizontally, as though marking out the four corners of our 48 contiguous states. Alaska and Hawaii – you hadn’t become states yet …but we're glad to have you with us now. And when we added your two stars, we added two words to the pledge: "Under God."

  Now – try that first chapter of the pledge manually:

I pledge allegiance (to the) flag (of the) United States (of) America

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Come back and read Chapter 2 (below) of the ASL Pledge of Allegiance

"And to the Republic for which it stands

One nation under God"

And Chapter 3 will contain the meanings for

"Indivisible, with liberty and justice

for all."

Chapter 4 will include the history of the pledge, a testimonial video clip to the pledge, and perhaps some visuals yet to come...

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        CHAPTER  2      (a flick of the wrist for a number, and a two-word symbol)

 

 And to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God

The conflict over the pledge of allegiance is due in part to America’s continuing drive for independence of any monarchy or dictatorship that might exist, past or present.  To say the pledge is taking an oath, making a promise, as you learned in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 defines the object of that promise of support: our government, a republic, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people; protective of the people, designed by the people, and maintained for the people.  And so we begin:

(And to the)  Republic – remember, conjunctions (and) prepositions (to) and articles (the) can sometimes slow the ASL interpreter and hamper the audiences’ understanding of the events connected to the presentation, and so they are omitted in the interest of keeping pace. Republic is given a symbol that makes use of the manual alphabet letter R (made by using the same two fingers as you did for the letter U but criss-crossing them, and then moving the “R” in a graceful arc toward the side of your forehead, indicating the “head” of our republic, (which of course, are the people, who are representatives elected by "we, the people".)

“For which it stands” is most often reduced to just the sign for “stands” (again eliminating the prepositions (for, which) and the pronoun it.) To my best recollection, “stands” has many signs in ASL to represent the many meanings of the English word … in this case, standing as in being a visible symbol for, and so the inverted index and second finger “take a stance” on the uplifted palm of the other hand, which then slightly moves them forward … “like legs on a slow skateboard” is how one of my young students described the motion…. pretty well, too.

"One" is a number, not a letter in the manual alphabet, and so it is shown by holding the index finger up, other fingers down, but turning your hand 180 degrees to face you and leave the back of your hand facing the audience.. This is how numbers and letters are distinguishable. The place value of the digits is easier to comprehend, for your audience, this way ... but that's an entirely different lesson...

And “nation” is a symbol that makes use of the manual alphabet “n” – made by making a fist but resting the index and next finger on the horizontal thumb in front of the fist … (if you rested three fingers there, it would be an “m” … two vertical lines for a typed n, three for a typed m … makes sense.) Then, to represent the word nation, you bring the “n” down in a slow spiral to land on the back of your other closed fist … like identifying a spot on a planet, or, as I prefer to explain it, an eagle coming to its own nesting spot.

The sign for “under” leads fluidly into the sign for “God.” Under is expressed by placing one hand, palm down, chest high, and taking your other hand, thumb up, placing it just under the palm and lowering it slightly, and inch or two at most. And then for the symbol that represents God, it helps to think of God as the Center … using the hand that descended under your palm, bring it back up to your forehead, now open palmed, but facing to the side rather than to the front or to you, and slowly follow the center of yourself from forehead to mid-chest. The two words work together as a smooth, graceful motion.

Now, practice chapter 2:

(And to the) Republic (for which it) stands

One (turn your hand to face yourself for the number)nation under God


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At this point, it’s a good idea to practice both chapters together:

I pledge allegiance (to the ) flag (of the )United States (of) America

(And to the ) republic (for which it) stands, ONE nation under God …


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Stay tuned for Chapter 3

indivisible, (with) liberty (and) justice for all.

 

 

CHAPTER 3   (typically followed by a moment of silence)

Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

President Lincoln's primary goal was to preserve the union ... his Gettysburg Address (which you can hear on the podcast page of this site, or on the Memorial Day entry on the Nature's  Ramblings page) was a poignant plea that these United States would not be divided by separatist issues, an echoing of George Washington's own Farewell Address's admonishments against "factions"  ...surely, the men who wrote this pledge (see that history in the afterword) had these honorable pleas in mind when they included the words "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The ASL symbol for "indivisible" is made by making circles of your thumbs and index fingers and then inter-linking them, as links in a chain, and then you rotate your linked hands in a horizontal, complete circle, showing that we are linked in all efforts.

"Liberty" is, for me, the most expressive symbol in the pledge. Forming the manual alphabet letter L with each hand (thumb and index fingers extended to form a 90 degree angle), you then cross your arms in an x across your chest, and then slowly uncross and lift your arms, as though freeing a captive bird. It is a beautiful sign. 

Now again using you thumb and index fingers as circles, you can form the sign for "justice"; it draws upon the balance scales, or "scales of justice" familiar to our court system's artwork. You make this symbol by having each thumb tip connect to its index finger tip, forming a small circle, and then holding those circles apart but parallel as though they were the scales of justice, and wobble them briefly, gently, and then bring them back to parallel to show equality.

"For all" can be signed in many ways ... what Joey taught me, and what I've always taught others, is to place one hand, palm up, atop the other hand, palm up, and then sweep the top hand in a wide circular arc to include everyone in the room.

 

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still to come: CHAPTER 4

A LITTLE HISTORY OF THE PLEDGE, AND PERHAPS SOME VISUALS

Meanwhile, you might enjoy the you-tube videos of the Pledge of Allegiance - each one is a little different, which is to be expected ... like oral history, it changes with the telling...in time, I may have one of my students and this version to post here...

But for a time-honored explanation of the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance, given by comedian Red Skelton, during a time of our country's growth, go to

Red Skelton's Pledge of Allegiance video

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CHAPTER 4:  The History of the Pledge of Allegiance for the American Flag, and a dedication of this page to two very special Americans who served their country...

 

The original Pledge of Allegiance

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands- one nation indivisible-with liberty and justice for all."

"On September 8,1892, the Boston based "The Youth's Companion" magazine published a few words for students to repeat on Columbus Day that year. Written by Francis Bellamy,the circulation manager and native of Rome, New York, and reprinted on thousands of leaflets, was sent out to public schools across the country. On October 12, 1892, the quadricentennial of Columbus' arrival, more than 12 million children recited the Pledge of Allegiance, thus beginning a required school-day ritual.

At the first National Flag Conference in Washington D.C., on June14, 1923, a change was made. For clarity, the words "the Flag of the United States" replaced "my flag". In the following years various other changes were suggested but were never formally adopted.

It was not until 1942 that Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance. One year later, in June 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that school children could not be forced to recite it. In fact,today only half of our fifty states have laws that encourage the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom!

In June of 1954 an amendment was made to add the words "under God". Then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower said "In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."

(excerpt from www.usflag.org)

And, as my brother in law pointed out to me, it was the Knights of Columbus who organized a petition in 1953 to add the words "Under God" to the American Pledge of Allegiance. In September of 1954, I began kindergarten and learned the newly revised version of the Pledge of Allegiance that is still said, unchanged, each day in our classrooms:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

There are many sites on the web where you can read a full report of the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, the changes made to it, the reasons for those changes, and the challenges it faces today. Massachusetts is one of less than 26 states that still encourages the opportunity to say the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms at the start of each school day.

The passage above is taken as an excerpt from a website that is dedicated to helping all of us understand the symbols and ceremonies of our American government, and I encourage you to visit it at www.usflag.org

I am proud to know that the Pledge of Allegiance began right here in Massachusetts, written expressly for school children. It is also my honor to say that in 29 classroom years, NONE of my students have ever refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance for our flag. I am very proud of them.

I take my responsibility seriously in assisting our students in learning about citizenship and  recognize that our future depends on their responsibility to know and protect their rights as Americans, and as "We, the whole people, women as well as men..." (Susan B. Anthony, 1873) You can hear her words by clicking play on the audio file here; sadly, women did not gain equal citizenship until a half century after her speech, decades after the writing of the Pledge of Allegiance, and for many women, not until a few years after the words "of the United States of America" were added in 1923 ... but that is a story for another page.

 

Terry Palardy, July 4, 2010

I would like to dedicate this page to the late United States Senator Robert Byrd (West Virginia) who passed away last week. He was a true defender of our United States Constitution, and an advocate for the civic education of American students. He referred to the Constitution as the "Owners' Manual" of our government in a 2005 C-Span video I show to my students every September for Constitution Day ... (Click here to enjoy Senator Byrd's speech) He sponsored many federal grants that enabled teachers, myself included, to pursue further graduate education in the history of our country, which has benefited my students and many students across the states. God bless Senator Byrd, and the United States of America, which he dearly loved and greatly served. May he rest in peace, and may our country find peace as well.

I would also like to dedicate this page to my nephew, SPC Stephen Robert Fortunato, who was killed in action as an American soldier protecting Afghan citizens who were registering to vote in free elections in their country ... he died protecting them in exercising their new right, a right and a responsibility that I teach to my students here, in safety and in freedom, in America. A wooden plaque hangs above the door to our school library, and reads ... "American, home of the free because of the brave." Stephen is now in spirit a part of every American Flag that we salute.

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