Never give up on the good things;Opinion

10th September 1999 at 01:00
I WON'T go so far as to say I empathised too closely with Dorothy Parker's comment on life in general when things did not go her way, but I will admit freely that I felt a little down.

Razors pain you

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren't lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful:

You might as well live.

I thought the last line, after a few saddened moments, was good advice. Why this unmanly melancholia, you may ask, why this feeling of downhearted, depressed and in a spin? Gibbon was said to have felt a great loss on completing Decline and Fall. I have an idea of how he felt. This is my final column on a regular basis.

I think it is the 50th or 51st. The editor rightly suggested to me that he should tap into as wide a range as possible of educational opinion, and that it was time to draw my column to a close. I agree with him. As the millennium draws closer, the delivery of a useful and relevant education to our children becomes more complex and therefore less predictable. As many voices as possible should be heard, and hopefully listened to, by those who control our children's futures.

When I was asked to write a regular column, I had no prearranged remit, except to make sure that copy arrived on time. A remit fell by itself into place very quickly, after rejecting the temptation (Retro Sathanas!) of using the invitation to get rid of accumulated spleens and venoms.

My interests devolved into three - chronicling educational and social change in a deprived area, observing the progress of Catholic education and examining changes in my own position as headteacher. I have tried to stick to these with sometimes uncertain success, particularly when deflected by irritation at what I considered the follies of the authority.

During my three years of "columniating", I think I would have liked to see more importance accorded centrally to the deprived area in which I work. While social conditions have in the main improved, the only way to ensure social inclusion for children is by providing more teachers in classrooms.

It sounds basic and banal, but computers won't do it, nor will classroom assistants, nor will tinkering with managerial structures. They will help, but only marginally. The deprivation I speak of is cultural and esteem rooted, not exclusively physical, and teachers are the only agents who can start to turn it round.

As I write, media interest in composer James MacMillan's thoughts on bigotry still runs high. I have no wish to be drawn into that, but I think I have detected, with some regret, a slight hardening of attitudes pro and con over the past three years. As far as the cons are concerned, we are a society that likes to think that it lives and lets live. Now may be the time to step back from a sometimes unreasoned opposition to Catholic education, to reconcile with the fact of legal existence and to co-operate with co-workers in the educational wilderness.

The pros? Catholic educators have no room for self-satisfaction, for triumphalism, or for drawing away the hems of their garments. Problems within the Catholic community are more clearly seen now as coming from within (there's something scriptural about that), and it will be the task of the Catholic school to address them from within.

As for changes in headteaching, there are not enough columns to cover my musings on that. I am grateful to Willis Pickard and would like to thank him for giving me the opportunity to ventilate my opinions with such freedom. It may not be too well known that the editor is a man of infinite patience. Not for him Ambrose Bierce's definition of patience as a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue. Anyone who dealt on a three-weekly basis with my paragraphing has to have the patience of a saint.

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