The first bell of the day rings at a local school, and a voice blares over the intercom, asking students to rise from their seats and say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
This is a familiar practice to students across the United States, since most states currently require schools to recite the pledge at the beginning of each day. And yet, some students opt out of the ritual, choosing instead to remain seated, or stand but stay silent.
Are these students less patriotic than those who stand willingly and proudly to recite the pledge? As someone who studies how young people engage with politics, I think the answer may be a bit more complex than you think. When it comes to the flag as a symbol, a public opinion poll conducted by the Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness suggests that young people see the flag less as a symbol to be proud of and more as a symbol of what is wrong with the country. If more students are associating the flag with flaws in the system, it would explain why some students opt out of standing for the pledge of allegiance or other celebratory acts.
In the end, it’s too simplistic to say that young people who are dissatisfied with the U.S. at present aren’t patriotic. It’s likely that the very students who are refusing to stand for the pledge are exhibiting their patriotism by demanding a better tomorrow, as was seen in the student protest movements of the 1960s and other current student-led protests.
This might provide all Americans with some hope, since it means young people actually care about the future state of affairs. It may also signal it is time to work together to build a country that we can all celebrate.