St George stirs up patriotic debate

27th April 2001 at 01:00
ST George's day provided the pundits with the opportunity to ponder on patriotism and our national identity. Quite timely: in the aftermath of the Foreign Secretary's controversial "chicken tikka masala" speech came riots in Bradford, the row over the Commission for Racial Equality's election pact against racism and the alleged "no-go" areas created by Asian youths in Oldham.

Michael Wills, dubbed by the Sunday Express as "minister for patriotism", said it was a good time for the whole country to celebrate our multicultural history and sense of fair play.

"For all the problems we have faced, Britain has come to be a remarkably successful experiment in multicultural living, which owes its vibrancy and dynamism to a rich complex of experiences: to successive waves of invasion and immigration and trading partnerships," he said, without any apparent trace of irony.

Andrew Cunningham, the English teacher who has a column in the Daily Express, was sad to note that few English people are aware of their national day in marked contrast to the French, the Americans and Australians.

He quoted a survey of 90,000 14-year-olds in 28 countries in which "English schoolkids have just come bottom of the pile in patriotism".

In his experience of teaching thousands of English teenagers it was "impossible to trace any pride in the Union Jack and God Save the Queen let alone the Cross of St George or Land of Hope and Glory. Is it because we have nothing to be proud of?" Dr Cunningham wants citizenship curses to make a link between our current climate of tolerance and the patriotism of past British citizens that made it all possible.

Teachers in Bradford might find that a hard task, as Sir Herman Ouseley, the former chairman of the CRE, makes clear in his report which was commissioned by the city council before last week's six-hour rampage by white and Asian youths which appeared to be racially motivated.

He said schools were a key part of the failure of race relations in the city, as they were becoming all-Asian or all-white, and pupils in multiracial schools failed to mix. This led to polarisation and organised gangs. Bradford's demography made the divide inevitable, he admitted, but said it would help if schools provided a curriculum which taught an appreciation of different races.

Plus ca change. In the days before Kenneth Baker and the national curriculum there was a drive to promote multicultural education, even in the so-called "white highlands", not just in multiracial inner cities.

But there was proof that some primaries are still trying to acknowledge Britain's cultural and racial mix.

The Sun spotted one in Merseyside which refused to fly "England's national flag" on Monday, because the head said it would not be appropriate in his school, Kew Woods in Southport, with its variety of nationalities, including Indians, Chinese and Egyptians.

Needless to say he was condemned for his political correctness by the St George's Day Association.

Diane Spencer

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