Rote & Ritual, a Rant

I shared a post on Facebook, today – and wrote a little “rant” above a graphic that stated: “”It would be a better world if people fought as hard for every kid to have a good school lunch as they did for every kid to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Indeed it would. And a good education to go with that lunch. We could start by focusing on building a STRONG, LASTING foundation in the basics (sounds cliché, but reading, writing, and arithmetic), then move on as kids grew hungry for more books. Stop teaching to the test, and measure teachers’ success by which students succeed over the NEXT four years.

As for the Pledge, shouldn’t it mean something? There are many things we recite by rote memorization and custom that really ought to be said slowly, thought about, and chosen in private. Pledges and oaths might be publicly appropriate for soldiers and politicians – as promises to the rest of us – but how meaningful are they for grade schoolers who have no choice but to comply?

When my son was in Scouts, he led the Pledge on several occasions: Once, at the SD7 Democratic Convention in Houston; once at the Memorial Day ceremony at the Houston National Cemetery. It’s an appropriate ritual, at times and places like these – and one assumes voluntary participation. (He asked if he could do it – it wasn’t part of his volunteer duties – and he was accorded the honor.) So it’s not that I don’t want my kids saying the Pledge – but I don’t see the point of making it a daily, formulaic ritual at school. I doubt God cares if we include the words “under God” or not – and certainly not if we treat those less fortunate as if they were leeches on society or subhuman creatures.

I could say “da DA da-da-da DA da da…” and you’d recognize it by its cadence. Same with The Lord’s Prayer or Hail Mary. It’s not even just the “forced” aspect (really, no one’s going to beat a kid with a ruler for not doing it – the point here is that we spend too much time and emotional resources on trivial things, when there are SO many real things we could be working on that are far more important). If you’re going to PLEDGE something, or PRAY to a God that you believe in – it should be voluntary, heartfelt, and meaningful. It should also probably be in front of as few people as necessary, so peer and societal pressure aren’t coming into play.

I did a mean thing, years ago, on Microsoft Qna (some friends here may remember this) – I described a Boy Scout flag retirement ceremony, but without saying it was Boy Scouts and without providing a link to the U.S. Flag Code. I basically said, “You see a group of teenaged boys outside, cutting the American flag into strips. They are talking as they do this. One builds a fire. They continue talking, then drop the strips into the fire and watch the flag burn. One of them knocks on your door and asks for a shovel. What do you do?”

It’s disheartening to know how many flag-waving, patriotic adults do not know what the U.S. Flag Code actually says about anything – and would bash your kid over the head with a shovel.

We waste an awful lot of time and money arguing about the outward trappings of patriotism or religion, but appallingly little time investing in the things that make this country great, or the actions that might honor our God, or our conscience, assuming we believe in and value either. For what it’s worth, I’m not atheist but I don’t believe that religion is necessary for someone to be a moral, kind, compassionate human being. And in this life, here on earth, that’s what matters most. Perhaps reciting – and discussing – a school code of conduct and respect for teachers and fellow students would make more sense in school, if we believe that repetition of a public oath will bring about better citizenship.

When’s the last time you deeply thought about the words in The Lord’s Prayer – or the words of Matthew, before them? (See Matthew 6:1-8) Does it mean more if you say it louder or in front of more people? Do you get more points in heaven for wearing a bigger cross around your neck? Does it mean anything to say, “I’ll pray for you” and then not DO it? Does it mean anything to say that, and not help those in need, yourself?

Do you know the lyrics to our national anthem? (Hint: It’s not really, “Jose, can you see…” )

Does a forced apology mean anything to anyone, or is it just an example of power and submission? Who needs a wolf in sheep’s clothing? I’d rather wait for a sincere apology than to have an awkwardly forced one grudgingly given.




Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at For more information on her children's books, please visit
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4 thoughts on “Rote & Ritual, a Rant”

  1. Yes, the Lord’s Prayer has meaning to me and I think about the words, thoughtfully, when saying them at church. I don’t say them out loud otherwise when I send a prayer to God at home or elsewhere. So, I don’t mind the repetition. I guess the same is true for the pledge. I grew up in a time where it meant something as we said the words each morning and it was an honor to be asked to repeat it by heart for the morning greeting to start the day. Maybe it’s the upbringing and how it’s explained to the child and how respect is taught. I don’t see a lot of respect in children these days. I’m not blaming “no flag, no religion” on the lack of respect, but I do think there’s some aspect to it – just in an after thought. Respect is not a natural thing. It’s taught. And we’re losing the battle on keeping respect in the population, especially the younger generations. When I was a child, I said the Pledge out of respect. When I go to church, I say the Lord’s Prayer – out of respect. It’s not forced. It’s earned. Now, all of those other issues – the truly important ones, about knowledge and basic human needs – of course those should be our priorities. Our system is screwed when we don’t respect, in all manner….
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    1. Absolutely agree with you, Aleta. It’s not really repetition I have a problem with; in fact, I think kids could stand a lot more of it, when it comes to things like spelling, math, and basic facts. It’s boring, but it’s effective. And it doesn’t have to be THAT boring, either – you can encourage thinking as part of the process. It doesn’t HAVE to be “mindless repetition,” but often is.

      Kids model the behavior they see around them. My mom used to say that if parents hadn’t instilled basic morality and good behavior in a kid by the age of six, they’d lost control and better hope for the best teachers and community, because there would be many competing (and often more attractive) influences. I think that’s true. We’re too quick to heap all the blame on parents, too, when those competing influences – especially TV and toys – are so manipulative and so well targeted to kids.

      It took my husband and son to convince me that the Disney Channel and ABC Family were about the most risque things on TV (not counting premium subscription channels). I watched with them to my shock – Walt would be moaning in his grave, in pain.

      I see a lot of people complain about kids – even say they “hate kids” – and I want to say to them, “Your community put up with you, and guided YOU. Now it’s your turn to behave better.” It definitely takes a village. And no disrespect intended – many devout churchgoers are good people – but between the “true Christians” and “devout Muslims” and “atheists,” guess which ones I generally see MODELING the best behavior, as opposed to talking about it and doing something else? (And at least when atheists misbehave, they don’t blame it on God. 😉 )
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  2. I was a military kid, thus often I had occasion to utter the Pledge without a moment’s thought; it’s just what we did. Also, every year in school the Pledge was something everyone said, even after my dad retired and I went to a regular high school my last two years, not living in a military community.

    Yet, once I wasn’t living on base, I stopped saying parts of it altogether at first, and then I stopped saying it. That “under God” line just drove me batty, especially once I’d learned that it wasn’t part of the original. In my mind our government had forgotten the Constitution and decided to force “god” on the people whether they wanted it or not. And I’m not one of those people who gets forced into anything.

    And look at the mess all of this stuff has caused even to now, when there are so many other more important things to deal with. Then again, there’s that subset of religiosity that puts “god” above their family; there’s no way I could ever support that kind of belief, but it does end up explaining a lot.
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    1. It’s always bugged me, this revisionist history – all the people up in arms over removing “under God,” when it wasn’t in the original in the first place.

      Our Constitution may not be perfect, but it’s pretty darned good and it’s served us well. Unlike some countries, we don’t rewrite it once a year, and that gives us something we can all count on and say, “Legally, this is the bottom line.” We can change and have changed it, but it should be for important things like protecting civil rights – not formulaic things that don’t make life significantly better for anyone.

      I’m with you – don’t take kindly to being “forced.” It triggers this little rebellious streak that, coupled with my stubborn streak, can be ugly.

      The way I see it, when we put God above family, we devalue God’s gifts. I get it, but like you I couldn’t do it. It’s like with my parents – someone once said to me, in front of my mom, “How does it feel to be your mom’s #1 favorite person?” I was like, “Well… one and a half, maybe…” My dad was #1. I wasn’t exactly #2, but I wasn’t #1. And we weren’t equal, but that was okay. My mom was just surprised and glad I knew I didn’t come in second, either, exactly.
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