2.04.2009

catching up, part 1: you will sing the anthem and you will like it

I missed the beginnings of two stories going around Canada right now, and I'm trying to get up to speed.

In the first, a New Brunswick school administrator discontinued the playing of "O Canada" on the public address system in the morning, because some parents had complained about it. (Is that correct? Am I missing something? Please advise.)

This Canadian Press wire service story says:
The anthem's elimination was one of several changes, he said, that made for a more productive start to the school day. The singing of O Canada was reserved for monthly assemblies.

"We thought we could give more prominence, more importance, to the anthem than playing a taped version over a crackling PA system," Millett told the Telegraph Journal.

"Our decision to change the time, location and frequency is to provide an enhanced experience for the student."

After parental pressure, the NB school board forced the school to reinstate the daily anthem singing.
The principal has told the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal that using the anthem at the monthly assemblies would give it "more prominence, more importance."

Before his decision, one child had been sitting outside class when the anthem was played at the request of the child's parents, and for reasons that haven't been publicly released.

A school board spokesman said the child's situation played a role in Mr. Millett's decision to drop the anthem.

I didn't see that bit in earlier stories, although it might have been there, or perhaps the principal was trying not to disclose it. It certainly makes me wonder why the child was sitting outside the class, and what he or she will do now.

Having won the battle for hearts and minds in New Brunswick, Susan Boyd, who fought for the anthem's reinstatement, isn't finished yet: she wants mandatory anthem-singing throughout Canada, and she invokes an age-old canard to make her point.
Ms. Boyd said in an interview that she is in touch with parents in British Columbia and other provinces who are poised to argue the anthem should be a requirement for young Canadian children.

She argues the anthem is a key part of children's knowledge of the country's history, and honours soldiers killed in past wars and in the recent Afghanistan conflict.

"If our troops hadn't died for our country, we wouldn't be discussing this. We wouldn't be singing a national anthem because our country wouldn't be free," she said.

Soldiers died for your freedom, so that we could tell you what to do, how to feel and how to start your day.

If I were a Canadian-born Canadian, I'd probably be much less inclined to sing "O Canada" than I am now. The whole idea of a mass of people standing to proclaim their love for their country is a bit ridiculous, and a bit fascist. I've come to see patriotism as a divisive force, nurtured by blind loyalty - a dangerously slippery slope. I used to make a distinction between patriotism (harmless pride) and nationalism (harmful us vs. them), but I've stopped seeing the difference.

Yet despite this, I don't mind standing and singing "O Canada," because it makes me feel part of my new country, the one I chose and worked so hard to become part of. I'd feel more comfortable if there weren't a request to a deity written into the song, and if it weren't sexist, but coming from a place where the national anthem celebrates war as if it were a fireworks show, "O Canada" seems pretty innocuous to me. I understand that it was written more than 100 years ago, when women and atheists were regularly excluded from anything official. (Now it's just atheists.)

But compulsory patriotism? That I have a problem with. About the only time I ever hear "O Canada" in public is at the occasional baseball game, when the Blue Jays are kind enough to host the Red Sox on a weekday. I find the singing of a national anthem at a sporting event utterly ridiculous, but I enjoy sitting for the US anthem, then rising for "O Canada". But if standing were compulsory, you know I'd be glued to my seat.

I assume the NB school board ordered the school to play the anthem, but did not order the children to stand? I wonder if Ms. Boyd would allow children to opt out of standing, or if the act of sitting would also sully the sacrifice of the troops.

I liked this recent letter in the Globe and Mail.
To me, O Canada is more like a marketing jingle for our particular brand of patriotism. National pride is commendable, but we can love our country without all standing to attention beneath a loudspeaker. Conditioning kids to chant automatic loyalties to a parade of national symbols, metaphors and myths does not educate or inspire - although it does facilitate marching. Let's not raise a ditty to divine status.

Steven Taylor, Alliston, Ontario

40 comments:

MSEH said...

I don't have any "inside" (the province) info to pass on, but I can tell you that: 1) at our son's school (K-5) they play it only on Monday mornings, and 2) we've not received any kind of communique about what is or is not going to be changed. They're pretty good with newsletters, info, etc., so I'm guessing that if anything were changing we'd have heard. But, who knows...

Sarah O. said...

I know in my elementary school, the children from Jehovah's Witness families either sat through "O Canada" or else left the classroom. When I heard about the principle's decision, I assumed that there were a number of children at the school with similar reasons for avoiding the national anthem. And of course, the principle couldn't disclose the personal reasons for ending the morning national anthem (he said that there were both scheduling and parental concerns that led to his decision), because that would mark those children out for even more notice.

L-girl said...

Thanks, MSEH & Sarah.

And of course, the principle couldn't disclose the personal reasons for ending the morning national anthem (he said that there were both scheduling and parental concerns that led to his decision), because that would mark those children out for even more notice.

Oh of course, I understand that. I meant why the fact that some children were sitting out wasn't mentioned in the early stories about this. Just the fact alone, without other personal information.

It might have been mentioned and I missed it.

Separate from that, I also wonder why sitting down in the classroom isn't enough - why the child has to actually leave the room. (Perhaps Redsock, a former JW, can tell us.) But that's a question for the parents and the religion, not the principal.

L-girl said...

I don't have any "inside" (the province) info to pass on, but I can tell you that: 1) at our son's school (K-5) they play it only on Monday mornings, and 2) we've not received any kind of communique about what is or is not going to be changed. They're pretty good with newsletters, info, etc., so I'm guessing that if anything were changing we'd have heard.

MSEH's comment makes me wonder if a directive from the school board is a way of placating the compulsory-anthem folks, but that schools will continue doing as they see fit, without enforcement. A bit cowardly, but pragmatic.

Sarah O. said...

Now that my comment is published, the spelling errors really leap out, don't they? lordy.

I meant why the fact that some children were sitting out wasn't mentioned in the early stories about this.

I think the poor reporting from the first few articles snowballed through the rest of the news reports - the principal seemed to give a number of different reasons, none of which he confirmed as the actual reason, but he also failed to say (or be quoted saying) "all of the above" - as a result, he sounded evasive, like he wasn't telling the whole truth, and every report seemed to have a different angle. (I may not be understanding your point - I found the "why" in that sentence confusing :)

I can understand the point about late arrivals. 99% of the students attending my schools were bused. Late arrivals *were* very disruptive and very common in the winter - e.g., half the schoolyear. Classes couldn't start until "O Canada" was played, so if 4 buses (about 190 kids - around 45-60 kids a bus, due to budget constraints - in a school of 500) were running 15-45 min late, the anthem was delayed, and the entire start of the school day was pushed back.

Sarah O. said...

I think the cowardly, pragmatic route is quite Canadian, don't you? Or maybe just Maritime Canadian, I don't want to speak for anyone else. :)

L-girl said...

I think the cowardly, pragmatic route is quite Canadian, don't you?

I was actually going to write "how Canadian," but deleted it. :)

I felt this way recently when I chose a pragmatic, but cowardly way of solving a problem with a neighbour, while avoiding conflict. In NYC, I would have spoken to him directly. Here, I rearranged something to make sure the issue couldn't happen again - but never said anything about it. The assimilation continues...!

L-girl said...

Now that my comment is published, the spelling errors really leap out, don't they? lordy.

Comment moderation is hell on spelling. :)

I think the poor reporting from the first few articles snowballed through the rest of the news reports - the principal seemed to give a number of different reasons, none of which he confirmed as the actual reason, but he also failed to say (or be quoted saying) "all of the above" - as a result, he sounded evasive, like he wasn't telling the whole truth, and every report seemed to have a different angle.

Right, I can see that.

(I may not be understanding your point - I found the "why" in that sentence confusing :)

You did understand it, but my sentence was crappy. :)

redsock said...

Separate from that, I also wonder why sitting down in the classroom isn't enough - why the child has to actually leave the room. (Perhaps Redsock, a former JW, can tell us.)

I'm not much help on this. I do not recall the anthem being played before classes (in Vermont) back then. The first case of it would have probably been in 6th grade -- around 1974-75.

However, I doubt the national anthem would have been played at all. More likely, it would have been reciting the Pledge of Allegiance -- which I have a very vague memory of doing in maybe the 2nd grade.

I'd bet some money that the Pledge was not being done in the higher grades when it would have been an issue -- or maybe it was stopped altogether.

L-girl said...

Oh of course, it would have been the Pledge, not the anthem.

M@ said...

If I were a Canadian-born Canadian, I'd probably be much less inclined to sing "O Canada" than I am now.

That's where I'm at. I stand for the anthem, probably because of social pressure as much as anything else, but I really dislike it.

I wonder if anyone can tell me whether my impression of why the anthem is played is correct. It was sung at any big gathering -- say, a union meeting -- to assure the authorities that the meeting was not intended to be revolutionary. Is this really the case? No idea whether I picked that up somewhere, or made it up.

In any case, I agree that the anthem-singing is pretty silly. There are plenty of reasons for someone, even a schoolchild, to be loyal to this country. If we need to make people stand and sing a magic song to get the point across, I think we're doing it wrong.

James said...

I understand that it was written more than 100 years ago, when women and atheists were regularly excluded from anything official. (Now it's just atheists.)

Actually, when it was written -- and when I was growing up -- it didn't exclude atheists: the lyric was "O Canada, glorious and free", not "God keep our land glorious and free". It was only when it became the official anthem in 1980 that the God reference came in.

And it was shortly thereafter that the "supremacy of God" bit got into the preamble of the new Constitution, where there had been no references to God in the BNA Act.

richard said...

A few things...

Very likely the child sitting out is a Jehovah's Witness. Say what you want about either their theology or their Saturday morning doorbell ringing, they are very consistent about eschewing any forms of patriotism or nationalism.

Someone wants to impose National Anthem singing in all schools coast to coast to coast? Good luck making that fly in Quebec!

I understand that it was written more than 100 years ago, when women and atheists were regularly excluded from anything official.

Actually the reference to God was only added in the 1980s. The French version (the original) is very Catholic

L-girl said...

There are plenty of reasons for someone, even a schoolchild, to be loyal to this country. If we need to make people stand and sing a magic song to get the point across, I think we're doing it wrong.

M@, nicely said.

Thanks for the info on the godstuff, all. Interesting - and depressing!

I see Richard isn't reading comments. :)

My partner, a former JW, can tell you something about their "consistency". Apparently the religion gets re-written every decade or so.

richard said...

I see Richard isn't reading comments. :)

Sorry, Laura, I did type my comments before reading the other comments and then I thought "I didn't have to bother typing any of this, did I?"

My partner, a former JW, can tell you something about their "consistency". Apparently the religion gets re-written every decade or so.

True enough! However, the no-anthem, no-nationalism, no-war, no-saluting the flag aspects have been a constant through their history, often at great personal cost.

richard said...

Oh, and no one else brought up the Quebec angle. So it wasn't all a waste of time.

L-girl said...

Richard, I was only kidding. :) Nothing wrong with a little repetition.

However, the no-anthem, no-nationalism, no-war, no-saluting the flag aspects have been a constant through their history, often at great personal cost.

I do that, too - or did for most of my life, and may one day do again - so I can relate. I'll defend their rights from now til doomsday, I just wish they'd stop ringing my friggin doorbell.

richard said...

I'll defend their rights from now til doomsday, I just wish they'd stop ringing my friggin doorbell.

But, Laura, they ring the bell so they can tell you about doomsday! ;-)

L-girl said...

The reference was intentional. :)

redsock said...

... they are very consistent about eschewing any forms of patriotism or nationalism.

That's one thing I got from them that I like. Since I was a teenager, I have always said "the US" rather than "we". Even among the left, in speech and writings, it's way too common to say "we" when referring to something (often disgusting and evil) the government did.

(... and they ring doorbells all week long too!)

L-girl said...

This is on our mailbox.

Once Allan answered the door, and the man who rang the bell said, "Don't worry, I'm not here to talk about Jesus!"

L-girl said...

Since I was a teenager, I have always said "the US" rather than "we". Even among the left, in speech and writings, it's way too common to say "we" when referring to something (often disgusting and evil) the government did.

I re-trained myself on this, from Allan. I also say "the U.S." and "Canada" - neither is "we".

But it's not just to distance myself from bad things the government has done. For me it's getting rid of a linguistic barrier between "us" and "them". "We" are people everywhere who want peace and social justice.

JakeNCC said...

I dont think the anthem should be mandatory but I also don't think a religious group should be able to stop the singing of the anthem where it is custom to sing it. Neither do I want a religious group dictating what is taught in class or dictating the separation of girls and boys or anything else a religion might want.

When this story first came out the Globe comments section listed the phone number of the principal. Seems he was the Green candidate for the last election so the righties turned this into an assualt on Canada by the left. From what I understand this principal received many prank calls.

deang said...

The part that sticks in my head is yet another person claiming that soldiers are killing people and dying in Afghanistan so Canadians can be free. How can people maintain that crap? What do they mean by free? How does it relate to killing people in a non-aggressive country halfway around the planet? And why do such stupid arguments come up even in Canada?

Cornelia said...

I assume the NB school board ordered the school to play the anthem, but did not order the children to stand? I wonder if Ms. Boyd would allow children to opt out of standing, or if the act of sitting would also sully the sacrifice of the troops.

What all can be done to poor High School students who are so often powerless to decide for themselves what they find okay to do or not...If Ms. Boyd is onto what you just wondered, I am just glad I have nothing to do with her whatsoever!!!

L-girl said...

I also don't think a religious group should be able to stop the singing of the anthem where it is custom to sing it.

Is there a religious group in Canada trying to prevent people from singing O Canada?

L-girl said...

Dean, excellent questions.

Cornelia said...

Re: sexist stuff in old texts, o yeah, I am well aware of that, Laura, alas, I know. There was a feminist who suggested a better, more women-friendly version of "O Canada", I think. This lady recommended "all our hearts" instead of "all our sons". Have they still not adopted that yet?

JakeNCC said...

Wasn't it jehovah witnesses who objected to the anthem thus the principal stopped the singing? Really the religion didn't ask for it to stop it was the principal because of their objections which lays this at his door step. He bent over way backwards not to offend. Which I or you had the power to stop that which offends.

L-girl said...

JWs, to my knowledge, do not demand or even request that anyone stop singing anthems, stop raising flags, or anything like that. Former JWs here, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think they make demands or requests like that. I think they only ask the freedom to not participate, which a pluralistic society should give them.

L-girl said...

There was a feminist who suggested a better, more women-friendly version of "O Canada", I think. This lady recommended "all our hearts" instead of "all our sons". Have they still not adopted that yet?

I've never heard of it! It's a great idea. If they could get the "sons" out of it and go back to the godless version, it would be a big improvement, IMO.

But I'll still take O Canada anyday over the Star Spangled Banner.

redsock said...

Former JWs here, correct me if I'm wrong

There's more than one?!!

L-girl said...

You never know!

Cornelia said...

I think they only ask the freedom to not participate, which a pluralistic society should give them.

Of course, I agree.

I've never heard of it! It's a great idea. If they could get the "sons" out of it and go back to the godless version, it would be a big improvement, IMO.

But I'll still take O Canada anyday over the Star Spangled Banner.

Personal story:
After the Obama inauguration, I was asked over here in Germany if "Hail to the Chief" is the US national anthem. I said, no, it's the Star Spangled Banner. I kind of knew the first strophe and said I can look the whole song up on the net and translate at least the first strophe. Which I did. Then I found to my utmost dismay and shock and outrage and disgust that one of the strophes is nothing short of a catastrophe. I wrote in the email with the link that I am not gonna translate the damn 3. strophe because it's abusive and intimidating and degrading and - ugh!!! When I called the lady who had asked me about the whole thing, she was amazed I had even translated the rest which I didn't object to so fast, haha! And I said I am so happy you understand I will not translate the ...third...strophe (And I will not tell anybody on here what it's about! No way, it is way too nasty and belongs in the trashbox of history. IMO. This is something only extremely right-wing Republicans and their likes would sing in our enlightened era nowadays, I verily hope in the name of human rights and human dignity and there I take my stand) and that it's so low that it can only be explained out of the context of former times and the grievances then and that I'm so sorry about something like this was ever said in the name of America...(you can all imagine my saying that, I guess.) Then she said why, of course they were not nicer than other people just because they were from the US! And I said, yes, I agree just because the US was even back then in some ways somehow advanced to some places in Europe back then, doesn't mean it was on everything!!!

Cornelia said...

I was actually going to write "how Canadian," but deleted it. :)

I felt this way recently when I chose a pragmatic, but cowardly way of solving a problem with a neighbour, while avoiding conflict. In NYC, I would have spoken to him directly. Here, I rearranged something to make sure the issue couldn't happen again - but never said anything about it. The assimilation continues...!

This is not cowardly (What I hate enough to regard as "cowardly" is when people try to bully somebody because they are scared of what other people might think or say!!!), but simply an often worthwhile option to avoid trouble while also solving issues, kind of and preventing worse. Sometimes however, open conflict is needed in order to fix things. My lawyer knows I am only onto real hardline stuff when I am really scared of possibly extremely negative outcomes and then he sometimes informs me about other or additional possibilities, too, haha...

L-girl said...

(What I hate enough to regard as "cowardly" is when people try to bully somebody because they are scared of what other people might think or say!!!)

Oh yes, that is a very common and destructive form of cowardice. Good point!

but simply an often worthwhile option to avoid trouble while also solving issues, kind of and preventing worse. Sometimes however, open conflict is needed in order to fix things.

I appreciate your positive spin on my choice. It did feel a bit cowardly though - avoiding any type of confrontation, quietly fixing the symptom of the problem and hoping the rest will go away on its own.

On the other hand, it saved our relationship with our neighbours from having any tension or bad feelings, and those tensions can linger a long time. So I definitely see the benefit in taking the pragmatic, non-confrontational approach.

But at the same time, I was disappointed in myself for avoiding the issue.

At least I know, like you, that if it is bad enough, I will certainly confront.

L-girl said...

Cornelia, "strophe" is stanza? The section of the song?

The SSB is a Ode To War. Hideous.

JakeNCC said...

Laura you didn't realise just how Canadian you had become until this little thing with your neighbour. Congratulations, you are really Canadian. Now if we can just get you past the oath to the Queen we'll have you with us forever!

L-girl said...

Jake, you're right!

It's made me think a lot about change and adaptability. I know people who have lived here for so much longer than me, and are still complaining that they can't find their favourite brand of flour in the supermarkets. I would hate to be a displaced New Yorker all my life, never adjusting to my surroundings.

But then there are parts of my old ways I don't want to give up. Hmm, maybe I should save this for another post... :)

Now if we can just get you past the oath to the Queen we'll have you with us forever!

Ha! I'm not going to let that stop me. I'm going to mentally hold my nose and do it.

Maybe I'll be like Galileo and say under my breath "not". :)

Cornelia said...

Oh yes, that is a very common and destructive form of cowardice. Good point!

Definitely. I'm happy to hear that!

My lawyer knows I am only onto real hardline stuff when I am really scared of possibly extremely negative outcomes and then he sometimes informs me about other or additional possibilities, too, haha...

When I was bound and determined we need to take my former boss to court right away because he tried to withhold contractually agreed compensation from me which I needed before the welfare would take over - he wanted me to agree to end contract instead of dismissing me for economic reasons and the welfare doesn't pay right away if you agree or quit unless urgency-emergency-hardship cases, so I needed sufficient compensation, my lawyer said: "Why can't I write the guy first? Why do you want me to file with court right away?" and I said: "Because we may not lose any time. The idiot could tell you he pays and then no way, and then it would take too long to get even an emergency / urgency ruling scheduled in court. He pays only around 12.-12. November for October anyway, and then I am always already near bank account overdraft limit anyway. So, for security reasons, we need to file for an emergency / urgency ruling on legal aid right away." I'm entitled to legal aid, anyway. And my lawyer said: "What if he pays before the court appointment?" Then I said: "No worries, then we would tell the judge that the appointment can be canceled since the guy has gotten the message and paid anyway!" Which worked out. It costs money to lose in court, and lost he would have had for sure, hey! He just thought he could maybe get away with it because he didn't know about legal aid! But the just in case appointed court hearing kept him in line so that he got the message and paid anyway! That was cool! I think he had seriously underestimated me, haha! He ended up trying to cheat the wrong person out of her much-needed money, haha!!! That was a great happy end to the story with that weird company and boss!!! Sometimes legal approaches can be very helpful for redress against grievances and abuse of rights and for establishing social security and workers'rights, haha! That guy got what he needed! I don't want to know what happens when he tries his tricks with people who don't know their rights and possibilities and who are unaware of welfare regulations and who have no support....so he needed to get his comeuppance for that, too, I felt!

Cornelia, "strophe" is stanza? The section of the song?

Yeah, part / section of the song. Thanks for letting me know it's stanza in English, I just didn't know!

O Canada, glorious and free
Sounds great, too!

Ha! I'm not going to let that stop me. I'm going to mentally hold my nose and do it.

Yep, I know sometimes High-School and emergency-duress-urgency strategies can be helpful in later life, too. Yeah.

Maybe I'll be like Galileo and say under my breath "not".

That's a great point! I like the Galileo quotation a great deal because it'so helpful against unenlightened bullies and their indoctrination attempts, too!!! Excellent!!!