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Reciting the pledge is just the first step

November 15, 2002

It's no surprise that a Cumberland-county lawmaker's bill to require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance passed the Pennsylvania State Senate by unanimous vote this week. The question that remains unanswered is whether it will accomplish sponsor Allan Egolf's objective.

Rep. Egolf introduced the bill, which also requires that the American flag be displayed in all classrooms, after he found some schools didn't ask students to recite the pledge. Without that, he said, the schools are getting away from teaching the country's history and what it stands for.

We certainly agree that the teaching of history, particularly American history, could be improved. We're dismayed by those periodic surveys which show that many college students don't know who was president during World War II, among other things.

Teaching History is also important because as many immigrants from many diverse cultures come to the U.S., it's important to emphasize what it is about America that should unite us all. That includes the rights that free people should have as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the codification of those rights into law, in the form of the U.S. Constitution.

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Have students say the pledge, if they choose - and the law would exempt those who object for religious or other reasons - but let's not spare them from looking at the meaning behind it.

Students should be taught why the pledge says we have a "republic," instead of a constitutional monarchy, for example. And they should know that when the pledge says "freedom and justice for all," that's not just rhetoric, but a promise that fair treatment isn't reserved for the rich.

Students might also be interested to read Dr. John W. Baer's history of the pledge, which reveals it was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, who was inspired by his cousin Edward Bellamy's novels about a national economic system that would bring equality for all. America hasn't achieved that ideal yet, but many of its good citizens haven't stopped trying either.

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