In memory of
Jared High
The Pledge of Allegiance
A "Pledge" of Freedom

by Barbara Dietrich
September 27, 2001

When I was first asked to teach the pledge of allegiance in my public Kindergarten classroom thirteen years go, I protested.  It was not developmentally appropriate practice, I said, to teach five-year-olds to recite words they couldn't possibly understand.  My building principal was a Marine and a Vietnam veteran. I was overruled.  My students learned the pledge of allegiance. Since that time, I have taught the pledge of allegiance to my kindergarten students every fall, and admit, in this one instance, to having amended my position regarding developmentally appropriate practice. Over the years I have nearly perfected the annual lesson in which I teach the pledge to my children.

I usually wait until November to introduce the flag and the pledge; Veteran's Day seems a reasonable time to launch this classroom tradition. This year, though, I couldn't wait until November.  Grieving with the rest of the nation in the aftermath of the events of September 11, I introduced the pledge of allegiance to my students the following Friday.   I held our classroom flag in my hand and fingered the fabric thoughtfully for a moment, keenly aware that this year the annual retelling of the "pledge story" seemed weighted with a greater responsibility than ever before.  I called to mind the image of the American flag which had been placed atop the rubble of the World Trade Center, and began.  I explained to the children what a symbol is... how it stands for something else, and how the American flag represents many thoughts and feelings.  We talked a bit about the colors, and the stars, and the stripes. Then, line-by-line, as I do every year, I went through the pledge, explaining in Kindergarten-speak the meaning of the words.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag."   "To pledge means to make a promise," I said. "To have allegiance to something means to be a good friend.  So, when we pledge allegiance to the flag, we are promising to be a good friend."

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America."  I held up the globe, pointed to North America, and traced the contours of our country with my finger. "This is America", I said.  "America is made up of fifty states. We live in Massachusetts".  I pointed to our tiny slip of land hooking into the Atlantic Ocean. The children supplied the rest.  They knew about sharks and Disney World in Florida and grizzly bears in Alaska, uncles in Idaho, aunts in New Mexico, grammas and grandpas here and there.   Everyone seemed to know about New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. No need to wonder why.

"So, here we are," I gestured to the globe again.  "The United States of America".  "United," I explained, "means that we agree to be part of a big family in this country, and live by the same rules."

Kind of like kindergarten, someone said.  "Yes," I said. "I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands".  "A republic," I explained, "Is a place (five year olds can't yet comprehend the concept of government) in which people are free to make choices; in which they get to vote; in which people are allowed to be different and to disagree."

"Sort of like kindergarten", a child said.

"Yes," I nodded. "I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America..." By now some of the children were beginning to murmur the words as I repeated them.

"...and to the republic for which it stands. One nation under God."  "God," I said means different things to different people.  There are many ways to think about God.  Some people think about God as Christians, some people think about God as Jews, some as Muslims, some as Buddhists. Every way to think about God is O.K. in our country. There isn't just one right way."

"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..."

"Indivisible!" I exclaimed.  "What a big word! Does anyone know what indivisible means?"  Suggestions came up from the floor.

"Nope," I said, "not invisible, like a ghost.  Indivisible." I annunciated the word. "Indivisible means something that cannot be divided.  That's our country." I felt tears threaten and swallowed past the lump in my throat.

"Nothing", I repeated with a passion that surprised me, "nothing can tear our country apart.  Not this week, not next week, not ever."  I didn't look at my aide. This was more difficult than other years.  I didn't want either of us to cry. "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."

"Liberty," I say, "means freedom. Justice means fairness.  For all means for everyone; everybody, everywhere."

 We stood then.  The children discovered their right hands; located their hearts and in doing so learned that a heart is not a stomach.  Straight and tall we stood and looked at the flag, and together said the words that I once balked at teaching to kindergarten children.  I realized, as I repeated the words yet again, that this exercise of teaching the pledge to my students has become more than an annual lesson.  It has become for me a yearly affirmation of my own patriotism, of my own abiding belief in the basic tenets, which are the foundation of this nation.  I realized, as I held it in my hands, that this piece of fabric affixed to a wooden pole, which is our flag, represents not only our country, but also the principles by which I try to lead the small society that is my kindergarten class.

We take turns, we listen to each other, and we respect differences among ourselves.   Sometimes we disagree and when we do we try to solve our differences with words.  We don't always succeed, but we try.  When we can't reach a consensus, we vote, and we try to be good sports when we don't get our own way.  We celebrate our individual gifts, but when we are crossing the street, we hold hands and we hang together.  A little like a nation. 

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