Timely history with a future

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Pioneering Moral Education: Victor Cook and his Foundation

by W. A. Gatherer

Edinburgh University Press, pound;25

I wish Hodder Gibson had published this book. As its managing director, I had the chance to do so but, for once, the old publisher's saw "not really suitable for our list" was a genuine reason rather than an excuse.

But rest assured, Bill Gatherer's comprehensive, and frequently entertaining, book has found a better home at Edinburgh University Press.

Not that this is a dry academic tome. Far from it. And I fully expect EUP's marketing machine to plug it in to the worldwide educational community it deserves to reach. Certainly, the publisher should make sure that every school in Scotland buys a copy, not to mention anyone in the UK who has an interest in citizenship.

This work is about so much more than citizenship, but its principal character, Victor Cook, who died in 1989, would have been very happy about attention being given to this topic in UK schools. And he would have been delighted that the Gordon Cook Trust, which he set up in honour of his parents, is still a forceful influence in values education. In truth, it has probably become more influential since his death.

Cook's crusade was born out of a vision to see youth educated in such character forming values as honesty, compassion and loyalty. And while Gatherer, a Gordon Cook Trustee since the 1970s, clearly has enormous affection for Cook, this is no hagiography.

He paints an engrossing picture of a successful Aberdeen industrialist with money to bestow upon education, though largely on his own curricular terms.

Cook sometimes resembles a latter-day Baden-Powell, hopelessly out of touch with classroom realities but with an honest and laudable mission.

Having accepted the limitations of his own materials and skills, it was to his credit that he empowered a board of trustees to assist him in his life's work and continue it after his death.

In delineating the trust's work during the 1980s and 1990s, Gatherer's account is a fascinating overview of the machinations required to influence and implement curricular change. For its historical record alone, it is worth the read. Add to that the exposition of the trust's subsequent and continuing work in values education (at events such as the Four Nations conference, or through its association with the Institute for Global Ethics) and you understand the reason for this book.

It is history for the future and deserves to influence the future of education for citizenship.

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