Citizens against Bush's war

4th April 2003 at 01:00
IT was the first Sunday of the war. Not the first sabbath, there are none of those. The Muslim sabbath had been riven and debased by 900 Cruise missiles, their axes converging on Baghdad. The Christian sabbath was filthied by awed BBC coverage of B52 bombers whining their eightfold engines, bloating into the air from runways in Gloucestershire.

A former leader of British Armed Forces said as voiceover: "They can carry 20 tonnes of bombs and upwards of 30 Cruise missiles: that's an astounding amount of kit."

Kit used to be stuff you had to get a note for if you didn't bring it.

"Please, sir, I forgot my kit." But six hours later it was obvious, from the son et lumi re show over Iraq, that none of the B52s had forgotten theirs.

Then on Tuesday the pupils demonstrated. Not because their teachers egged them on. Not because Tommy Sheridan stood at the gates, all over Scotland, like the Pied Piper. Not because they are wilful lawbreakers, casual truants, or reckless of their own well-being.

For these particular students had taken part in an Any Questions programme, four months earlier. During November they have a Citizenship Day, and a distinguished former editor of The TES Scotland had travelled north to judge their debate. Now they probed the representatives of five political parties. "Would a war against Iraq be a moral war, or a war for oil?" One candidate suggested that they should eternally be grateful to the United States "because otherwise you would now be speaking German".

Those with oral assessments the next day looked a bit wistful. Otherwise they just hooted. The vote was unanimous: 150 senior students decided that, in their view, a war against Iraq would be immoral.

The four months passed. The "mainstream" figureheads preached, prevaricated, told porkies - and ignored public opinion. So the pupils took to the streets: in Orkney, Shetland, the Mearns, Birmingham, Paris and New York. As Hugh MacDiarmid wrote: "And Auchtermuchty stood As pairt o an eternal mood."

I have to say that I do not think it will end there. Neither in Scottish schools nor the world at large. Citizenship is not just for Citizenship Day. Citizenship is not a toy for the curriculum, one of its endlessly spinning priorities. Citizenship is not the topdown manufacture of consent for the status quo.

Forget any notion that our pupils are apathetic, at the whim of fashion.

They have more to teach us, and more courage to show us, than we think.

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