Each morning when I was in sixth grade every student had to stand in their homeroom class and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
One day my teacher, Mrs. Gibbs, walked out into the hallway while the class was reciting the Pledge. I thought this would be a great opportunity to stand on my chair. Of course, Mrs. Gibbs walked back in and saw me. "Robert Hunter!" she yelled, "Come up here."
Sheepishly, I walked up to her desk where she handed me the first (and only) after-school detention of my school years.
My roundabout point is that I've never believed in mandated pledges. They just become things to memorize. The same goes for Arizona Rep. Steve Smith's oath to graduate. Let's be honest, it's silly.
Here's the actual oath:
"I, _____, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose or evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge these duties; so help me God."
Smith has already backtracked. First, he wanted to make it mandatory for every student to recite before receiving his or her diploma. Now, he wants it to be voluntary.
Look, his intentions might be noble, but if the pledge was mandatory it would violate the very freedoms he's trying to protect.
Instead of oaths and pledges, I would encourage more discussion and debate about freedom. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governedů"
This may very well be the most important American ideal. It is what makes this country great -- a recognition that we are born with freedom.
The Constitution's Bill of Rights expanded upon Jefferson's ideas to include freedom speech, religion, the right to keep and bear arms, and the right to be secure in your home, etc.
Discussions about these ideals is what expanded my understanding of patriotism and allowed me to examine the true meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance and what really makes me proud to be an American.