WASHINGTON – Maryland law mandates that state schools stand up and salute the flag every morning and school officials say they do — but some parents say they find that hard to believe.
After this month’s terror attacks, several parents and one state delegate complained to the state Department of Education that their children do not know all of the words to patriotic songs or the Pledge of Allegiance.
“I believe what has happened is that parents went to (memorial services) with their children, and their children did not know some of the patriotic songs,” said Marcie Taylor-Thoma, state social studies specialist, who received many of the calls.
Wanda Hurt, vice president of legislation at the Maryland PTA, said schools are teaching social studies and history, “but we are not teaching patriotism.”
“When you reach a crisis as we have today, andd feelings of nationalism are stirring, it’s a shame that children are just now learning the patriotism that they should have been taught,” Hurt said.
But student leaders and school officials insist they follow state law, which requires counties to “prepare a program for each public school classroom for the beginning of each school day that provides for the salute to the flag and other patriotic exercises that are approved by the United States government.”
They also note that they cannot force students to participate. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have religious reservations about pledging allegiance to the flag and other students can simply refuse for personal reasons.
That has also led to some misunderstandings. In Montgomery County, parents and teachers alike have called Delegate Jean Cryor, R-Montgomery, to ask if it is illegal to teach the pledge in classrooms.
“I think we need to send a directive out so that people know that of course we can say the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, and no, a sheriff won’t come knocking on your door,” said Cryor.
Teachers said they must walk a tightrope between teaching patriotism without crossing religious or philosophical boundaries. But they insist that they do everything they can to encourage patriotic feelings on the classroom.
Students at Myersville Elementary in Frederick County say the Pledge of Allegiance every day, said Carol Daiger, a second grade teacher. She and her students talk about the significance of the pledge and the national anthem, she said.
“In my experience, I’ve only had one or two students sit out for personal reasons, and that was fine,” said Daiger, who has taught for 20 years.
Michael Laukaitis, a math teacher at Walter Johnson High school in Bethesda, said that “98 percent of students say the pledge every day” in his classroom.
Soham Dave, the vice president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, said he could see where a very young child “wouldn’t know all of the words to the Pledge of Allegiance.” But Dave, a junior at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena, said that middle school and high students not only recite the pledge, but they understand the meaning behind the words.
At Columbia’s Wilde Lake High School next week, students have organized a patriotism day, said junior Catherine Gifford, the treasurer of Maryland Association of Student Councils. She said students and teachers have been told to wear red, white and blue and an assembly to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks has been scheduled.
Many teachers said that parents have to take some of the responsibility for teaching their children about patriotism.
“I think that parents need to encourage their children [to be patriotic] at home too,” said Beth Thorsen, the president of Charles County Teacher’s Association. She suggested that parents take their children to museums, the White House and other government buildings to supplement what they are learning in the schools.