This post, I wish to first stress, is not about whether American children should or should not stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance. It is about my own experiences and observations of how the pledge affects my own non-naturalized, British children.
I am no stranger to living overseas, and near the end of 2010, I moved to Arizona with my family. The children were then 7 years and not far off 3 years respectively.
I was prepared for adjustments and with a school-aged child, I learnt quickly things I’d never even thought about previously.
Seeing the numerous US flags flying around where we live, a thought passed my mind: it would be fair to assume that my son's school probably set aside time for children to recite the pledge. I asked my son and indeed it did. My husband and I took the time to explain why, as a non US citizen, my son should not join in and how he could be respectful nonetheless. I was relieved no adult had asked him to.
Within days of this chat, he came home in near sobs. “Mummy, two boys are being horrible to me. They tell me because I don’t say the pledge, this means I hate Americans and so they are going to hate me. Mummy, I don’t hate Americans!”
It tore at my heart, and so began chats to build his self-esteem. I told him that it is okay to have a different origin and that often people need educating when they are unkind, but that he could do this in a pleasant manner.
The next time the pledge popped up was in the 3-year-old preschool class. I received a newsletter from the teacher, who was proud of the children for knowing the pledge in its entirety. I looked at my son and asked him if he could say it. He proceeded to recite it with such clarity that I started to feel angry. Not because I felt it was right or wrong, but having worked with children in professional settings, I realized how essential it was to have an awareness of each child's background: what type of family do they come from? What is their religious and/or cultural history? Here it had been overlooked. The school knew we were applying for a green card, having not long moved, and there before me stood a 3-year-old who was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before he had even learned “God save the Queen”. I was amazed!
I went into the preschool and politely pointed out that I would have appreciated a heads up, so I could have reminded them in advance that my son wasn't (and isn't) a US citizen. His teacher profusely apologized and, noting her embarrassment, I did feel sorry for her.
Still, I thought this was over, until the 4 year preschool class began!
By chance my son angrily told me “I must say the Pledge!”. It came as a somewhat disturbing surprise when, according to him, he would have to sit on a table by himself. He said he would be in a lot of trouble or “lose” things. He said he must stand and look at the flag and say it, and he started shouting at me and pointing his finger, telling me he didn't want to be in trouble.
Chatting to other adults there was a mixture of views. Most folk completely understanding my concerns, but a few saw it as no big deal and that he should say it.
Roll on to December 2012 and my Facebook vent: “No Sir, it is not OK for you to keep prodding my son to salute the American flag. I brought him up to be respectful, that means for him not to salute your flag.”
This time it was at a youth activity group for my eldest. The funny thing was, a few weeks previously I’d told some of the children who were talking about Citizenship that, if they see a child just quietly standing, please don’t think they are being rude.
With the adult who had prodded my child, I did think maybe he had forgotten the incident (or possibly didn’t know it had happened), but to make it even more awkward, there was a double oops from my son because he then initially saluted with the wrong hand.
It was a good job my other child was with me, otherwise I may have just gone up and prodded the adult.
Again, I informed the group leader (I felt too emotionally worked up to talk to the adult directly) who then emailed all the adult volunteers including myself as a reminder. One lady emailed me to say if it happens again to please go directly to her and she will deal with it. I don’t know what, if anything, prompted her response, but I was glad for her email, which also spoke kindly of my son.
What these experiences have reminded me is how easy it is for people (and this applies to all cultures) to fall into those daily routines, auto pilot at times. I've also learned what happens when something not quite in sync shows up, particularly in relation to children.
Do we try and foster openness, awareness, and a kind approach? Or do we close off and frown at our cultural differences?
Interestingly, Arizona has discussed the possibility of introducing a bill mandating public high school students to take an oath in support of the US constitution, in order to receive a graduation diploma, but that’s another subject.
This post was brought to you by Emma Porter, a British expat now residing in Arizona with her husband and two children.
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