Though itís still 100 degrees outside school has begun, and with it the lessons that a conscious parent learns about upholding oneís values within an under-funded politicized educational system. And Iím not even talking about the PTA!
Among parents at my sonís central Austin elementary school, the email lines having been burning about the state legislatureís decision to require all Texas schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the State of Texas Pledge, and to observe a moment of silence each day. We found out, like most parents, via a letter from Mel Waxler (General Counsel for the Austin Independent School District) tucked in my sonís "take home" folder on the first day of school along with the lunch menu, information on the upcoming gift wrap fundraiser and a brochure on the importance of being on time.
Driving to work the next morning, I make a mental list of random things:
-Giant watermelon stickers -- guerilla art that appears overnight on telephone poles and overpasses all around town -- that makes me want to stop for a big juicy slice before I even get to work.
-An American flag we saw on vacation, with a peace sign instead of stars, waving from a dilapidated mobile home on a desert mountain top above Taos, New Mexico.
-The phone call I got yesterday from a local bank saying they will donate a brand-new television for the rec room at a housing community for people who used to be homeless.
-The student list for my sonís first grade class, stuck on the fridgeóMark, Manuel, Keisha, Kevin, Serenity, Sashaówhich reminds me of Unicef's Book of Children Around the World I had as a child.
-The cavernous hole that gapes wider each day, where theyíre building a new Whole Foods Market despite the economy, and the giant gaping pit in New York surrounded by a fence of flowers.
-The booming hip-hop heartbeat of the car next to me, the taco shack that springs up on a busy corner, the radio reporter who notes the irony of protesters wanting to keep the Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama state house singing "We Shall Overcome," a poppy-colored hot air balloon that hangs over the lake advertising a real estate company.
All this, and so much more, I love about our country this morning.
And yet I must confess I hate the Pledge of Allegiance. When I get to "One nation under God," hastily added in the 1950s as an inoculation against the red scare and other multi-hued phobias, I cringe. I canít possibly be the only one who finds this a tad little, uh, unconstitutional.
But this is not my only problem with the new law. The hubris of Texas requiring its youth to pledge allegiance is akin to Texas caviar (black-eyed peas), Texas champagne (hot sauce) and the famous Texas Jackalope. Not to mention what would happen in little Johnny's mind should his mom or dad gets transferred to Phoenix, or God forbid, Oklahoma!
My concern doesnít end there. A moment of silence is in itself a wonderful thing. I wish we had one at work (as well as naptime, 25-cent ice cream sandwiches and story circle). But this particular moment of silence, taking place as our elected representatives fight openly (and, worse, covertly) for power, scares me. While names of suspects are being collated, I am scared. While the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay is expanded, I am scared. While our soldiers continue to get killed in a war thatís "over," Iím scared. While poor people fall through the gossamer net of safety, Iím scared.
In this moment that unfolds, there is no silence.
I am not a radical; I voted for Carter not Anderson, Gore not Nader. I always vote, but only occasionally protest. And I never chain myself to things. I respect the police, the mayor, and sometimes even the governor. But being a mother has made me wish I hadnít thrown away my "Question Authority" button after it got dented from the Reagan years.
I want to call someone.
"Hi, Robin," our CPA greets me on the phone. "Whatís up?"
"Carla, do you have ANY idea that the Pledge of Allegiance goes against the basic principal of separation of church and state?"
"Dr. Garciaís office, can you hold?"
"No! Not until you recite the Texas Pledge of Allegiance. And no peeking in last weekís issue of the Statesman!"
"Yoga Yoga, how may I help you?"
"Do you HONESTLY believe that requiring my six-year-old son to sit quietly, doing nothing for 60 seconds, with no actual instruction in meditation, relaxation or other useful mental occupation, will make him a better citizen?"
Instead, I post a small message to the schoolís email group. I ask anyone concerned about the new law to email me directly, aware of how list traffic can explode. By the end of the day, more than 25 parents reply to me and another ten to the group list. One mom and dad send an eloquent letter they spent the night before writing to the principal ("we donít want to shoot the messenger, but we hope if he is overwhelmed with responses heíll take them higher up"). Several confess theyíre saving their energy for future conflicts (like saving fine arts, once again) while others just want "to start the year off on a good foot." And then there is the parent who writes that he and his wife are "old hippies" too, but now that theyíve found Christ, they wish for the days when people just argued about what their buttons said. (Funny, my long-haired husband doesnít recall any arguments from that time ever being that simple.) Finally, a friend from my sonís class writes, "I wasnít concerned about the new law. Until I read the messages from other parents!"
I start to dread opening my email.
By the third day of school we learn that the principal, like many others in town, is taking this law with a grain of salt (the pledges are broadcast over the P.A. each morning and children may choose to mumble along or not) and that if our son doesnít want to participate he doesnít need a note from us. Our sense of urgency gets lost along with the grocery list. We can write our state legislators, but honestly our Democrats have bigger fish to fry right now. With the ever-growing issues that face our country, like identical Russian dolls doubling in size and number, already Iím starting to feel like a rebel without a cause.
But for a moment I was a lightening rod for other peopleís raw emotions about God, freedom, and what our country means to them. I didnít always like what I saw. Now I know why mothers chain themselves to fences of nuclear reactors and stand arm-in-arm before police lines.
One father writes me that he explained to his kids that a "pledge" is a promise. To which his nine-year-old daughter replied, "If itís a promise, why do we have to say it every day?"