When I was five, my first-grade teacher taught us to repeat a random string of syllables she called “the Pleh-juh, Vuh-Lee-junss”. We were to recite it every day at the beginning of class for the next several years, while holding our right hand to the left side of the chest (reportedly, this is where our hearts were to be found inside the chest cavity).
Getting ready for that first day of school (I never attended kindergarten) my mother told me, “Now, do what the teacher tells you”. No “goodbye” no “be sure to learn something new and interesting so you can come back and tell me about it.” Just “Do what you’re told.” I was frightened.
And so we learned to repeat these random syllables, every day, for years.
It was only much later in life that I began to wonder whether these syllables could be broken out into actual words, and even later before I wondered what the actual words meant. No one ever attempted to teach us. I suppose the teachers were doing this exercise for the same reason we kids were doing it– because we were told to do it. If you’d asked me, at age six, what language the Pleh-juh, Vuh-Lee-junss was in, I’d have been at a loss for an answer. Surely it’s a trick question. Are you trying to make fun of me? I want my mother…
“Eye Pleh-juh Vuh-Lee-junss, tootheuh flag, of the united states uvuhmerika, and toothuhrepublik for whitchit stands…Won nation, induhvizuhble (invisible?) with libertee and just us four all.” I knew there were actual words in there (I could recognize several) but it never occurred to me even to wonder about them. All the other kids apparently did the same thing, for the same reason, and never spoke about it. It was simply the thing to do because we were told, like so many of the other things we did in school for no readily apparent reasons and no explanation. The school principal would occasionally step in, see that we were at attention, right hands on the left sides of our chest cavities, facing the flag and reciting all the correct syllables in the correct order, and it all appeared to be fine and dandy (the principal was vastly more powerful than God. He could physically grab you by the arm, shake you, and demand; “Why were you doing that? Huh? Why? To which you invariably gave the standard reply; “I don’t know…”) Wonderful how the kids are learning respect for the flag of their country, and the critically important principles it represents! He left satisfied. The God was satiated. All was well.
But they never taught us a damned thing about it. Nothing. Ever. Likewise, we were taught “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” and we’d occasionally sing “Alaska & Hawaii” (this was in 1963 when those were brand new states. We knew nothing about such things, but dutifully repeated the syllables) and no one ever discussed the lyrics. At all. It wasn’t until I was out of high school that I began to actually learn some of this stuff, such as the difference between a republic and a straight democracy, or what a pledge is, or an allegiance. That was after the effects of having my curiosity crushed to death in school had started to wear off.
Richard P. Feynman wrote about this in his autobiography. As a professor of theoretical physics, he often visited other universities. When on a visit to a South American university (in Brazil, IIRC) he was introduced to a class of very high-level students (which is to say they got extremely good grades). It took him some time speaking with them to figure out that they knew next to nothing. They could recite, practically word for word, from the text books but when it came to understanding and applying the concepts they were at a total loss.
This is the Soviet model, come here to roost in our public education system. Hope you like crap.