The Setup: My two sons are in 3rd grade and in the Spanish Immersion program, where half the day is taught in Spanish and half in English. I recently served as a chaperone on a field trip and all of us who were going as chaperones were sitting together outside the classrooms waiting for the school day to start, after which we would gather our assigned kids and herd them onto the buses for the trip.
So far, so good. I was sitting chatting with the other adults at my table when my son Joshua’s class began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish (because Joshua’s class starts the day speaking Spanish). A woman sitting at my table was very disturbed by this and she started telling us how wrong it was for children to recite the Pledge in Spanish. She said that not much bothers her, but that it was just wrong to recite the pledge in Spanish, because this is America, English is our official language, et cetera. I disagreed with her, but I didn’t want to make a big deal of defending the Pledge in Spanish because she was starting to look like someone who maybe forgot to take their meds. I was afraid I was going to end up close to this woman all day, which would have made the day much longer if she thought I was the Anti-Christ. (Thankfully I didn’t see her on the actual field trip.)
I’ll try to distill this woman’s thoughts: Apparently, saying the Pledge in Spanish somehow weakens the status of English, or is disrespectful of English, or our culture, or weakens our nation, or helps the terrorists, … or something. I just don’t get it.
The woman went on about this for awhile like the crazy McCain rally lady, noting that others might not agree with her position (I’m being generous in calling her “thoughts” a position) but continuing to rant anyway. Then she said she was going to write the school board about this Un-American activity. For me, that was turning the corner from harmless psycho to menace to free society. I suspect the school board has enough sense to realize that this woman is a nut and to file her letter appropriately. But now I feel like I need to write the school board myself and explain how rational people feel about the Pledge being recited in Spanish, to serve as a counterweight to this woman’s “position”.
I’ll try to briefly lay out my argument for why it’s good to have children reciting the Pledge in Spanish: We live in a nation founded on and defined by ideas, far more than concrete particulars. It is these ideas, enshrined in our Constitution, expanded on in both contemporary and modern supporting documents and made concrete in our history, that define the essence of the United States of America. It is these ideas, and not the particular language they are rendered in, that serve as the foundation of who we are as a people, and to suggest that by expressing these ideas in a slightly different language or context is going to injure us belies a misunderstanding or lack of confidence in these ideas, and ultimately in our nation. The Pledge of Allegiance is not an incantation. An idea that relies on rigidly dogmatic expression for its strength and coherence is like the magic formulas of so many lost practices and beliefs, which are no longer with us because the ideas behind them had no life of their own and appropriately served only a particular time and circumstance. I don’t think the ideas in our Constitution belong to this class.
So, while I would have gotten nowhere trying to explain the fine points of what makes our nation what it is to this deluded woman, I think I’ll write the school board and give them my opinion, as a counterweight, just in case.