Tim Lott

‘Bri­tish values’ for kids? Some of them sound rather sin­is­ter to me

The Guardian - Family - - Family - tim­lot­twriter.word­press.com

For some years now, Bri­tish schools have been for­mally re­quired to pro­mote “Bri­tish values”. Ac­cord­ing to the guide­lines, this seems to fo­cus on fairly un­con­tro­ver­sial is­sues such as democ­racy, the em­brac­ing of all faiths and the rule of law. How­ever, schools are given a fair amount of lee­way in defin­ing those values.

I was quite sur­prised though, when I went to a year 6 “meet the teacher” ses­sion for my 10-year-old daugh­ter and saw on the class­room wall a poster that de­scribed, ar­ranged as satel­lites around a cen­tral union jack, “Our Bri­tish Values”, pre­sum­ably in re­sponse to the govern­ment in­junc­tion. The poster – ac­cord­ing to my daugh­ter – ap­pears in all the class­rooms.

Some of it was mean­ing­lessly un­con­tro­ver­sial – “We Hope Other Coun­tries Stop Fight­ing” (is that a value? And shouldn’t that hope in­clude our coun­try?) and “We Hope For Peace Among All Na­tions”. Wor­thy goals, if un­achiev­able, but a fairly long way from be­ing uniquely Bri­tish, or even values for that mat­ter.

Oth­ers I found slightly sin­is­ter – for in­stance: “We Trust and Obey Our Govern­ment.” Frankly, I can’t think of a less Bri­tish value for this pro­foundly snook-cock­ing na­tion. “We Sus­pect Our Govern­ment is Al­most Cer­tainly Up to No Good” might be a bet­ter sum­ma­tion of the Bri­tish spirit.

“We Re­spect Our Govern­ment and Po­lice” – an­other of the de­clared prin­ci­ples, as if the first in­junc­tion wasn’t enough – is like­wise a bit eastern bloc c1970, par­tic­u­larly given some of the un­savoury things the po­lice have been up to in the last few decades. All this suck­ing up to the pow­ers-that-be seems a bit – well, un-Bri­tish. And “We Re­spect Those with Is­sues” – well, I’m not even sure what that means. Don’t we all have “is­sues”?

My daugh­ter’s school is a ter­rific, happy place, high-achiev­ing and wellinten­tioned. I do not wish to de­mean it – it was only do­ing its best, prob­a­bly un­der pres­sure of time, to ful­fil a rather silly govern­ment di­rec­tive. But it did set me won­der­ing – if we’re go­ing to pro­mote Bri­tish values in schools, what might be a more ac­cu­rate list?

For in­stance, in­de­pen­dence and bloody-mind­ed­ness are strong Bri­tish values. It would take a brave school to pro­mote them, given that schools, like most in­sti­tu­tions, are based on hi­er­ar­chy, order and re­spect for au­thor­ity. But such values are at least some­what na­tion-spe­cific.

A sense of hu­mour (specif­i­cally mock­ery) is also a strong Bri­tish value, but, like in­de­pen­dence of thought, some­what sub­ver­sive. And per­haps most awk­wardly of all (my daugh­ter’s is a church school), sec­u­lar­ism is a cen­tral Bri­tish value – a re­cent Win/ Gallup poll put us as the fourth least re­li­gious so­ci­ety in Europe.

What else? Scep­ti­cism, cer­tainly. The Bri­tish have a long his­tory of em­piri­cism and prag­ma­tism – we tend to doubt ev­ery­thing we are told un­til we have worked it out for our­selves. And there is our pas­sion for free­dom, as in “Bri­tons never, never, never shall be slaves”. I would add into this cat­e­gory of free­dom, free speech, which was prac­ti­cally in­vented as an idea in this coun­try and is un­der threat in some higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions (my daugh­ter’s school web­site men­tions “in­di­vid­ual lib­erty” as a ‘Bri­tish value but this fo­cuses far more on re­spon­si­bil­ity than free­dom). Chil­dren should be al­lowed free ex­pres­sion of opin­ions and thoughts, and that right should be car­ried on through­out their life.

Per­haps my Bri­tish values are out of date, and “We Toe the Of­fi­cial Line Un­der All Cir­cum­stances” should be cen­tral to the poster. Doubt­less I will find out on my next visit to the school. Then again, as far as I am con­cerned, the most Bri­tish value of all is to not give a stuff. But I don’t sup­pose that is go­ing to find its way on to the poster.

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