What do we tell the children now?

10th March 2000 at 00:00
I'D LIKE to dedicate this column to all these people who are making the cliched mountain out of a molehill of Section 28. I really don't know who is the chief choreographer of this whole affair but it has now entered the realm of ridiculous melodrama. Money is being chucked into the ring as if he-who-is-richest wins the contest. What kind of society are we if we imagine, even briefly, that money can buy morality?

Then again maybe this whole sorry saga has nothing whatsoever to do with morality. Worst of all is the ill-informed hysteria splattered on the pages of the tabloid press. The truth is that I had resolved to remain unfazed by all of this but now, like a rather worn-out Greek chorus, I feel obliged to hurl a few rebukes from the wings.

The level of argument offered does not even reach the standard of my third year English class - if they were allowed to debate it, I hasten to add. And therein is the dilemma for teachers. When choosing topics for a recent discursive essay a number of the aforementioned class wished to select the furore surrounding Section 28. Would saying, "yes, carry on, write an essay about it", constitute promoting homosexuality? Remember that old forbidden fruit analogy. Adam and Eve would probably have left that particular tree alone if they had not been so emphatically warned not to touch it.

But the Garden of Eden psychology doesn't seem to be figuring very much in this debate. What I am finding so drastically frustrating is the insinuation that teachers can't be relied on to exercise their own judgment over what should and should not be said in the classroom.

The teaching profession has its fair share of dodgy characters with dubious sub-plots and themes of their own. We have all encountered them. The rest of us have a duty to protect children from such individuals by the legitimate means available to us. And, generally speaking, these routes see to be adequate.

Let's assume most teachers are rational beings with finely tuned radar for what happens in their classrooms. Brazenly strutting our own personal predilections is not part of our teaching strategy. We are educators not indoctrinators. And I know this may sound a touch acerbic, but we tend to leave that to the pulpits and parliaments of this land.

You must also remember that some departments are more likely to be discussing "difficult matters" than others. Homosexuality or euthanasia or abortion, for instance, will come up in religious studies rather than in business studies.

Sometimes the teacher may introduce a particular topic as part of the curriculum but, on many occasions, approachable teachers will find that pupils raise issues with them. Take a recent class of mine. At the end of the lesson a first-year boy asked me what I thought of ouija boards. Shock! Horror! The supernatural! There must be a Section 666 to take care of that little problem. Would I be supping with the devil and encouraging the boy to do likewise if I engaged him in discussion? The boy was clearly fascinated with the subject although it was not something ever raised in class.

I went for the honest approach of giving him information which also illustrated why I counselled him that it would be dangerous to play around with ouija boards. Was I promoting the occult by the very act of responding? I think not.

I end on a pessimistic note. I am not expecting a favourable conclusion to this sad affair. The ironic thing is that no teacher in Scotland has ever been prosecuted for transgressing Section 28.

And, while I'm on the subject of lawbreaking, I take no pleasure in predicting that some ardent opponent of repeal will be caught behaving lewdly in a public toilet, but I won't be surprised because protesting over-much seems to lead to that kind of thing. Watch this space.

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