Greensburg High School history teacher John Pratt is bringing the Pledge of Allegiance to life in a unique way that’s inspiring students to think big. Pratt explained his very simple idea for the pledge to the Indianapolis Star: “Each day we have someone different from the community in to lead us.” So far, those people have included Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, astronaut David Wolf, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, journalists and cartoonists for the Star, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and dozens of other inspiring characters. In some cases those who participate call in, or video conference, while others visit the rural school in person to connect with students. Pratt told the Star that arranging a new person to lead the pledge each day can be a chore, but it’s a worthwhile effort to offer up role models who love and respect America. “I love saying the pledge every day because it gives me an opportunity to thank those who served our country,” he said. “In particular those in my family.” Many of the distinguished guests share inspiring stories with students that encourage them to dream big, a concept Pratt first developed as a teacher near Lake Chautauqua, New York two decades ago. There, Pratt revived a 19th century program called Chautauqua that brought in notable speakers to share their unique lives. Many had overcome life-altering challenges, such as the Holocaust, life without a limb, or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And while the program at Greensburg High School involves less interaction than the in-depth lectures in New York, it’s clearly inspiring students to reflect on their civic responsibilities and character. “It’s an awesome project that Mr. Pratt put together. It makes you more attentive,” Greenburg High School senior Walker Taylor told the Star. “It makes you want to put more effort into the pledge because there is someone with a different history in here every day.” Pratt believes it’s a program all schools could benefit from to make significant broader impact. “I teach students to be idealists. And wouldn’t it be cool if once a month every school had a guest leader for the Pledge of Allegiance?” he told the Star. “There are hundreds of dignitaries in Indiana. Wouldn’t it be great if each one took 60 seconds out of the schedule to phone in the Pledge of Allegiance with any school. Think of the value that would have.” Research from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia shows parents undoubtedly support Pratt’s mission. A 2016 survey summarized in “The Vanishing Center of American Democracy” found that “eight of 10 (respondents) … agree that ‘America is an exceptional nation with a special responsibility to lead the world.’ “Overwhelmingly (93%), they also describe themselves as patriotic,” according to the report. Educators considering their role in promoting patriotism in students could consider education activist Diane Ravitch’s article “Should We Teach Patriotism?” Ravitch reviews her take on the history of patriotism in American schools, as well as thoughts on the proper way to convey the concept to students. “If … we teach civic education and define patriotism as a respectful understanding and appreciation of the principles and practices of democratic self-government, then patriotism should be woven through the daily life and teachings of the public schools,” Ravitch wrote.
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