Dignity in silence;Opinion

10th September 1999 at 01:00
This week's final word on the curriculum brings to an end 18 months of to-ing and fro-ing which has, to the disappointment of some, resulted in almost no change. The curriculum dog failed to bark after all.

But - as in the famous Sherlock Holmes example - the fact that the dog hasn't barked is in itself significant. Curriculum change reflects the social and political preoccupations of the day. Compared with most other countries, our curriculum was formulated remarkably recently. Whereas more long-standing national curricula have the illusion of permanence and the authority which comes with it, ours is vulnerable to a certain "emperor's new clothes" feeling, because we all know it was called into being, out of the ether as it were, only 10 years ago.

While the fact that our curriculum is relatively transparent and contested is in many ways a strength, it does need -- like others - to get the balance right between stability and innovation. The Government is right in this instance to emphasise steadiness in the basic academic subjects, notwithstanding teacher union leaders' fears of overload.

First, the curriculum still needs to be given time to acquire confidence and dignity. And secondly - at a time when the politicial and social focus is, rightly, on the deprived and dispossessed - there is a danger that reducing curriculum requirements in the secondary school could result in an impoverished intellectual diet and lower expectations for less-able pupils.

The new emphasis on citizenship and personal, social and health education is pushing in the same direction. Our curriculum may be relatively transparent, but our society is not. While parents can be blamed for not passing on an adequate set of moral and social values to their children, the ruling establishment and adult society as a whole is historically culpable for neglecting citizenship education - so that young people have no idea how society and its political machinery works, and as a result often feel they have no stake in it.

The Government is to be congratulated in attempting to reverse this profoundly undemocratic trend. As with sex education, keeping people in ignorance makes them less capable of making responsible choices - and we are all the worse for it.

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