As a kid, there are so many things you are taught and things you do that you don’t think about. Growing up in America, you are used to getting ice cream at the Sonic or Wendy’s drive-thru, picking up groceries from Target or Walmart, riding in a car to get everywhere, etc. It wasn’t until I moved to Glasgow, I realized there was so much about my childhood that is completely foreign to people abroad. However, the conversation in my Public Policy class last week may have blown my mind the most when it came to growing up in America versus growing up in Scotland.
One of my classes at the University of Glasgow is called Education for Citizenship. It combines public policy and philosophy by examining the relationship between traditional education and an individual’s commitment to their community and political culture. Lately we have been discussing how critical skills and analysis can be taught or used in school for a more well-rounded education. My group was discussing how young children in elementary school can use critical skills at a young age because they are more perceptive than society believes. One of the girls in my group from Scotland was a camp counselor in Wisconsin last Summer and was describing a story where a kid asked her if he had to say that pledge of allegiance. She was explaining how she did not know what to say because she was not entirely sure the point of the pledge of allegiance or what it means to America. The whole group looked to me for insight because most of them did not know what the pledge of allegiance was. I gave a broad explanation and said it was something we would recite in school everyday typically when the school announcements would come on. I also explained it was different from the national anthem which is played at every sporting event even in High School. The group seemed astonished. Some thought it was silly, others declared “indoctrination”. The teacher who had joined the conversation at this point asked me if you have to stand or sit for the pledge of allegiance. I realized I completely forgot about that aspect of the pledge and quickly explained that you stand and place your right hand over your heart. The group seemed even more astonished and perplexed. After that, the rest of the discussion was all about the pledge, the national anthem, America’s patriotism, and how Scotland has nothing similar. The group said they don’t even know what the Scottish National Anthem is or says, they jus know that they have one. I was very entertained by their confusion, but it was eye-opening for me to realize something that I found completely normal, had never questioned in my entire life, and does not cross my mind on a daily basis was shocking to them. When the group was asking me why we do the pledge of allegiance, I did not really know what to say. I had never in my life wondered why people do the pledge of allegiance or questioned the words I was reciting. I told the group about instances in High School when kids would sit 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.
After the group discussions ended, the teacher brought the whole class together to share their discussions. She put me on the spot asking me to explain our discussion on the pledge of allegiance. I felt like a lab rat when I recapped my group’s conversation about the pledge of allegiance to the class. Everyone was staring at me like I was either crazy, making the information up, or like they felt sorry for me. I almost felt the need to say “It’s not a big deal! It is just the pledge of allegiance!”, but they would probably not understand.
That moment when the whole class was listening in disbelief is a moment I will remember forever. Not because I was embarrassed or nervous, because being born in the U.S.A is an experience unique to me. I have never lived outside the country before, I have only ever been surrounded by other kids who grew up in America just like me. Being in a new place, where that fact alone makes me stand out 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 simply unique. It will be a silly story to tell for the rest of my life, but on a more personal level, it was something that made me check myself and be grateful for the qualities I have. It sounds cheesy but I felt proud. When I see kids and teens in Scotland walking home from school or sitting on the train with their friends I sometimes stare for a second too long because I cannot even begin to understand growing up in another country. It seems like it would be so weird, but not to them. They probably don’t question it just like I never did. One day I hope they have the opportunity to travel just like me and see that some of the smallest things from their home country have made them who they are, and they should be proud too.