The first semester of the Thai school year is a few weeks from completion. Unlike the US, the Thai school calendar is divided into two college-like semesters. The first begins in mid-May and runs through September. After an October recess, the second term starts around November 1st, and the school year culminates in early March.
This has been one of my least favorite aspects of my seven years teaching English in Thailand. As it takes place in the middle of the first semester, I have not had the pleasure of coming home for an American summer since residing abroad. The same goes for Thanksgiving and all but one Christmas. This is beginning to weigh on me, and plans for my wife and I to transition home for good are in the works.
Another aspect of teaching in Thailand that I dislike (though I mostly love what I do) is my students’ morning ritual. When the 2nd or 3rd attendance bell rings (depending on the school), the entire student body stands in rows (either in the halls or an assembly area), sings the national anthem, chants a few Buddhist prayers, and sings or repeats a jingle or hymn unique to each school.
Each step of this routine is undertaken mindlessly and unwillingly by the average student. Social pressures and faculty commands guarantee that they stand in line without protest, and the Buddhist prayers are spoken in Sanskrit that few people, let alone children, even understand. And ever since the Royal Thai Army’s 2014 coup d’etat, I’ve noticed an even greater dip in enthusiasm.
As the US school year is set to be underway, I am reminded of my own mindless chanting as an American schoolboy. Every morning, I put my hand over my heart and pledged allegiance without ever thinking about what pledging or allegiance even mean. I was not persuaded to stand through reason or understanding, but instead through the same social pressures and faculty commands that my students in Thailand are subject to. I do not recall any instances of a fellow student declining to stand, but I know I would have hated that student for doing so. I embodied the social pressure I was subjected to.
Now 12 years removed from high school and 7 years removed from university, I have had ample time to begin my education. And as a now somewhat-educated critical thinker, I can look back at the words I was all but forced to say throughout my youth and see them for what they truly are: bullshit.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
A free country like the United States should be above archaic symbols like flags, monuments, and other images of state worship, so pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth (especially one whose design has been altered several times throughout US history) is a backwards idea from the start.
Admittedly, I often get teary eyed when I see the stars and stripes waving in the wind as our national anthem plays before a baseball game. But I want that feeling for myself, not as a part of an obligatory chant among an unthinking cult.
If anything, we should pledge allegiance to the Constitution or, better yet, to the individual human rights and constraints on government it espouses. And we should do it when we feel like it, not force the youth do it in a supposedly educational setting.
And to the republic for which it stands
As the Constitution lays out a framework for a republic (and certainly not a democracy), I am least butthurt over this line.
Pledging allegiance to the republic itself, however, contradicts the character of a free country. If our so-called republic veers off course by, say, plunging its people $21 trillion in debt, establishing a destructive interventionist empire abroad, founding an alphabet soup of unauthorized federal agencies, and imprisoning 2 million of its own people often for victimless crimes, should we continue to commit ourselves to its agenda?
Again, pledging allegiance to our Constitution or our rights would be a more unconditionally honorable promise. The state should commit itself to us, not the other way around.
The United States of America is not meant to be one nation as much as it is meant to be 50 states. The United States in singular form represents what was intended to be a small legislative body that manages the few, constitutionally-enumerated responsibilities the 50 states are unfit to manage independently.
In plural form, the United States are Alabama, Wyoming, and everything in between. The states are supposed to have tremendous authority as they are far more aware of what is best for their inhabitants than a faraway field of castles in Washington DC. Instead of recognizing one nation, we should recognize the 50 sovereign states.
God is a subjectively manifested concept that each of us has the liberty to deal with in our own way. I was once an Atheist who scoffed at religion, and I had that right. I am now far more open-minded to the existence of God and have gained some respect for religious discipline and spirituality. But that’s up to me.
Instead of under God, we should exclaim that our nation is subservient to each of our natural, individual human rights: one nation, under us.
This is just plain wrong. Although the process is not easy, states are free to leave the union if they so choose. We should remind ourselves that unification is a choice (which, if you ask me, continues to be a wise decision despite the gross encroachments made by the feds), not that secession is impossible.
Instead of pledging allegiance to enslavement of the states by an out of control federal government, we should pledge allegiance to our free will to remain in the union or leave in accordance with what suits our preferences.
With Liberty and Justice for all
I certainly love the sentiment here, but it is simply not true. Compared to other nations in modern times and throughout history, the liberty and justice that exists in America is arguably on the more preferable end of the spectrum. But this is only in a relative sense and often a result of technological advancements, not good government.
Wholesale liberty and justice do not exist in America, and we should stop saying that they do. The more you say an unaccomplished goal is accomplished, the more you believe it is accomplished, and less energy you put into accomplishing it. A better alternative would be to say that we intend to establish liberty and justice for all or that liberty and justice are a work in progress.
Though it certainly fails to flow off the tongue, here is my revised Pledge of Allegiance for the 2018-2019 American school year:
I pledge allegiance,
To the Constitution,
Of the United States of America,
And to the inalienable rights of myself and my fellow man,
For which it stands,
50 Sovereign States,
Under their people,
Striving for Liberty and Justice for all.
Feel free to comment with a catchier version, and have a great school year!