Just say no to this state tax;Opinion

1st May 1998 at 01:00
Bruce Douglas says that curriculum review bodies such as Professor Crick's group on citizenship should not allow more pressure on the timetable.

Professor Bernard Crick is no doubt a fine man, with fine ideas: citizenship is vitally important. But now is the moment to confront head-on any attempt to commandeer more school timetable time for an enlarged compulsory national curriculum.

Of course Professor Crick's group would like to see brute legal force impose their plans - what think-tank would not?

But that is just the problem. A living national curriculum is a set of ideas, a consensus of guiding principles - not a legally-imposed, politically correct time-table, set by central committees - each desperately seeking to catch the ear of passing Secretaries of State.

As a set of learning disciplines, interpreted as times change by the best-thinking practical educators in our schools (knowing they are accountable for that interpretation to parents, communities, parliaments, inspectors) a national curriculum is in the end useful. What we don't need is a constantly growing forest of regulation, as each pressure group, each fashionable focus of the moment, seizes a spot on the political agenda.

We as educators told you this would happen to the living curriculum, if only central committees (instead of schools) were allowed to be initiators, developers, constant reformers.

We predicted a stream of quango-authorised regulation. This year citizenship, next year environment, or world economics, or philosophy, or parenting or astro-physics or child-development or European political history or, or . . . all of them irrefutably excellent subjects for teachers and learners to enquire into.

But the model of central committees constantly re-allocating a legally enforceable timetable drove schools to distraction. What's more - it's just wrong.

Let's take citizenship as an example. I support it whole-heartedly. As head of a community college I see it as part of my mission.

But what, in fact, does a modern citizen need? Three things. First, the ability to think clearly and logically - so as to understand ideas for oneself, and to be resistant to bad argument and techniques of persuasion that our society will always try to fool them with.

Second, a set of values to live by and to judge the rightness of action by - integrity, a sense of justice and a sense of common humanity.

Third, a positive bias towards action. That means both the inclination to do something, small or large, and optimism that people can make a difference.

The way ideas are taught, whether in science, maths, history or English is what allows young people to understand the difference between clear, logical thought and shallow "non-thought''. Clear thinking either pervades teaching and learning, or it is still-born.

Similarly the relationships lived out in the school are what teach values: the way people treat each other - both outside the classroom and in. How students deal with each other at breaks, how the teacher receives, with or without respect, the faltering steps to knowledge of the clever and the slow - all this is what teaches human values. What makes me do good -what alone could make me do good - is the experience of someone else being good to me.

Add the thriving network of student good works - voluntary work in the neighbouring community, charity fund-raising for causes from the local donkey sanctuary to the Indian village schoolgirl, older learners helping young ones to read - and we have citizenship in action.

What schools need is not more imposition - this time of a citizenship slot - but more freedom from central regulation to allow them to help learners take advantage of practical school by ways of embodying what we all believe in.

By all means let a think-tank give helpful guidance. And if there is to be a crusade, let it start by asking parents, MPs, businesses, to embody the reality of good citizenship in their worlds; the ones students inhabit in the 80 per cent of the time they are not in school, and for 100 per cent of their adult lives.

At the recent Secondary Heads' Association annual conference, Tim Brighouse, Charles Handy, Michael Barber, and David Blunkett all displayed, and received applause for, real personal commitment to humane values, and to supporting schools in trying to embody them. None, so far, has suggested more of the timetable time regulation of the bad old days of Kenneth Baker.

Surely we have all learned something from the national curriculum overload debacle.

So let's welcome what Professor Crick has to say - let's be prepared to be re-inspired by it - but let's tell him right now he has misconceived if he thinks we'll accept another state tax on our school teaching time.

Bruce Douglas is president of the Secondary Heads' Association and principal of Branston Community College, Lincolnshire.

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