Patriotism is like money. Neither is worth much if people don’t understand and have faith in what lies behind them. That analogy formed in my warped little brain as I read an article about a US district judge who temporarily stopped four Denver-area school districts from requiring students and teachers to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each school day.

Over the years I’ve watched many kids in my classes recite the Pledge (not to mention all the adults at school board meetings and other events). It’s always been obvious to me that, for many of them, the words have no meaning. To most students, that ritual, along with our required "moment of silence", is just another exercise, part of the normal school day routine.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against reciting the Pledge each morning in school (with the usual opt-out safeguards for those with objections). But just saying the nice phrases will not turn our kids into good citizens. They must also learn what American citizenship is all about – the good and the bad, the responsibilities as well as the rights, the promise of free speech for people who share your views as well as those who don’t. That understanding is far more complicated than just repeating a few dozen words and we do a poor job of teaching it.