Friday, April 25, 2008

Esta tierra es tuya

It is strange to me that the Pledge of Allegiance can stir up so much controversy. Yet time and time again, both nationally and in my own personal life, it does just that, causing passions to run high on both sides of the debate.

There have been arguments about whether or not the recitation of said pledge should be compulsory for public school children (in 1943 the Supreme Court ruled that it cannot, as that would be a violation of the First Amendment), whether the late addition of "under God" is constitutional (the issue has so far been dodged by the Supreme Court), and now, most recently, whether or not the pledge must be recited in English only.

Edgerton High School, in Edgerton, Wisconsin, has been facing that last issue head-on.

For many years now, Edgerton High School in Wisconsin has allowed students in its Spanish class to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish over the Intercom one day of the school year. It also invites foreign exchange students (the school now has three) to say it in their own language.

This year, when Spanish students recited the Pledge on March 11, it caused a ruckus.

Parents complained. They demanded that the Spanish teacher, the principal, and the superintendent be fired. And they intend to press the issue at the school board meeting on April 28.

The superintendent, Dr. Norman Fjelstad, has even been physically threatened.

I am, quite honestly, appalled by the reaction of parents and members of the community to this. First and foremost, the pledge is something people can choose to say or not, and if they do, what does it matter what language it's said in? We are a free country, made up of people from all walks of life and hundreds of different ethnic and national backgrounds. English, by dint of chance, has become the most dominant language in the country, but we've kept it from being designated the "official" language for good reason.

What makes us American is not so much what language we speak but what ideals we hold dear. One of those ideals is that the diversity of humanity is a strength, not a weakness.

Sadly, there are those who believe that somehow, just by saying the Pledge in a different language, it dishonors the men and women who've fought to make this country what it is. Frankly, I think it honors them. After all, haven't we been struggling to become and continue to be a free and inclusive society?

Too, shouldn't we be encouraging our children (and adults) to branch out and learn other languages? Bilingual education is especially important in our increasingly global community. Having even a basic understanding of another language (and, by proxy, another culture) does wonders in helping to bridge cultural gaps, make us savvier in the business world, and generally increase our ability to get along with different people from different places. We should be encouraging exercises like those at Edgerton High School, not calling for the teachers' heads on pikes.

That people are threatening superintendent Norm Fjelstad over this is completely unacceptable. While I may firmly disagree with their opinions, it is of course their right to express them. But extending that to verbal and physical threats is inexcusably wrong. It illustrates nothing but ignorance on the part of the perpetrators.

I applaud Fjelstad for standing up against the threats and defending the decision.

“I’ve heard their frustration,” says Superintendent Fjelstad. “I understand what they’re saying. They feel it dishonors our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. My response is this: I know there are 400 Hispanic speaking soldiers that won’t disagree with them. They can’t disagree because they gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, there are 110,000 Spanish-speaking Hispanics serving in the military that I believe would agree with me that speaking Spanish does not dishonor the military.”

Fjelstad also points out that George W. Bush had the National Anthem sung in Spanish at his inaugural in 2001.

Fjelstad adds a personal point. “I have a Norwegian heritage,” he says. “My father could not speak English until the third grade, and he was patriotic, and he recited the Pledge in Norwegian.”

Fjelstand also notes that “our Wisconsin Constitution was written in three languages: English, German, and Norwegian. The reason it was written in three languages is because it’s important that people understand the words.”

On top of that, Fjelstad invokes the First Amendment to the Constitution. “Government should never mandate that the Pledge or the National Anthem be said in one language,” he says.

Fjelstad’s conclusion: “I see nothing wrong with what we’ve been doing.”

But he’s not sure the school board will see it that way.

“The school board has the right to overturn my decision,” he says. “If they do, I won’t be insubordinate. I will comply. I won’t be fired. But I’ll be on record as saying I disagree with that decision, and that I believe people are suppressing what is a freedom of our country.”

I wish I'd had this guy as my superintendent back in high school. When I made the decision not to recite the Pledge every morning as classes started, I took a lot of flak. This even though I conceded to standing up during it as a sign of respect to those around me. Still, because I wouldn't actually say it, I was perceived as being unpatriotic. Nothing could be further from the truth, and my decision was not reached lightly. I chose not to recite the Pledge because of the "under God" addition, and because I'm not comfortable pledging my troth to a flag. The people, the ideals, the rights and goals of my country, however, I hold dear.

I can only hope that the school board doesn't overturn the decision. We've had too much in the way of knee-jerk, poorly thought out positions winning the day. Edgerton may just be one small town on the map, but the issues being faced there are universally important.


jen x said...

The bizarre thing, for me: wouldn't the idea of people of all languages reciting the Pledge actually be a conservative (not a subversive) act? A pledge of "allegiance," for goodness sakes, to Nation, God, and Flag -- it sounds like opening day at the GOP convention, not grounds for hassling a high school principal for being un-American.

capper said...

Well done, young lady.

I get so tired of those that are always afraid of anything or anyone even a little bit different than themselves. Their conformist messagist get rather tedious and annoying in quite a short time.

illusory tenant said...

Well said, Emily. The original motto on the Great Seal of the United States, E pluribus unum, is in some crazy foreign lingo too.

Compared to "Out of Many, One," the motto adopted by a fear mongering Congress in 1956, In God We Trust, actually excludes many Americans.

Which only serves to underscore the truth of the auxiliary motto, "In Congress We Don't Trust."

The CDP. said...

I cannot believe that so many people have the time to be outraged and uproarious over something as trivial and pointless as the pledge. Like you, I stood (silently) to show respect to my classroom and not make a scene, and furthermore, you should be able to recite it in any language you choose, should you care about it that much.

There's just not a whole lot of 'big picture' people out there, it appears. The freaking pledge, for crying out loud. Give me a break.

Steve said...

another thing, just happened, suspended, then not, for not standing...

The Lost Albatross