Sex and taking the faith thing seriously

20th April 2001 at 01:00
Sadism, bondage, group and anal sex in the classroom. . . certain sections of the Scottish press had a field day recently. An assiduous reporter on a national daily discovered that no one at the Executive had bothered to remove a publication called Taking Sex Seriously from the presumably newly brushed and polished list of approved guidance materials available for Scottish teachers.

No doubt it would only have been a matter of time before a parent or two discovered this extraordinary inclusion, as consultation and partnership with parents are cornerstones of the new arrangements on sex education launched to replace Section 2A.

You may dismiss the story as good knockabout stuff - offering a diversion from the current stench of bovine funeral pyres and the sight of a governing party which on both sides of the border appears to be running like a headless chicken to salvage electoral expediency in the face of rural cataclysm.

Naturally ministers and union leaders have been quick to say that no teacher would be irresponsible enough to use a text giving 19 variations of the sexual act, or encourage associated role-play and relevant "homework". (One teachers' union representative said that the material is "unteachable".) The reaction of the Executive is interesting. Why did a spokeswoman opine that there was no intention of removing the booklet "because the allegations are entirely without foundation", whatever that may mean? There is here a floating laxness, a moral vacuum at the heart of the legislature - shades of a political correctness which stands, for want of anything better, in place of any strongly held moral beliefs or values.

The Executiv has laboured mightily to produce guidelines for everyone in the ballpark. The original report of the working group embodies the sensible objective of incorporating sex education in a curricular package which emphasises good health, personal responsibility and positive relationships, but somewhat airily assumes that no inappropriate materials will find their way into the classroom.

We live in an age of secular materialism, where the new religion is retail therapy. But some politicians, if not in Scotland, are rediscovering the pragmatic attractions of the faith-based agenda. Tony Blair is currently following George W Bush in wooing the "faith community", for the very good reasons that some religious groups (not including, I fear, either the Church of England or the Kirk) offer strong and unequivocal moral leadership together with emotional support in an otherwise rudderless society.

To be fair, last year's General Assembly did show itself sceptical of the Government's entire approach to raising standards in schools. Its report said that spiritual and moral development should be at the heart of any programme to promote excellence. But when did policy-makers last pay attention to the views of the General Assembly?

It is the Catholic Education Commission that offers a coherent moral viewpoint in the current debate. It also seems to reflect the aspirations and anxieties of a broad swathe of parents.

Last month's consultation document invites the Christian churches and communities along with other men and women of goodwill to co-operate in its aim of establishing a teaching programme which is both Christian and human. Anyone listening?


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