Flags of Inconvenience

In wishing a happy St George’s Day to all who call England their home – which right now includes my London class – I am reminded of the true value of patriotism. To belong, share a language, a common story, a sense of humour. To take pride in our heroes and seek a coherent national narrative, whether or not one exists or is even desirable. As sociable animals we recognise our best interests lie not in isolation but in the group.

The flag is surely a symbol of welcome, of belonging, of hospitality. It ceases to be this when it is used as a weapon. When it is used as a means to ‘other’ individuals and groups and deny them the absolute hospitality that any flag should symbolise.

In fact, of course, it is, like the humans who design it – both positive and negative. It is an aporia – a conundrum. An inconvenient reminder that we constantly run the risk of excluding ‘the other’ in our thirst for self-identity. Indeed it is, to an extent, inevitable. What is not inevitable is that it should be exploited. No surprise that the malevolent old prey on the innocent young by providing them not with a clear view of appropriate self and group identity but, instead, with a fairground mirror of distortion. First, sketch out your enemy in cartoon form; then demonise the caricature you have produced; then destroy him.

So hang the flag of St George high on the flag post and proclaim ‘this is England’. Drape it out of the bedroom window. Festoon your car with it and fashion tee-shirts with its scarlet cross. But let’s do so proclaiming Englishness as a touchstone for justice, for fairness, for decency and dignity. But most of all, let it be a beacon of welcome for the traveller, whatever passport or nationality the traveller carries. Happy St George’s Day.

‘Tales from the Sand Pit’




Social Media Harms Moral Development  Or so this link from the BBC’s coverage of the result of a survey from the excellent Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues suggests. The survey focuses on parents’ views that social media is not, necessarily, such a good thing in the development of morals. Now of course the parents surveyed could be wrong – antediluvian, Luddite etc etc but when one remembers that a goodly proportion of the parents concerned are, themselves, pretty much digital natives such an easy critique does not seem up to the task. So what might be going on?

The joy of blog posts is that they encourage a word limit and therefore I will dispense with empirical research, learned papers or newspaper trawls. I will simply vent, albeit as a Headteacher who is lucky enough to spend much of his time among those High Priests of social media – teenagers. Socialisation, I think,  requires accountability which, at its most primeval, requires physical proximity. And social media requires no such proximity; indeed it often feeds off separation, the joy of sounding off or, in its darker manifestation, the troll. Hence in this separation, the possibility at least of stunted socialisation with the concomitant harm to moral development.

Ever since our earliest forebears disagreed over who should occupy the most luxurious cave there has been a recognition that disputes can end, quite literally, in death. Consequences can be dire if one rushes roughshod over the sensibilities of the other person and, in community, we quickly learn to play a percentage game: is my cave man’s club bigger than my opponents? And if this crypto-phalo-centrism, to coin a (new?) phrase, suggests that women and girls are somehow excused from such reasoning then, I would suggest, you’ve never had to do a Truth and Reconciliation job among a group of Year 9 girls following a social-media-inspired fall-out.

Of course the development of culture, the rule of law and religious sensibilities somewhat airbrush the cave person’s  club in favour of the scales of justice or the generous heart yet, at our most unreconstructed, the club device remains potent, as those MPs voting on the replacement for Trident undoubtedly appreciate.

Socialisation, the learning of virtue, the recognition of the very physicality of those others with whom we rub along, sometimes ingloriously, in what we dare to call civilised society, is a messy, intimate and proximate mystery. It starts in the sandpit and, please God, it rarely ends in the Somme. So get your young person out there; in the mess, in the scrum, and let them go Greek.