The content of every school subject should be reviewed to ensure it contributes to "a curriculum for life" not "a curriculum for death", according to Britain's only professor of religious education.
Professor John Hull of Birmingham University called last week for a new spirituality in teaching and condemned the values of the "money culture" in education and other spheres.
His address to a conference in Edinburgh run by the Christian Education Movement suggested that "spiritual education is only achieved when young people are inspired to live for others".
Professor Hull went on to criticise the encouragement given by the Government to regard other nations as "our natural competitors". The result was that people lost the vision of one humanity. That, he said, represented a curriculum for death.
If, however, spirituality inspired solidarity and a culture of giving and sharing, that was a curriculum for life. Schools should ask whether they were offering "geography or maths for life or death".
This attracted some sceptical comment, particularly from Fred Forrester, depute general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland. But Professor Hull defended his analysis and said it simply required teachers to ask what the outcomes of each part of the curriculum should be.
"Is the curriculum in the conscious or unconscious service of the money god?" he asked.
Professor Hull said resources should be skewed towards the education of poor children, whose numbers had risen from 1.6 million in 1979 to 3.9 million in 1989. Instead, the Government had committed an extra pound;3 million to fund assisted places at private schools which were already "centres of wealth and privilege".
He rejected as "banal and simplistic" recent calls for children to be instructed in the certainties of right and wrong. "Children don't need to be taught the difference between right and wrong," Professor Hull declared. "What they need is to be redeemed from their poverty."
During discussion, the curriculum came in for criticism for being too inflexible to address the issue of values in education. John Christie, director of education in Scottish Borders, believed there was some room in the primary curriculum through "creative interpretation" of the 5-14 guidelines.
Mr Christie was, however, more pessimistic about the situation in secondary schools, where "the curriculum was still compartmentalised and 5-14 had made not a whit of difference".
Margaret Macintosh, of the Scottish Forum for Development Education in Schools, stressed that the curriculum was not just a matter of subjects. "If teachers believe strongly enough in something and are brave enough to demand it, space can be found."
Mrs Macintosh underlined the importance of encouraging children to protest about injustice and unfairness. "We have not been very good at that in Scotland," she commented.
Ronald Beasley, the CEM's associate secretary, declared: "We will be looking for allies to help us find a way round the dilemmas."