PC madness is an affront to common sense

4th July 2003 at 01:00
I am a PGCE student as yet untroubled by cynicism or stress, fresh out of university and raring to go. I sit down with excitement to write my first lesson plan. There is a quiet naivety about me as I carefully write each word out on a pre-planned format that took several hours to design. If each plan takes this long, like an expectant mother I may as well prepare for little sleep in the coming year.

But my mentor looks horrified when she sees my plan. Have I written the world's worst lesson? No. I've broken the law of PC.

What's my mistake? Why does she demand a rewrite? My second activity (after I have stated my aims and objectives clearly) is a brainstorm on the whiteboard. I'm swiftly informed that "brainstorm" is not acceptable; the correct phrase now is a "thought shower". Picture the scene. I walk nervously into my first lesson. Hoping this excitable bunch of Year 8s will behave calmly and sensibly, I take a deep breath and announce that we are now going to thought shower the idea of God.

I scour the rest of my plan for any more mistakes. I pause at "whiteboard".

If blackboard is no longer acceptable, perhaps whiteboard should go. I replace it with "dry wipe board", just to be safe.

Next I look at the box labelled special needs. Surely "gifted and talented" is fine but what about "low ability"? A fellow student says the term is not to be used; "low achievers" is preferable. Debating that these could be two entirely different types of children, I make the changes anyway.

If it were just in my lesson planning that political correctness seems to have hijacked common sense, it wouldn't be so bad. But I am training to be a teacher in the potential minefield of RE.

It doesn't stop at hot cross buns no longer being crossed. Last Christmas I was told to avoid concentrating on Christian teaching so I didn't offend Muslim children. Instead I taught them about Ramadan.

But when Eid came it was important not to exclude the Hindus. So instead of looking at hajj, we studied Diwali. Having appeased the Hindu population, it is necessary during Diwali to do the same for the Jews and pay more attention to Hanukkah with vague reference to them both being festivals of light. Yet because Hanukkah is near Christmas, it is always important during this time to teach Christian beliefs. Somewhere within all these festivals it is essential to make references to the life of the Buddha and the Guru Granth Sahib.

Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating that we shouldn't teach all faiths and festivals. In fact, it is essential - especially these days - to spread understanding of all beliefs and cultures. But I fail to understand why Christmas shouldn't be taught at Christmas, Diwali at Diwali, Ramadan during Ramadan and Hanukkah while Jews are celebrating Hanukkah. But at some time political correctness reared its ugly head and in fear we lost sight of common sense.

It doesn't stop with religious festivals. If I listed the number of times I came across this problem, the ensuing pile of paper would make the average pigeonhole look empty. I admit certain words and phrases are best avoided.

But unsubstantiated fear of causing offence is taking us too far along the PC path. The next thing you know it will be politically incorrect to call us teachers and we will be reclassified "standard training enforcer and subject skills educator". Or "Stressed" for short.

Postscript: the Year 8 lesson went well and the spider diagram of children's thoughts about God was a success - no offence intended to any spider, especially if it has more than eight legs.

David Edwards lives in Yorkshire. He writes under a pseudonym

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