Days of whine and posers over new curriculum

5th January 2007 at 00:00
No doubt the usual negative reaction of any Scottish teacher when faced with politicians keen to off-load something else onto them is something of a worldwide phenomenon in the profession.

Accordingly, there will have been a lot of Gallic muttering at the end of November when the French governing party, the UMP, produced a report urging the education authorities to introduce yet another new subject.

However, the prospect of preparing lessons about this interloper might also have produced a slight tingle of pleasurable anticipation, for the new insertion into the curriculum is to be wine and all things relating thereto.

MPs from the principal wine growing districts of France are more and more worried by two things: a marked reluctance of young people to buy wine, and evidence of a growing inability of those young people to handle whatever drink they do consume.

Given that wine sales overall are falling in France, and that exports have been particularly badly hit, these MPs have come up with a scheme that would kill several birds with one bottle, so to speak. Teaching about wine in school, they argue, would not only inculcate a new-found respect for alcohol, it would also increase sales.

Of course, the French Health Minister immediately expressed his passionate opposition to the idea, but then health ministers in every nation have something of the killjoy about them. In fact, the scheme deserves some very serious consideration, here as well as there.

We don't have thousands of growers who are scared of becoming destitute, nor do we have an expanding wine lake. We lack the expertise in cultivating grapes and turning the result into something quite exceptional which varies according to the soil, the sunshine and the skill of the wine maker.

But we do have a considerable problem in terms of young people's attitude to drink, so much so that the streets of our cities and towns are, after midnight and sometimes before it, fast coming to resemble vomit-stained party nights in Sodom and Gomorrah. There are well recognised means by which such excesses can be stopped. Raising the price of alcohol and limiting its availability are effective remedies (evidence abounds, particularly in countries which still retain a state alcohol monopoly, like Quebec, Canada). But nothing - not even, and perhaps especially not, prohibition - can totally remove public and private abuse.

Yet restricting availability is not only out of fashion and an invasion of private rights, it is deeply disliked by many influential businesses whose sole purpose is to make vast profits by selling various intoxicants.

Such lessons would need to feature the medical and social effects of steady and regular boozing and the life-threatening nature of addiction. But information on the positive side, such as the pleasure to be had from moderate sampling of the vast variety of wines on offer (to say nothing of the cultural lessons implicit in an appreciation of Scotland's unique contribution to the art of distilling) would be a bonus.

It might lead to young people realising that the purpose of drinking is not only enhanced sociability, but the development of a more discerning palate which can distinguish between, for example, rot gut and a red wine that is worth drinking.

Teachers are normally right to be suspicious about attempts to cram more into the confines of a school day and an already crowded curriculum. They are also right to ask what should be thrown out, if something new is being pushed in.

Michael Russell is a writer and commentator

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