Pledge at Stuy: Some Recite, Others Reject
April 18th, 2002
"I don't want to pledge to a country that I'm not absolutely comfortable with," said sophomore Naema Chowdhury. Among some thirty students who rise with drafting teacher Steve Rothenberg every morning for the Pledge of Allegiance, Chowdhury is one of three who do not. During the pledge, she sits squarely facing her computer screen, unperturbed.
Yet Rothenberg tries to create enthusiasm. Upon each daily announcement, he says, "Everyone up, pledge time!" Rothenberg said, "I feel strongly about it. I believe it's important and is a part of what this country's about."
Since the Pledge of Allegiance became a daily ritual at Stuyvesant on March 12, in accordance with Board of Education regulations, strong disagreements have appeared within the student body and the faculty. While many feel that reciting the Pledge is appropriate in an educational setting, others fear that it may cause more harm than good.
Math teacher Stewart Weinberg pledges to the flag. Like many other faculty members, Weinberg grew up in a time when the Pledge was recited daily in school. "To me, it's a very natural thing. I think it's a nice way of expressing appreciation for the country," he said. "Even with all its faults."
Sophomore Louisa Bukiet disagrees. "By putting it in the announcements, they're telling us what we should feel. By setting aside time for the announcement, it's implied that we would be bad citizens or untrue to our country if we didn't say it," she said.
Students have the right to not pledge or to remain seated. The Board of Education stipulates only that they must remain undisruptive. This legal freedom may or may not be common knowledge at Stuyvesant, and some feel that formal discussion would be appropriate.
"Today as the Pledge was said, my class started to leave. It was really disrespectful and the teacher just dismissed us," said junior Chloe Pollack. "The administration should outline how to conduct class during the announcement. Teachers shouldn't be allowed to coerce kids to stand, but we should remain quiet and respectful-and in the classroom."
Although policy on it is flexible, Computer Science teacher Michael Zamansky feels that reciting the pledge is entirely inappropriate. "I think it's ridiculous pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth woven in a certain pattern," he said.
Some, like Zamansky, also object to the religious connotations of the pledge and believe that its wording violates separation of church and state. Zamansky said, "With all the religious turbulence in this world, whose God are we under?"
Many students fear that the sentiment of their teachers and class can influence or add pressure to individuals. Sophomore Roman Trimba said that in his drafting class with James Lonardo, barely ten people stand for the pledge. He describes often feeling like the only one standing.
On the other hand, according to Weinberg, one boy in his class remained seated on the first day of the pledge. Yet from the next day on, the boy began to stand with the class, though still not reciting. "I think the boy was self conscious of his sitting," said Weinberg. "It's nice to show respect."
However, Bukiet argues that students should not have to experience uneasiness even if they do choose to abstain. She is worried that the Pledge might "make a teacher feel biased towards a student."
"We go to a competitive school," said junior Stelios Plakas. "It's not good when teachers are too pushy about kids reciting the Pledge, because even though we all have the legal right to sit, some people might feel pressured to stand so that the teacher's opinion of them won't be lowered."
Though Rothenberg made it clear that it is okay not to pledge, he said, "For the people who don't, I believe it's better if they would."
Since September 11, the Board of Education has decided to re-establish the recitation of the Pledge, which is mandated but has been long neglected [see box]. Today, many at Stuy debate whether it was an appropriate response to the terrorist attacks.
Weinberg believes that the pledge may ease the public's desire to help. He feels that after such a catalytic event as September 11, "there is a need and the need is going to manifest itself." Zamansky disagrees. He said, "I don't see it as having any real positive effect. A more meaningful response would be to live our lives differently, being a little kinder and less judgmental towards others."
September 11 was on the mind of Bukiet when she first sat out uncomfortably from the Pledge. She said, "I felt as if people would believe I didn't care about the people who died."