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30 years ago

Controversial educationist R F Mackenzie, who had been sacked as a headteacher by Aberdeen Corporation for his radical views, foresaw hope in the gloom (TESS, July 23, 1976): When I was still an acceptable employee of the state, I tried to make some changes in the school curriculum of Scottish pupils. Some of these proposals had political undertones in that they sought to increase the confidence of the majority of children, encouraging them to ask questions about anything that did not make sense to them.

I realised how quickly the elite (whether the sitting tenants were Tory, Liberal or Labour) reacted against the threat of widespread questioning.

But what took me years to realise was that other proposals, which I thought had no such political undertones, were equally opposed by local authorities.

I know there is much initiative among young Scottish teachers. Why is it then that we see in the curriculum so little evidence of this initiative and energy and ingenuity?

I think it is because an ineluctable system has propagated a spirit of defeat and hopelessness through its ranks.

Some of the top people make token protests, but I have an uneasy feeling that they are easy in their chains and don't really want to escape from them, however much each group blames another group.

But the outlines of the shape of schools to come are beginning to appear. I doubt if they will be much like the schools we know; there will be much less "schooling" (drilling) in them. I believe that, in less than a generation, our present type of school, with its regulation and punishment, will appear as incredible as Dickens's workhouse now appears to us.

Our present Roman educators will be replaced by a livelier Greek type of teacher, searching out curiosities, asking what information and which skills are necessary, experimenting, discussing, no longer content to regard education as a side issue largely devoted to preparing youngsters for industry but as central to our lives; meshing them into political reconstruction and encouraging pupils to discover within themselves the answers to the question of what you go for if you want to live a happy life.

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