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Backstory: Is America pledging less?

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There are no numbers to prove the pledge is waning. In fact, since 9/11 more state and town laws actually require students to say the Pledge of Allegiance than ever. But anecdotally, Professor Schulman says he's noticed the pledge's importance diminish over time.

While still pithy and patriotic, "the pledge now takes a compulsory nature and doesn't have as much meaning as it did, maybe, 15 years ago," he says. "[For] those 20-year-olds that do remember the words, I bet it's something like remembering the lyrics to a song that was popular in high school."

Ambushed with a request to recite the pledge, Sarah Garrison, a 22-year-old Los Angeles movie production assistant, breaks into slow, nervous laughter just after " ... and to the Republic."

"I'm kinda surprised at myself," says Ms. Garrison, who attended Texas public schools. "We said the pledge a lot – maybe not every day, but a lot. And yet, now, I'm reaching, but there's nothing there." To her credit, she recalls the entire oath after a few minutes, but her memory still takes a little nudging.

That young adults are struggling to string together the pledge is no surprise to Scot Guenter. Over several years of teaching a course on patriotism at San Jose State University, in California, he's found that his undergraduates have absorbed little about American civil traditions. Few know the words to the national anthem. Even fewer know any other patriotic songs. Almost all of the students said the Pledge of Allegiance in grade school, but he says the number drops off sharply by junior high.

"My suspicion is that the Vietnam War is about when people began questioning rituals like the pledge," says Mr. Guenter. "And as that generation emerged as today's teachers and principals – and parents – they likely brought with them that questioning."

Why recite the pledge? Why every day? Are we proud of America?

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