A Catalogue o Sair Neglect
As the weans stert back at the schuil, Ayrshire dominie John Hodgart, in the first o fower essays, spells oot why historically the fecht tae include Scottish Culture in the Scottish curriculum has been sae sair.
The causes o oor national cultural cringe or ignorance aboot oor ain land are nae doot ruitit in the history o the past twa-three hunner year, but ironically oor very ain educational system has been responsible for a helpin tae create a guid measure o that cultural deficit, via the ignorance, neglect an doonricht snobbery o Scottish teachers wha for the maist pairt perpetuatit the imperialistic unionist cultural values an norms that shaped their ain upbringin.
Yet in spite o this ye could probably aye fin Scottish culture in the classroom in some shape or form, usually in the month o Januar: in some airts a dance o northern lichts, but in maist places, a sleety wattergaw or mibbie nane at aw, a case o blink an ye’d missed it. Ma ain exposure tae Scottish culture in the fifties an sixties wis gey patchy, while durin ma ain career as an English teacher, owre the past generation or thereaboots, things chynged a bit, but progess has often been gey slow an gey timorous.
As a member o the ASLS Education Committee for owre 30 years, it has even sometimes felt like being a fuit sodjer in the Thirty Years War followin Mother Courage’s wagon: often a case o gaun roon in circles an finnin yersel back whaur ye stertit, mibbie no ony better aff, an sometimes worse. An, as in a war, yer worst enemies are often yer ain generals or ither high heid anes.
“The causes o oor national cultural cringe or ignorance aboot oor ain land are nae doot ruitit in the history o the past twa-three hunner year, but ironically oor very ain educational system has been responsible for a helpin tae create a guid measure o that cultural deficit.”
The first event in ma career that offert ony kinna alternative cultural landscape wis the Scottish Central Committee’s report on Scottish Literature in the Secondary School (1976), that opened up a rich literary heritage that wis a closed book tae maist, but optimistically hoped that it would noo be gien ‘a central place in the curriculum.’ Yet whaur wis the government support tae implement its suggestions, provide in-service an resources etc? It jist wisnae there, wi a few notable exceptions at local authority level, such as Brian Murray’s Ayrshire Scotlit workin group, an the report wis allowed tae gether stoor or even licht the furnace in some places.
However there wis at least ane ambitious attempt tae build on the 76 report: The Jordanhill Scottish Language and Literature Project, chaired by Alan MacGillvray an pit thegither by a wee band o gleg ‘young’ dominies wha met efter a day’s darg in the early eichties tae produce a tome o support notes an teachin resources. Nae doot but it had some impact in a few places, but sadly it’s lang forgotten, tho maist o it is still relevant an uissfu.
In the 1980s we were aw up tae oor hochs in St Grade units an folios, but the ASLS wis wrasslin awa producin support material an runnin annual Scotlit conferences for teachers, mony keen tae mak up for a deficit in their ain education, but 30 odd years on, we are the only independent national body supportin English teachers in Scotland, still the work o teachers or retired teachers in their ain time.
Aboot a decade later, we reached the realm o Revised Higher an the RPR (which potentially opened the door tae the independent study o a wide range o Scottish authors, plus set texts that includit 3 Scottish options) but it gied us mair folios an by noo we were up tae oor oxters! Amongst the support material for schools wis the ASLS Report on Developing Scottish Lit, (1990, revised an reissued in 1992 by the SCCC as Scottish Literature in the Secondary School) an we even still hae copies to gie awa, so we obviously wernae owrewhummlt wi demand!
“The first twa volumes, Scottish Language by John Corbett an Teaching Scottish Lit (ed. Alan MacGillivray), should hae been supplied tae every depairtment in the land.”
In 1996, a publication o historic importance appeared that should hae been gien awa free tae every teacher in the land – The Kist – a braw literary treisur trove, celebratin oor diverse linguistic heritage, gey near a latter day Book o Kells for Scottish education, produced by Robbie Robertson at the SCCC an his squad o helpers fae across the country, wha wrote the teachin notes – The Shottle (a real jewel box). Sadly it wis oot o print for owre mony years, but noo a selection o the texts hae been made available on Education Scotland’s website, an invaluable resource for Scottish Studies an the new Scots Language units.
A few years later a truly Herculean, pedagogic publication appeared: Glesca Uni’s three volume Scottish Literature and Language series 1997-2002, edited by Douglas Gifford, Alan MacGillivray et al, wi an advisory team o ASLS members. The first twa volumes, Scottish Language by John Corbett an Teaching Scottish Lit (ed. Alan MacGillivray), should hae been supplied tae every depairtment in the land an aw three volumes should hae been yaised tae provide CPD across the country but of course they werenae an they were suin oot o print, something that speaks volumes aboot an endemic indifference tae oor ain culture in education.
However, ane o the maist shamefu episodes in oor recent history wis the suppression o the original Review of Scottish Culture (1998), a faur mair radical document than the ane that wis published: The School Curriculum and the Culture of Scotland (SCCC, 1999). The original report never saw the licht o day, but some members o the committee (or tae be mair exact, Jim Alison, HMI an ASLS member, a doughty champion o Scottish culture, wha’s recent daith is a huge loss) ludged it wi the NLS and it can still be doonloadit.
Its key recommendations includit a core element o Scottish culture in the curriculum at aw stages, that ‘HMI inspections should monitor the development of the Scottish dimension of the curriculum’ an, gey prophetically, it proposed a Group Award in Scottish Studies. It also includit a statement o cultural entitlement, somethin that suirly hauds the key tae the development o Scottish culture in the curriculum:
‘Young people should be entitled to a curriculum which recognises the value of Scottish culture and help to promote … a knowledge of Scotland and the histories of its peoples, feelings of belonging and shared experience, Scotland’s languages, their texts and an understanding of the parts they play in the creation of personal, social and cultural identity.’
“The mysterious removal in 2000 o even this apologetic coursework essay on a Scottish text wis apparently ane o the measures intendit tae reduce workload by the Review Group set up by Jack McConnell, but in fact it did naethin o the sort.”
It wisnae published but like the thistle itself, its wild seeds hae blawn in the wind an taen root.
In contrast, the glossy National Cultural Strategy Report (2000), Creating our Future … Minding Our Past (mair like forgettin oor past) – hardly mentioned literature, never mind Scottish literature, tho it did hae somethin interestin tae say aboot language, withoot ever mentionin Scots or Gaelic!
An then lo an behold, afore the turn of the millennium, we were bein asked tae elevate oorsels tae Higher Still. Efter a gey hard-focht battle it wis agreed that the ‘study’ o a Scottish text wid be compulsory, weel sort o compulsory, as students only had tae complete ane pass/fail coursework essay on a Scottish text (wan poem would’ve done) an the definition o a Scottish text wis that vague that Macbeth an 1984 wid’ve been ok. The mysterious removal in 2000 o even this apologetic coursework essay on a Scottish text wis apparently ane o the measures intendit tae reduce workload by the Review Group set up by Jack McConnell, but in fact it did naethin o the sort. Whit it did confirm wis that a chronic doze o cultural cringe or skitters had smitten the members o the workin group!
But mibbie as a sign o guilt in some quarters, (tho probably mair due to ASLS pressure) the Higher Still Support Unit eventually produced support material on Scottish Literature an Language – actually gey uissfu documents coverin aw the genres – hopefully still aboot, but probably getherin dust in abandoned or forgotten glory holes, the sad fate o owre mony documents that provide ample evidence o a catalogue o shamefu or willfu neglect o oor ain culture in the curriculum.