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According to thermodynamics, energy cannot be changed or destroyed. It changes states. Does this law of nature apply also to the loyalty oaths required of teachers?
Periods elapse when they seem to be fading, but they pop up during controversies that inevitably arise nationwide and their focus varies only slightly. It centers around a mandatory proclamation, even under duress, of unconditional, blind and binding faith in patriotism precisely as rigidly defined. Any deviating interpretation is equated with moral unreliability and betrayal.
There's nothing wrong with loyalty oaths, as long as no record is kept of them and their language is couched in a thousand myriad levels of perpetually shifting intellectual ambiguities and kaleidoscopic perspectives that can be adapted to mean nothing or everything.
Let them be memorialized in vapor, elude human memory and be stripped of any means for school boards to enforce them or inclination to pay them any mind.
Loyalty oaths are weapons to ensure compliance of action and conformity of thought. They are not conservators of freedom and thus they should be anathema to patriotism. A person who refuses to sign a loyalty oath may be driven more by love of country than the authority who commands him to do so.
New York City public school teachers have not had a customary loyalty oath inflicted on them for many decades, although some observers believe that educators are still subjected to an ideological litmus test as judged by the way they present prescribed texts.
But even after World War II, there were politically-driven measures and statutory rubrics to root out subversives for "treasonable utterances,” which could mean almost anything, including but not limited to non-participation in a sworn, formulaic and narrow veneration of the Constitution.
Wrapping partisanship in the American flag is a paradox, in that it is un-American, many believe. The loud and the silent may all deserve to take ownership to a love of country.
In 1971, the United State District Court upheld a New York State law that required teachers to pledge support of the United States Constitution. But it never answered the question "as understood by whom?" To swear fidelity to a concept at face value is an invitation to abuse.
During the Joe McCarthy era, huge numbers of academics and other free and independent thinkers lost their careers because they would not submit to what they deemed a catechism of nationalism. Abstaining from what could be a proclamation of loyalty that cannot be proven by sole means of declaration should not necessarily have grave consequences.
Descendants of Joe McCarthyism still abound, as do those on the opposite side of the spectrum. Both camps feel they have a monopoly on righteousness.
Former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter called teachers "the priests of democracy.” That may make their conscientious objection both a right and a rite that mustn't be steered or obviated by loyalty oaths.
History shows that there are times when love of country is not necessarily displayed or vindicated by anthems, salutes, songs and oaths.
In New York City and every other school district in the nation, it seems that teachers still must take loyalty oaths disguised as doctrinal policies, curriculum mandates or school board regulations. They still have to toe the line, even senselessly, over masks, vaccinations or CRT.
This is a phenomenon in both "red" and "blue" states, though from different angles.
The Pledge of Allegiance, a loyalty oath that was traditionally recited in all New York City public schools, did, in fact, have the effect of unifying our diverse student body, arguably even among those who did not understand the message behind the words.
It was similar to worshipers whose inspiration is not compromised even when they pray in a language they don't know.
Growing up with it did not make me a raving jingoist. It provided me with a sense of shared mission and identity, a boost of discipline, mental nourishment and stimulation and even a partial strategy for the pursuit of a worthy life.
Public oaths are susceptible to private evaluation and internal reconsideration. Take comfort.
I'm glad that there are no longer loyalty oaths as we once knew them, despite agitation in some quarters to restore them and call them by a different name.
We must be on the lookout and follow my ancient kindergarten's directive to "put on our thinking caps!"
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Mr Jamesy Mac
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