As a child, there are so many things you are taught and things you do that you don’t think about. Growing up in the United States, you’re used to buying ice cream at the Sonic drive-thru or Wendy’s, shopping at Target or Walmart, driving everywhere, and so on. It wasn’t until I moved to Glasgow that I realized there was so much about my childhood that is completely alien to people overseas. However, the conversation in my public policy class last week perhaps blew me away the most when it came to growing up in America versus growing up in Scotland.
One of my courses at the University of Glasgow is called Education for Citizenship. It combines public policy and philosophy by examining the relationship between traditional upbringing and an individual’s commitment to their community and political culture. Lately we discussed how critical skills and analysis can be taught or used in school for a more comprehensive education. My group was discussing how young children in elementary school can use essential skills at a young age because they are more insightful than society realizes. One of the girls in my group from Scotland was a camp counselor in Wisconsin last summer and described a story where a child asked her if he had to take that pledge of allegiance. She was explaining how she didn’t know what to say because she wasn’t quite sure what the purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance was or what it meant for America. The whole group looked to me for insight because most of them didn’t know what the Pledge of Allegiance was. I gave a general explanation and said it was something we recite at school every day, usually when school announcements come in. I also explained that it was different from the national anthem that is played at every sporting event, even in high school. The group looked surprised. Some thought it was silly, others called it “indoctrination”. The professor who had joined the conversation at that time asked me if you had to stand or sit for the oath of allegiance. I realized that I had completely forgotten about this aspect of the commitment and quickly explained that you stood up and placed your right hand over your heart. The group looked even more astonished and perplexed. After that, the rest of the discussion was about the pledge, the national anthem, American patriotism and the fact that Scotland has nothing like it. The band said they don’t even know what the Scottish national anthem is or says, they just know they have one. I was very amused by their confusion, but it was an eye opener to realize something that I thought was completely normal, that I had never questioned in my entire life, and that didn’t cross my mind. spirit on a daily basis, which shocked them. When the band asked me why we took the oath of allegiance, I didn’t really know what to say. I had never in my life wondered why people took the oath of allegiance or questioned the words I recited. I spoke to the case group in high school when kids sat down for the pledge in protest or when kneeling for the national anthem was a huge national controversy. They seemed even more confused when I explained this to them.
Once the group discussions were over, the teacher called the whole class together to share their discussions. She put me on the spot by asking me to explain our discussion on the oath of allegiance. I felt like a lab rat when I recap my group’s conversation about the pledge of allegiance to the class. Everyone looked at me as if I was crazy, that I was making up the information or that they felt sorry for me. I almost felt the need to say, “It’s okay! It’s just the pledge of allegiance! but they probably wouldn’t understand.
That moment when the whole class listened in disbelief is a moment I will remember forever. Not because I was embarrassed or nervous, because being born in the United States is a unique experience for me. I’ve never lived outside the country before, I’ve only ever been surrounded by other kids who grew up in America, just like me. Being in a new place, where that fact alone sets me apart from everyone else is an interesting feeling. It doesn’t make me feel bad, it doesn’t make me feel better than anyone, it was just unique. It will be a silly story to tell for the rest of my life, but on a more personal level, it is something that has made me check myself and be grateful for the qualities I have. It sounds corny but I felt proud. When I see children and teenagers in Scotland coming home from school or sitting on the train with their friends, I sometimes watch for a second too long because I can’t even begin to understand growing up in another country. It seems like it would be so weird, but not for them. They probably don’t question it like I never have. I hope that one day they will have the opportunity to travel like me and see that some of the smallest things in their home country have made them who they are, and they should be proud too.