A British education?
This week, the Philosophy of Education Society launched a pamphlet discussing the issue of patriotism in schools. The pamphlet outlines the cases for and against seeking to educate children in the love of their country - rightly pointing out that the debate is often held from entirely different premises, with those who support patriotism education talking of the virtues of pride whilst those who oppose it merely discuss the difficulties of imparting love through pedagogy - before arriving at the conclusion that 'our responsibility as educators is not to endorse a position in the debate about patriotism' and urging teachers to discuss the controversy of patriotism as an idea rather than to attempt to teach it as a value.
The reasoning behind Michael Hand's cautiousness about patriotism is his case that it 'clouds civic judgment'. He asserts that 'love of country impedes the civic and political judgment of citizens'. On this, I fear, he has got patriotism wrong. Yes, a true patriot loves his country unconditionally - but that does not impair his ability to criticise or to judge. We all love our parents, our friends, our partners; does this prevent us from identifying their flaws or from seeing things differently from them? Of course it doesn't. Nor does the patriot - who loves his country - automatically and unthinkingly defend every aspect of the status-quo within it. As Maurice Glasman pointed out at the launch of Demos' report on patriotism two weeks ago, pride and love of country can in fact be a motivating spur to action and to political engagement. My love for my nation, for my wider community, and my sense of belonging to it will surely make me more likely to be offended by injustices afflicting other members of that national community rather than less?
As Sunder Katwala pointed out at the debate to launch Michael Hand's pamphlet, many great social advances have been made in the name of - or with calls to - patriotism. From the welfare state and the NHS to our defeat of fascism many of the great moments of British history - when it can be argued our populace and political class were exercising their moral and civic duties to the utmost - sprang from a deeply felt love of country, not from indifference or loathing towards it. And our own research, which shows that patriots are more likely to volunteer, more likely to trust other people and less likely to express xenophobia, points to the positive attributes of the patriot and the motivational force for civic duty that patriotism can be.
The author made the point in his remarks that, no matter how motivational love of country might be, it is insufficient to build a case for its promotion on the grounds of its effect on civic duty. We have other avenues, he argued, to ensure virtue, using the example of imprisoning and fining those who will not pay their taxes. He's right of course. But there are myriad levels of desirability and virtuousness below taxation. We want people to volunteer, to be honest, to be polite, to be civil, to recycle, to vote, to work (some of them at least) in materially unrewarding caring professions - it would be a draconian Government indeed that felt entitled to compel all of these things in the same way as it compels tax-paying. We need a softer layer, a gentler nudge - that nudge is love. Love of ourselves, of each other, of our communities and our country can galvanise us both to action against injustice and to civic virtue. And we should be imparting it to our children.