Pledge of Allegiance Controversy Grows in Cambridge Public Schools As Committee Member Criticizes Law

A member of the Cambridge Public Schools Committee compared a Mass. law mandating that children in public schools recite the pledge of allegiance every day to a “post-9/11 ultra patriotism push”—and refuses to recite it himself before bi-weekly committee meetings.

Luc Schuster, a first-term Committee member, said yesterday that the pledge complicates the mission of public schools.

“I think a mandatory pledge of allegiance really sort of contradicts the mission of public schooling,” he said.

According to Schuster, the purpose of public school education is “to cultivate critical thinkers and independent minds who are empowered to make decisions for themselves and not just be told to do something.”

Schuster, who taught four consecutive Cambridge public summer school programs and is now the lead teacher at GED Plus, a program that serves high school drop outs in Roxbury, said that he is not alone in his decision to refrain from standing up and saluting the flag.

“From my experience in the schools, many of them don’t do it,” he said. “Kids in Cambridge schools refuse to do the pledge on a daily basis.”

While Schuster expressed a mixed allegiance to the pledge, most of his fellow committee members said that the pledge is important.

“I say the pledge and I believe in God and I believe in the pledge,” said senior School Committee member Alfred Fantini. “I’m a big believer that the American flag should be flown in every school. I’m a big believer that children should say the pledge every day.”

Unlike Schuster, who said he believes that “pledging blind allegiance” to the United States stifles the intellectual capacity of children, Fantini said that Cambridge school-children should be given a little more credit for forming their own opinions.

“Cambridge has certainly been open to debate on many issues and so I think that even to suggest that kids aren’t independent thinkers is completely off-base,” he said. “Our kids are very thoughtful and our schools embrace the concept of being different and debating that and learning from that.”

School Committee member Joseph Grassi said that attention paid to Schuster’s anti-pledge stance is distracting the committee from its stated goal of closing the achievement gap between minority and white students.

“I think it’s extremely important for the Cambridge School committee to be focusing on the issue of school achievement,” Grassi said.

—Staff writer Laura A. Moore can be reached at lamoore@fas.harvard.edu