Will it be caviar onthe table?

10th October 1997 at 01:00
Even if the death of Diana had not intervened so tragically I doubt if the earnest seeker for enlightenment concerned with the devolutionary implication for education would have got much more bang for his buck. Not that there was much bang about. Top-of-the-totem-pole politicians couched whatever it was they said (does anyone remember?) almost to a person, in the vaguest terms. Perhaps only one ingredient of whatever educational message they delivered was not in lower case. While the political bonding farce was playing, the invitation to say Yes, Yes held out the prospect of caviar on the educational table every day and twice on Sunday.

The earnest seeker fared little better turning to the educational professionals. Only marginally less opaque than its political avatars, the Educational Institute of Scotland emphasised the importance of elected representatives determining educational priorities, of a parliament imposing taxes and of equal representation. When it expanded a little, this seemed to mean protecting comprehensive education, somebody sorting out the money morass, interminable debate about the meaning of education, the prospect of a massive quango of educational bodies, and confirmation of the role of local councils. Not much there to roll over and purr about. It felt like a souffle of good intentions served with high-flying rhetoric that didn't quite rise to the occasion.

Our seeker might then look for enlightenment by way of negatives, since few real positives seemed on offer. What should a devolved Scottish parliament, educationally untrammelled and fully its own person, not offer to the child of the new millennium? The theory of devolution may have made a quantum leap, but that doesn't mean we must carry all our old furniture along with us.

A cultural mousetrap whose come-on we consistently can't escape the lure of, is the temptation of the selective past from a wide choice of pasts. What should our children be spared if they are to have an all round education that is relevant, useful and pristine in the sense of being uncorrupted?

I am stumped to think of where in 5-14 environmental studies, it would fit in, but a bright new parliament should seriously consider sparing our children the sight and associate burden of the relatively short, in historical terms, accretion of heraldic tradition to a democratic structure.

For the bar sinister, gules and cockatrice team in Scotland this is probably heresy. Again, what need have our children for bedraggled processions of unknown and unelected persons toshed up in outlandish gear with strange devices on, carrying weapons that gunpowder made redundant, hanging around Scottish parliament? Or even around Scottish history? Not even for pageantry.

Visualise the opening of the new parliament. A historic occasion. As our MSPs ready themselves to launch it into history with a song, swelling visibly like frogs . . . they sing what? Surely not Flower of Scotland, our cultural and national paean to ingrained low self-esteem, that hymn to the self demeaning idea that Scots can only mean something if they compare themselves to English?

Freud would have fallen backwards over himself if he had heard it. It says little to modern Scots children but tells the English we haven't gone much further than Yes, Yes. Parliament should open with a hymn. Not one to failure tarted up as success though.

And then there is the Braveheart bandwagon . . . I suspect that our truth seeker would agree with Oscar Wilde's comment that it would take a heart of stone not to laugh. Our children deserve better than that spurious glob of woad-shaded filmic pap, and perhaps to help them get it, we have to go as far back as Aristotle to whisper something into our MSPs' ears. He suggested that the end of government, and of educational policy, is not the good life, but the good person. Now there's a truth to educate our children into.

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