Value of Gaelic goes beyond numbers

1st August 2008 at 01:00

Inviting teachers to justify the place of their subject in the curriculum is no bad thing since such reflection will surely sharpen their conviction of its value. However, when a teacher is required to justify one subject against another, say Gaelic against Chinese, as proposed in TESS letters last week, there is something despicable afoot.

When consequent lack of investment would mean the eradication of the language and culture of the losing side, the despicable reveals itself as sinister.

As a teacher of modern languages, I have often wondered what motivates supposedly educated persons to argue that the culture and language of one person is superior to that of another and that pupils should consequently not be introduced to what they consider the culture of lesser value. Such persons believe the number of speakers of a particular language is a powerful argument for the eradication of human diversity. They are often unaware of the rich literature and cultural contributions of the language they would like to see wiped out in the name of the new world economy. Sometimes they contend that minority cultures are good enough for the home so long as they learn their place and don't enter the classroom. This is as true of Scots as it is of Gaelic.

I was delighted to learn that our government is adhering to its promises and responding to demand from voters in taking steps towards promoting Gaelic. The economically successful, outward-looking Republic of Ireland performs far better than Scotland in foreign languages, in spite of teaching Irish in all its schools. It does not need to assert its cultural difference from the UK, nor indeed from Europe, but the people there value what makes them distinct from and equal to other nations.

Just one month ago, 20 pupils at Lasswade High volunteered for a week of Gaelic immersion in Skye. None had spoken Gaelic before, but now every one of them wishes to return.

James Forbes, Corstorphine High Street, Edinburgh.

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