Brave 10-year-old Arkansas boy refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance, on principle

November 17, 2009

Adults worry about peer pressure.  Kids can goad other kids into doing stupid things, dangerous things, illegal things, and immoral things.

Pressure from adults on kids might be just as strong.

What about a 10-year-old kid who stands up to peer pressure, and stands for principle against adults who use all sorts of inducements to get him to do something he believes is wrong?

I offer a salute to Will Phillips of  West Fork School District, in Washington County, Arkansas.

Will believes homosexuals in America are not beneficiaries of  liberty and justice for all.  Will now refuses to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance for that reason.

It’s probably not what I’d advise the young man to do to protest, but he has every right.  He’s thought it through, which may not be said for the substitute teacher and the school administrator who tried to pressure him into giving up on his principles.

In the Arkansas Times, David Koon writes the story:

A boy and his flag

Why Will won’t pledge.

David Koon
Updated: 11/5/2009

WILL PHILLIPS: Freedom lover.

Will Phillips, freedom lover, in Arkansas (Arkansas Times photo)

Will Phillips isn’t like other boys his age.

For one thing, he’s smart. Scary smart. A student in the West Fork School District in Washington County, he skipped a grade this year, going directly from the third to the fifth. When his family goes for a drive, discussions are much more apt to be about Teddy Roosevelt and terraforming Mars than they are about Spongebob Squarepants and what’s playing on Radio Disney.

It was during one of those drives that the discussion turned to the pledge of allegiance and what it means. Laura Phillips is Will’s mother. “Yes, my son is 10,” she said. “But he’s probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults. He’s not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair.”

Will’s family has a number of gay friends. In recent years, Laura Phillips 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.’ ”

Will was sent to the office, where he was given an assignment to look up information about the flag and what it represents. Meanwhile, the principal called his mother.

“She said we have to talk about Will, because he told a sub to jump off a bridge,” Laura Phillips said. “My first response was: Why? He’s not just going to say this because he doesn’t want to do his math work.”

Eventually, Phillips said, the principal told her that the altercation was over Will’s refusal to stand for the pledge of allegiance, and admitted that it was Will’s right not to stand. Given that, Laura Phillips asked the principal when they could expect an apology from the teacher. “She said, ‘Well I don’t think that’s necessary at this point,’ ” Phillips said.

After Phillips put a post on the instant-blogging site twitter.com about the incident, several of her friends got angry and alerted the news media. Meanwhile, Will Phillips still refuses to stand during the pledge of allegiance. Though many of his friends at school have told him they support his decision, those who don’t have been unkind, and louder.

“They [the kids who don’t support him] are much more crazy, and out of control and vocal about it than supporters are.”

Given that his protest is over the rights of gays and lesbians, the taunts have taken a predictable bent. “In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they’ve been making comments and doing pranks, and calling me gay,” he said. “It’s always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad.”

Even so, Will said that he can’t foresee anything in the near future that will make him stand for the pledge. To help him deal with the peer pressure, his parents have printed off posts in his support on blogs and websites. “We’ve told him that people here might not support you, but we’ve shown him there are people all over that support you,” Phillips said. “It’s really frustrating to him that people are being so immature.”

At the end of our interview, I ask young Will a question that might be a civics test nightmare for your average 10-year-old. Will’s answer, though, is good enough — simple enough, true enough — to give me a little rush of goose pimples.  What does being an American mean?

“Freedom of speech,” Will says, without even stopping to think. “The freedom to disagree. That’s what I think pretty much being an American represents.”

Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson smiles.


Chess games of the rich and famous: Ben Franklin and Lady Howe

November 17, 2009

Ben Franklin plays chess with Lady Howe, 1867 painting by Edward Harrison May

"Lady Howe mates Ben Franklin," 1867 painting by Edward Harrison May - public domain

Resources:


H1N1 vaccine, a citizen’s duty

November 17, 2009

Claudia Meininger Gold practices pediatric medicine in Great Barrington, Vermont.  When someone recently suggested offering flu shots at polling places, it struck her that, like voting, getting a flu shot is a good citizen’s duty.  She wrote about it in the Boston Globe.

AS A pediatrician, I received my swine flu vaccine without a moment’s hesitation. I wanted to be available to treat the onslaught of illness, and to be able to go comfortably into a room with a coughing, miserable child knowing that I was not putting myself or my family at risk. I was astounded, therefore, to read recently, in a popular newsletter for pediatricians, a column by a pediatrician stating that he would not recommend the vaccine to his patients. His arguments were that the illness was relatively mild and the vaccine might not be safe.

In my practice, there are many parents who choose not to immunize their children. As a mother myself, I sometimes wonder if part of the motivation for this choice is to combat the helpless, scary part of loving someone so much. It can become overwhelming to contemplate everything that can possibly go wrong. Perhaps parents refuse vaccines because it is something they can control, a way in which they can “protect’’ their child. In the case of swine flu, or H1N1, this action is, in my opinion, misguided.

There are many different fears associated with vaccines, but the specific fear around H1N1 has its origin in a 1976 outbreak of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease that damages nerve cells, after mass vaccination against a swine flu. The website of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addresses this issue:

“Several studies have been done to evaluate if other flu vaccines since 1976 were associated with GBS. Only one of the studies showed an association. That study suggested that one person out of 1 million vaccinated persons may be at risk of GBS associated with the vaccine.’’

The current method for making the H1N1 vaccine is the same as that for the seasonal flu vaccine. The only difference is that seasonal flu vaccine is prepared in anticipation of flu season, while manufacturing of this one was begun while the pandemic was in its initial stages. High-risk groups, such as the elderly and young children, receive the seasonal flu vaccine without a second thought.

It is true that for the majority of people H1N1 is a mild illness, generally causing two to four days of feeling lousy. But the virus is highly contagious. The sheer numbers are staggering. A school in Chicago closed last month when 800 of its 2,200 students were sick. With any flu there are people who will have complications and die. As the number of cases continues to climb, statistics are not in our favor.

For high-risk groups, such as pregnant women, talk of “mild illness’’ is meaningless. Stories are multiplying of the devastating losses of both baby and mother. In our small town there are young adults who were previously healthy now on respirators in intensive care units.

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Douglas Shenson proposed the use of polling places for vaccination. This led me to think of vaccination as a responsibility of being a citizen, analogous to voting. Just as one vote does not determine the outcome of an election, one person immunized does not halt the spread of illness. Yet voting is a civic duty. Similarly, vaccination, while benefiting the individual, serves to protect the population as a whole. Short of shutting down the country, mass immunization is the only way to stop the spread of this virus.

In addition, I feel that as a physician, it is my responsibility to uphold the recommendations of the CDC. If every individual citizen took it upon himself or herself to decide what was best for the country, there would be chaos.

Washing hands, covering our mouths when we cough, and staying home when we are sick are all ways to contribute to the common good. As responsible citizens, when the opportunity arises, and in keeping with CDC guidelines, we should all do our part and immunize ourselves and our children.

Dr. Claudia Meininger Gold, a pediatrician, practices in Great Barrington.  Copyright to Boston Globe.

 

<!– Citizen, heal thyself: Get the swine flu vaccine Boston Globe Just as one vote does not determine the outcome of an election, one person immunized does not halt the spread of illness. Yet voting is a civic duty. Similarly, vaccination, while benefiting the individual, serves to protect the population as a whole. Claudia Meininger Gold November 16, 2009 –>
Claudia Meininger Gold

Citizen, heal thyself: Get the swine flu vaccine

By Claudia Meininger Gold November 16, 2009

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AS A pediatrician, I received my swine flu vaccine without a moment’s hesitation. I wanted to be available to treat the onslaught of illness, and to be able to go comfortably into a room with a coughing, miserable child knowing that I was not putting myself or my family at risk. I was astounded, therefore, to read recently, in a popular newsletter for pediatricians, a column by a pediatrician stating that he would not recommend the vaccine to his patients. His arguments were that the illness was relatively mild and the vaccine might not be safe.


Chess games of the rich and famous: Will Smith

November 17, 2009

Actor Will Smith and chess board, photo by Robert Snyder

Actor Will Smith and chess board, photo by Robert Snyder

Actor Will Smith worked with chess masters to improve his game — literally.  Photo and story from 2001 at The Chessdrum.


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