This secondary SEAL assembly discusses patriotism and personal identity
The script is written as a dialogue but the material can be presented by a single speaker or adapted for classroom discussion.
A Leader and two Readers
Engagement[Show slide of an English flag. This section may be take the form of dialogue with the audience]
Leader: What does this flag make you think of?
Reader 1: England!
Leader: What else?
Reader 1: Football!
Leader: Why football?
Reader 1: Lots of England fans flew it during the 2006 World Cup.
Leader: And what’s the flag called?
Reader 1: The Cross of St George.
Leader: And what do we know about St George?
Reader: He killed a dragon…
Leader: Anything else?
Reader 2: It seems likely that Saint George was actually a Roman soldier who was born in Palestine and raised a Christian, who was put to death by the Emperor Diocletian when he refused to give up his faith. Somehow the real George got mixed up with a story of a brave hero who rescued poor people from a fire breathing monster.
Leader: Palestine is far away. What on earth has St George got to do with England?
Leader 2: In the Middle Ages, each country had its own ‘patron’ saint. People would ask their patron saint for their prayers and protection, often before going into battle. Richard I made George the patron of his armies when he went campaigning in Palestine in the twelfth century, and in the thirteenth century the Synod of Oxford declared 23 April – the day George was killed – the feast day for Saint George. Similarly, Wales has St David, Ireland has St Patrick, and Scotland St Andrew.
Leader: But something strange happened a few weeks ago when some Blackburn Rovers were playing Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Some Blackburn fans began waving the England flag, when a steward came along and told them to put it away. He said that national flags were not allowed and that St George’s Cross could be ‘seen as a racist symbol’ (1).
Reader 1: How on earth can the flag of England be a racist symbol?
Leader: The St George’s Cross has come to mean different things to different people – and that’s because different people have different ideas about what ‘England’ is. Let’s think about what it means to be ’English’.
Reader 2: First of all there is confusion between England and Britain. England is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – the ’UK’ for short – and England’s capital, London, is capital of the whole of the United Kingdom as well. Back in 1966 when England won the World Cup at Wembley, many England supporters waved the British flag – the red, white and blue Union Jack. But things had changed by the time of the World Cup in 2006. By then, the red cross flag of St George was more common.
Leader: What’s changed?
Reader 2: Many things. The British Empire, once governed from London, no longer exists, and the United Kingdom is now part of the European Union, the headquarters of which is across the sea in Brussels.
The United Kingdom itself has changed as well. Scotland now has its own parliament and Wales and Northern Ireland have assemblies.
Then there’s immigration. People have come to live in England from many parts of the world. Over 100 languages are now spoken in London, and members of ethnic minorities tend to call themselves British rather than English.
Reader 1: Some people feel threatened, as they wonder if their country is being ‘taken over by newcomers’. Last year, Jack Straw – now the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice – said that the British National Party, who oppose immigration, had been trying to ‘swathe themselves in the cross of St George…with the message that if you weren’t white you weren’t English.’ (2)
Leader: You don’t have to be white to be ’English’. But what do you have to be?
Reader 1: A citizen of England?
Leader: Sorry. Legally you can’t – people can only be a UK citizen, or ’British’ for short.
Reader 2: Someone who speaks English?
Leader: That won’t do either. The English language is now spoken all over the world.
Reader 1: Someone who is born in England?
Leader: Do you have to be born in England?
Reader 2: No. You can be English ’by adoption’ if you come to live here, learn English, like England and are supportive of England.
Leader: Let’s hear from someone who’s done just that. John Sentamu is African; he was born in Uganda. He became a judge there and was nearly killed by President Idi Amin. After that he became a priest, and worked in England. In 2005 he became Archbishop of York – that’s the second most important person in the Church of England.
Recently he made an important speech about what it could mean to be English nowadays. He was impressed by what happened during the 2006 World Cup. Let’s hear what he said:
Reader 2: ’The flag of St George became a symbol for a country caught up in the hopes of eleven men kicking a ball around a field…The flag of St George became an addition to every cab.’ (3)
Leader: Archbishop Sentamu is a black African who works in England, loves his adopted country, and wants us all to be united in loving it too. And so he thinks it would be a good idea to make St George’s Day a public holiday. He is trying, rather like St George, to fight the dragon of ignorance and mistrust. And he’s not ashamed to be patriotic.
Reader 2: ‘To be patriotic is to appreciate and be grateful for all that is valuable in the country you live in. Can there be a new identity, flexible enough to recognise the new aspects of England while remaining [proud of] its own history?’ (3)
If you truly love your own country, it will help you to understand other countries too. So let’s think quietly of a few good things about England.[Suggestions may be taken or collected in advance.]
Reader 1: Everybody has the chance to go to school.
Reader 2: Florence Nightingale helped to reform the care of sick people.
Reader 1: The Beatles developed the Mersey Sound.
Reader 2: Sir Isaac Newton worked out the Theory of Gravity.
Reader 1: You can go hillwalking in the Lake District.
Reader 2: People all around the world enjoy BBC programmes.
Reader 1: In England an African can become a top leader in the Church.
And now let’s listen to an alternative version of the National Anthem, written nearly two hundred years ago.
Read – or read together?
God bless our native landMay his almighty handProtect our shore.May peace her power extend.May foe be turned to friend.The nation’s might depend
On war no more.
May just and equal lawsUphold the people’s causeAnd sin confound.Home of the brave and free,While thus we pray for thee,May all men brothers be (alternative: Let there be harmony)
The wide world round.
William Edward Hickson, 1836 (4)
(1) Zack Wilson, Goal.com, 15 April 2009
(2) Jack Straw, Mail Online, 22 April 2008
(3) David Smith, The Observer, April 5 2009
(4) God Save The Queen, Wikipedia
All websites accessed on 21st April 2009
This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2009
About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He has written and presented many scripts for the BBC and other broadcasters, and currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.