Friday, January 30, 2009

A New Brunswick school decision has me facing my own prejudices

I've been following news stories about the removal of official prayer times from schools and the like for quite a while. Atheists do not work in a group with an established hierarchy but I followed the semblance of the party line in feeling that students are entirely welcome to pray at school, but that leaders -teachers, coaches and administration - should not lead such prayer.

My reason for this, again following the party line, is either the individual him/herself or that individual's parents should make decisions about religion. Even in a hypothetical town where everyone is Christian, it is unlikely that all will follow the same type of Christianity.

So, I'm for the removal of prayer from school.

A school in New Brunswick has removed the national anthem from opening announcements.

The principal's explanation doesn't really explain that much:
Whether to sing the national anthem appears to be a delicate matter in the small southern New Brunswick community.

Erik Millett, the school's principal, said he made the decision partly to accommodate parents who didn't want their children taking part in the daily anthem.

"We try to balance the needs of every student, and we want every student to feel welcome in our school," Millett said.

"And part of our school and included in that and if we need to make some accommodations or exceptions then we'll try to put those in place regardless of what the issue is."

At first, I thought the disapproving parents might be from foreign countries and not want their children to sing our anthem. To these, entirely hypothetical, parents, I quickly thought up a counter argument: that religious choice should exist everywhere but nations are not abstract, intangible creations. Well, they are partly, but even more, they are huge block of entirely tangible land. In most places in the world, you can choose your religion, you can even choose your nationality to some extent, but you are standing where you are standing. If you don't want our anthem, you should move.

Man, I've heard the latter bit of that argument stated against me many times (well, against atheists, not me directly that much).

I am confused. If I don't want prayer in school and I have reasons that seem quite solid to me, can I really complain about others not wanting the anthem?

No matter how patriotic you are, you have to admit that the anthem is not exactly part of the core reasons schools exist. O Canada isn't really "readin', ritin', 'rithmatic" (and I hate the way we dumb down the fundamentals of teaching to the three "R"s), is it? If the dissenting parents agreed to allow O Canada to be taught in music class, would that be so bad? Maybe I should have had it in a formal class setting because I now would likely sing it as poorly as Roseanne Barr sang her anthem in 1990 (I really recommend against listening to that clip, but she seemed to remember all the words, which I don't).

I gave a rebuttal to a reason that might not exist but I am having trouble thinking of any other reason and the principal was (admirably?) discrete on the subject. I recall some Jehovah's Witnesses in my elementary school class leaving the room during morning announcements - were they avoiding the national anthem? Are there possible religious reasons? Can I, personally, accept having the anthem taught only in music class and not required of all students (or require students to opt-out)?

I've got some thinking to do.


Anonymous said...

When I went through Teacher's education, the music instructor had us go through the anthem, line by line, and question it.

"Our home and native land" - home, yes, but native land? According to the history we teach, native Canadians were the Iroquois, Huron, etc and we didn't exactly 'come in peace'.

"True patriot love, in all thy sons command" - patriotism demands we do what the state decides and to question it is 'unpatriotic'. I'm sure women would dispute the 'sons command' part.

"With glowing hearts, we see thee rise, the True North strong and free" - see who/what rise? What exactly is 'True North' and why do we declare it?

"We stand on guard for thee" - Not exactly a peaceful statement (repeated THREE times) but, fortunately, a defensive position

"God keep our land, glorious and free" - hmm, shouldn't WE be responsible for the land?

I say ditch the anthem. Even if it's rewritten, what's the point? We don't want to indoctrinate kids into thinking their country is better than the others (us vs. them). Instead, we want them to challenge the politicians and the laws to constantly improve it. Respect people, not ideas.

kwandongbrian said...

If I can paraphrase you, we want our youth to like our country but not be satisfied with it. "We're good, but we could be better". I like the idea.

Still, I also like the idea of a national song. Competitive swimmers are the nerds of the swimming world (well, runners are, but they are more like super-nerds) and swimming is not much of a team sport. That said, I think singing team songs and cheers made me swim better - they helped me concentrate and feel better. I suspect there were more tangible benefits, such as increased heart rate and body temperature, important to maintain readiness to race.

Maybe that last bit was off-topic, but I do think there is a place, an important place, for a national anthem; it does not have to be "we are better" but "We are a team, a group, a nation."

We can certainly agree that the people of Canada don't have a lot of other things binding us together; two official languages (Do the Inuit have an official language in Nunavut?), very spread out population, a variety of backgrounds...

Anyway, I don't want it ditched, but you have weakened my already-wavering-desire to demand it be played every morning at school.

Anonymous said...

When I said, "ditch the anthem" I meant to remove it from schools not get rid of an anthem all together.

In Ontario, it's the law that every student must sing the national anthem every school day. It's a sort of nationalization indoctrination using a song with a questionable message. This is why I disagree with it.

Now, if the anthem were improved would I welcome it? Probably not because I really don't understand what it does for the kids. They aren't learning for the good of Canada.

There are probably great times for an anthem (sports, ceremonies, dedications, etc) but I don't see how it's important in schools and maybe downright unconstitutional to demand that students sing it, by law!

Anonymous said...

I posted about the anthem on my blog today. I also decided to write a letter to the Bracebridge Examiner so I'll see if it gets published for the weekend paper or maybe next Wednesday.

Anonymous said...

Ooops, I forgot to add, how's the palsy?

kwandongbrian said...

The palsy is entirely cleared up. I think I am squinting more in the sun now and I seem to squint more on that side of my face, but I'm not sure. Thanks for asking.