Points of view

9th October 2007 at 01:00

VIEWPOINTS SERIES. A Right to Smoke? A Punishment to Fit the Crime? A Right to Die? Rights for Animals? Equality of the Sexes? Media Power? Drug Abuse? A Green World? Watts Pounds 10.99 each

Citizenship is flavour of the month. "How to Think" courses are proliferating in top primary classrooms; cross-curricular PSE is used increasingly to pin together pastoral time in class. The Viewpoints series condenses debates on subjects such as smoking and animal rights.

The books present both sides of the argument, are lavishly illustrated with photographs and quotations from real cases and appear neutral.

None the less, teachers reading them as source material for a class need to be a bit savvy. It is impossible to be unbiased about topics such as capital punishment or gender equality. Morality is as much about thinking something is wrong as about thinking it is right. Thus in A Punishment to Fit the Crime? the author, Alison Connor, ends on the note that the dilemma of how to punish crime will remain until we find punishments that "reflect the seriousness of the crime; that are fair to the offender; that are not distorted by popular pressure and ensure that the offender has no more victims".

Well and good if you are a victim of the liberal consensus, but if you are, say, a fundamentalist Muslim or Jew, these would not be prime considerations. The main concern would be to carry out the word of God, as recorded in a Holy book. Likewise, for Buddhists, punishment is supposed to reflect karma, a person's whole just deserts; for autocratic rulers, contrariwise, the main aim of punishment is to terrify others into obedience. So, Connor's argument is not dispassionate at all.

Some other issues have equally simplistic and tendentious conclusions. For Equality of the Sexes?, writer Emma Haughton tells us that only when we "have the courage to abandon the comfort of traditional male and female roles" will men and women be considered truly equal. That easy, hey?

Still, as the series has several writers, some of the volumes are better than others. Those on animal rights and euthanasia, for instance, are much cooler and more inclusive than those on smoking and the media.

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