William of Banana? Why not?

12th October 2007 at 01:00
Jack Ferguson teaches at Greenfaulds High, Cumbernauld.

"So if William of Orange had liked bananas, you and your father would be going on the banana walk this Saturday?"

"Aye, ah suppose we wid, sur."

That the above exchange between a pupil and a teacher driven beyond the bounds of professional propriety could take place in a Scottish classroom should be, for all us, the definitive proof that sectarianism as a social problem in Scotland is dead.

It died with the death of Christianity as the participatory religion of the vast majority of the populace and the concomitant growth of secularism. This process has been accelerating over the last 10 years increasing in pace, ironically, as the parallel phenomenon of "Sectarianism: Scotland's Secret Shame" has become a topic of public anguish, thanks to luminaries such as composer James McMillan and ex-First Minister Jack McConnell.

The teacher in question (at a non-denominational school) had taught Edwin Morgan's King Billy a poem about Billy Fullerton, leader of the Glasgow Protestant sectarian gang The Billy Boys in the 1930s for 20 years or more and had noted the decline in the general historical knowledge of his pupils with growing despair and alarm. In recent years, however, pupils have failed to respond to requests to raise their hands if they were Christians, but do so when asked if they are Protestants or, occasionally, Catholic.

Their reasons for self-nominating their religious denominations are, of course, that they support Rangers or Celtic. They inevitably spell Protestant with a "d" as in "Proddy", and usually respond with astonishment when told the first Protestant was a Roman Catholic priest called Martin Luther.

Astonishingly, even the Rangers-supporting poetry students who regularly sing "Hello! Hello! We are the Billy Boys..." do not know who or what the "Billy Boys" signifies. They sing it "to annoy the 'Sellic' support", and they seem to see the Battle of the Boyne as some early form of hooligan pitch invasion in which the pre-Rangers supporters led by King William, who managed heroically to mount a stolen police horse, soundly trounced the pre-Celtic supporters. So 1690 might as well have been the price of a ticket.

While knife crime and other violence in Scotland is real enough, sectarian "hate" crime is a figment of the political imagination, perpetuated by vested interests. As educationists, there is a sense in which we might regret this, in that our children are not cognisant enough of their own history and culture to be sectarian.

And that is the real story. The Scottish education system, run by the Labour Party for 50 years, is the only one in the world not to see the instilling in its pupils of a systematic account of their own history and culture as one of its primary aims. The result, unsurprisingly, is cringe-inducing ignorance in even some of the brightest pupils and the occasional collapse of professional teaching standards. "Yes, he was called William of Orange because he liked oranges... "

The Scottish Government must use its power to change our flawed history curriculum.

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