'Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary wants schools to teach Britishness to 5-16 year olds. Is that what education should be about? And what should be on the curriculum?'says the header on the BBCs Today forum. This is a futile and devisive project.The productive thing to do would be to get this generation of children to create a modern concept of Britishness, rather than stuffing them with the rules of some synthesised EnglandLand, palatable to the mobsters of Canary Wharf and Wapping.
To be valid, any modern British identity would have to engage with the facts of modern communication. So any examination of national identity in schools would have to involve a complete dialogue between as many regions and groups in the country as possible. This would be worthwhile in itself, overcoming the physical barriers to exchange which class, and the property market, and artificial hostility have raised.
The idea of a curriculum is not constructive. The aims and objectives should be to understand and unearth the different strands of British culture as seen through the eyes of its children. The method has to be the dialogue between them. As usual, the government have hold of the wrong end of the stick. British identity is like the ever growing family quilt, where each generation makes their contribution, no matter how tedious or brilliant or immoral or saintly.
Other cultures are more like a beautiful copper vase, polished and cared for by each generation, but essentially unchanging. Isolated tribal cultures, for instance. Beautiful and harmonious, but static. Or more disturbingly, like the visions of totalitarian dictators or religious despots, rigid and infallible.
The essence of British identity is change. The people best placed to monitor and report those changes are the people who will live with the consequences of change, namely the young. There is nothing 'British' about values like 'justice' and 'fair play', or even 'change'. They are the required values of any civilisation. But by whatever geo-cultural accident, Britain is definitely one of the countries most dependent on, driven by and addicted to change and novelty. It has never benefited from attempts to pickle its identity. And the attempts to do so are generally forgotten or ridiculed.