Child with hand on chest looking upMany social networking sites for counselors and teachers have posts about how to deal with students who refuse to take the Pledge of Allegiance.

I stand respectfully when the national anthem is sung, but every cell in my body cringes at our focus on war, power, and might.  I find it so telling that we assume that students who refuse to do the pledge are defiant or oppositional.  I would love to sit down and have a deep and meaningful conversation with those students.  Not to support or refute their beliefs, but to listen and learn.  How much richer our schools would be if, instead of asking students to mindlessly repeat the pledge a given number of times in a month, teachers led insightful conversations among students, respectfully comparing and contrasting their values.  Students who mindlessly repeat the pledge are not necessarily the students I most want to have running our government or our institutions.  I want students who can think critically, respect others, and come together to find common ground.  Compliance doesn’t necessarily indicate a shared meaning or value.  It just indicates compliance.

I’d be fascinated in the classroom conversations that invited students who had newly arrived in the US to share with us the pledges and anthems from their countries of origin, and have all students ponder the values those other countries  have.  Take a look at the lyrics from the national anthem of Russia:

Or how about Nigeria.

Syria has some wonderful values portrayed….

Consider this verse from England’s national anthem:

Not in this land alone,
But be God’s mercies known,

From shore to shore!
Lord make the nations see,
That men should brothers be,
And form one family,
The wide world over.

I find it very interesting that it is so very rare to find people who are willing to have the deeper conversations about how our national anthem shapes our attitudes.  It isn’t that I think I’m right!  It is that I place very high value on critical thinking, on responding rather than reacting to one another’s beliefs, on reflecting together, on being able to maintain high mutual respect in the midst of difficult civil discourse.

Our little spaceship earth is finite and our cultures are growing ever more entwined.  My heart begs for collaboration over strident individualism, diplomacy over sanctions and war, mutual respect over insistence on compliance, open minds over rigid doctrine, consideration of the ripple-out effect of our actions rather than blatant insistence on use of free speech to insult those of other cultures, religions or beliefs.  My heart begs for a kinder, gentler world where we stop to take interest in issues from a perspective that stretches our individual horizons and softens the distinctions and difference that divide us.  My soul longs to stand on the border between Israel and Palestine, between Syria and Jordan, between Pakistan and India, to plant olive trees with mothers and children from both sides of those borders.  Even today, my soul still has the courage to long for reasons to hope…