Friday, February 09, 2007

L.A. Charter School Students Not Required to Pledge Allegiance

The title of Bob Sipchen's Los Angeles Times commentary earlier this week asked, "What if a school refuses to pledge its allegiance?" The subject of the article is the L.A. charter school, Semillas del Pueblo, that was at the center of a local controversy last year over whether administrators teach racial separatism:

"Do your students say the Pledge of Allegiance?"

That was the question I posed in several ways to Marcos Aguilar, a founder and now the Tlayecantzi or "school guide" at Academia de Semillas del Pueblo Xinaxcalmecac.

You see, it's charter school renewal season in Los Angeles and Semillas del Pueblo ("Seeds of the People"), a 318-student, K-7 charter in El Sereno, is one of 18 schools whose contracts will soon get a thumbs up or thumbs down from the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Sipchen also asked: "To what extent do you impart the values of American democracy?" But Aguilar had a hard time answering these questions. His responses instead, to Sipchen and in previous interviews, challenged the very legitimacy of the American political and educational systems:

Two years ago, for instance, in discussing Semillas del Pueblo and its single-minded devotion to "indigenous" children, Aguilar told an interviewer for an online UCLA education publication: "The whole issue of segregation and the whole issue of the civil rights movement is all within the box of the white culture and white supremacy…. And ultimately the white way, the American way, the neoliberal, capitalist way of life will eventually lead to our own destruction."
Sipchen mentioned that the school is beloved by parents for its welcoming embrace and the respite it provides from public school discrimination:

Parents said they loved the way the school involved the community and encouraged creativity. One mother spoke of being mistreated and discriminated against when she was a public school student. She said her child thrives at Semillas del Pueblo because it's safe and honors the dignity of indigenous culture. The white father of a child whose mother is Latino said the school teaches respect for all cultures and peaceful conflict resolution.
Sipchen notes that Semillas del Pueblo teaches an internationalist curriculum, fostering "world citizenship" and encouraging active learning. But where does the United States fit in to all this, Sipchen wondered?

As a starting point into this thorny area, I raised the question of whether students say the Pledge of Allegiance. The conversation spiraled into a rhetorical vortex where "yes" or "no" was supplanted with a scolding about mainstream public schools' failure to teach the U.S. Constitution's roots in indigenous cultures, a lecture on Europeans' slaughter of this continent's original inhabitants, a rap about the importance of "choice" as a democratic principle, assurances that the school teaches to state standards, and this: "I'm sure many gang members say the Pledge of Allegiance.

"I'm not sure it means much if a school does or doesn't encourage students to salute the flag. But please don't play readers of this column for chumps. Give a straight answer, move on to a deeper discussion of ideological loyalties and let readers evaluate your reasoning.

Me, I happen to think that, while flawed, the U.S. at this moment in the 21st century is about as good as civilization has gotten for most people — and notches above most collectivist societies, indigenous or otherwise. But that's mainly because of our freedoms, our opportunities, our ever-increasing tolerance and the penchant for risk-taking those benefits encourage.

After that, Sipchen says, "what the heck." If parents want a multicultural education, so be it. Besides, according to Sipchen, it's not as if regular schools in nearby poor Latino neighborhoods are offering a better alternative.

Perhaps. More fundamentally, though, Sipchen's commentary fails to resolve his initial query: Should kids in public schools be required to pledge their allegiance to the United States? It's an important question. A central goal of nation's public education system is political socialization: The government hopes to promote national loyalty, respect for our instutions, and basic values. With that in mind, maybe L.A. Unified will be more successful than Sipchen in getting a direct answer from Aguilar on whether his students recite the pledge.

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