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Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Think This, Say That, Wear Your Flag

I woke up this morning to the following headline in my RSS feeds, courtesy of CBC News: N.B. school silences O Canada. It already had 249 comments then; it's up to 658 comments as I'm writing this. CBC News has since updated the article to expand its content and provide a more detailed story; the original article was less informative, which didn't stop people from commenting on it.

In case I haven't been clear in the past, let me first establish that I don't believe in being "politically correct". What's the point in living in a free country if you have to walk on eggshells just to avoid offending anyone? To that end, it's Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays. You can say BCE or BC; I don't care--it's still inherently based on Christianity, so it isn't "politically correct"--just annoying.

But I digress.

My initial reaction to the article was, "Well, this is stupid." This was just another example of the politically correct movement going too far! There's nothing wrong with singing the national anthem! Back in my day (I can't believe it's been two years already), I sang the national anthem aloud every morning at school--and I can't sing, so I can only imagine what torture it was for my classmates. I still sing at baseball games. To me, singing the national anthem is appropriate at school and at sporting events. After all, I had been singing it ever since I was a ki--

That's the point where, after reading the comments on the CBC article from people on both sides of the issues, I recognized that I was running up against a barrier of my own indoctrination. It's true: I sing the national anthem because that's what I was taught to do.

And if there's anything I dislike more than the politically correct movement, it's nationalism. Ick. Although I recognize that in some circumstances, nationalism is useful, it mostly just leads to trouble. We've all learned about the first two World Wars, correct? Good. I rest my case. Before I go on, however, I'll mention that I consider nationalism and national pride to be two different but closely related concepts. Nationalism is national pride taken to the extreme; it's socially-enforced national pride. I have no problem with people being proud of Canada; I'm mostly proud of Canada.((Except for the parts currently occupied by Stephen Harper)) It's when that pride motivates Acts of Stupidity that we need to take a step back and ask if what we're doing makes sense.

Suddenly an issue like singing the national anthem in school no longer seems so simple. I can see arguments for both sides. On one hand, it's stupid to remove this activity because a few students don't want to participate. No one's forcing students to sing the anthem. On the other hand, what does singing the anthem mean? Is it really required in school, or is it an unnecessary component of the indoctrination of children into Canadian society?

It's hard to cast off the shackles of one's own indoctrination. Not everyone succeeds.((Those who fail go on to lead successful lives at Fox News.)) Breaking free of indoctrination doesn't mean rejecting indoctrinated values, although many see it that way. Instead, it means one has to examine one's beliefs critically and look at alternative points of view to decide if those make more sense.

You Can't Define With a Negative

It's impossible to do justice to the subject of Canadian identity in this blog post. Better scholars than I have written books on this subject, so I won't even pretend to be adequate at defining what's Canadian. Nevertheless, we need a definition, something mildly more substantial than "not American".

One commenter on the CBC article, jtbrown, said:

I think that people are missing the point that Canada is exactly the kind of country where it is okay to have this kind of opinion.... In Canada we are free to question the actions of government, to voice dissenting opinions, to stand up for the rights of minorities and to think and speak freely without the fear of reprisals, except, that is, from some outraged,blindly patriotic bloggers.

So rather than defining "Canadian" as who we are, let's define it as what we can do--is not action better than mere existence? Thus, to be Canadian is to have the freedom to express one's own opinions, as well as the ability to choose to respect the opinions of others, without being fettered by social or religious mores.

I Can Haz Anthemz Now???

Canada has always been ambivalent about nationalism, to the point of having multiple dates one could celebrate as Canada's independence--1867, 1931, 1982. We didn't have a our maple leaf flag until 1965. And as Americans are quick to remind us (to be fair, we're quick to remind them, with perhaps even more smugness), we didn't fight for our independence--we asked nicely.((It helped that, by that time, Britain was pretty sick of us and was happy to dump us for India.))

Our national anthem, O Canada, became official in 1980. There's actually two sets of lyrics--one English, and one French, in keeping with our bilingual society. The English lyrics have come under fire from secularists (for including the word "God") and feminists (for the word "sons"). I'm not sure if the French lyrics have ever been criticized. They seem less controversial, although I could see "forefathers" upsetting the feminists, I suppose, and that whole thing about wielding a sword might anger pacifists((Which would result in a very sternly worded letter, I'm sure.))

For the record, I don't believe in any particular God, but I don't mind that our anthem has "God" in it. It's not a big deal for me.

I like this comment by "middle Perspective":

Learning and practicing our National Anthem keeps Canadian's bound together on a national level. Our communities are all very different, and if we derived what we are from them (like you said), we certainly would not all be Canadian (e.g. Quebec, Newfoundland, Alberta). But with a national anthem, its a tool in which we all know what we mean to other communities and united on an international stage.

Most of us would agree that the anthem serves as a tool for promoting nationalism; that much is obvious. But if being Canadian involves respecting the diversity of others, even if they don't agree with you, how does this affect the purpose of our national anthem?

"RrrPla" has a very specific idea about the role of the anthem:

Our national anthem is as intrinsic to our citizenship as is our right to vote, our freedom of conscience and right to live in peace. Canadian loyalty is not optional. It is mandatory, and symbols of our country such as the flag and anthem are not negotiable.

I'm glad I don't live in the same Canada as RrrPla. The idea of "mandatory nationalism" sounds vaguely like "militaristic nationalism" or even "national socialism", and we all know how well that turned out.

Finally, Aaron A says:

There is nothing more Canadian in this country than its anthem, not playing it in schools is no different than refusing to fly the flag, and is tantamount treason. How this principal could side with a few unpatriotic parents over his country is appauling. If they don't like the anthem, then they should live somewhere else!!!

I will agree that refusing to sing the anthem is unpatriotic, sure. But Aaron seems to equate being unpatriotic with treason, and that's a rather large jump. Some people refuse to sing the national anthem due to their religious or personal beliefs--some religions forbid their followers from espousing loyalty to any other authority, and maybe a more ardent anti-nationalist than myself would refuse to sing the anthem due to its nationalistic purpose. These actions are unpatriotic, but that doesn't make them wrong, bad, or treasonous. Furthermore, people who refuse to sing the national anthem can be patriotic or show national pride in other ways.

Our national anthem, then, evokes national pride and is a tool for promoting nationalism when Canadians need it most. It doesn't seek to assimiliate the diversity of Canada's cultures and force everyone to think or believe the same thing. It does encourage Canadians--all Canadians--to feel proud of the entire country.

Please, Think of the Children!

Yes or no: should all public schools in Canada play the national anthem at the beginning of each day, during which time students may sing if it pleases them, although singing is not required?

There is a difference between just playing the national anthem and singing it. Honestly, how many kids actually sing the anthem? When I was in high school, we didn't sing the national anthem.((Except, as previously noted, I did, much to the regret of my classmates.)) It played out over the intercom, often in this bizarre technobeat that was a travesty of anthem. We would stand at attention, have a brief moment of silence afterward, then sit down and start chatting with each other. We'd have to talk very loudly, of course, because there were announcements playing out of the intercom that threatened to drown out our important conversations.

But I digress.

Listening to someone play the national anthem is a more passive activity than singing it. It's very hard not to listen, since you'd have to block your ears.((So if an anthem plays in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, is it still patriotic?)) Singing, on the other hand, implies you want to celebrate the national anthem.

With that in mind, my answer to the opening question for this section would be "Yes." Public schools are supposed to educate children about Canada, and that includes the anthem. There's nothing wrong with playing that anthem.

But what about having kids sing it? Here's a few more comments I selected from the CBC article.

"Pinpatch" thinks we should all love one another but wants you to get "flack" if you don't sing the national anthem:

I think it is so sad that there are so many people on here who think it is OK NOT to sing the national anthem. Part of living in this country is singing your anthem, and everyone should not only know how to sing it, but BE PROUD OF IT! I dont know what is wrong with our country,,,,, The US is very patriotic, and its a shame that we are not like that, no one seens to give a damn about our country anymore, when we have so much to be thankful and grateful for here. Stand on guard for your country, support our country, support our troops... love one another . freedom.... Thats what our anthem represents.

Rick Thibodeau's particularly vocal in this discussion. As a local, he managed to put provide some perspective for the commenters who were blaming immigrants for this issue:

I think you guys are missing a big point; many of you believe it's some immigration issue...last time I was in Belleisle, specifically around Hatfield point, Kars, Wickam, Norton, I didn't see many immigrants, if ANY at all, waving their own flags around inciting some speech to reform school systems to include them. If anything, most of the population that exists there are pentecost and baptist...so WHO exactly are the ones taking down the anthem? Certainly not a dozen people...

Lastly, "Western Opinion" has a sardonic observation of a trend he or she has espied:

Yet another accommodation so as to not offend the very few.

Next on the list.....banning the use of red ink and x's when evaluating student's work or emphasizing the use of handwriting by the teacher because 1 student in the class can't or refuses to learn how to read it.

This country is going in the toilet.

Thus I Take Refuge in Apathy

This article has certainly attracted discussion and comments from people on both side of the issue. At first I agreed with those who thought this all a bunch of politically correct nonsense. Then I agreed with those who thought this all a ploy by nationalists to further indoctrinate our children. Then I realized I had no clue what to think, and that I'm very, very confused.

So sing the anthem, don't sing the anthem--ça m'est égal.((No, I'm not telling you what it means. Google it.)) We have better things to do in this country than debate about whether or not it's good to recite a bunch of epideitic words at the beginning of each day. We still have no good leadership, a budget that will either fix all our worries or damn our economy once and for all, and Sarah Palin is gearing up her election machine for 2012!!((Breathe, Ben. It's four years away. Plenty could happen before then. Her daughter could have another unexpected teenage pregnancy. We can only hope.))

Ideally I'd preserve the status quo--keep public schools playing the anthem, don't force kids to sing it unless they want to sing. Offer some of those nifty noise-cancellation headphones for the kids whose parents don't want them listening to it.

Oh, and for all those people who left comments on that CBC article to the effect of "if you don't want to sing our anthem, you should get out of Canada", shame on you. Such an opinion is not Canadian, and while I respect your right to voice it, I don't agree with it, and it doesn't improve my estimation of you. In this country, we're allowed to disagree with each other, but we should be civil about it. Just because our Members of Parliament fling insults at each other doesn't mean we should. We are better than that.

In conclusion, Carthage must be destroyed.