The man's gone but the star shines on

27th October 2000 at 01:00
TWO things strike me about the tributes to the late Donald Dewar: the fine intellect of the man and his capacity to communicate with his fellow man. It comes as a relief that we still value that kind of a hero. Yet I am also surprised because we don't make heroes like the late First Minister any more. Not in the classroom. Not in society.

Our heroes are the meringue creations from Hollywood and sports arenas, characters who espouse image beyond all else. Even worse, our glorification of the celebrity cult saw the funeral parade of Reggie Kray as a main item on television news. Why precisely was that word Respect emblazoned on the side of the funeral carriage?

Donald Dewar's grasp of Scottish culture has been much praised and deservedly so. How much of that culture is taught in classrooms? I am not referring to the baubles of the kailyard but to 1709, 1715 and 1745, to mention a few key dates from our history.

Scarcely any Scottish history is now taught, but that is not a new problem. Most of my knowledge came from my parents. Not long before he died, I sat with my father for a morning while he shared with me the history of his family croft in North Uist. Previously, a Scottish history course at university had ensured some insight into our past, and so I count myself among the lucky ones.

Apparently then we admire the very thing our education system increasingly fails to deliver - an obviously sharp intellect which achieves its potential. We are so busy ensuring social inclusion that we are forgetting how to stimulate and advance our brightest stars. Many teachers maintain that, often, they are teaching to the lowest common denominator. The curriculum allows pupils to be "educated" and remain culturally illiterate.

Maybe it's more straightforward to talk of Donald Dewar's capacity to communicate with fellow hmanity. Not much controversy here. It is vitally important in the modern workplace to have emotional intelligence in abundance. Being intellectually splendid is all very well but, if you are unable to treat your colleagues with respect, your emotional toolbox is empty. To be a true hero you must care for others.

Teachers are in a unique position to be role models for their pupils. Senior management teams ought to set an example to their staff in the ways they deal with others. I have been doing my usual unscientific telephone calls to hear some views, and the comments were very mixed. However, all agreed that the headteacher sets the tone in the way we work with one another.

There are still too many little dictators who make decisions without consultation. One colleague spoke of how her head quite openly displays tantrums more appropriate for primary 1. School managers should be steady pilots of their own emotions and therefore of the establishments they lead. Empathy has to be the fundamental people skill.

Without it no one can be a good leader. In a way it's easy. Donald Dewar's admirers speak of how he always had time for them as individuals. If I need to speak to my headteacher I go to her room where the transparent glass in the door signals a welcome.

I have never been made to feel that I am a nuisance or that my ideas are not worth hearing about. Sometimes she and I may agree to differ, but within the context of mutual respect.

Donald Dewar has not left us empty-handed. His intellect and his people skills are legacies which schools and the people within them should seize. For the adults among us age should be softening and polishing our emotional crafts. The children will learn from our example.

As Erasmus said: "The main hope of

a nation lies in the proper education of its youth".


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