Facing up to the big issues

6th October 1995 at 01:00
We're talking about . . ., Age group: 11-16, "Aids" 0 7502 0738 8; "Alcohol" 0 7502 1643 3; "Drugs" 0 7502 1546 1; "Sex and Relationships" 0 7502 1523 2; "Smoking" 0 7502 1524 0. Wayland Pounds 8.50 each.

Dealing with . . ., "Bullying" 0 7502 1227 6; "Death" 0 7502 1641 7; "Eating Disorders" 0 7502 0989 5; "Family Breakup" 0 7502 1642 5; "Substance Abuse" 0 7502 0990 9. Wayland Pounds 9.99

What Do You Know About . . ., "Bullying" 0 7496 1693 8; "Drugs" 0 7496 2097 8; "Feeling Violent" 0 7496 1694 6; "Racism" 0 7496 1725 X; "Relationships" 0 7496 1551 6; "Smoking" 0 7496 1552 4; "Step-Families" 0 7496 1864 7. Watts Pounds 8.99 each.

These three series for personal, social and health education for young teenagers run through a range of problems of everyday living at school, at home and on the streets.

Each of the hardback, near-A4 format books adopts a friendly, popular magazine style which means it is colourful, nice to handle, with plenty of photographs and diagrams, together with useful further information and index sections.

The series also illustrate different approaches to the topics and the difficulties that can arise. We're Talking About puts across the scientific facts (medical and social) by answering basic what, how, and why questions. This style is personalised by being interwoven with a sequence of fictional incidents and case histories, but these are brief, rather bland, and (to my eye) too glossy to be convincing glimpses of social problems in Britain today. Moreover, there is no invitation to active learning, no discussion points or issues for debate, no problem-solving, and the exposition concentrates on the dangers and prohibitions of each topic.

The Dealing With . . . series might be suitable for slightly older readers 13-plus. The basic formula is similar, combining exposition of factual material with a range of illustrated case histories and vignettes, amounting to a sort of mild agony-aunt compendium.

Oddly, in this series one of the books (on bullying) includes a rather useful set of groupwork notes, with suggestions for ways of following up the reading of the book through learning activities shared with other students. The other book written by the same two authors (on substance abuse) makes rather briefer mention of such activities, but the others (written by different authors) totally neglect any such possibilities and stick to the expository format.

All the books in the What Do You Know About series are written by Pete Sanders and the publishing concept is rather different. Each book starts with clear guidelines on how to use the text (by solo reading or by talking through with teacher, friend, helper and so on). Once again the format mixes the presentation of social-scientific facts (on various aspects of the topic) with more personalised material, in this case a storyline in comic-strip style.

The narrative that unfolds throughout each book is quite engaging, and it is made more active by a sequence of questions for reflection and discussion on each of the storyline pages, with follow-up commentary. Interesting as the storylines are, I note that each of them has a happy ending, achieving a miraculously easy resolution of social problems that continue to challenge the best brains of our generation around the globe.

A common feature is that the selection and treatment of the topics in all three series adopts an almost exclusively personal emphasis. The possibilities for putting everyday problems in a broader social perspective are not taken up, and by the same token the many opportunities that might be seized for stimulating interest in wider school subjects (such as science, or maths, or geography, or history, or Englishmedia studies and so on) are ignored.

I find it puzzling that books which are otherwise so well-researched, and are constructed with such care and ingenuity, keep on failing to make a connection between personal experiences and the wider social landscapes within which our shared, everyday lives are played out. Perhaps, though, they will provoke teachers to do some of that follow-up work.

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