Skip to main content

Don't be a Jubilee sourpuss

TIME to think about the Jubilee, I reckon. No, get out from under that desk, you can't put it off forever. I sense that there may be a touch of resistance to overcome here and there; something which I had not quite reckoned with until I had an incendiary conversation with a teacher last week. He is a department head, to my eye dedicated and clever, in a large comprehensive in outer London.

But he spurns the Jubilee. "I'm having nothing to do with it, " he said crossly when the subject came up, apropos the excitements and free mugs of 1977. "I don't believe in it. I never did. I'm a republican. Why should we celebrate the hereditary parasites? Come to that, why should they mess up the half-term dates? " "But it'll be fun!" I bleated lamely.

"Yeah, right," said the Robespierre of the staffroom. "Fun for sad old codgers like you. Anyway, there's no time for schools to faff about with jubilees. Got a huge curriculum to deliver."

He claimed to be backed by about a third of the staff at that school; I have no idea how widespread the phobia is in the teaching community at large, but a poll would be fascinating.

I think they are missing a trick. This is not because I nourish any exceptional burning devotion to the concept of monarchy, nor even just because of my general view that Jubilophobes tend to be of the sourpuss persuasion, and I prefer to keep company with people who habitually seize any opportunity for a party.

The real reason I was so startled is because the teacher concerned does history and English, and it seems inconceivable that in these damn dreary days any bright pedagogue would willingly pass up an opportunity to identify his or her subject with colour, gold robes, trumpets, horses, lions, unicorns, processions, pop concerts in normally staid parks, and people with their faces painted to look like Union Jacks.

If you've got a monarchy with a fine tradition of dash, pomp, fanfares and general hoopla , you really might as well press it into service. Others do: my son is gap-yearing as an apprentice deckhand aboard a Dutch square-rigger in the Pacific, and on the day of the Dutch royal wedding, a thousand miles off Honolulu with nobody else to see, the young crew decked the entire ship out in the national colour (orange) and declared a holiday and a spirited round of deck games.

Quite apart from the mileage the history department can get out of crowns and monarchs, a jubilee is a fabulous teaching aid. Fifty years, after all, is a nice manageable span of time. It is "when Mum was a baby" for the teenagers, and Granny's memory for the primary-schoolers. Every network will be stuffed with wonderful old black-and-white footage not only of the Royal family but of ordinary people leading weird monochrome lives in awful clothes; every town library will have the old postcards out on display, showing how different, yet recognisable, your home streets once were.

The PSE department can use it to consider changed social attitudes, dig out some hilarious cuttings from the 1950s, and help pupils debate the different values of a time of rationing, sexual hesitancy and prime ministers without saucy pictures on their shirt-cuffs. Media studies can interview the local over-60s about what a novelty television was at coronation time, and try to analyse the massive shifts of consciousness, knowledge, sophistication and attention-span between a generation without TV and a generation incapable of doing without it for one single day. Again, every Jubilee nostalgia programme will be a teaching aid as summer approaches.

Then there are the debates. No sixth form should be without its session of verbal fisticuffs on the motion "This House hopes that the Queen is the last of her kind" or "This house would rather be a citizen than a subject."

Meanwhile, the art department can set the juniors painting entries for the Blue Peter competition, and the seniors researching images of royalty in sculpture and painting, or constructing some Brittish homage from two grubby Kleenex and a bunch of plastic grapes..

And through it all, contemplating the steadfast dutifulness of the monarch, the vagaries of her family, the shocks and surprises and upheavals of the clan, and the general slow soap-operatic unfolding of their stories, marriages and family tree, children can learn the most difficult and useful lesson of all. They can observe that life is a very long and surprising business, requiring constant adaptation, and that the sooner you get used to the idea the better.

Oh go on - grit your teeth, do the Jubilee. It's a richer vein to mine than the boring old Millennium.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you