Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fifth grader sets cat among the pigeons.

Will Phillips, is a fifth-grade student at West Fork Middle School in West Fork, Arkansas. He is also a student who got into a bit of trouble with the school authorities, especially a substitute teacher who overstepped her boundaries.

Not long ago Will came home and told his mother and father, Laura and Jay Phillips, that he was no longer going to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school. He told them that the pledge talked about "liberty and justice" for all, but that he didn't think this existed for gay people. He told his parents: "To say them [the words of the pledge] and not mean them would be a lie."

But a substitute teacher started getting on his case every day he refused. The teacher just wouldn't let the matter rest. On the fourth day she tried guilt, telling the boy that his mother and grandmother would want him to say the pledge. His response was: "With all due respect, you can jump in a lake." As Laura Phillips said: "Don't push him—four days of hassle, hassle, hassle and raise your voice. He's going to lose his temper." He did, and he had every right to. The matter of forcing students to say the pledge was cleared up in 1943. Apparently this part of Arkansas is stuck in 1942. Schools have no such authority.

The pledge itself is a rather interesting thing if you know its history. Consider how elected officials are supposed to pledge allegiance to the constitution, not to the flag and the government, as the Pleadge requires. Two cousins, Francis Bellamy and Edward Bellamy, along with a friend, Daniel Ford were advocates of a socialist state as envisioned by Edward in his book Looking Backward. They felt that the American school system should be like the Prussian system and wanted to use it to teach loyalty to the state. In particular they meant it as a way of making people loyal to the federal government.

Edward Bellamy lamented the Constitution of the US because it limited government functions. He admired the British system where the Constitution did was a plethora of legislaiton and traditions not a written document with enumerated powers. Bellamy wrote: "England's Constitution readily admits of constant though gradual modification. Our American Constitution does not readily admit of such change. England can thus move into Socialism almost imperceptibly. Our Constitution being largely individualistic must be changed to admit of Socialism, and each change necessitates a political crisis." Bellamy hoped that his Pledge would push the public more in favor of a centralized state. This is why it amuses me to watch the Right constantly defending the Pledge while the Left seems to hate it. Funny that.

The teacher was way out of line. Will was quite within his rights to refrain from saying the Pledge of Allegiance. His parents had warned him that some people would criticize him, or perhaps insult him, for that decision. But he said he was prepared for that to happen. He was still going to do what he believed was right. But what I don't think he was prepared for was an adult in authority using her position to try to bully him into caving into conformity.

Telling the woman "to jump in the lake" may not have been the best choice of words. However, in his situation I suspect that my comments wouldn't have been nearly so refrained. From my reading of the situation it appears that Will was the most adult individual in that room that day.

To find someone so bright at 10 years of age is refreshing and in Arkansas! He must get lonely.