Care in the community

3rd May 1996 at 01:00
VALUES AND VISIONS. Edited by Sally Burns and Georgeanne Lamont Hodder amp; Stoughton Pounds 9.99 with the Manchester Development Education Project and Christian Aid

Our friends in the North have produced a book which should not only be in every school but should be the basis of any school which has a care to see itself as a community concerned with human values. "It is," as Andrew Burns, one of the contributors, says, "essential that it is seen as being for everyone in the school and that it is embedded in the management ethos of the school. "

If, like me, you pick up this photocopiable spiral-bound volume with its rather gaudy cover expecting a wishy-washy "let's all be happy together" approach to education, then read on and acknowledge, as I now intend to do,that first impressions can be hopelessly wrong. These teachers have got real minds combined with practical awareness of real classrooms and, above all - that scarcest of commodities - a proper sense of balance between the two. The book bulges with hundreds of activities but they have been selected on the basis of sound, well-thought-out theories whose deep roots are constantly acknowledged.

The subtitle of the book is "A Handbook for Spiritual Development and Global Awareness" which can sound lofty and far away. It isn't. It is very much right here and now. Nor is it any sort of substitute for "real work". The members of this group have recognised what so many political and social commentators seem incapable of seeing, namely that content does not have to be sacrificed for form. Every section begins with the question, "What are you doing now?" The answer may be to do with science, history, maths, PE or RE but the activities which follow are about process, not about dropping or changing content.

For far too long we have been encouraged to separate the two as if investigation of the course at Aintree somehow took priority over actually getting the horses out. Leaping Beecher's Brook is both the achievement of excellence and a spiritual experience of the sort which can only come from triumph over challenge.

What this volume emphasises is the positive value of affirmation; that both children and teachers reach higher degrees of excellence through encouragement and strong self-image, rather than through negative criticism.

Many academic institutions have long since abandoned their Victorian Latin mottoes in embarrassment. In my own institution we are relieved to be able still to take pride in Docere est Discere (To teach is to learn). As this book says in a section on Buddhist perspectives: "One of the special features of Values and Visions is that it directly includes teachers in the learning process by focusing on their spiritual development through the practice of teaching." If you cannot afford to purchase this book for the staffroom then your school is impoverished indeed.

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