School can not right society's wrongs

15th December 2000 at 00:00
James Bulger, Damilola Taylor. We don't appear to have moved forward much.

Protestations of outrage are easily made and those who shape the way we are and the society in which we live talk smoothly about the need to create a culture of personal responsibility.

Such a culture is rooted in the teachings of most of the world's major religions. The collapse of adherence to these teachings, the failure of the Good Samaritan to make a lasting impact on collective behaviour, along with the erosion of a sense of community, brings us to where we are now. Strong moral and ethical codes have been replaced over the past four decades or so by a consumer-obsessed society.

Confrontational politics and the abject failure of those who make decisions on our behalf to accept personal responsibility for the consequences hardly help. Resignations and remorse are rare.

One of the issues raised by the media following Damilola's murder is the role that the Government has played in its educational policies, and especially in its single-minded concentration upon national numeracy and literacy strategies as being the key to creating the New Jerusalem. Of course, literacy and numeracy are vital and raising standards in these areas is to be applauded, providing the opportunities exist for the meaningful employment of such skills

But, like so much else, to see this as the answer is to come in at a level several removed from the root of the problem.

At the heart of social fabric is the family. That is where the fundamental lessons of good and evil, right and wrong, are learnt. Schools and teachers can make a difference but only up to a point. A more literate society will not necessarily be a better society.

No one is arguing that schools and teachers should stop trying. Their efforts would have a greater chance of success if the strait-jacket of certain targets were removed to allow time for contemplation and study of history, religious studies, geography, music, art and drama which, above all, deal with the great issues of what it is to be a human being.

A recent report from the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education advises the Government to dismantle the national curriculum and to consider achieving parity between all subject areas across all key stages as a matter of entitlement.

If schools really are going to take up the cross of society's ills, then at least give them theopportunity to offer the rich curriculum which affords the next generation the chance to explore what it is to be rather than merely to exist.

Bob Acheson Headmaster Clifton College preparatory school Bristol

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