Opening your child's backpack to find a permission slip inside for yet another school function is no big surprise. But the permission slip seems to be turning from an "opt in" for parents to an "opt out" -- be it at daycares or in the public schools.
Take the new movement at one Massachusetts school to require parents sign a permission slip before their child is allowed to recite that old school standby, The Pledge of Allegiance. Says Principal Gerardo Martinez's letter to parents, "Students and teachers may choose to stand and recite the pledge but are not legally required to do so." He instructs parents to discuss the pledge with their kids, what it means to individual families and then sign off on the slip . . . or not.
Regardless of whether the slip is signed, kids will have to listen. But only those who have a slip will actively participate. Martinez is merely following laws that require recitation of the pledge, but if it's something some parents would be uncomfortable with . . . shouldn't it follow that it shouldn't be done . . at all?
On a personal level, it wasn't until I was in my 20s that the issue of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance struck me as a problem. Growing up, we recited the entire thing in seconds, by rote, rarely thinking out the meaning. Raised Catholic, in a heavily Christian area, the use of the word God was such a regular occurrence that few, if any, of us were jarred by it cropping up inside a secular school building.
Fast forward 20 years, and through the eyes of a more worldly adult I can see how it would be uncomfortable for someone who does not practice a religion based on God. I can see how it would fail to meet the requirement of separating church and state.
But if that's the problem, I fail to see how permission slips that will allow some kids to sit it out will fix it. Liken it to the slips that would allow babysitters an out on child abuse laws in South Carolina by giving parents leeway to grant permission for childcare providers to spank their children. They're giving parents a chance to opt out of standard practices. In this case, parents can feel free to say "hey, my kid can practice religion in school," even as other kids are forced to listen to the pledge, albeit not participating.
I can respect Martinez, who notes he's a first generation American with a deep love of his country, for trying to respect others. But his misstep has resulted in the exact opposite coming true. He's given the "pro under God" side a chance to say "yes, yes, let's give my kid this chance" and taken away the others' right to protest.
Is a permission slip really the answer here?
Image via stevendepolo/Flickr