Big day for the small citizens

6th May 2005 at 01:00
The state opening of Parliament offers a truly spectacular learning opportunity for children

Polling day passes, and two weeks later a new Parliament convenes. The state opening of Parliament, scheduled for May 17, is the moment when the Queen, seated in the House of Lords, sends the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod to collect MPs before she reads the Government's legislative programme.

As Black Rod approaches the Commons chamber the doors are slammed in his face. He must knock three times to gain admission.

All this is worth watching with children. Once they know what to look out for, they engage with a ceremony redolent with symbolism. In it we see the independence of our elected chamber from the Crown. Never again will the monarch interfere with the Commons, as did Charles I when he marched on the chamber with 400 troops, seeking to arrest five rebel MPs. But, tipped off, they had already fled. "I see the birds have flown," Charles remarked. The Civil War had begun.

This ceremony symbolises our status as citizens rather than subjects of the Crown in a country where Parliament is sovereign. And what a great ceremony. In the United States, they salute the flag; in this country we slam the door in the face of a bloke dressed in tights. Yet as a nation we take little pride in the constitution, and pay scant attention to this event. We avoid discussing politics in schools, becoming a nation of political illiterates.

Unlike the US, our state has no written constitution. Ours is rooted in precedent and history. Put plainly, it is expressed in its stories, and our schools should be the guardians of those tales.

So I would recommend watching that moment with children. Tell them what it symbolises and encourage them to cherish it.

With worryingly low election turnouts, a sad lack of enthusiasm for our links with Europe and growing concern over civil liberties, it falls to schools to play their part in nurturing the political interests of the young.

The moment you suggest inspiring a sense of politics, there are those who worry about indoctrination. Don't they realise that children are indoctrinated anyway? Every time they encounter the loveable facade put up by a fast-food chain, or whenever they see a supermodel used as an advertising icon, they are indoctrinated in the ways of junk-food and sexism. Every school that has ever trundled kids out to wave flags at the Queen is indoctrinating them just as much as any other state-fostered youth movement.

I hope that by nurturing an awareness of how we are governed, we shall help children grow into critical and thoughtful citizens, rather than subjects of an apathetic mindlessness expressed by those who can't even be bothered to vote.

So encourage them to watch that door being slammed. It is a moment for all citizens to savour.

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