THE week before Brexit, thousands of British primary schoolchildren were corralled into an arena to sing the EU Anthem.
Thousands more were lured in during the following weeks, so that by the time the ink was dry on the Withdrawal Agreement nearly 150,000 children, identically attired, had taken to the nation’s largest arenas to belt out Ode To Joy.
Presumably when Young Voices were planning their 2020 programme, they, like the rest of the population, had no idea what the situation would be once we had reached the new year. That is beside the point. Whether we had Brexited or no, the inclusion of Pete Seeger’s lyrics to Ode To Joy could be interpreted as a deliberately triumphalist act, a way of saying ‘We already have your children’.
How many parents realised what they were signing their children up to? A school choir sounds so innocuous, so innocent: a worthwhile activity to be encouraged. But, as with reading, the danger is that teachers and parents are so keen to get children singing, they can easily turn a blind eye to what is being read and to what is being sung.
Widespread Biblical illiteracy guarantees that very few parents and teachers, let alone primary school children, would be in a position to contrast Seeger’s plea to ‘Build [the path to peace] wide and deep and long’ with Jesus’s assertion that ‘wide is the gate and broad is the way which leads to destruction’; moreover, ‘that when they shall say peace and safety, sudden destruction cometh upon them’.
Equally, literary illiteracy means few if any of the children singing the final line, ‘One for all and all for one’, would conjure up the cover image on my Ladybird Children’s Classics edition of The Three Musketeers, swords prominent . . .
How ironic that the collective drive for peace should finish with a call to arms. The sad thing is that children spend their childhood having their fears stoked by adults who should know better. When I was a child, the Stranger Danger campaigns were enough to give me bad dreams, but this generation is driven into a constant state of helpless existential panic, having to contend with internet predators, radicalised beings, abusers of all sorts, a dying planet – and these dangers are always somewhat elusively ‘out there’, intangible, on the other side, to be dealt with by an unknown being at the other end of a call to Childline.
Singing Ode To Joy won’t help in the long term either, however much it soothes for now and holds out Utopia as an attainable object.
Oh, and I doubt the annual production of 150,000 single-use white T-shirts will get a mention in the next eco-assembly; the end always justifies the means.