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

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