July 7, 2014

I pledge allegiance to the ...?

About 28 percent of high-schoolers at a Florida school said the Pledge of Allegiance meant nothing to them, one UT Arlington researcher discovered. Now, she’s looking at Texas.

Each morning, students across the U.S. recite the Pledge of Allegiance before class, but some of them say it doesn’t mean anything to them, says a researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Leisa Martin, assistant professor of social studies education at UTA, surveyed a group of 100 middle school and 36 high school social studies students in Florida. Most reported feeling respect and loyalty after saying the pledge. But 9 percent of the middle school kids and 28 percent of the high school students said the pledge meant nothing to them.

Martin’s study, published by the International Journal of Pedagogy and Curriculum, prompted her to do two more when the study showed that over 60 percent of both groups said they had no formal education on what the pledge means.

“My area of study is social studies education, and the main goal is to prepare students for citizenship,” Martin said. “We can better prepare them to be citizens in our democratic society, and it’s very, very sad to see young people being lost and confused.”

“The whole purpose of the pledge was to develop loyalty to the nation and to remind students of their freedoms and responsibilities as citizens,” she said.

Her survey of the students in Florida came after research with John Chiodo of the University of Oklahoma on future teachers’ views of the pledge. Martin said she chose the Florida school because of ties she has with educators in the area. She declined to name the school or city because of a confidentiality agreement.

“One little student thought it was ‘liberty and juice for all,’ or ‘for witches stand,’ ” Martin said.

Though Texas requires school districts to have a pledge ceremony, students have the right to opt out. The same goes for the Texas Pledge.

Martin’s current research is on teacher education students at UT Arlington and their views of both pledges.

Jessica Hong, a senior midlevel education student in the Honors College, is conducting the study jointly with Martin as a part of her honors thesis. They plan to complete it in the fall.

Hong said they aim to survey more than 100 students in the College of Education to get a sense of what future teachers think.

“We learned that a lot of teacher candidates don’t get the laws behind it,” Hong said. “They don’t know if they have to force their students to say it or not. They don’t know students can opt out.”

She said at times the teachers themselves don’t stand up to say the pledge, and she wants to know whether teachers feel patriotic when they say the words.

When Baptist minister Francis Bellamy wrote the salute to the flag in 1892, it did not include the words “under God.” They were added by Congress in the 1950s to differentiate the U.S. from what was considered “godless communism,” Martin said.

Martin plans to study regional differences in understanding and attitudes regarding the pledge.

“Maybe Texas kids are different from Florida kids or New York kids,” she said.

In a 60/40 Native American/Caucasian high school in upstate New York along the Canadian border, Martin found that as many as 74 of 88 Mohawk students declined to pledge.

The New York study was submitted but not yet published.

One of Martin’s recommendations is for teachers to enlighten students in places like Florida by using posters with the pledge and to take time out at the beginning of the school year to teach the weight behind the words.

“Children from all over the world are coming to our schools,” Martin said. “We want international students to understand the ceremony.”

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