A guide to the hauf-way hoose;Scottish Curriculum

22nd May 1998 at 01:00
The Scots Language: Its Place in Education. Editors: Liz Niven and Robin Jackson. Aberdeen University Press, pound;11.95

It is now over 70 years since Hugh MacDiarmid declared, in his epic Scots poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, that he would "hae nae hauf-way hoose" in matters linguistic as well as in matters cultural and political.

To judge from this welcome publication, it would seem that, educationally speaking, we still very much inhabit that linguistic hauf-way hoose where a significant number of teachers, pupils and parents remain ambivalent about the value and uses of Scots language(s) in schools.

Looked at as a discussion document as well as a valuable resource, The Scots Language adds greatly to the debate, while suggesting that positive attitudes to Scots are winning through, at least theoretically.

Divided into three sections covering the cultural, educational and institutional viewpoints, this important book for both primary and secondary teachers wishing to embrace or extend the use of Scots in the classroom provides balanced perspectives from the historical and the socio-linguistic to the practical.

It includes three essays on Scots language in the classroom (including a particularly incisive one from Brownsbank Writing Fellow Matthew Fitt), two on Scots language and teacher training and two covering the general educational perspective and the development of educational materials.

From the institutional perspective, teachers seeking resources or guidelines can access material on the Scots Language Resource Centre and The Scots Dictionary, as well as Robbie Robertson's appraisal of the role of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum in countering "ideological presumptions about language by which we have been hag-ridden for five centuries".

Perhaps more significantly from an institutional perspective, George Sutherland, examinations officer with the Scottish Qualifications Authority, appraises Higher grade English as "attempting to accommodate Scots within English". He says: "A separate examination entitled Higher grade Scots would remove the problem. It might create more, of course. If such an examination cannot be independent of English, it is by definition dependent upon it."

As the education system is by and large (and for better or worse) exam-centred, this is perhaps the crucial hauf-way hoose yet to be renovated or re-designed.

Raymond Ross

Available from the Scottish Book Source, 137 Dundee Street, Edinburgh EH11 1BG

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