A recent government report has proposed that teenagers should make an oath of allegiance to ‘Queen and Country’, in order to give them a ‘sense of belonging.’
I’m aware that something similar exists in the US education system, though the only reason I’m aware of it is by it’s bitter-sweet use in movies to suggest some apple-pie nostalgia that’s going to be blown up in our faces.
I actually think it would be a very bad idea, for a number of reasons. As a teacher, knowing both the sorts of people who work in schools and the sorts of kids who attend them, I think it would be totally impossible to implement with a straight face.
However, leaving the possibility of people not taking it seriously aside, the question remains about what it would actually mean. Would we be insisting the teenagers ‘take the pledge’? What would happen to those that refused? Would immigrants or temporary residents have to take the pledge too? Are we seriously suggesting that teenagers might think twice before acting in an anti-social manner, before buying cheap alcohol and marauding around high streets, because of it?
In these sort of public liturgies, the words themselves are merely symbolic, and are meant to be a public statement of some already deeply held truth. The same is true in marriage and baptism. So aren’t we asking our children to actually lie if the are forced to say the words without the belief? And if so, is this not simply going to lead to deeper problems later?
Children in the UK are suffering an identity crisis. They are insecure, adrift and alone on the ocean of free-market consumerism, battered by peer pressure, told not to hold on to beliefs or foster relationships or risk being sunk by commitment.
An oath to Queen and Country is an insult to them. How about instead a commitment, a public statement by government, reciprocated by a public commitment by parents, to do better by our children, to love them and support them, to adopt laws that would support families rather than atomising them in the drive to make people work?
Once again, it’s the children who are taking the rap. And, as I think the parable of the sower suggests, we shouldn’t expect so much of our young seedlings.