The passing of Queen Elizabeth is a profoundly moving moment for our nation. Seventy years is a scarcely conceivable period of time for children to consider, beyond the scope of their parents’ lives and their imaginations.
You need to be in your seventh decade to have lived under any other monarch. During her reign, the world changed beyond recognition, sometimes bumping from crisis to crisis and yet she remained steadfast, a seemingly unflappable presence, a touchstone in a topsy-turvy world.
“To dismiss the monarchy as an anachronism is to miss the lessons of her momentous reign.”
Earlier this year, the country celebrated the Platinum Jubilee, a time for great celebration. Up and down the land, schools and classrooms were decked in bunting, as children studied the history of the monarchy and the Queen’s remarkable life.
Of course, there were critics who felt the monarchy was an anachronism, remote and out-of-touch. But that would be to gravely under-estimate her and to miss the lessons of her momentous reign.
For she did know her subjects. And despite never attending a school, she was very well-informed and had a greater grasp of people’s realities than most of our politicians. She was beloved of her people and had the ability to communicate with people from every walk of life.
While schools might focus on her place in history, it is the manner of her life that may well prove the greater legacy. When teachers talk of her reign over coming days, they would do well to go beyond the façade to look at what we can take from her life of service: her selflessness; her unflagging energy and unwavering standards; her ability to deal with crises in a dignified way; her unflappable manner and her subsuming of self to the role for which she was destined.
“It is the manner of her life that may well prove the greater legacy.”
These are the values we will remember her for: her ability to keep her head when all around her people were losing theirs; her sense of family values; and the mutual tolerance and understanding of person, country and Commonwealth. Values that fill school assemblies, yet need to be made real. How can we teach that?
We could start by highlighting this aspect of the Queen’s life in our schools as a justification for revisiting the teaching of values, so popular in our schools three decades ago. We could pitch her legacy against the celebrity culture which highlights the showy and pretentious, the loud and the trivial, the cult of self and try to understand why we turned to her for moral leadership.
We could talk of her modesty and humility – rare traits these days – and how willingly she accepted her birth-right as a duty and did not waver in executing it. She lived to serve her people. She had the same family difficulties faced by so many of her subjects and sometimes got things wrong. Yet, despite her age, she never talked of retirement or hardship, nor embraced the opportunity to respond to the hundred and one frustrations and irritations she laboured with day after day.
“In the selfish world of 21st century Britain, her selflessness stood out like a beacon.”
Even the death of her beloved husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, was met with stoicism and dignity. Her life was one of unstinting service, accepting the duties she had placed upon her without a murmur or feeling of imposition; a life of service that is an exemplar for all of us.
How will our children understand that? And how will our schools respond in drawing from her life the most important lessons of all? At a time when people just want their ten minutes of fame, she represented an antidote to the superficial and the trivial.
In the selfish world of 21st century Britain, her selflessness stood out like a beacon. As we educate our children to be aspirational and measure their achievements in grades, we would do well to replicate her example and promote success in more human terms.
Humility, service, devotion, and selflessness may sound old-fashioned traits, but they epitomised her reign and are surely worth a more prominent place in our schools over the coming weeks.