2007 - 2021

Scots and the Curriculum

00414386-285The final pairt o John Hodgart’s current series on Language and Culture in Scotland’s schules.

Scottish Culture an Teacher Qualifications

Nae doot some o ye micht hae heard the apparently apocryphal tale aboot the teacher wha was accused o cawin a boy ‘an effin doormat’ when whit he actually said was ‘your faculties are dormant!’ Weel it isnae apocryphal, but true, because it happened in ma schuil an in ma depairtment. Tho it wisnae me that said it, it’s aye kinna hauntit me, for in mony weys it sums up the muckle chasm atween the ‘learned’ an the learner in oor educational system.

Surely ane o the great paradoxes o Scottish culture is the fact that mony Scots still hae a deep-ruitit faith in the merits o an educational system that historically has duin a great deal tae unnermine their ain identity, leain them ignorant aboot, or even leukin doon on, the history an culture o their ain land an often makin them ashamed o the wey they talk.

For the majority that has been the educational experience o generations o Scots, as it wis mine, in a system that didnae lea us feelin awfae guid aboot oorsels an oor ain culture. In fact we didnae even ken we had such a thing as ‘culture’ as we were often made tae feel gey uncultured an uncouth every time we opened oor mooths. Even when I first began teachin, in the early seiventies, the literature o Scotland was a foreign land tae maist o ma colleagues, while forty year later it is probably true tae say that mony (probably maist) still enter the teachin profession, especially in saicondary, withoot haein duin ony study o Scottish culture at university level – a gey bizarre situation for ony country tae be in.

I’ve already talked aboot various reports or recommendations on Scottish culture owre the past twenty year or thereaboots, wi gey few o them actually implementit or taen seriously at national or local level, especially the report that never appeared in 1998 because it suggestit pittin Scottish culture at the hert o the curriculum.

However, ane o the maist trumpeted o these was the National Cultural Strategy Report (2000), ‘Creating our Future … Minding Our Past’ (mair like forgettin oor past) – that hardly mentioned literature never mind Scottish literature, tho it did hae somethin interestin tae say aboot language: ‘We shall …. ensure that through their initial training and CPD, teachers are well prepared to promote and develop all pupils’ language skills … and … continue to support the production of resources which encourage language diversity and learning about all the languages spoken in Scotland.’ Fine words, but note it mentioned neither Scots nor Gaelic an I doot it had even Scots in mind, sae it wis nae surprise that nuthin wis duin tae transform the rhetoric intae reality, for the government then, as noo, seemed tae hae nae awareness o the idea that encouragin language diversity etc, micht weel haud the key tae closin the attainment gap.

Mair than a decade later, the Scottish Studies Report made it clear that the new award has ‘implications for entry requirements and for initial teacher education’ (teacher trainin). Efter a period o consultation in 2013 (including some ASLS persuasion again) the General Teaching Cooncil Scotland produced a short statement sayin that as pairt o the teacher education programme, ‘students should develop awareness of how the study of Scottish culture can be developed within the curriculum.’

Weel it’s mibbie no aw that impressive (in fact sadly lackin in mony weys) but tryin tae be positive aboot it, we could say it is at least ‘a mention’ an mibbie somethin tae build on. Ane o the main problems is that it disnae say wha’s responsible for developin it, an in a cram-packed college year it will be gey difficult indeed, even if students hae ony prior knowledge o Scottish culture fae their university studies. The reality is that mony (probably a majority) hae nane at aw.

Yet is it really aw that muckle tae expect, as the ASLS submission argued, that aw new teachers shuid hae at least some basic knowledge o Scottish culture an language in relevant areas, or that onybody enterin oor teachin profession fae a non-Scottish backgruin, coud reasonably be expected tae study at least ane appropriate course in Scottish culture within say twa or three year o entry, in baith primary an saicondary?

If ye compare the situation here wi that o oor Irish kizzens ye will fin that Gaelic an Irish history qualifications are entry requirements, while in the likes o France, Italy an especially Poland – tae name a few wha hae gey detailed curricular or entry requirements aboot their ain culture – it is an inescapable obligation an naebody wid get a job withoot it. In fact in maist countries in the world the need tae be weel qualified tae teach yer ain culture is simply taen for grantit, but clearly it still isnae here. An if ye suggestit makin it compulsory, the Scottish government wid nae doot be accused o tartan brainwashin or worse by the usual glaur flingers, cringers an chantywrasslers!

Yet in spite o aw the shortcomins o Curriculum for Excellence, teachers noo hae a clear duty unner its Principles an Practice document tae ‘develop an appreciation of Scotland’s vibrant literary and linguistic heritage’ an tae mak shuir that it ‘suffuses’ the curriculum. Thus teachers that fail to deliver this are no only failin tae implement national policy, but are failin tae educate their weans aboot the culture o the country they were born in or grew up in. The problem is that we are daein next tae nuthin tae actually mak the Principles an Practice a reality unless are we content tae jist mak it a principle withoot botherin aboot the practice.

Yet unless the requirements are chynged alang the lines suggestit, there is simply nae wey o makkin siccar that new entrants tae the profession will be suitably qualified tae teach oor bairns aboot Scottish culture. Is this really a lot tae ask when the bare minimum entry requirements the ASLS suggestit would actually be leuked on as kinna peely wally, in fact totally inadequate, in ony ither European country? Nae ither country wid permit sicca a shamefu neglect o its ain heritage in its educational system an until somethin is duin aboot it, there is nae wey that muckle educational chasm will be bridged ony time suin.

Comments (7)

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  1. Karen says:

    Been away from reading for a wee while so this ignited the thirst again. This was beautifully blunt about the shortcomings in our educational system.

    The plus is that our kids will learn of their nation’s history & culture, warts and all, as a matter of course as opposed to finding it out by accident, bit by bit later in life. I once heard someone say that in school and at home, the ‘Scottish Cringe’ is first taught. Perhaps now, that’ll gradually disappear. How liberating to have a country free of that eh?

  2. Alf Baird says:

    A braw feenal pairt John. Scotland’s Language Meenister and Cultur Meenister shuid hing thair heids in shame for thay hiv duin naething tae counter thon Scottish langage cringe whit hauds doun oor bairns an fowk, an oor naition itsel. On the contrair, thay hiv uphauden the unionist/anglicised status-quo. The anely solution is tae pass a Scots Language Act, as was the case with the Gaelic Language Act (Scotland) 2005, tae gie fowk thair richtfu langage, an thay’ll shuirly hae muckle peuchle efter.

    An yer bang-on aboot maist heid bummers in oor nation invitet tae run a’thing hier yet wi gey few o’ thaim bein qualifee’d wi hae’in the indigenous langage maist fowk speik. Widna be alloued in maist ither naitions.

  3. Ewan Macintyre says:

    Here is yet another teacher who teaches impressionable schoolchildren that ‘Scots’ is THE Scottish language. It is not. Instead it is the tongue introduced into lowland Scotland by the Angles of Northumbria in the seventh century. They spoke Old English.


    This is the sort of propaganda that has resulted in the almost total extinction of native Gaelic speakers in Argyll – the land of the original Scots/Gaels. Monoglot English speaking teachers deliberately imported in to the Highlands proceeded to mock and humiliate the infants in their charge for being Gaelic speakers. These children were traumatised and opted not to pass on our true Scottish language to their own children. I know because my parents experienced that pernicious system and today there are no local native Gaelic speakers in Glencoe.
    By all means, learn at least to read the works of the lowland makars as a history lesson. For instance, the likes of William Dunbar hated Gaelic – he called it “Erse”. He praised his own tongue which he called “Inglisch”. Here is a passage from The Golden Targe in praise of Geoffrey Chaucer, the Englishman who is credited with rescuing the English language:

    Verse 29, line 253

    O reuerend Chaucere, rose of rethoris all,
    As in oure tong ane flour imperiall,
    That raise in Britane ewir, quho redis rycht,
    Thou beris of makaris the tryumph riall;
    Thy fresch anamalit termes celicall
    This mater coud illumynit haue full brycht:
    Was thou noucht of oure Inglisch all the lycht,
    Surmounting ewiry tong terrestriall,
    Alls fer as Mayes morow dois mydnycht?

    Quite frankly, every Scottish MP, MSP, schoolteacher, journalist, actor, etc. should learn to read the works of the makars. An easier version of Dunbar’s poem is now online:

    O reverend Chaucer, rose of rhetors all,
    As in our tongue a flower imperial
    That rose in Britain, whoever reads aright,
    Thou bears of makars the triúmph royall,
    Thy fresh enameled termës celicall heavenly
    This matter could illumined have full bright.
    Wast thou not of our English all the light,
    Surmounting every tongue terrestrial,
    As far as Mayë’s morrow does midnight?


    1. Alf Baird says:

      Dunbar wis wirkin fir King James, maistly tae entertain. Ye shuidna pit ony lippen oan ony peyed rogue sic sae thon, or ony ither body peyed tae jeest in ony court.

      Fact is maist Scots fowk e’en thir days spik Scots an thare’s nae wey ye shuid dout thon, e’en tho we can aw unnerstaund English anaw as hit wis garred doon wir thrapples whither we likit or no.

    2. Seumas Mì-Rìoghachd MacTalla says:

      English is not a term of insult despite what modern Scots enthusiasts seem to believe. Its the normal every day word that was used by English speakers in Scotland before they started using the name of Gaelic for their language and calling Scots Irish.

      1. Seumas Mì-Rìoghachd MacTalla says:

        Incedentally, its probably down to royals and their sycophants that this change happened in the first place, ie ordinary people didnt care whether their language was called English or not.

  4. Alec says:

    I’m impressed by the grammar and syntax. Perfect English!

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