Looking at the small print

Back in 2005, I did a post about a “Home/School Agreement” which our eldest son’s primary school had asked us to get him to sign, giving his agreement to abide by the school’s “Golden Rules” (basically: be nice to one another). As he was only four years old at the time, I was reluctant to make him sign a quasi-legal form of this nature, however blameless the rules might be. As I said at the time:

Will his signature on the form be used against him (“You’ve broken your agreement”)? If not, then the exercise is pointless. If so, then it’s reprehensible.

In the end, my wife and I signed on our son’s behalf, and we’ve just done the same with the same form for our middle son, who is due to start at the same school later this year. However, I’ve always had a nagging sense of wondering whether I wasn’t just being a bit weird and fanatical to be bothering about this. Why not “just sign the damn form, John”, as Revd Lovejoy might put it?

So I was relieved and overjoyed – literally punching the air in delight – to hear the following lyrics from Chumbawamba’s song, “The Land of Do What You’re Told”:

Look at the small print: it’s what we agreed –
Sign your name before we teach you how to read.

I don’t know whether Chumbawamba had this sort of “agreement” for primary-schoolers in mind (though they are now quite common, I gather), but it fits perfectly. And then the chorus puts a name to what this is about:

This is the land, the Land of Do What You’re Told,
The Land of the Free: if you don’t leave the fold.
Smile a little wider as you’re waiting to be sold,
This is the land, the Land of Do What You’re Told.

That’s it. Do what you’re told: “sign your name before we teach you how to read”, give us your fingerprints before we give you a library card. Comply. Conform. This is just how it is, kids. This is how the world works.

Do listen to the whole of that song, by the way. Last.fm has the full version available as streaming audio. Great tune, great lyrics, and a hilarious chant at the end (from 3’05” onwards) which points a new way for union militancy in the age of reality TV.

Incidentally, Chumbawamba’s recent folk-based albums (A Singsong and a Scrap and The Boy Bands Have Won) have been one of the musical discoveries of the year for me. Lyrics that mix wit and political passion, combined with wonderful tunes and harmony singing. If all you’ve heard by them is “Tubthumping” then those albums will come as quite a surprise, but a very pleasant one.

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7 Responses to Looking at the small print

  1. Thomas says:

    John, you’ve obviously forgotten Romans 13 (TM), which trumps all such worries. I just spent three weeks doing an exegetical study of the chapter in context, and believie me, it’s all about how sweet-smelling the Authorities are when they ask for fingerprints and signatures and DNA samples and the like – it’s all for your own good, don’t you know. Don’t worry, however, as we’ve dispatched a Reeducation Unit to your address. It’s the ROM13 Mobile, and the dedicated technicians, er, I mean, counselors on board will wash your brain…oh, ehem, that is to say, they will show you the way.

    Peace out.

  2. Dan says:

    I agree that you did just the right thing. I teach at a private Catholic school in the U.S. We have an agreement for students to sign once they’ve reached the traditional age of reason, about 8 years of age or second grade. Before that the parents sign for them. It is used for the older kids as a stick for good behavior and to teach them to mean what they.

  3. D.S.Ketelby says:

    Chumbawamba’s recent folk-based albums… have been one of the musical discoveries of the year for me.

    Will check them out (as resources allow, of course). Sounds like you might also enjoy the Mekons – also from Leeds, and also inclined (in their 1980s stuff) to make political use of folk-based or alt.country sounds, having started out in the late 1970s as a shouty punk band (‘Never Been In A Riot’ being their calling card – and that’s one song I want played at my funeral, along with ‘Jesus Christ The Apple Tree’ and ‘Be Thou My Vision’). Will make you a copy, thereby depriving the copyright holders of legitimate income, when I get a minute.

  4. Robert says:

    I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve seen a reference to Chumbawumba on a Lutheran blog. Or any blog, for that matter.

  5. John H says:

    Robert: we aim to please. 🙂

  6. Theresa K. says:

    It’s good to know I’ve got a little lawyer in me. These forms drove me nuts when my kids were younger and I went through the same protests. One particular beef was with sports clubs that asked my child to sign a document agreeing not to hold anyone liable if injury occurred. I actually consulted a lawyer (friend) who told me the club can legally ask that someone sign the form before joining the team, but that the form would never hold up in court if it could be proven that an adult made an error which ended up injuring my child. I would sign the form, adding that my child cannot sign because s/he is a minor. Now imagine a form even MORE dangerous – a form signed by an 18 year old (who surely did not study the form nor its implications).

  7. John H says:

    Theresa: in the UK, I’m glad to say, agreements waiving liability for personal injury are void, whoever signs them. The most that such a form can say in this country is (in effect), “I acknowledge that this activity is inherently dangerous, and therefore if I get hurt then that’s probably because the activity is inherently dangerous and not because the service provider has been negligent”.

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