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Flag Day and historical thinking

If you had to take a guess, in what country and during what time period was this photograph taken?

Go on. A simple educated guess.

Not sure? Try this one.

One more should do it. The following image was included in a nationally syndicated children’s magazine of the period that encouraged correct posture and form.

That’s right! Nice job.

This is the American flag salute. And since today is Flag Day, what better way to celebrate than to talk about a fun teaching strategy you can try next fall?

The first image is from 1915, most likely taken at a school. The second image is from May 1942 at a school in Southington, Connecticut. The last image is from The Youth’s Companion, a magazine that was published between 1892 and 1929.

And yes, it does look a bit like . . . well, the sort of salute that was used in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. It makes for an interesting story and can help you train your kids to analyze primary sources.

An added bonus? You can tell your principal that all of this is aligned to the Common Core.

First things first. Review an earlier History Tech post to learn more about something I call a Visual Discrepant Event Inquiry. Come back here when you’re done. I’ll wait.

Great. Now you know that you can use the Visual DEI strategy to hook kids into content by asking them to solve an intriguing problem. Once it’s been revealed that the event in the image happened in the United States, you can move onto the textual part of the activity.

Provide them with the text of the original Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

and the current version:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Ask them a simple question:

Why are they different?

Depending on the age of your kids, you may need to provide some scaffolding. Heck, you might need some scaffolding. The short version? In 1892, a guy named Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance as part of a national Columbus Day celebration. Part of the plans included instructions on the proper method of saluting the flag while reciting the Pledge:

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

Known as the Bellamy Salute, it remained as the official form of salute until December 1942.

The Pledge itself changed twice. The first time in 1923, when concerns about immigrants pledging allegiance to “my” flag, which might be the flag of their home country, caused the addition of the phrase “the flag of the United States of America.” The second change was in 1954 when “under God” was added during the Red Scare period.

Asking kids to source primary documents like these provide a great way for you to encourage and practice discipline specific thinking skills such as cause and effect, change and continuity over time, and multiple points of view.

Plus, let’s admit it, it’s a lot of fun messing with the brains of your kids. Creating “academic discomfort” in the minds of your students forces them to solve problems, rather than simply memorizing stuff. This sense of not knowing the answer encourages high levels of cognitive activity which is a very good thing.

Happy Flag Day!

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mr. Nelson #

    This was interesting. My grandparents (both born in 1927) were just asking me if our students still do the flag salute. Then Grandma showed how they did when they were school, needless to say, I was shocked. She explained that they held their arm out to point at the flag.

    June 15, 2012
    • glennw #

      Cool! I love talking with older folks – a great way to get a different perspective on past events.

      Thanks for the comment.


      June 16, 2012
  2. Mary Cronk Farrell #

    Very interesting! I never knew this. Loved the historical photos.

    June 20, 2012

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