Councilman's patriotism robo-called into question

COLUMBIA, 4/4/13 (Beat Byte) -- Newly-elected Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas is an un-patriotic foreigner who has only said the Pledge of Allegiance once in his life and will never say it again.

That's the myth a last-minute political robocall started that has morphed into a post-election controversy, even getting airtime on the KFRU Morning Meeting with Renee Hulshof and Simon Rose.   Hulshof mentioned the brouhaha in a long-winded rant about her displeasure with Mr. Thomas' election.
"Last week, Mr. Thomas stated that he would only recite the Pledge at his citizenship hearing, and never again," a Columbia Daily Tribune reader wrote.   "Sounds like he only wants to take what he can get from tax paying Americans, and not have any allegiance to flag and country in the future."

But anyone who actually heard Thomas' comments would have a tough time drawing that conclusion. 

The controversy started at last Thursday's Keep Columbia Free City Council forum, when audience member Ken Green asked the candidates if they would repeal Daryl Dudley's signature achievement: a requirement Council members stand and recite the Pledge before every Council meeting.
Then Mr. Thomas' opponent for the 4th Ward seat, Dudley did not attend the meeting nor hear Mr. Thomas' reply. But he did send a robocall to voters mis-stating Mr. Thomas' position, which emphasized his desire to embrace the meaning of the Pledge rather than say it and forget it. 

"I don't tend to favor rote recitation," Mr. Thomas told the audience, which included this writer.  "When you say something over and over again, it loses its meaning.  You stop thinking about what you're saying."
Rote learning is criticized for this reason.  Hymns -- prayers put to music -- and patriotic songs like the Star Spangled Banner originated in part to emphasize thought and meaning.  Singing engages the brain more than monotone recital.  

Scholarly studies also suggest Mr. Thomas is on solid ground.   UC Santa Barbara psychology professor Richard Mayer characterizes two types of learning -- retention and transfer -- and three learning scenarios:  no learning, rote learning, and meaningful learning.  

Rote learning leads to retention, or memorization, Mayer writes in the Ohio State University education journal Theory into Practice.   But rote learning does not encourage transfer, the use of learned ideas and concepts in new situations. 

The only candidate to discuss the meaning of the Pledge, Mr. Thomas will stand at the meetings, listen to it, and think about it, he explained. 
"I've said the Pledge of Allegiance once in my life, when I became a U.S. citizen," said Thomas, who is from the U.K. "Because I had to learn it and had not said it before, I really had to think about the words. I had to think about what they meant, what the words were saying.  I want to keep doing that."