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February 26, 2010

Demanding an apology: Can we all just stop it now?

From yesterday’s Washington Post:

“The mother of a 13-year-old Montgomery County middle school student is demanding an apology from a teacher who had school police escort the youngster from a classroom for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance.”

You can read the full article here.

First, I’m completely in favor of a student’s right to refuse to recite the pledge of allegiance. I believe that pledging allegiance to anything is a student’s prerogative, and to force a student to comply amounts to senseless and meaningless indoctrination. 

Even I have flirted with the idea of refusing to pledge because of the 1954 addition of the word God to the pledge, coupled with my firm belief in the separation of church and state.  Since the word God was added to pledge long after its inception and at the behest of Daughters of the American Revolution, I simply omit the word when pledging. 

I love my country.  I just don’t think that God has a role in decision to pledge allegiance or not. 

But if I student does not want to recite the pledge at all, that is his or her right, according to the Supreme Court and (more important) common sense. 

Second, if the facts of this case are correct, then the teacher was most assuredly at fault and should be reprimanded in some way.  Again, common sense.  

But regardless of the facts, I fail to understand the obsession that people have with the need for apologies and their propensity to demand them.

The purpose of an apology is to express regret over something that has been said or done. It is something that I do frequently considering the number of mistakes that I make on a regular basis. There is nothing wrong with expressing an apology for something you have done that you regret.  

However, to demand an apology is entirely different. When you demand an apology, you are asking to person you have offended you to utter a set of words that may express regret but with no guarantee of sincerity. There’s no way of knowing whether or not the apology was heart-felt, since you never allowed the offender the opportunity to apologize without prompting.

In fact, by demanding the apology, you’re almost guaranteeing a lack of sincerity on the offender’s behalf. In general, demanding an apology just makes a person angry and spiteful.

And besides, what is the value of a demanded apology?  Does an expression of forced regret make a person feel better?

I hope not.  You’re pretty lame if that’s the case. 

A demanded apology is nothing more than an adult version of “Take it back!”  It’s a form of passive-aggressive punishment that typically results in the petty, meaningless satisfaction in knowing that you made someone state a set of words that they would rather not have said.  Possibly.  Depending on if you ever gave the person a chance to apologize, which apology-demanders rarely do.

So in the case of the student who refused to pledge and his mother, what will they get when this teacher apologies, which she probably would have done anyway if just given the chance?

Revenge?

Will they drive away from school able to say, “Yeah, we sure showed them.  Didn’t we?”

Will little Johnny learn a valuable lesson about the importance of an apology when one is demanded and the story about the apology hits the pages of The Washington Post?

Probably all three.  Unfortunately.

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