What does it means to be British? In this citizenship assembly for key stages 3, 4, and 5, students are invited to consider national identity, in the light of the government’s proposal for a “British” bank holiday
Leader: We are an international group, here in this assembly hall.[Adapt the following material in the light of the ethnic composition of your school community]
We have those who are English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish. We have students whose family origins lie in the countries of the Commonwealth; places like Australia, Jamaica, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Canada. There are those from countries within the European Community, both newer members, such as Poland, and the founders, such as France and Germany. There are students whose families originate in countries outside those groups, places like the United States of America. For some of you it may be that one of your parents comes from one national group, and the other from a different one. But I’d like all of us to ask ourselves the same question:
Am I British?
Leader: The government is very concerned about the issue of national identity. They feel that, in an age of growing immigration and emigration, it’s important to bond us together as a nation so that we don’t break down into little groups based on our family nationality, religion or culture. They think that developing a strong sense of national identity will develop community cohesion and combat issues of racial discrimination. One suggestion is that we need a public holiday during which we celebrate our ‘Britishness’.
Last week a pamphlet was published by a government think tank, outlining how we might spend such a public holiday. Here are some of the suggestions:
Reader 1: We could hold street parties, sampling one another’s food and sharing a variety of singing, dancing, competitions and storytelling.
Reader 2: There could be free films showing the history of Britain, featuring the heroes and heroines that have made us the nation we are.
Reader 1: We could remember all the good things that have happened in our community over the past year.
Reader 2: There could be a special theme each year with local events based on that theme.
Reader 1: It could be a day of service when the young go out to help the elderly.
Reader 2: There could be a big carnival in the style of Notting Hill, with processions and live music.
Reader 1: Town halls could host discussions on community issues.
Reader 2: We could spend the day appreciating the unique British countryside and its weather.
Leader: It’s fair to say that most of these ideas have met with a less than enthusiastic response! One idea that brought a strong reaction was the suggestion that the most British activity we could involve ourselves in together would be a good booze-up! In fact, all that idea does is highlight the ignorance of some people about the different attitudes to alcohol held by some religious communities in our country.
I wonder if we can come up with any better ideas? [Take some suggestions.]
But what does it mean to be a Brit? That wasn’t a question it was necessary to ask from 1939 up to the mid 1950s. The second world war made it necessary for people to decide which side they were on. The people of Britain were united in the task of overcoming the enemy. Union flags were in evidence throughout the country. The King and his family were greeted with fervent choruses of the national anthem wherever they appeared. Everyone had faith that Britain was going to achieve victory (with a little help from our Allies, of course). National identity wasn’t an issue, and the effect lasted for a decade.
I’m not suggesting that we start a war in order to unite the country. But to engage together in a significant national task might create a sense of community cohesion that local initiatives on their own would find it hard to match.
Not long ago, many of us avidly watched the achievements of British sportsmen and women at the Beijing Olympics. People from various religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds gathered in front of TV screens and cheered our athletes on. Those who won medals stood proudly as the Union flag was raised. Some were Muslims, others Christians, Jews and Buddhists. Many had no religious faith at all. There were people from all ethnic backgrounds present. All were proud to be British, and many of us at home were happy to bask in the reflected glory because so were we.
The 2012 Olympics are to be held in Britain. Many of the events will take place in London, but venues in cities across the entire country will also be involved. Organising the Olympics is a huge task and for some there may be the opportunity to volunteer to become part of the army of helpers. But the main idea that the organising committee want to get across is that the 2012 Games are a ‘welcoming games’. That task of welcoming comes down to us; the ordinary people who walk the streets of this country.
If you welcome someone into your home, it’s usually because you feel pleased and proud with what is there. It’s where you feel comfortable, and hopefully where you feel safe. It’s a place to enjoy laughter and to be able to relax. It could be stimulating, it could be beautiful; it’s your home. Maybe over these next few years, as we look towards welcoming the world to Britain for the Olympics, we could focus on Sweet Home Great Britain (to borrow an American phrase). What makes us comfortable and safe, relaxed, and happy here? If we can create a sense of “home” as a community for the sake of our visitors, then maybe we’ll discover a sense of what it is to be British.
Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.
As we prepare to welcome the world to the 2012 OlympicsMay we recognise why we like living hereMay we celebrate what is uniquely Britain
And be glad to be British, whether by birth or by adoption
This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2008
About the author: Brian Radcliffe