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Culture and the curriculum

No one can accuse the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum of dodging big issues which it could have avoided if it interpreted its remit narrowly. It has already intruded into the contentious area of "values".

Now it is asking itself (and others) to define "culture". Answers to such big questions can be helpful in determining the content of the curriculum and how such national programmes as 5-14 and Higher Still are developed. But moral philosophers have debated values for thousands of years, and sociologists - a more recent breed - ask their students to consider such matters as the relationship between culture, society and the state.

The SCCC knows the problems in balancing Scottish and other themes in a school subject. It is about to publish a report on the Scottishness of the history curriculum. Every teacher and every political columnist will have their own response, and agreement may not be easy to find. But the council's forthcoming project is still more ambitious. Hermann Goering, admittedly no role model, said that when he heard anyone talk of culture, he reached for his revolver. Seeking consensus on what constitutes "Scottish culture" before trying to place it in the curriculum might drive even the level-headed to desperate measures.

As a first step the council is asking more than 1,000 organisations to come up with definitions and preferences. Analysing the responses will be time consuming and difficult, but the country is replete with people anxious to talk about national identity in all forms, and they are about to be given the opportunity to fill in a questionnaire. Faced with questions like "What does the concept of Scottish culture mean for you?", people will be forced to crystallise their thoughts and express them in 100 words or so.

That will be a salutary exercise (which The TES Scotland will undertake for its own submission). It may have the advantage of making respondents more sympathetic to curriculum advisers who thereafter have to interpret a nation's beliefs, hopes and prejudices as teacher materials.

The project gets under way while the election campaign hots up. Understandably, the SCCC is anxious to avoid involvement in politics. It should be possible to discuss in a non-partisan way the relationship between Scottish, British, European and other international elements in our culture and society. Or, putting the matter another way, debate still rages about whether Sir Walter Scott, all-time champion of Scottishness, was a nationalist or a unionist.

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