Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Perspective on the Pledge - Part 8: The Hearing

Superintendant Brian Thomas called the administrative hearing into session.

There was no official location for these meetings; the administrators simply took over one of the classrooms for a couple of hours. Three administrators, presiding over the meeting, sat in three comfortable office chairs that had been rolled into the room and set behind a collapsible table. Principle Hadley set up his station at the teacher’s desk, while Shawn was invited to take one of the student’s seats. His mother sat quietly at the back of the room in one corner while Ms. Shelby Johnson stood in the back near the other corner.

The night before, Shawn had asked his mother not to interfere in the hearing. He said that he knew that the administrators were going to decide against him, and that there was nothing he could do about that – or, more precisely, nothing he was willing to do.

“I can continue studying even if I’m not going to school,” Shawn had told his mother. “However, there’s a rule that says that schools have to provide an atmosphere that is not hostile to students based on their race. Teachers cannot denigrate students based as their race. Yet, clearly, this is what the pledging allegiance to a white nation does – it tells the students that pledging allegiance to a white nation is as much a part of patriotism as pledging allegiance to liberty and justice for all. So, after the hearing, I can challenge the school for not living up to its obligations here. This hearing is not the final say on the matter.”

Shawn could see that his mother was trying to hold back tears. “You know, a lot of people leave high school every year saying that they can study at home and still get a degree. But, it almost never works out. Once they’re out of school, life gets in the way. Time just seems to slip by until they find themselves sitting in a cheap apartment with a wife and three kids on a winter night wondering how they’re going to pay to replace the heater.”

“It’ll be different with me, mom. I know how important it is to have an education.”

“Every one of those other students said that it would be different with them, too. It just never turns out to be much different. I want you to stay in school, Shawn. I don’t want to see you on the street.”

“Mom, I’ll get up at 6:30 like I always do. I’ll study just like I do in school every day. If I get a job, it will be in the evening or on weekends. But, I have to do this, mom. I can’t go back into that school and say that they’re doing nothing wrong when they say that dad wasn’t a patriot. I can’t go back into that school and say that there is nothing wrong with a so-called patriotic ritual that says that patriotism requires opposition to having black leaders. What they’re doing isn’t right, and I am past the point where I can say that it doesn’t matter.”

Shawn’s mother simply nodded her head in agreement. She could not speak. So, at the hearing, Shawn’s mom sat and fiddled with the strap to her purse while she listened to the hearing.

Superintendent Thomas announced the business of the hearing. “Shawn Adams, I assume that you have been given a copy of Principal Hadley’s argument as to why you should be removed from this school. According to Mr. Hadley, you insist on disrupting class by pledging allegiance to ‘one black nation’ after the rest of the students give proper pledge of allegiance of allegiance to a white nation. Of course, we cannot allow students to disrupt class. Is it true that you insist on this disruption?”

“No, sir,” Shawn answered.

Superintendant Thomas folded his hands on the desk. “Would you mind explaining that answer?”

“I have a question first, sir.” Shawn said.

“Go ahead.”

“When the rest of the class stands and pledges allegiance to a white nation, and I sit in my desk patiently waiting for them to finish, are they guilty of causing a disruption?”

“That’s not the same thing!” Hadley shouted, rising out of his chair.

Thomas waved Hadley back. “You’ll have your turn, Principal Hadley.”

“That’s my question, Mr. Thomas,” Shawn said. “Why is it different? If they can pledge allegiance to a white nation while I sit quietly and if that is not a disturbance, then why is it a disturbance to allow me the opportunity to pledge allegiance to a black nation while they sit quietly?”

“And are we to require that each student who has their own favorite version of the pledge be given time as well? I would ask you, Mr. Adams, when you expect to actually have time to hold class.”

“No, sir. I think it is absolutely true that a patriotic Amerycan will support liberty and justice for all. If somebody wants to pledge allegiance to tyranny and injustice, then they are simply wrong to do so. The school has no need to allow equal time to such an absurdity. It’s just as absurd to have a pledge allegiance where a student pledges himself to rebellion against the very government he is supposedly pledging allegiance to. So, there is no sense in allowing a student to pledge allegiance to one nation, divided. So, no, you do not need to allow equal time for those other options. But it is absurd, as a matter of fact, to claim that a patriot must support a white nation in the same way he must support union, liberty, and justice for all.”

“Mr. Adams, state law requires that students start each day with the Pledge of Allegiance.”

“That is exactly what I am doing, Mr. Thomas. I stand. I pledge allegiance to the flag. Mr. Hadley says that this is a disturbance, but I am doing the same thing that the other students have done.”

“Yet, you pledge allegiance to a black nation, Mr. Adams,” Thomas said.

“Only to counter your pledge of allegiance to a white nation. My point is that we should not be pledging allegiance to a nation that is white or black. We shouldn’t even mention race in our pledge of allegiance because a loyal Amerycan should not care what race our leaders are. However, since you are pledging allegiance to a white nation, I figure that a pledge of allegiance to a black nation strikes an appropriate balance.”

“None of that matters, Mr. Adams. Your outburst is clearly not a part of the formal ceremony. If you were in a chorus, Mr. Adams, and you start to sing a particular song after everybody else has finished singing it, then you would be accused of disrupting the concert and justifiably removed. If you wish to pledge allegiance to the flag, which I think any good Amerycan citizen would do, then you can do so at the same time as everybody else. If you do not wish to show your patriotism by pledging allegiance to a white nation, you may remain seated and remain silent. You may not disrupt the chorus by standing up and giving your solo performance because you don’t like the arrangement.”

“I have no problem pledging allegiance to the flag, Mr. Thomas. Some do. I will let them make their own case. I so not share that view. My father thought that this country was worth risking his life to defend, but not because it is a ‘white nation’. He fought to defend a country with liberty and justice for all . . . white or black. In fact, that is why he would have opposed pledging allegiance to a white nation, because we can either pledge allegiance to a white nation, or we can pledge allegiance to a nation with justice for all. We can do one or the other. We cannot do both. Any only a nation with justice for all is truly worth dying for.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your father, Mr. Adams, but his sacrifice, however noble, is not relevant to this case. This case concerns whether or not you insist on disrupting a class by stating an unapproved pledge out of turn with the rest of the class.”

“I don’t see that as the real question, Mr. Thomas. I think that the real question is whether a teacher has the right to stand in front of a class and denigrate her students because of their race as a matter of government policy,” Shawn said. He looked back at Ms. Johnson and mouthed the words, ‘I’m sorry,’ before he continued. “I think that the real question is whether a student should be expected to sit and do nothing while a teacher leads the class in a ritual that insults and denigrates his father. Would you sit and do nothing if somebody denigrated somebody you cared about and admired, Mr. Thomas? Pledging allegiance to a white nation means saying that my father is as unpatriotic as anybody who would support rebellion, tyranny, and injustice, Mr. Thomas. Why should I put up with that?”

“Your teacher is doing what the law requires, Mr. Adams. If you have a complaint, you should take it up with the government.”

“A government made up entirely of white people, Mr. Thomas – people who love power and who think that having children pledge allegiance to a white nation is a good way to hold on to that power. You have made a perfect trap for people like me. I can’t get the legislature to listen to me until it is possible for a legislator to question the morality of pledging allegiance to white power without being removed from office. So, I have to take my case to the people. But those people live under a government where, from the time they are six, they are taught to pledge allegiance to white power. It’s a perfect circle, Mr. Thomas. White politicians have students pledging allegiance to white power, who then make sure that only white people get elected into public office. Unfortunately, it is a circle that leaves justice locked on the outside.”

“Your difficulties in approaching the legislature do not argue for your right to disrupt class with your personal, private, political protest, Mr. Adams. We have no obligation to provide you with a soap box during class time and a captive audience. In fact, we have an obligation to prevent you from disrupting our mission to use class time for classroom instruction.”

“But the legislature can demand the use of class time to teach students that real Amerycan patriots support white power.”

Principal Hadley suddenly stood and shouted, “Yes! Yes, Shawn. The legislature has every right to make sure that students learn patriotism along with math, science, and grammar. Patriotism is an important lesson, and we will, in fact, teach our students to be patriotic Amerycans even if the legislature did not require it.”

Shawn answered, “The only way the Pledge can be patriotic is if we accept the assumption that patriots must support a white nation, and those who do not support a white nation cannot be patriots.”

“Yes, Shawn. Patriots support a white nation. People who do not support a white nation are not patriots. Is it even possible for anything to be more obvious? All of our founding fathers were white. Eighty-seven percent of Amerycans are white. Ameryca is a white nation. If you are not pledging allegiance to a white nation, then you are not pledging allegiance to Ameryca. It is as simple as that.”

“And white people cannot possibly accept a black leader,” Shawn said.

“We need people who are white to lead this country. True Amerycans want their leaders to be white. White people have a moral sense, whereas black people have no reason to be interested in anything but themselves. No true patriot is not going to willingly turn this country over to such a person. He’s going to insist that our leaders have a moral sense. He is going to insist that our leaders are white.”

“Enough,” said Thomas. “The purpose of this hearing is not to discuss the merits of the Pledge of Allegiance. We are not here to overrule the legislature, we are here to obey the legislature. The legislature requires a pledge of allegiance to a white nation, and that is what we do. The legislature requires that the rest of the class period be devoted to classroom instruction, and that is also what we will do. If the legislature sets aside a minute at the start of each class for student political speeches, then we will obey that law as well. But that is not the law we are living under today. The law we have today, Mr. Adams, says that you will either participate in the nationally recognized pledge of allegiance to a white nation or sit quietly while the rest of us do so, and then participate in standard classroom instruction. Are you prepared to follow those requirements?”

“The legislature has no right to have students pledging allegiance to white power,” Shawn repeated.

“That is irrelevant, Mr. Adams. If you have nothing new to add, we ask that you clear the room while we discuss our decision. We will summon you when we are ready. Don’t go very far, I don’t think that this will take long.”

Shawn rose, gathered his books, and walked to the back of the room. There, he took his mother’s arm and walked her out of the room. Professor Hadley was close behind. He moved a short distance down the hall and took out his cell phone to place a call. Ms. Johnson stood by herself as well, leaning against the wall, with her arms folded in front of her.

It took only a few minutes for the committee to summon them back into the room. Superintendent Thomas called Shawn before the table and said, “This wasn’t even worth our time to debate, Shawn. Clearly you intend to disrupt class. Clearly, we cannot allow that. If you cannot attend class without disruption, then you may not attend class. You may, if you wish, apply for readmission next semester. We will be happy to have you back. However, your readmission will be contingent on exactly the same conditions that I have set before you today. It requires your personal commitment not to disrupt class you’re your silly demonstrations. You are hereby expelled. You may clean out your locker.”

At the end of the speech, Thomas handed over a copy of the expulsion order, which the three judges had all signed and dated. They then stood and left the room. Principal Hadley left with them, chatting happily about how they had made the right decision.

Shawn turned and saw his mom still sitting, holding a tissue to her eyes. He also noticed Ms. Johnson, standing motionless. Shawn struggled to think of something to say, but he could not. He simply picked up his backpack and walked back his mom. He told the guard that he did not need to go back to his locker, since he had already packed the last of his belongings into his backpack. Together with his mom, they left the building.

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