Tuesday, 29 July 2014
Let's celebrate Englishness in school
One of the things she asked me is whether the children have to sing patriotic, morale-boosting songs in school, like they do over there. In other words: is there an English equivalent of 'It's Cool to be a Kiwi'?
I asked my ten-year-old and he couldn't think of an equivalent, and I must say I can't either. After all, we English do have an aversion to That Kind of Thing, and I'm not altogether sure we are right to have.
Certainly, the American hand on heart at school assembly, while they are saluting the flag, rather sticks in the throat - and is wholly unEnglish. But still.
I wondered about this when I was an an overwhelmingly Canadian wedding at a pub in Peckham. At a late stage in the proceedings, everyone started singing 'O Canada!'
I wondered afterwards whether, if I had been at an English wedding in Toronto - or New Zealand for that matter - whether we would have sung 'God Save the Queen'. I came to the conclusion that we might have, but with more irony.
I am a Liberal, after all. I am wedged into a political tradition that scorns patriotic fervour, in a nation that finds this kind of thing embarrassing. I had an article in the Guardian yesterday about Richard III and got what I deserved among the comments below the line for writing with any pride at all about even this rather distant member of the royal family.
But I have a feeling that, taken to its current extreme, this is not really liberalism - it is just world-weary cynicism. It is post-modernism. It believes in nothing and ends in a kind of nihilistic surrender to the forces of intolerant people who do believe something.
Let's imagine for a moment that the Scots vote after all for independence, and somehow navigate the nightmares and frightening side-effects of breaking up a union that used to be an empire. Perhaps then the English will start celebrating what is great about themselves.
Because as long as we have things to be proud about - and we don't have to revel in those aspects of our history that nobody could be proud about - then it seems to me to give us confidence to celebrate it, and to give our children confidence by doing so.
But, and here's the rub, we have to stand for something as a nation - and it has to be more than getting richer or excluding foreigners.