Chocolate ban leaves bad taste of nanny state

29th January 2010 at 00:00

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first ."

It transpires that there is no end to the burgeoning of this absurd nanny state which, far from protecting pupils, is undermining their autonomy to exercise free will. The net effect of the Schools' (Health and Nutrition) Act 2007 is to weaken self-determination all round.

Take the issue over the Fairtrade stall at Dyce Academy, reported in The TESS (December 4). A successful pupil venture is non-viable because government legislation has outlawed the sale of chocolate, the best seller on the stall. This is outrageous.

Insult is added to injury by the inane comments of North East SNP MSP Nigel Don who, in referring to the "unintended consequences" of the legislation, shows the inability of politicians to think ahead. Our legislators need to be much more aware that perfectly good questions (such as "what can we do to improve Scotland's health?") can be turned into poor bureaucratic answers.

Dyce Academy pupils have rightly taken their case to the Scottish Parliament. In so doing, they are exercising their right to freedom of speech, and I commend them for it. Ruth Teenham, a depute head at Dyce Academy, must also be praised: in saying publicly that this policy negates what educationists are trying to achieve, she models the power of protest to her pupils.

This debate is much bigger than the stupidity of exiling chocolate from Scotland's schools. It's about the extent to which the nanny state has become the bully state. People in high places are coercing us into doing what we are told, and sometimes to ridiculous lengths. Blanket bans are always detrimental, causing the authority issuing them to look like a fundamentalist regime.

Basic psychology tells us that, when the nanny state becomes a dictatorship, "reactance" kicks in. Kids will, quite understandably, rebel against authority and engage in negative behaviours.

Consider the paradoxes we face. We are expected to promote Curriculum for Excellence and the four capacities. Responsible citizens are not developed by prohibition and the emasculation of their rights: they have to be allowed to make choices. Yes, chocolate might, in excessive quantities, be bad for adolescents, but they are old enough to make these choices.

The private lifestyles of pupils and, arguably, teachers (who have to implement the policies) is compromised by those who should be encouraging free thinking.

This way of operating pervades too much of teacher-pupil territory. Take Disclosure Scotland, for instance. Not for one minute would I criticise the importance of this body. But take this scenario. A teacher is teaching in a school and undergoes regular disclosure checks. He is totally up-to- date on these. He moves to another school within the same local authority and has to go through the disclosure procedure again. Why? Streamlining this procedure would save time and money for stretched local authorities and still protect children.

Banning all chocolate bars or having unnecessary disclosure procedures are all part of the nanny state takeover of our lives. Some social policies may be admirable, but we have now produced a monster which is devouring us. Good luck to Dyce Academy and, as for the rest of you, why not indulge yourselves by doing all the things nanny really hates? You know what they are.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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