Let's teach our children to be decent people

6th March 2009 at 00:00

Let's pretend, for the sake of nostalgia, that we live in a society which espouses the values of kindness and justice.

Let's imagine that the people who dismantled our banking system fell honourably on their swords and did not walk away with big, fat, golden handshakes. Let's reminisce about a society which would not publicly parade, in a media-generated frenzy, the unfortunate 13-year-old Alfie who looks as if he should be baby-sat himself but has apparently fathered a child. Let's turn back time to when Britain did not have the highest teenage pregnancy in western Europe or would not beam out from Channel 4 the horror of a children's reality show in the shape of Girls and Boys Alone.

Let's wish that the tragic event of Baby P's tortured life never happened in London and that the alleged murder of Dundee toddler Brandon Muir is just a collective nightmare from which we will all awaken. Let's not accept the fact that our school pupils drink more alcohol than any other kids in the European Community. Let's deny that we have a grinding cycle of poverty, failure and low expectations so deeply entrenched that, in some families and communities, it is almost genetic in character.

OK. Enough is enough. Take the baubles down and face the truth. We live in a society which is tainted with cruelty and unfairness. Our social problems are of epidemic proportions. Look no further than the armies of social workers, youth workers, educational psychologists, community policemen and others who, along with teachers, now inhabit schools in desperate attempts to control an ever multiplying legion of youngsters with issues.

So what's the solution? At the moment, schools spend vast hours jumping through hoops to keep up with an infinite amount of paperwork. Frankly, it is out of control. Ticking boxes has become a central plank of what they do. We are absolutely trammelled by it at the expense of teaching and learning. Inevitably, mediocrity is the order of the day.

It pains me, as an ardent socialist, to admit it, but it is the private schools which are getting the mixture right. Somehow they manage (yes, I don't deny that their smaller classes and different clientele play a part) to nurture the whole person so that kids leave school with a clutch of awards commensurate with their ability and also with a sense of what it means to be a decent human. They are allowed to be ambitious.

Why are we not achieving this in the state system? I know that we do not fail all children, but we are failing too many. How do we inspire our young people to lead worthy lives in the face of a society which panders to the lowest common denominator and accepts minimum effort, because gold medals smack of elitism and no one must appear better than anyone else for fear of upsetting the politically-correct apple cart?

The biggest problem our state schools face is lack of ambition, and if there is anything our rotten old world needs it's young people with a sense of revolution and the energy to power their ideas. Let's start with basic values. Let's teach pupils that it's important to care for others and take responsibility for their actions. Let's help our children to understand the wreckage of our society and find ways to rebuild it.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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