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Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Can Scotland's Teachers Be Trusted To Be Impartial?

It is reported that the No Campaign has decided not to provide "Information Packs" on the Referendum, to Scotland's schools, having been accused of "crossing the line" by targeting classrooms. A cynic might suggest it makes more sense to leave it to those teachers who support the Union, to indoctrinate their charges, most of whom would be totally unaware it was happening. I listened to the radio programme "Call Kay" yesterday and would suggest that many of those who contributed, were in more need of education than the "kids" for whom they were concerned. Few, if any, who were not in the teaching profession, had the first clue what Modern Studies, as a school subject, actually involves. Unfortunately it did not prevent them dictating how it should be taught, as well as the very content of the lessons. The concerns being expressed about indoctrination, really are quite risible and show a distinct lack of respect for teachers in general.

Modern Studies is sometimes defined as a "multi-disciplinary study of modern society" and when I taught it, it covered politics, economics, history, geography and the way in which those topics interacted in modern society. The potential for indoctrination is endless, but that is so in a number of other school subjects, more of which below. I was summoned to the Rector's study on one occasion, to be told there had been a complaint from a parent who intended to take the matter up with the education department, unless he could be assured I would mend my ways. His complaint; the amount of time his son seemed to be spending studying Communism and his fear, that I was "indoctrinating" his child. The Rector was sure I was not guilty but, could I just reassure him by explaining why so much time was being spent studying Communism. As the class was studying China and the Sino/Soviet Split, the explanation was hardly difficult to find.

There will always be parents who object to some subjects being taught and complaints about teachers teaching subjects which some parents deem to be "inappropriate" are hardly new, but the outcry over the referendum is out of all proportion to the perceived dangers of indoctrination or even bias, unless we have no faith whatsoever in the professionalism of the teaching profession. Modern Studies has been taught for years and can cover topics such as racism, UK government and government policy in areas such as economics and social change. The opportunities for bias are obvious but have always existed. It is hardly difficult to imagine the countless ways in which a study of Margaret Thatcher's terms as Prime Minister, could be presented to show support or opposition. How is it possible to cover topics such as the Miners' Strike or Northern Ireland, without inviting conflicting opinions? There are different views on the Sino/Soviet Split and the Cold War and it is up to the teachers to ensure all views and interpretations, are represented.

I used to have a book called "Arguments In History" by Brasher, which presented exactly the same facts about famous episodes in history, from two diametrically opposed points of view, leading to entirely different conclusions. A careful analysis could find the weak points in the arguments and highlight why in some cases, one or other of the conclusions could be shown to be false, but any skilled teacher or lecturer can present any lesson with an in-built bias. I once had a Polish history lecturer who described the Jewish community in pre-WWII Poland, as a "cancer on the living side of Poland" and at the same time, insisted he was not anti-Semitic but he was also one of the most learned people I have ever met. That one comment caused me to question anything he said on any other topic. History can be taught with a quite obvious bias but it will only be obvious to those who are familiar with the topic. The same can be said of economics and even English.

We must surely question the motives of those who have suddenly raised concerns about the professionalism of the teaching profession to the point where they are not to be trusted to teach the basic information required for 16 to 18 year olds to understand the mechanics of a simple referendum. Why have the concerns about professionalism not been raised before, when so many opportunities exist to indoctrinate students in so many different ways? Is it another attempt to present the referendum as "undesireable" or the outcome as "questionable"? Whatever the reasons, it is another "concern" that is totally unnecessary, like so many of the other concerns raised on a daily basis.