Friday, November 13, 2009

Rural 10-year-old refuses to say pledge, citing discrimination against LGBT community

Read coverage of the matter in The Arkansas Times and John Brummet's column in the Arkansas News, posted October 15, 2009, and picked up on The Huffington Post here. The dateline is West Fork, Arkansas, population 2,042, in northwest Arkansas. While West Fork is rural, it is nevertheless in metropolitan Washington County, home of the University of Arkansas.
An excerpt from The Arkansas Times story about 10-year-old Will Phillips' courageous act follows:
Will's family has a number of gay friends. In recent years, Laura Phillips [his mother]said, they've been trying to be a straight ally to the gay community, going to the pride parades and standing up for the rights of their gay and lesbian neighbors. They've been especially dismayed by the effort to take away the rights of homosexuals – the right to marry, and the right to adopt. Given that, Will immediately saw a problem with the pledge of allegiance.

“I've always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer,” Will said. “I really don't feel that there's currently liberty and justice for all.”

After asking his parents whether it was against the law not to stand for the pledge, Will decided to do something. On Monday, Oct. 5, when the other kids in his class stood up to recite the pledge of allegiance, he remained sitting down. The class had a substitute teacher that week, a retired educator from the district, who knew Will's mother and grandmother. Though the substitute tried to make him stand up, he respectfully refused. He did it again the next day, and the next day. Each day, the substitute got a little more cross with him. On Thursday, it finally came to a head. The teacher, Will said, told him that she knew his mother and grandmother, and they would want him to stand and say the pledge.

“She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up,” Will said. “I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, ‘With all due respect, ma'am, you can go jump off a bridge.' ”
Ultimately, Will was punished (required to research the flag and its meaning) not for refusing to say the pledge, the school principal explained, but for talking back to his teacher.

Of particular interest to me is the coercion involved in the educator mentioning knowledge of the child's parent and grandparent and her suggestion that they would want Will to stand and say the pledge. This is a somewhat troubling use of the lack of anonymity that marks rural communities. But, the educator's presumption of rural homogeneity and stasis clearly wasn't merited with respect to the town of West Fork, and I doubt it is accurate these days regarding most rural communities.

1 comment:

aoue said...

Rural places desperately need more residents like this 10-year-old — people who challenge the "homogeneity and stasis" that marks many rural communities. While I commend the principal for not punishing the student for refusing to say the pledge of allegiance, the punishment (researching the pledge of allegiance) undermines this claim slightly. Luckily, this 10-year-old does not seem like the type to yield to the coercive pressures of the principal or community alike.