Anthems & Apathy

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Comic: Do students care? Two panels. Two perspectives.
This cartoon is cross-posted to Educational Comics.

With Understanding, Pride

What thoughts play through your head when you listen to your nation’s anthem? Do you listen to your anthem? Do your students?

As a substitute teacher, I see students who don’t listen to my nation’s anthem, who don’t stand at attention, or who even talk or fool around while my anthem is sung. Sure they have heard it every school morning for x number of years, but they seem to forget that my nation has soldiers deployed out of country defending that anthem and what it stands for. They forget that very few of these valiant soldiers return home unscathed in some way. I know; my father was in the service, thankfully during times of peace, but domestic terrorists were around while he served.

Lately, as I more deeply invest myself in my students’ welfares and futures, I have grown concerned about this apparent apathy, this disinterest, this boredom my students present over my anthem. I think more than just apathy directs their behaviors. I actually think they hold a “it can not happen to me and my country” taking-it-for-granted attitude. Under this premise, my nation’s anthem is just a song with no more meaning than a teacher’s preaching. No wonder they do not respect it as I do. I am not sure most of them even understand it. That saddens me.

I was taught my anthem when I was a kid. Because of this, I hold it with great pride. With understanding comes pride. So I would like to bring meaning to two lines of my anthem, the way I was taught them. I imagine that a class can be best taught this through query and discussion.

Into and Out Of the Canadian Anthem

The Canadian Anthem and its history are described on the Government of Canada’s website (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/ceem-cced/symbl/anthem-eng.cfm). The lines I wish to explore are:

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

When I was a kid, these lines read:

O Canada, glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

(There was a recent suggestion to return to this version, or to at least drop the mention of God.)

I will explore the version I learned, because I think it holds deeper and more identifiable and call-to-action meaning.

“O” is an address, such as the address Shelley makes to the West Wind in his Ode to the West Wind. It implies an addressee capable of understanding it is being addressed.

Canada is obviously the addressee, but “Canada” is a concept. Here students need guidance, for once they comprehend “Canada”, the rest of the Canadian anthem takes on nuances of meaning. What is Canada? It is of course territory, but it is also tradition, culture, values, history and perhaps most importantly the network or Nation of Canadians. This is what I think students today do not comprehend.

The national anthem addresses not only the territory but the people and values of Canada. It addresses the students! It is a song sung not only by the students to Canada but by Canada to the students. Furthermore, it is sung simultaneously about Canada and the students.

Every school morning in every school across the nation from sea to sea to sea Canada sings to the students. What a concept.

So what is it singing? “Glorious” means full of glory. “Free” is another tough one; a whole course can be spent on it with little more than a cursory introduction to all its implications. But can you see, when applied to the territory, the values and the students, how strong, how empowering these words really are?

The next line, particularly “we stand on guard for thee”, is significant since “we” and “thee” apply again to the territory, the values and the students. And “guard” carries more weight. How many different ways can each of the three “we” stand guard over each of the three “thee”?

The Strength of Meaning

In just two lines, the Canadian anthem captures its strength as an anthem worthy of Canadians. When understood the anthem is meaningful rather than meaningless. It ceases to be boring, ceases to be drill. The students own it. And through owning it, they own their land (the house) and their Country (the home).

Regardless of where we are or what anthem we sing, should we not all care about where we live and the values we hold dear? What thoughts play through your head when you hear your nation’s anthem? Do you listen to it? Do your students?

One day maybe, if I finally had enough of kids talking and slouching and fooling around during our national anthem, I might throw my teacher’s lesson plan away and open instead a discussion about meaning behind the national anthem. I wonder if they would even hear?

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2 thoughts on “Anthems & Apathy

  1. Pingback: Revisiting the Solstice – A Year of Educational Blogging « Digital Substitute

  2. Pingback: Revisiting the Solstice « Stefras' Bridge

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