Profession slayed in Braveheart's name;Arts in Scotland

30th January 1998 at 00:00
The role of education and teachers in the history and future of Scotland is something of a thorny subject, to judge by many comments made at last Saturday's conference on arts, democracy and the Scottish parliament.

Organised at Edinburgh University by the Saltire Society, it did not proclaim education as a main topic of debate, but matters educational were consistently picked at like a cold sore on the body politic. Paul Scott, Saltire president and SNP spokesman on the arts, conducted a historical tour around the causes of "the Scottish cringe" which included the suppression of the Scots language by Scottish teachers this century. He argued that schools need to pay more attention to Scottish culture and history and called for the setting up of a national school to help promote traditional music and arts.

Curator and historian Elspeth King welcomed the acknowledgement by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum of a "deficit" in the teaching of Scottish history, but she compared its declaration that teachers should be "neither bravehearts nor fainthearts" to a fence-sitting exercise likely to produce only "bored hearts and slave hearts".

During the debate a plea was made from the floor that Scottish history become a "required subject" in schools while another speaker, describing himself as "a former dominie" felt that "schools only reflect the society they function in". But he also noted that "what the schools have undone in the past they should maybe set about building up now".

There was also a call for primary schools to "introduce pupils to the richness of Scottish culture". Morag Deyes, director of Edinburgh Dance Base, compared her own schooling as equivalent to "aversion therapy to Scottish culture".

Sally Brown, deputy principal at Stirling University, said: "I feel battered after this morning." There was more to come, since while arguing for the arts to be "infused in a curriculum for everyone", she confounded this anti-elitist approach by telling her audience: "There aren't any ordinary people here, because if you're here you're not ordinary."

This was received with ripples of derisive laughter and attacked by Magnus Linklater, chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, as "misleading" and "dangerous". But as the former editor of the Scotsman went on to state that "the arts should be fundamental to education", a guitar-carrying traditional musician bundled his way behind the platform speakers to give his valedictory assessment, "What a load of wank", before he headed off into the rain. Surely an ordinary man had spoken.

There was a final anti-teacher jibe towards the end of the last debate on "What Do We Want the Parliament to Do?" The response came: "It doesn't matter what you do or say, teachers are always moaning."

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