Friday, November 20, 2009

I Don't Say "The Pledge." I Just Don't/Won't! So I Admire This Young Man

Asked by a seemingly hostile interviewer what it means to be an American, 10-year-old Will Phillips said: "Freedom of speech. Freedom to disagree." I hope this is symptomatic of the rest of his generation, though I seriously doubt it is.

Arkansas 10-Year-Old Won’t Pledge Allegiance Until Gays Gain Equality
A 10-year-old Arkansas boy name(d) Will Phillips has decided that he cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to the flag as long as the country for which it stands refuses legal equality to its GLBT citizens.

That stand has brought young Mr. Phillips anti-gay taunts in the lunch room, but admiration from around the country, reports a Nov. 5 Arkansas Times article. The West Fork School District fifth grader clashed with a substitute teacher for his refusal to stand for the pledge, prompting a call to Will’s mother, Laura Phillips. When the principal acknowledged that Will has the right to refuse to say the pledge, Ms. Phillips asked that her son receive an apology--a request that the principal declined to honor.

A 1943 Supreme Court decision found that schools may not punish students for refusing to recite the pledge. Objections to compulsory recitation of the pledge arose from the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the basis that their religion does not permit expressions of allegiance to anything other than their own religion and to God. The Jehovah’s Witnesses lost their first case before the Court in 1940, and reportedly suffered from bias-motivated violence in the aftermath of that case. The Court’s 1943 decision reversed the earlier finding, and students have had the right to decline saying the pledge since then, although socially such refusal is often met with disapproval.

Such has been the case with Will Phillips’ stand, but he hasn’t backed down. Laura Phillips told the Arkansas Times that her 10-year-old is "probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults. He’s not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair."

Fairness in this case is more than a mere abstraction, since the family has a number of openly gay friends and has participated in GLBT equality events such as Pride parades. Will, who told the newspaper that he would like to pursue a career in law when he’s older, could not square the tenets of the pledge with the political realities faced by his family’s GLBT friends, whose family and individual rights are under constant challenge. "I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all," said Will.

That led the young man to his decision not to pledge his allegiance due to the injustice he perceived to prevail against gays and lesbians. He discussed the matter with his family and then took his stand--or rather, refused to stand with the rest of the kids when the time for the pledge came around each morning. The first week of the young man’s protest happened to be a week when a substitute teacher, a friend of Will’s grandparents, was in charge of the class; as days went by, the teacher grew more aggravated, until finally she took Will to task.

"She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up," Will told the Arkansas Times. "I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, ’With all due respect, ma’am, you can go jump off a bridge.’"

That was enough to get Will sent to the principal’s office, which was when his mother received a call. The principal "said we have to talk about Will, because he told a sub to jump off a bridge," recounted Will’s mother. "My first response was: Why? He’s not just going to say this because he doesn’t want to do his math work." Upon learning the specifics of the exchange, Laura Phillips requested an apology for her son. "She said, ’Well I don’t think that’s necessary at this point,’" Laura Phillips told the Arkansas Times.

Will’s mother tweeted about the incident, and family friends informed the media. Support has poured in from around the country, and some of Will’s classmates have also been supportive.

But not everyone, said Laura Phillips, has been supportive, and those who oppose Will’s stand "are much more crazy, and out of control and vocal about it than supporters are."

Moreover, Will’s stand for equal rights for gays has led those who disagree to attack him personally with anti-gay epithets: "In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they’ve been making comments and doing pranks, and calling me gay," Will said. "It’s always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad."

That hasn’t been easy for Will, who skipped fourth grade but seems older than his age, especially in contrast to some of his peers. Said Laura Phillips, "It’s really frustrating to him that people are being so immature."

The interviewer from The Arkansas Times asked Will what it means to be an American. The answer: "Freedom of speech. The freedom to disagree. That’s what I think pretty much being an American represents."


Alexandra said...

Brave boy and his parents too. I fear for him as people are so mean and ignorant in this country.

Mr. Pelican said...

I think what he did was perfectly reasonable, and I applaud his stand. As a 5th grade teacher, I think his teacher took the wrong tack. What should have happened is a discussion of his views, not just the usual top down power trip. The teacher missed a golden opportunity for education. I object to the Pledge of Alligence on many levels: first of all is the fact that it was written as the result of a newspaper contest, the second is that it is a series of nods to special interests, the last being "under god" which was added because the Knights of Columbus raised a stink. Personally, when I MUST say the pledge of alligence, I often say ( sotto voce) "under dog".
It sounds the same, has the same letters, and is closer to my personal philosophy.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Doncha think the educational moment would have had to consist in the teacher admitting and validating the boy's views, being persuaded by the correctness of his position, and then defending him against the slings tossed his way by his peers?

Granted: 1) she was a substitute, and 2) he didn't need to be defended apparently (the whole "skipped grade" thing makes myt knees weak)... It was a power play, pure and simple. Schools, as with all other institutional state apparati, make it a point to pretend they don't tell their audiences what to think. That's a sophistry, but it's an adequate precis. What they do do is direct the audience's attention to the "acceptable" topics--missing white girls, shark attacks, aircraft disasters, political horse-races kabuki--and supply the discourse (the tropes and metaphors) with which to think about them. The media do this obviously, schools less so but no less ubiquitously.

that should have been my wasn't, but it should have been...

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

On th other hand:

Alexandra said...

Maybe your next dissertation could be on the fascist actions of background checks, sexual predator checks, and probably general information broker checks in secret and not necessarily the truth, on all the people, parents included, who enter the public schools. And that ain't all.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Sorry, Alexandra, there's not gonna be another dissertation from this node of the family. One, no matter how defective, was enough...

And anyway, if i did it, it would be to draw the explicit comparison between the overt and tacit parallels between the operations of the school-qua-ISA and the Press-qua-ISA.