The words of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag bring such a feeling of patriotism and pride to me. Perhaps the sounds of the Pledge of Allegiance mean so much to me because we recited the pledge each day when I was teaching at my various schools. I heard the sweet voices of the children…with their hands over their hearts…resound across all of my schools each morning.
The majority of the students in my recent schools spoke Spanish at home. My class each year was designated ESL…English as a Second Language. This particular district called classes like mine “regular”, although my students indeed spoke English as a Second Language. In my first district, we were asked to study for, take and pass the ESL test to add to our state teacher certifications.
Reading instruction in English is presented to ESL students in a very logical, phonetic and sequential way. Actually, this type of instruction is beneficial to all students. These are some of the brightest and most enthusiastic children that I have ever taught. They were eager to learn, outgoing and well-behaved. My school was a Title I school with a dominant amount of children from homes at the poverty level. In fact, all of the schools in my public school career were Title I schools. Some schools had a high percentage of Hispanic children, some schools were predominately Vietnamese and some were like a “windows to the world”. I care so deeply for these children.
One year, a bit earlier in my career, I had children in a third grade class who individually spoke one of seven individual languages at home, but English at school. The vast cultural differences were amazing and so were the responses of the children to each other. They took the time to learn about each other in positive ways. They were all thrilled to have emigrated to the United States. Some of the children came to their new country as toddlers and some came as recent as the summer before school started. They kept close ties to their birth country, but rarely were able to return because of the cost.
The children were mostly very articulate in English and did not have a difficult time transitioning back to their first language when they went home for the day. If a parent was picking them up, they immediately spoke in their other language. I considered their language versatility at such young ages to be a true gift. If only I could switch to speaking Spanish so quickly! Instead, I have to stop and think for a few minutes! At this point, I am still not particularly fluent.
With all of this in mind, I truly did find hearing the Pledge of Allegiance to be a compelling moment each day. I knew that they had allegiance to their home country, but they were willing and ready to embrace the United States. My classes and many other classes in my school learned the The Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. If I were to go to school or teach in their home countries, I would want to learn their most well-known patriotic songs as well as the pledge to their flags in the language of the new country.
For all of these reasons…I was surprised when we were told to also say the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish. This occurred at multiple schools in different districts.
Something about this administrative decision seemed wrong to me since my experience included teaching children from many countries. We certainly did not ever say the American pledge in Vietnamese or in a dialect from various countries in Africa or in French. Why couldn’t we remain learning and saying the pledge in our common language in this country?
My student for two years …Ukoh from Nigeria…never expected us to say the pledge in his home language. This boy…an incredibly bright nine year old when I last saw him…was so proud of the American flag that he said the pledge and sang our patriotic songs more distinctly and exuberantly than any other child in my entire career. He asked each day to have the honor of holding the American flag.
Thank you to Ukoh for reminding me of the vast significance of the Pledge of Allegiance…and the beautiful sounds of the Star Spangled Banner!