Analyze the “New” Anthem

by Diana Maliszewski

Media literacy can be most impactful when the media texts chosen for study are items that students interact with daily, often without much consideration.

The Canadian national anthem, “O Canada”, is just such a media text. Asking pertinent questions that promote critical thinking can lead to fascinating insights. Some of these questions are borrowed from Michelle Solomon’s blog post, which stemmed from a conversation she had with her young daughter (see http://www.mssolomon.com/node/82 for the original post).

  1. Why do we sing / hear “O Canada” in school every day?
  2.  What is an anthem? How does it differ from a “regular” song?

Read the words without the music.

  1. What does it say about Canada?
  2. What does it say about what it means to be Canadian?
  3. Who is included in the text? How do the words unite Canadians?
  4. Who might feel excluded? How do the words divide Canadians?

Listen to the music without the words.

  1. How does the music make you feel?
  2. How are pitch, rhythm, and melody used?
  3. How do different musical versions change the anthem?

The Canadian national anthem became a newsworthy item in February 2018 because the federal government introduced a bill that passed that altered the words of the first verse of the English language lyrics to make them gender neutral: replacing “in all thy sons command” (which itself was a replacement for the original 1908 version “in all thy dost command”) with “in all of us command”.

The decision stirred a lot of public reaction, both for and against the decision. On the social media platform, Twitter, the hashtags #InAllOfUsCommand and #InAllThySonsCommand trended. A caution to educators interested in using some of the tweets from these hashtags – many of them are unsuitable for classroom viewing because of the profanity. A great follow-up question can be “Why are people so passionate about this particular change?” (If you are interested in using some tweets as part of the discussion, a few have been compiled in a Google Slides document for your use, that will be posted to AML in the near future.)

Another angle that might be useful when examining “O Canada” might be to compare the French and English lyrics, the often-unsung second and third stanzas, and/or to compare the anthem to the land acknowledgement (also known as the Treaty Acknowledgement or Acknowledgement of Traditional Lands) that is read in many Ontario schools. What are the main messages?  How many students can recite the anthem (French or English), compared to the acknowledgement? An interesting article about the acknowledgement can be read at https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/canadas-impossible-acknowledgment .

Knowing that:

  • All media are construction
  • Audiences negotiate meaning in the media
  • Media contain ideological and value messages
  • Media have social and political implications

consider devoting a class discussion or media lesson to this important topic.

 

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