Patriotism: Britishness shunned despite PM plea

11th September 2009 at 01:00
Majority of teachers dismiss proposed lessons in patriotism as "brainwashing", research reveals

Three-quarters of teachers believe they should point out the dangers of patriotism to their pupils, rather than merely inculcating love of Queen and country, new research has revealed.

Many feel that patriotism is "brainwashing", preferring instead a John Lennon approach that emphasises universal humanity and the brotherhood of man.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has spoken out in favour of teaching pupils to be patriotic, claiming that lessons in Britishness should be incorporated into the curriculum.

Drs Joanne Pearce and Michael Hand, from the Institute of Education at the University of London, surveyed history and citizenship teachers from 20 secondaries, as well as almost 300 pupils, on their attitudes to patriotism in the classroom.

While more than half of teachers and pupils agreed that patriotic sentiment was a good thing, the majority felt that schools should offer a balanced reflection of all viewpoints.

And 74 per cent of teachers believed it was their duty to point out the danger of patriotic sentiments.

"Praising patriotism excludes non-British pupils," one teacher said. "Patriotism about being British . divides groups along racial lines, when we aim to bring pupils to an understanding of what makes us the same."

In fact, most interviewees felt that the role of school was to promote more cosmopolitan forms of identification. "We shouldn't be promoting patriotism," one teacher said. "We should be promoting universal brotherhood." Another added: "I think we should identify as humans."

Teachers also acknowledged that individuals had the right to choose their own role models, British or otherwise, as anything else would qualify as brainwashing.

One citizenship teacher said: "I don't think you should be grooming children to be patriotic. That's as bad as telling everyone that they've got to be a certain religion . I am not going to brainwash anyone."

Even teachers who wanted schools to promote patriotism tended to qualify their arguments. One history teacher commented: "I think it's an unavoidable human condition that you identify with a group . So to promote it in a positive way is OK, but not jingoistic flag-waving."

Pupils want the choice

Pupils were equally unenthusiastic. Many felt that they should be allowed to form their own opinions on the matter. One said: "If people want to be patriotic, then let them. Don't dissuade them nor persuade them."

Nonetheless, two-thirds of teachers said that they encouraged discussion of patriotism in their classrooms. But this often passed pupils by: more than half said that patriotism was never discussed at school.

The researchers suggest this may be because the subject is often tackled implicitly, without explicit use of the word "patriotic". Many teachers incorporate the topic into lessons on the First or Second World Wars, or on human rights and democracy.

And they were unconcerned about pressure from the Government to do otherwise. One interviewee said: "I reckon teachers are the greatest profession in the world when it comes to subverting anything the Government puts before them."

However, the researchers argue that vast areas of history and politics would be incomprehensible without some understanding of the power of patriotic sentiment. They, therefore, suggest that pupils should be made aware of the principle arguments for and against love of one's country.

"Schools have a responsibility to ensure that students not only understand the phenomenon of patriotism, but are equipped to make reasoned judgments about the place it should occupy in their own emotional lives," they said.

Patriot act

  • Teach patriotism as a topic in its own right, rather than as part of a broader discussion.
  • Respond positively when the topic is raised by pupils.
  • Know the arguments for and against patriotic attachment.
  • Challenge easy consensus and uncritical views.
  • Correct factual errors.
  • Be sensitive, because national identities are often intertwined with race, ethnicity and religion.
  • Be aware of influencing pupils unintentionally through body language or humorous asides.
  • Show pupils that they need not be passive victims of their emotions.
  • Be aware of the possibility of multiple patriotic attachments.

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