Throw a Brown Book at Braveheart;Opinion

Joseph Kelly

I WOULD HATE to fall into the trap that Paul Tillich described as a fatal teaching error, "to throw answers like stones at the heads of those who have not yet asked the questions". God forbid that I would wish this to be the fate of our aspiring parliamentarians, the new elect currently currying favours from a generation that expects greater control of its destiny. They will have enough to do just to produce enough answers to the questions that have already been asked.

They know their responsibilities include education, and the wannabe victors of the voting ludorum are filling the air waves with ideology-dripping ripostes at this moment. Whoever the victorious 129 will be, whether they are the A minus or B plus list, they have a hidden curriculum to consider, waiting in the long grass ready to jump them, quite apart from rhetorical gasbagging about nuts, bolts, basics and standards.

What some of them may not have had time to read yet is the fine print of their aspiring stewardship. Implicit in it is responsibility for protecting, nurturing and developing the essential cultural and historical traditions our children need to carry with them into the next millennium. MSPs are the guardians and gatekeepers of our culture. This is a heavy responsibility, and not one to be treated lightly. Our children deserve no less than the best, and 5-14 environmental studies, in its section "Culture and Diversity", has clarified what should be on the table for them.

"Pupils should have opportunities through the programme to explore the character, language, dialects and achievements of Scotland and its people. Pupils should identify with the country in which they live, and acquire knowledge and understanding of the interwoven strands of culture and heritage."

Deep in the bowels of somewhere they are rejigging environmental studies. Leaving out those sentences for any reason would be an act of gross dumbing down and cultural vandalism. Sadly, the downsizing process is already firmly in place in our cultural psyches.

Not long after viewing Braveheart on television recently (puffed as a historical epic), I crept to the shelf where I keep my copy of the Brown Book. I rarely take this volume down because of its rarity value, and certainly never intend to lend it out. For Glasgow headteachers of a certain age, mention of the Brown Book gets them misty eyed. It is the Scheme of Work of what was the Corporation of Glasgow, predating even the Primary Memorandum, and I handle it with the same respect Winston Smith showed for Mr Charrington's coral paperweight in 1984.

In history, it suggests a patch study at primary 6 level entitled "The Struggles of Wallace and Bruce". Quietly historical, it offers eight themes, and ranges from Balliol to the Stone of Destiny, from Wishart to Wallace, from Bannockburn to Arbroath. Somehow or other, it leaves out woad and kilts, drivel about democracy, passing on Wallace's genes as English royalty, even sidestepping the rabid and rancid Anglophobia that gleams through the whole movie like snail slime.

It does not present history to the children as wish fulfilment, or as fairy tale about a tough kid who likes to paint his face blue, and at no time is it Mad Max out of Blind Harry.

We are lucky to have a history we want to be proud of. Others are not so fortunate. Christopher Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism makes the point that Americans seem willing to retreat entirely from their collective past, and to live exclusively for oneself.

MSPs do not have the luxury of casually dismissing, offloading or rubber-stamping away their cultural responsibilities. The Scottish parliament's responsibility for the cultural directions and the cultural role models that this country takes into the new millennium, and which will be transmitted to our children, is a task as pressing as any that finds a place on its agendas and order papers.

The curriculum they agree to have in place must say to our children: "This is what we are, this is where we come from, and this is where we are going."

I might even lend them my Brown Book to get that.

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Joseph Kelly

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