She exploded into the classroom, as the door slammed open and into the wall with a loud crashing sound. Her long, well past shoulder length pile of curly dark hair flapped behind her, leaving a lasting impression. Her hair was neither cropped short nor permed, as was the custom. She wore no lipstick, and her ankle length skirt was itself unique, fluttering with an unnerving turbulence as the young mother strode toward her son, who stood beside his desk. She grabbed him by his right arm and dragged him to the doorway. Loud, now forgotten accusations were vehemently exchanged between mother and teacher, and the classroom door slammed shut, leaving an edgy silence hanging in the classroom.
It was 1960, and Mrs. Dodd’s fifth grade class was reverently chanting the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’, half of the daily ritual which included a mechanical recitation of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. The mother and her son were Jehovah’s Witnesses and claimed a religious persuasion against pledging to the flag as being idol worship. The mother frowned upon public prayer as being a violation of a commandment from her Lord to pray in secret, rather than “upon the street corner, as do the hypocrites.” Mrs. Dodd had already been warned repeatedly, by the mother, not to force the young boy to participate in the ‘pledge and prayer’ ritual. She chose to ignore these requests. It was not until after the involvement of the school superintendant that the young boy returned to class. He was finally allowed to sit in silence, with his hands folded on his desk, while all of his classmates made their dutiful recitations. Fellow students would learn from their parents that the boy’s mother was a crazy religious fanatic, and that her attitudes were un-Christian and anti-patriotic.
Pledge and prayer continued. It became highly noticeable that the minority of Roman Catholic students did not say the entire prayer. They stopped before the words, “For Thine is the Kingdom…” The even fewer Jewish students continued to join the young Jehovah’s Witness boy in silence, after the pledge. These altered behaviours were answered on the playground, and the Jehovah’s Witness boy, Catholics, and Jews often returned to class with torn, soiled clothes, bloody noses and abrasions.
Just as all people bleed red, intolerance must be taught. Pre-school children, unless their parents intervene, play indiscriminately. A four year child old doesn’t care if his playmates attend a different church or none at all. Differences in skin pigmentation and ethnicity do not matter. Before his mother’s intervention, the Jehovah’s Witness boy was well known throughout the school as a gifted artist. He was well liked and generally well received. His renditions of Sky King’s Beechcraft airplane were legendary. His adept performance on the dodge ball court made him highly sought after by team captains.
It hadn’t mattered that the Catholic kids didn’t say the Protestant version of the prayer, nor did it matter that the Jewish kids didn’t participate at all. These facts were just accepted, until maternal objection erupted against a forced agenda, awakening childhood curiosity and requiring questions at home. Prior to attending Mrs. Dodd’s fifth grade class, her students were aware of differences in their classmates’ religions, but failed to find a rationale for hate. Their teacher supplied this. Parents reinforced it.