Many schools, including many Christian schools, start their day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. We at The Academy have chosen not to participate in this longstanding tradition, which may strike a family as an odd decision. Why doesn’t The Academy recite the Pledge? After all, we are called to be good citizens and we live in America. Shouldn’t we, therefore, honor America by proclaiming our allegiance via reciting the Pledge? These are valuable questions that deserve thoughtful answers.
It bears noting at the outset of this discussion that The Academy is not suggesting in any way that it is somehow inappropriate for families to participate in the recitation of the Pledge. This discussion, however, centers exclusively around the practice for The Academy as a school.
One way to get at the answer to these questions would be to explore the history and wording of the Pledge, but as important as the history and wording of the Pledge are, heading down this path would distract us from what is fundamental to why we have decided not to recite the Pledge. A better strategy would be to begin our answers to these questions where all good answers begin—at the beginning.
Our answer begins with a set of foundational truths. Foundationally, two things must be kept in mind: First, all education is kingdom-oriented; and second, all education is transformative. These two things are so—whether or not a school is explicitly Christian. All humans, precisely because they bear the image of God and are called to obey the Cultural Mandate, are kingdom-building beings and they will build these kingdoms through transformative habits. The question then is not whether we will build kingdoms, but which kingdoms we’ll build (and by what means). There is no room left for a neutral educational perspective; all aim at something and have set practices employed to achieve set of goals. Examining these two truths will put us in a position to understand The Academy’s position concerning the Pledge.
Recognizing that all education is oriented toward a kingdom helps us answer the questions such as “What is the goal of education?” and “What is the purpose in having a school, a curriculum, a student body and a teaching faculty?” Diane Ravitch, in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, says this about her vision of the sort of kingdom at which education should aim:
[W]e must preserve American public education, because it is so intimately connected to our concept of citizenship and democracy and to the promise of American life…We must be sure that [students] are prepared for the responsibilities of democratic citizenship in a complex society.
This way of putting the goal of education helps us see that all schools are kingdom schools; that is, every school aims at producing members of some kingdom or other. As to Ravitch’s view, the goal of education is to produce citizens that can make their way through the kingdom of the democratic nation. This is a laudable goal, one which ought to be important to The Academy, and as such, isn’t entirely wrong-headed. Ravitch is right that education is about producing citizens and it is right to pursue educating good citizens.
Christian education, however, has a different kingdom orientation, and therefore a different citizenship goal. The goal of education, in terms of biblical thinking, is to produce citizens of God’s Kingdom. Adopting this goal is simply a result of reflecting on Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount. He tells his Kingdom Citizens to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
These are powerful, challenging words — words that call Christians to live worry-less, anxiety-free lives. We’re commanded to aim at God’s Kingdom, forsaking our own small, ersatz kingdoms and our attempts to provide for ourselves. But this isn’t true just for individual Kingdom citizens. The Academy is a Christian school and therefore a Kingdom school. Our goal in educating Christian students should be to prepare them to live the life to which Jesus calls them in the Sermon. Our educational goals can no more be about making students good American citizens than about merely making students smarter humans. We must ever keep before us the truth that the King is enthroned and building his Kingdom. This tells us that our primary allegiance is not to the America or its flag, but to Christ the King and his rule over all things. Reciting the Pledge can have the consequence of distracting students from the primary purpose of building Kingdom citizens. If we lose sight of our goal and seek to make good American citizens, we’ll lose the Kingdom. However, if we take Jesus at his word and seek the Kingdom, we’ll gain good American citizens.
The second foundational truth is that education is essentially a formative venture. This truth compels us to ask the question, “How does education transform?” There are several ways that education transforms, but the most important for our present discussion is this: education transforms by inviting us into habits that shape our hearts and minds. Humans, because they bear God’s image, are liturgical beings. We often hear that humans are creatures of habit and this is undeniably true. God created a world that works according to rhythms and seasons; He set up times and places to worship according to specific rituals. Getting out of these rhythms tends to bring chaos to our lives (think of how crazy it gets around the house during summer break). There’s something about having the routine of the school year that helps us stay sane (even in the madness of school).
Educating students is no different; it, too, is essentially liturgical. Learning is done primarily through repetition and practice, and it is this repetition and practice transforms us. These practices often come in the form of physical actions. How does one come to know how to play the piano? It’s through practice, practice, and more practice. Move this finger to that key. Play that scale. Again and again and again.
Participating in the Pledge is not a neutral event; it is a transformative event. It is a creed that is spoken as repetition and it has a physical component: putting hands over hearts. Consider that symbolism. What is being communicated by placing a hand over a heart? Our heart is the center of our being, the core of who we are. Placing our hand over our heart while reciting the Pledge is to say that our very being is committed to the American flag and the Republic for which it stands.
The Pledge is intended, through its daily repetition and associated physical actions, to transform our affections and bring about a particular set of beliefs and customs to endear us to a certain kind of kingdom. Contrast this with the Church’s practice of reciting the Nicene Creed in worship services. The Church, recognizing the shaping features of liturgy has, for centuries, recited the Creed to instill in the hearts of her people a love for the Kingdom.
Given that our primary allegiance is to God’s Kingdom rather than America, and given the transformative nature of education, we recite the Creed of the Kingdom rather than the Pledge of Allegiance as our first and foremost recitation.