Another mauchled job;Opinion

13th August 1999 at 01:00
How can a definitive guide to education omit any reference to the role of the Scots language, asks Robin Jackson.

The recent publication of the encyclopaedic volume Scottish Education, edited by Tom Bryce and Walter Humes, has deservedly been heralded as an important educational event. The hope is that it will be regarded as the definitive reference book.

But is the claim of its publisher, Edinburgh University Press, that it offers "a fresh, frank and authoritative commentary on every aspect of education in Scotland" justified? One significant omission has occasioned bewilderment, suspicion and concern. Nowhere in the 1,040 pages is there any reference to the role of the Scots language in the curriculum.

This omission prompts a number of questions. Were those responsible for the volume not aware of the development work in Scots language by education authorities throughout the country over the past decade?

Two examples must suffice. In 1992, Dumfries and Galloway created a Scots language development officer post. The following year the then Grampian Region established a working party on "Scots language and heritage in schools".

The Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum has been instrumental in producing the widely acclaimed and award-

winning Kist (A' Chiste), an anthology of Scots and Gaelic texts, chosen to meet the needs of language in the 5-14 curriculum.

The Scottish National Dictionary Association has brought out materials for use in schools, an electronic Scots School Dictionary and support materials to go with the school dictionary.

There is also a growing body of literature on Scots in education - for example, Derrick McClure's The Scots Language in Education and Why Scots Matters; Billy Kay's Scots: The Mither Tongue; an SCCC report, Scottish-English: the language children bring to school; and last year The Scots Language: its place in education by Liz Niven and myself.

The Scottish Executive is actively encouraging teacher training institutions to include appropriate Scots language, literature and cultural elements in their courses. Sam Galbraith, Minister for Education, is on record as saying: "Scots is part of our cultural heritage and if we value that language, we need to cherish the language and aim to see it used with respect and sensitivity."

If the omission from Scottish Education is intentional it must feed the suspicion of those who believe a deliberate attempt is being made to stifle debate about the place of Scots in the curriculum. It would also mean that the decision to exclude reference to the Scots language was taken for political and not educational reasons.

The unfortunate fact that the Scots language is sometimes portrayed as a Nationalist rather than a national issue may explain why academics shy away from too close an identification with what they perceive as a controversial and suspect field - preferring to discuss the role of Scots in theoretical rather than practical terms. Too strong and public a display of commitment to, and interest in, this field might also prejudice one's academic standing and professional progress.

Of course, the omission may simply reflect a judgment by the editors of the book that the Scots language is not a subject that merits serious academic consideration.

The fact that Scots flourishes in the south-western and north-eastern extremities, regions traditionally perceived from the central belt as peripheral - and not just in terms of geography - may provide a further explanation not only for the patronising attitude shown towards the language but for its neglect.

It is difficult to separate the lack of discussion in the volume of Scots in the curriculum from the suppression last year by the SCCC of its draft report on Scottish culture. Because the report was seen as attributing an unduly important role to the Scots language and because language and national identity are inextricably linked, it was clearly viewed as dangerously subversive.

This encouraged the critics to employ extraordinary measures to nullify its impact and influence. Ironically the report was suppressed in the 50th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The ribble-rabble brought about by the suppression of the report gave a field day to conspiracy theorists. Particularly disturbing was the attempt by the SCCC to stifle all comment on what many informed commentators agreed was a rationally argued, imaginative and balanced report.

The absurd notion that the report might be viewed as a Scottish Nationalist tract revealed a degree of hypersensitivity bordering on paranoia, for the arguments in it had a validity and resonance transcending national boundaries.

The curricular entitlements set out in the report can be applied without difficulty to the educational system of any country concerned to sustain its distinctive cultural identity.

The decision by the SCCC to excise all Scots from the text of the draft report was a pauchtie and petulant act. There can be little doubt that the stushie arising from the report's suppression was the outcome of a mauchled job by crabbit creests lacking smeddum.

A similar lack of rumgumption seems to have afflicted those responsible for determining the content of Scottish Education - an otherwise worthy and weighty educational text.

Robin Jackson is an educational consultant. Scottish Education will be reviewed in The TES Scotland next week.

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