What does the word loyalty mean to your students? This assembly looks at this issue of loyalty, drawing on the recent call for pupils to pledge allegiance to the Queen

Summary

This week’s assembly examines the issue of loyalty. It challenges listeners to question where their loyalties lie and whether the whole idea of loyalty still stands in the twenty-first century. It also explores what people might consider being loyal to.

Resources

Six readers.

Engagement

All readers to say the following, one by one:

Reader 1: I pledge allegiance to the United Kingdom! From Orkney to Oswestry, from Scousers to Geordies, Manxmen to Mancunians. I pledge allegiance to the English language and all its variations. To fish and chips, bacon butties, Cornish pasties and black pudding. I pledge allegiance to Wembley and the Millenium Stadium, the shipping forecast and cream teas.

Reader 2: I pledge allegiance to [insert local major football team here] and to [insert local football team − non-major side here] and to [insert name of locally important places]. I pledge allegiance to [insert any locally appropriate context − for example, speciality foods, local tourist attractions, etc] I pledge allegiance to the [local geographical context − town or city/county, etc]

Reader 3: I pledge allegiance to my family. To my aunties and uncles and their families. To the family get-togethers at special occasions. I pledge allegiance to our home and our family history, and to all the people who make our family proud.

Reader 4: I pledge allegiance to music − metal, rock and even country. To violinists and slash guitarists, drummers and trumpeters. I pledge allegiance to MTV and all music channels − the Brit Awards and the Eurovision Song contest. I pledge allegiance to the memory of (lower head) Top of the Pops.

Reader 5: I pledge allegiance to my community − to the (insert something suitably local), to the teachers and doctors and cleaners and streetsweepers. To the shopkeepers and the police officers, the priests and the bus drivers, the politicians and the lawyers, the bakers and the plasterers.

Reader 6: I pledge allegiance to myself. To my ipod and my mobile. My clothes and my bedroom. To my language and my culture, my hopes and my dreams. I pledge allegiance to my future, to all that I want to get from life.

Now all readers to say the above again, but all at the same time.

Leader: What would you pledge allegiance to?

Reflection

Allegiance − what an unusual word. How often do you hear of such things being spoken about these days? Allegiance means to pledge yourself to something. It’s about making promises to uphold the things which you think are important and of value.

A pledge is a promise − something you make which you don’t intend to break. How often does this happen in the twenty-first century?

In the USA, it is still common for school pupils to take the Pledge of Allegiance. This happens quite publicly and may even take place on a daily basis in some schools. Typically, it would involve the pupil facing the flag of the USA and with hand over heart reciting these words:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ www.usflag.org

By doing so, the person who swears allegiance is promising to uphold a particular way of life and defend it − they are promising to stay loyal to what it means to be an American.

In Britain, at the moment, there is no such pledge of allegiance − so there were some interesting reactions to the suggestion that there should be one from the former former attorney-general, Lord Goldsmith. He said that this would be a way of tackling a ‘diminution of national pride’. Quoted at www.bbc.co.uk/news

By this he means that people nowadays aren’t as proud as they used to be about being British. He thinks that making such a pledge of allegiance might bring back a sense of national pride. The fact that he thinks this should be compulsory in schools, however, has been challenged by some on the basis that such a thing would actually be un-British! This is not to mention the divisions this has raised within the country between Scotland and England as well as between those who support the idea of having a royal family and those who don’t.

But is all this really the point? Is this just about Britishness or about being loyal to a royal? Perhaps there’s something more important going on here than simply pride in your nationality. On hearing about this proposal, a pupil in one school said − ‘What’s the point in anyone making promises about loyalty today? No one keeps their promises and no one’s loyal to anyone but themselves.’ (Liberton High School pupil.) True? [Pause]

Do people keep their promises? You can probably remember times when you haven’t, and there are certainly news items from last week where people, sometimes those in high political offices, did not keep their promises − even to their closest family. The British chancellor gave a budget speech last week and some of the first comments about it were that he hadn’t kept certain promises that he had made. Promising something is easy − seeing it through is less easy. Is there any point in making promises these days? What kind of world would it be like if no one promised anyone anything? [Pause and leave unanswered]

And what about loyalty? Where are your loyalties? Are they to your country, your family, your community, your favourite football team? Or, are they really only to yourself? Maybe, in one sense, Lord Goldsmith was right − perhaps we do need to examine ourselves and ask what has become of loyalty to others beyond ourselves and our families and communities.

Perhaps our loyalty should not be to any particular way of life, but to life itself. Perhaps our loyalty should be to the idea that every person who shares this world with us deserves the chance to live a fulfilling, safe, happy and meaningful life, free from pain, poverty, prejudice and anything else which prevents them from living life to the full.

All religions, and all world views which are not based on religion, agree that life has an intrinsic value and that we’re all responsible for each other. It’s everyone’s job to make sure that everyone else’s life is worth living.

Now that would be something worth pledging allegiance to.

Response

Here is a pledge of allegiance which perhaps we could all share:

Reader 1: I pledge allegiance to a world where no one is hungry. Where everyone has enough to eat and no one does without. A world where that food is grown while respecting the natural world from which it comes.

Reader 2: I pledge allegiance to a world where people are free. Free to watch the sun rise and the moon glimmer on the water. Where people are free to express their beliefs and their values without fear of attack, and where people draw upon those beliefs and values to make the world a better place.

Reader 3: I pledge allegiance to a world where truth reigns. Where lies are unnecessary and honesty and respect are central to everything everyone does.

Reader 4: I pledge allegiance to a world where suffering is banished to the history books. Where people laugh and sing and take pleasure in the little things of life. Where people’s joy comes from each other, not from material things alone.

Reader 5: I pledge allegiance to a fair world, a world where everyone has opportunities − no matter what their race or gender or way of life.

Reader 6: I pledge allegiance to a better world − a world where we have worked out what’s wrong with it and have put it right. A world where there is peace and justice, a world which is good − a world we can all share − for we have no other.
Amen.

[If preparation time allows, an idea would be to have pupils write their own pledges for a better world and use these in the response section]

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2008

About the author: Joe Walker is head of religious education and psychology at Liberton High School in Edinburgh. He also has responsibility for religious education for the City of Edinburgh Council. As well as being a well known author, he was winner of Secondary Teacher of the Year at the Scottish Education awards, 2005. He is involved in many aspects of national religious education development in Scotland.

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