02 March 2008

Quaker teacher fired for changing loyalty oath

With all the hoo-hah about introducing a pledge of allegiance in South African schools, I was quite interested in this story:

Quaker teacher fired for changing loyalty oath:
California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word 'nonviolently' in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form.

Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before - but had modified it each time.

She signed the oath 15 years ago, when she taught eighth-grade math in Sonoma. And she signed it again when she began a 12-year stint in Vallejo high schools.

Each time, when asked to "swear (or affirm)" that she would "support and defend" the U.S. and state Constitutions "against all enemies, foreign and domestic," Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote "nonviolently" in front of the word "support," crossed out "swear," and circled "affirm." All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said.

The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said.

But Cal State East Bay wouldn't, and she was fired on Thursday.

Quakers have a reputation for that, and I say more power to their elbow. South African law courts are supposed to give you the choice of swearing or affirming, but in my experience they rarely do. I get the impression that objecting and asking to affirm would prejudice the judge or magistrate against you for wasting the court's time.

I'm in two minds about the proposed pledge of allegiance in schools. Some have objected to the wording, saying that recognising the injustices of the past makes kids responsible for things that happened before they were born. I don't see that it does. I think it's OK if kids recognise that certain things that happened in the past were unjust, and resolve not to allow them to happen again in their generation.

The problem I have with it is that making that kind of thing compulsory in schools smacks a bit like the indoctrination of the young, which was one of the injustices of the past. It leads to the kind of patriotism that overflows into chauvinism and jingoism and leads in turn to imperialist wars like the US invasion of Iraq, and a spirit that can be seen on so many right-wing American blogs that are all over pictures of bald eagles draped with American flags, like this one, or this one, or even this one. Do we really want to promote those kinds of attitudes in our schools?

Yes, there is a concern that is sometimes expressed about the need for moral regeneration, and the fact that the youth of today often seem to want it all and want it now, unlike the self-seacrificing Spirit of the Youth of '76. But where are they now, and what are they doing? What is the example they set, with everyone wanting to be the next tycoon? Rather than forcing the youth to recite pledges, let their elders set an example that doesn't exalt greed to the highest of the virtues.

I think that one brave Quaker teacher is worth 1000 recitations of a pledge of allegiance.

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