Monday, November 16, 2009

A Boy and His Cause

In case you haven't heard, there's a 10-year-old kid in Arkansas who's refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school because he believes that there isn't, in fact, "liberty and justice for all." Will Phillips -- remember, ten -- is spending his youth apparently stressing over the fact that gays and lesbians in this country aren't allowed to marry across-the-board and are, as far as he's concerned, generally treated like second-class citizens.

Needless to say, this kid's a fucking teenage ulcer waiting to happen since he's already taking the weight of the world's injustices on his shoulders. But the story's interesting for a couple of reasons.

Whenever a child voices a staunch opinion on a politically controversial topic, I always make the natural assumption that he or she is simply parroting the viewpoint of his or her parents. This makes the most sense. At the age of ten, if it didn't have to do with Star Wars I didn't understand it, and I tended to model much of my social behavior after the people I looked up to the most at the time: my mother and father. But watching an interview with Will Phillips I get the impression that he really does believe the very adult views he's not only espousing but taking a public stand on. Still, is there some cut-off point where a child needs to be taught that he or she may not be able to process all the nuances of a subject and therefore any opinion or defiance is essentially meaningless? In other words, can a ten-year-old really know what the hell he or she is talking about when it comes to gay rights?

Another thing that has to be considered: How would the left, which of course is largely embracing this kid and defending his right not to pledge allegiance (not really a huge deal anyway since saying the Pledge has always been voluntary) still be standing behind him if, say, he said that he was doing it to protest the lack of prayer in public schools?

Regardless, there's no denying that Will Phillips is very smart. I can't help but wonder what he'd be like -- how articulate and analytical he'd be -- if he and his parents were the kind of people going on TV to say that they weren't getting behind the flag until gays are denied their rights.

Am I stereotyping? Probably.

But watch the interview with this kid and his father.

And then click the link below that and read the reaction to this story on the far-right website "Free Republic." And remember, the person they're talking about -- sometimes viciously castigating -- is a ten-year-old boy.

The Huffington Post: 10-Year-Old Won't Pledge Allegiance To a Country That Discriminates Against Gays/11.16.09

Free Republic: CNN Features Boy Who Won't Say Pledge Till Gays Have Equal Rights: Comments


Anonymous said...

The Pledge IS a prayer in public school. It has been ever since they slipped "under God" in there to piss on some Godless commies.

Vermillion said...

I hadn't heard about this until now, and et I immediately had the same thoughts you did about the parents influencing him and folks going all apoplectic.

I mean, it is a nice thought, that even a 10-year-old could see through the bullshit. But he is only a kid, and regardless of what my feelings on his position, I do know it is highly disturbing for him to be thrust into the spotlight like this.

Those comments, though. Saying the kid needs a prostate exam so he can change his mind about gays? That is just so stupid on so many levels, I can't even begin....gah!

VOTAR said...

1) You probably won't be surprised, but at the age of 10, I also was already refusing to say the pledge of allegiance in school. It's not hard to do, you just choose not to join the cult and you stay quiet (I also decided never to bow my head when someone says grace before dinner, and as some of you know, I refuse to "bless" people when they sneeze). I didn't have an agenda, I just knew at a VERY early age that I don't want to be a sheep. I just thought it was stupid, and just a little creepy to be honest, to see my teachers and classmates chanting some rote incantation to a piece of fabric hanging in the corner. It didn't feel like patriotism, it was about subjugation and conformity. And yes, I thought this way at the age of ten. Shortly after I straightened my Slinky.

2) I also remember having a fairly general idea about sex at that point too (5th grade, right?). Not the particulars, maybe, but kids talked and figured things out, and I can remember understanding what "gay" meant as well. Now, this was the mid-seventies in my case, so there was not the kind of openness about it then as you would expect now from the children of a more enlightened generation of parents. I've dated women nowadays who have exposed their children to much more sophisticated knowledge than I remember ever having access to at their age. So this kid's level of awareness does not surprise me.

3) I am speechless after reading just a small handful of the comments from the "Free Republic." I actually had to stop reading them. Disgusting doesn't come close... and these are the people who hold themselves up as "moral?"

Julie The Vintage Goddess said...

Has Malkin started stalking the family yet?

slouchmonkey said...

The comments at Free Republic are disturbing. Nonetheless, does any of them people live in a city.

Desert Renegade doesn't sound like he's holed up in a Manhattan loft.

"We have news for the beautiful people. There's a lot more of us then there are of you. I know there's alumni here tonight. When you went to Adams you might've been called a spazz, or a dork, or a geek. Any of you that have ever felt stepped on, left out, picked on, put down, whether you think you're a nerd or not, why don't you just come down here and join us. Okay? Come on."

Chez said...

Yeah -- as usual, note the muscular-sounding names: Desert Renegade, SwampSniper, etc.

Eric said...

I wasn't much older when I stopped saying the Pledge for various reasons, and even as young as 10 I was looking at some of the political stuff my parents had around, which tended to be a bit left-of-center.

I also wasn't much older when I started dragging my parents to some politicized stuff that they probably wouldn't have been bothered with otherwise, liberals or no; I was probably around 13 or so when I was dragging them to SANE meetings during the most intense part of my "OH NOES NUCLEAR WAR!" phase that lasted me through most of the '80s. (I slipped away from activism on that subject out of fatalism, I'm afraid, deciding that it didn't matter because we were all going to die in the Holocaust. I'm happy to state the obvious fact that I was wrong (so far).)

SavageAphid said...

The kid seems to at the very least really understand the basics of what he's' doing. Good for him.

I have to say though, the comments on Free Republic made me very uncomfortable.

Mozglubov said...

I think the voluntariness of the pledge depends on your region. I have distinct memories of having a couple different homeroom teachers get quite upset with me for not wanting to say the pledge of allegiance, despite the fact that I was not even an American citizen (I was a Canadian living in Western Pennsylvania). They did eventually back down, but I was precocious, indignant, and pissed off that my family had moved (and, once again, had the pretty cast-iron defence of not being American). I got the distinct impression that, were I American, the teachers would not have backed down.

Sr. Wrangler said...

My parents political views have always been right of center. I stopped saying the pledge at about the same age. I stopped bowing my head and closing my eyes during prayers too. Like VOTAR, I just didn't like the feeling I was becoming one of the sheeple. While early and rather fumbling, my first sexual encounter was at the age of eleven so boys of that age are quite aware and we certainly knew gay men were up to - even without a prostrate exam. This all makes me a godless commie and it's all Obama's fault. He obviously traveled back in time and warped my mind by telling me study hard and take responsibility for my actions at a grade school in the early '70s.

Some kids just get it. They are sharp enough to see what is going on around them and form an opinion based on what they have observed.

On the other hand, we could take the moral high road like DesertRenegade and just beat the free thinking out of them:

I'm just from the “old” school. In my day, this guy would have met up with his peers on his way home and had his mind changed. There have always been people that didn't want to “get along”. They were kept in the minority or had missing teeth. As an experiment in a child's learning curve, it usually took no more than one meeting to “see the light”. While once looked upon as a punching bag, they are now deemed hero's.

S said...

If the Pledge were truly voluntary, this wouldn't have made the news. This made the news because the boy's teacher thought he was just being a smartaleck and both the teacher and his classmates gave him a hard time for not saying the pledge.

You are right to question whether I would applaud this boy as much if his stand were based on some conservative view. If it were based on an idea not formed out of religion, then, yes, I would. But if it were based on some religious view (that homosexuality is immoral and disapproved by god, for example), then, no, I would not. I really have no respect for religion and so have a hard time respecting views based on religious tenets.

Vermillion said...

But if it were based on some religious view (that homosexuality is immoral and disapproved by god, for example), then, no, I would not.

So if the kid said "God says to love everyone, so they shouldn't be hated like this," you still wouldn't applaud it, because it comes from a religious view?

Le Penseur said...

This kid's about to learn just how fucked-up America really is.

Ref said...

His TEACHER gave him a hard time? Boy, would I love to meet that tool in a dark alley.

S said...

"So if the kid said "God says to love everyone, so they shouldn't be hated like this," you still wouldn't applaud it, because it comes from a religious view?"

I would applaud the sentiment that no one should be hated, but would be a little perturbed by the reasoning.

NoxiousNan said...

Chez, Star Wars is a movie using the classic theme of good vs evil, so maybe you understood a little more than you think you did. I can tell you that my first public political protest was an ERA protest walk through my city. I held a huge sign I’d made, and made it to the local evening news. I was 11. My mom was supportive – bought me the posterboard and some pens – but too busy to think about my opinions. And I cared deeply about the outcome. I suppose I was uninformed being a child, but my opinion on the subject has not changed in all these years.

Maybe that’s why I don’t look at a child as nothing more than a tool of parents when I see them protesting. Actually, that would be nice, given my observation that most child protestors are borne from religious nutcases. Because then I could tell myself they will change their ways once exposed to reason.

To answer your questions, no, a child never needs to be taught that their opinions are meaningless due to their age and development (though that would probably inspire future protesters). Yes, a ten year old can understand many of the nuances involved in the gay rights movement, as I think Will Phillips proves admirably. And yes, absolutely, I would support (as a liberal) any child’s refusal to say the pledge of allegiance unless/until prayer is brought back to school. For years I refused to say the pledge (decades ago in elementary school) because of the term “under God,” before I knew that it wasn’t even in the pledge originally Later, I said the pledge, but loudly inserted “under the Constitution,” in place of God. My eldest son, now 22, could have been Will Phillips – he has always been passionate, articulate and political. I never said a word about it to him, but he came home one day and said he wasn’t going to say the pledge anymore. I told him how I say it, just to let him know one can compromise. But he’s never said it since that day he decided that he wouldn’t.

I’m tickled to see how many commenters never said the pledge!