Educating a Jekyll and Hyde Scotland

27th July 2001 at 01:00
The faith that once anchored school ethos needs to be replaced with a new set of values that meet the needs of the whole child, says David Halliday.

EW community schools are intended to address the deeper issues that impede the educational progress of so many children. Yet we are dismally failing to address the needs of the whole child.

"I was slowly losing hold of my original and better self, and becoming slowly incorporated with my second and worse." There will be few of us that at some time have not felt the authenticity of these words of Robert Louis Stevenson, from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - if only as a transitory emotion. Perhaps more disturbing, however, is how apposite they are when applied to Scottish society at the start of the 21st century. Rising crime and indiscipline, drug abuse, disintegration of the nuclear family, concern about sexual mores all seem to have denuded us of the quality of life we were led to believe would inevitably flow from an affluent society. The big question is why?

The moral framework that Christianity for so long gave to Scotland, including the ethos in our schools, has almost disappeared. The "anchor" - of their faith - that so many past generations would have testified kept them "stedfast and sure while the billows roll" has long since snapped; with the mass of the population in modern Scotland, including our schools, bobbing around in a relativist, and often angry sea. Stevenson was very perceptive about the attraction of a hedonistic life - "Jekyll stretched out his hands, exulting in the freshness of the sensations; and, in the act, he was suddenly aware that he had lost in stature."

In today's Jekyll and Hyde Scotland, we seem to revel, as never before, omnivorously devouring a multitude of novel sensations. Too often as politicians, parents and those delivering the education in our schools we peddle the myth that education is always fun, easy and instantly attainable.

Unlike Aristotle, who proclaimed "the roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet", we often prefer to pander to the hedonistic instinct. But here lies the kernel of the problem. Scottish schools have become so steeped in the hedonistic philosophy of instant gratification, a me, me, me culture, that they are beginning to lose the capacity to encourage their pupils to take the longer view and make the sacrifices that often cut across the habit of continually exulting in our sensations.

Likewise, at times, we seem to recognise that we too have "lost in stature". Alas - despite a growing awareness that things may not "only get better" - even if the Goldilocks economy stays with us - there is often a reluctance to consider, never mind tackle, the religiousphilosophical problem we have inherited with the decline of Christianity.

Schools, of course, cannot be expected, on their own, to re-create a moral foundation for our society. However, classes on citizenship, more social workers, dependence on religious education teachers, the ad hoc proselytising of the Scripture Union or the tokenism of religious assemblies, even if buttressed by the whole panoply of state services as with our new community school initiative, are woefully inadequate.

Tragically most schools, devoid of clear guidance from the Scottish Executive, have abdicated responsibility for vigorously promoting, throughout the school, a set of values that would contribute to creating a vibrant and healthy society, the antithesis of a vicarious, voyeuristic society, sated by sensation. In today's pluralistic Scotland, the task confronting our schools is undoubtedly immense but that is no excuse for ducking the issue.

Realistically our aim in schools should not be to provide an anchor for children - some parents and religious groups will undeniably want to supplement this - but rather to give each child a compass to assist them to navigate their own way rather than leaving them at the mercy of global capitalism trumpeting hedonism. A truly inclusive society will never succeed if it only addresses the economic, political and social problems.

Our children - our nation - "cannot live by bread alone". This is not a clarion call for going "back to basics" or for some reheated offering of Christianity but rather an appeal, for those of a secular and a religious perspective, to recognise that we are failing unless we address the whole person.

If we really hope to educate the whole child, to prepare them for life and not just a job, our schools need to be imbued with an agreed set of values rather than relinquishing responsibility to the hedonism of the market and the media - no matter how difficult.

Otherwise the day may not be too far away when Scotland will "go to bed Henry Jekyll, and awaken Edward Hyde".

David Halliday teaches history and business education at Eyemouth High.

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