Thursday, November 30, 2006

Unforeseen Consequences

Since 9/11, the Pledge of Allegiance has been revived in New York City high schools. How that dissuades terrorists I'm not sure, but I teach kids who come from other countries, and they have no idea what most of it means. That's not all that unusual. When I was a kid they made us sing "My Country Tis of Thee," and I always thought one line was "land where the pilgrims fried." It didn't seem very nice at all.

So I decided my ESL students would understand the entire pledge. The pledge is very idealistic, considering not everyone gets the same justice as O.J. Simpson, but I presented it without any such commentary. I decided to spend considerable time on the word "indivisible." My wife is from South America, and this word was problematic for her when she took her citizenship test.

She went and answered all the questions about branches of government, and spoke English, and did whatever it was she was supposed to do. But when she recited the pledge, she said "invisible" instead of indivisible. She was fortunate in that her interviewer had a sense of humor. He chose to laugh and correct her rather than fail her.

So I made absolutely sure my kids wouldn't have that problem. Now, every day, when the pledge comes over the loudspeaker, my students spring up and put their hands on their hearts. They turn solemnly and look at the flag. As the pledge comes over the speakers, they stand in absolute silence. But then, mid-pledge, 34 young voices call out "INDIVISIBLE."

Unforeseen consequences aren't just for governments anymore.
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