Forget the despair and dare to dream

5th September 2003 at 01:00
Job-sizing was always going to be difficult and painful but nothing that is worth it is easy, says Ewan Aitken

One of the joys of holidays is the chance to read those books that have been in the "to be read" pile for too long. This summer the book that really grabbed my attention was not from my usual genres of politics, biography or crime but a more reflective book that took a deeper look at this nation of ours.

Carol Craig's The Scots' Crisis of Confidence made my summer and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I bought it much earlier this year, my eye drawn to its original title but I only settled down to its rich pages when I had the space to enjoy them.

Craig is a facilitator and trainer who uses Jungian personality descriptions articulated through the Myres Briggs personality type in her work. Craig describes how Jung argued that all of us spend time in the extrovert world, the place of events, other people and things and time in the introvert world, which is the place of inner reflection. What distinguishes each of us is the strength of our preference for one or the other. We all cope with both but the one we prefer is the one that energises us.

Craig cleverly uses these types, meant originally to describe individuals, to examine our collective personality as a nation. She explores how theology, politics, philosophy and living next to England have affected, shaped and driven not simply our story as a nation but how we are and how that affects all of us individually.

According to Craig, we are essentially an extrovert nation, active and outward-looking with a great love of the spoken word. We travel the world and get on with the people we meet. So why, asks Craig, do we as a nation, despite at times great bravado, seem to lack the self-confidence to grow to that maturity we crave?

Craig explores a number of reasons for this lack of confidence, in particular Calvinism, which she sees as an indelible line through our history. Craig does not argue that Calvinism is all bad. In fact, she sees much of the Scottish belief in reasoning from first principles, the work ethic, sense of duty and social responsibility as being rooted in our Calvinist past.

Fundamentally, she sees Calvinist utopianism as being very powerful; the belief in the possibility of heaven on earth, that it is possible to bring such perfection to human existence. But then the judgmental side of Calvinism kicks in, the side that says we are not good enough for such a kingdom. It is Calvinism that gives us the tall poppy syndrome, the "it's no for the likes of you" and the "see, I told you it would go wrong".

Calvinism gives us the dream and then says don't you dare assume that you are better than others are and step outside the social norms to claim that dream. Craig sees that apparent contradiction between those two faces of Calvinism as something that has both built up and sapped our confidence as a nation.

As I reflected on the furore over job-sizing, trying to dig under the anger to find the root of the problem, it struck me that we were in danger of living up to Craig's description of us as a nation. While not quite heaven on earth, the national agreement aspires to make a massive cultural change in our education system, a system rooted in the Presbyterian revolution that aspired to a school in every parish and a people who could think for themselves.

The national agreement attempts to give equal value and recognition to both those committed to the classroom and those whose journey is up the management ladder. Part of that process was job-sizing coupled with the development of the status of chartered teacher. The heart of education is the classroom. It embedded that principle in recognising those who deliver quality in the classroom and changing the management structures.

This was always going to be a difficult and painful process. But, and this might reflect my Calvinist roots, nothing that is worth it is easy. That's not to belittle those who feel undermined by job-sizing, nor is it to say that we have got that process right yet. Clearly some folk are hurting and we need to pay attention to that.

But don't let us lose the aspiration. Don't let us do that most Scottish of things, lose our self-confidence and say "aye, I telt you it wouldn't work" just because we haven't got everything right first time. Let us break the mould here and aspire to the bigger picture, the dream, and the potential that is in all of us individually and as a nation.

Ewan Aitken is executive member for education on Edinburgh City Council and education spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

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