Students across the nation begin their school day with the familiar words “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” But for all its history and symbolism, many middle and high school students may not understand the concepts or purpose of the pledge, a UT Arlington researcher has found.
Leisa Martin, a UT Arlington assistant professor of social studies in the College of Education, analyzed responses from 100 middle school and 36 high school social studies students to questions about the Pledge of Allegiance for the study. Overall, the students said the Pledge evoked feelings of respect and loyalty.
But 9 percent of middle school students and about 28 percent of high school students surveyed said the Pledge meant nothing to them. More than 60 percent of the students said they had received no formal instruction to prepare them for the Pledge ceremony, according to the study published by the International Journal of Pedagogy and Curriculum.
“As the nation observes Independence Day, this is an opportunity to reflect upon our freedoms and obligations as citizens of the United States,” Martin said. “While not all students understand the meaning of the words in the Pledge of Allegiance, educators can use the Pledge ceremony as a time to discuss the meaning of the words and to show how history has influenced the wording of the oath. Educators can also encourage students to discuss what freedoms they have as citizens and ways that they can be good citizens.”
Jeanne Gerlach, dean of the UT Arlington College of Education, said Martin’s work “focuses attention on how best to ensure that students and educators understand traditions based on ideals of democracy and liberty and contributes to the discussion on how to incorporate these ideals into social studies curricula.”
Francis Bellamy, a former minister, wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892 as part of an effort pegged to Columbus Day to establish a patriotic program for schools. The pledge was revised in the 1920s to specify the flag “of the United States of America,” and again in the 1950s to include the phrases “under God” and “one nation indivisible.” It has become a mainstay in classrooms since.
For her study, Martin interviewed 136 male and female social studies students from a middle school and high school located in the Southeast. The students were enrolled in classes that focused on World Geography or American History.
Martin used constructivism as a theoretical framework. The idea is that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world by experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.
Most of the students surveyed discussed loyalty and gratitude to the nation in their responses. But one high school student said that students should not be encouraged to say the Pledge “unless we take the time to teach the real meanings of the Pledge, how they are pledging to something they might not know what it means, and give them the choice to whether they want to believe in it.”
Another student commented: “I say it because I want to show respect because many people overseas, in different countries, don’t have the opportunities that we do like have a free education and by showing respect, that shows that we stand for something.”
Previous studies focused on younger children noted that some believed the Pledge contained the phrase, “to the republic for witches stands.” Martin recommended that educators post the words to the Pledge next to the American flag so that students can read what they are pledging to do.
Another recommendation encourages teachers to direct students to compare and contrast the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance to oaths from other nations in an effort to address misunderstandings about the Pledge ceremony.
About the UT Arlington College of Education
The UT Arlington College of Education is fully accredited through the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and in 2006 became the first College of Education within the UT System to receive accreditation through the prestigious National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. The College currently offers bachelor, masters and doctoral degrees through the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Visit www.uta.edu/coehp to learn more.
About UT Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more. Follow #UTAdna on Twitter.