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The Jewel on the Doorstep: The Place of Scottish Literature in Schools

Alan MacGillivray

(An edited version of a paper given at the Education Conference of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 5th October, 2009)

Just over twelve years ago, along with a number of other teachers, I was working on a book for Edinburgh University Press, rather ponderously entitled Teaching Scottish Literature: Curriculum and Classroom Applications. That book is still with us today, I’m glad to say, with all its pithy wisdom and witty no-nonsense pragmatism. In that book, behind the particular applications of Scottish language, literature and culture to different stages of the school and the many exemplars that were created to demonstrate their possibilities, there lay a basic premise that all of us in the Association for Scottish Literary Studies subscribe to, that many teachers and educational thinkers agree with, and that has never been challenged by any sustainable argument, any rational case, any set of ideas that stand up to even a cursory inspection. I stress the word, never, without any fear of contradiction. Over more than forty years of engaging with the task, the struggle, the frustrating and unending push against the inert resistance of Scottish educational and political officialdom. I have never heard a single attempt at a thoughtful response, a single rationally expressed sentence, a single fragment or shard of sensible disagreement that could be held up as opposition to the basic premise I was alluding to. And what is that basic premise? It is quite simply that Scottish children being educated in the schools of Scotland have the inalienable right to learn about the culture of Scotland (including inevitably its languages and literature), and the Scottish educational system should confirm this right absolutely and unarguably within its curricular and assessment requirements. Every country in the world does this for its own culture, including our great neighbour to the south, and the other nations of the British Isles. Scotland is out of step with the world. Has nobody in Scottish government ever noticed this?

In writing the introduction to the book in 1997, I made use of a major Scottish literary source, a poem that is concerned with Scottish education of a kind, that addresses major issues of Scottish government, but one that, because of the centuries’ long acquired habit among educated Scots of ignoring their own culture and traditions, has been largely forgotten. This poem is by the Scottish poet who was the most widely popular among the Scottish people before the advent of Robert Burns. The poet is Sir David Lyndsay and the poem is his allegorical work, “The Dreme”, addressed to the young king James V, to whom he was a companion and tutor. Like so many great poems of the medieval and Renaissance periods, and so many more recent poems from Burns down to MacDiarmid, Lyndsay’s poem is constructed as a vision, and it may be all the more effective for being so. We could do with some visions about our lives and our society. “Where there is no vision, the people perish,” Miss Jean Brodie said. Politicians and administrators seem to fear the vision thing, perhaps because it has a way of making their tabulated aims and targets and mission statements look petty, timid and uninspired. Lyndsay’s Dreme is cosmic in conception, and yet it has a solid kernel of wordly reality. At its heart there lies a signpost or two for Scottish education which could be profitably followed by the educational establishment.

Lyndsay, as is the way with medieval poets, has spent a sleepless night with heavy thoughts preying upon his mind, and so gets up early as the January day begins to lighten. He wraps up warm with cloak and hood, a double layer of socks on his feet, and warm mittens on his hands, and sallies forth to have a walk upon one of the beaches of his native Fife. The weather is appropriate to the season and the place, and the birds are lamenting the absence of the warmth and brightness of spring and summer, a dreich east coast day in fact, and Lyndsay is glad, after his walk along the beach at low tide, to find shelter in a handy cave in the cliff-face. As poets do in the unlikeliest of circumstances, he intends to do some writing, but can’t think of anything to write (a normal condition for the writer) and sits idly doing nothing until he nods off and falls into a deep sleep. It is at this point that the poem moves from a kind of realism influenced by a pre-Wordsworthian empathy with nature into the full-blown allegorical mode. The poet dreams and the dream is an ordered working-out of a sophisticated view of the universe and society. Through the dream-experience of the poet, we are shown matters that we ought to know about. For Lyndsay, of course, it is a part of his duty as usher to inform and educate his young charge, the boy-king, James V. The future ruler must have a grasp of the current view of the universe in material and spiritual terms, of this earthly world so far as the knowledge of the time permitted, and of the place of his realm of Scotland within these larger contexts. For us, more than five hundred years down the line, the rationale for reading “The Dreme” must be different but it is still both relevant and timely.

As in all explorations of new territory, a guide will be of service. For Dante, through the Inferno and Purgatory, it is the poet Virgil. For Lyndsay in his dream universe it is a beautiful woman, Dame Remembrance. Lyndsay here is evoking more than the personal memory of the dreamer; what is being shown in the dream is more than the things that have already been learned and experienced by one person through life and education, and that are capable of recall. He seems to be creating Dame Remembrance as the means of access to the accumulated knowledge, experience and tradition of the community, the people, the nation. For our purposes, it might be most helpful to regard Dame Remembrance as a symbolic representation of an education system, not just the real system that may exist in the real world, but a visionary system, an ideal that can be created from our imaginations and aspirations.

The lessons that Lyndsay has Dame Remembrance articulate for the young James V are specific to his time and his intended station. There is a kind of revisiting of the territory of Dante in a tour of Hell where corrupt churchmen and wicked tyrannical kings are seen suffering torments for their misdeeds and fallings-off from the high expectations of their office. High-born lords and ladies are enduring agonies of punishment for their ostentatious displays of pride, extravagance, avarice and lust (It must be said that Lyndsay particularly lingers on the sufferings of the ladies). All ranks of society get their particular come-uppance. Dame Remembrance then flips the dreamer off on a rapid tour of Purgatory, Limbo, the spheres of the fixed planets (this is a pre-Copernican universe), and Heaven with Christ in majesty among the angels, saints and the redeemed souls of the virtuous. It is the basic instruction in cosmology and religion that precedes the geography lesson. The dreamer is then shown the Earth, its dimensions, its seas and continents (excluding America), with a brisk run-down of the main countries, especially in Europe. The lesson culminates with a view of the Earthly Paradise, Eden, which has its physical presence in the geographical context. However, the real nitty-gritty comes when the dreamer asks for a view of Scotland. “Weill, sonne,” says Dame Remembrance, like a kind auntie, “that sall I tak on hand.” And she shows him the Islands of Britain and Ireland, with England in the south, “ane full riche countre”, and Scotland to the north with all its islands. The relative poverty of Scotland is not stated, but clearly implied. Yet it is anything but an absolute poverty. The dreamer observes that the land of Scotland is very well endowed: an abundance of natural commodities to sustain and enhance the lives of the people; a beautiful and fertile landscape that can be productive, profitable and pleasurable in equal measure; a people who are attractive, ingenious, strong and resilient. Why, he asks Dame Remembrance, do riches not abound in this land? What is “the principall cause quhareof we ar so pure”? And, of course, Dame Remembrance goes off into full political lecture mode, suited to the young king who is being instructed. Failures in government policy and in the justice system, royal negligence in the past, indifference to the welfare of the common people, etc.: it is laid on thick. And, to add weight to the lecture, in comes the perfect visual aid, the ragged sorrowful wasted figure of the typical Scotsman, Jhone the Commoun Weill, Jock Aabodie, going into exile, driven from his home by lawlessness, corruption and oppression, crying out against the law, the Church, the nobility, the Highland outlaws, the haill clanjamfrie. If he is to stay in his own land and live a peaceful, prosperous and happy life, the new king has got to get a grip and sort the whole mess out. There you are, young Jamie, that’s your task for tomorrow. And Lyndsay’s Dream moves to its end, with a rude awakening as Dame Remembrance leads him back to the seaside cave where he lies sleeping, and, in a surreal conclusion to his dream, a warship appears off the Fife coast, fires off its guns and jerks him back to reality. True writer that he is, Lyndsay hurries back home to have breakfast and write down all the details of the dream before they fade from his memory.

So what has all this to do with us as we contemplate the cosmos of Scottish education? I was coming to that. As Robert Henryson knew, every fable has to have its “moralitas”, its explanation and point. As I said at the beginning, I have drawn on this literary illustration before, in the introduction to the book, Teaching Scottish Literature, in which I used these words:

“...one of the things that (we) will realise, or be reminded of by ... Dame Remembrance, is that Scotland is a rich nation in its literary culture. Just as Lyndsay sees the wealth of Scotland in terms of its natural resources of food in the plant and animal life on land and the fish in its seas, its extensive mineral deposits and the positive qualities of its people, so (we) should be able to see the cultural wealth of (our nation) in terms of the linguistic resources of three languages – Gaelic, Scots and English – expressed orally and in literature, the sophisticated variety of a literature that has always had a European dimension and been part of the great cultural movement of our civilisation, and the strength of an individuality created by the specific qualities of Scotland and its peoples.

“Why therefore, we might ask with Sir David Lyndsay, should these riches not redound within this realm, or be displayed to the advantage both of themselves and the (nation) they adorn?”

In order to answer that question, it is going to be necessary to make a long overdue foray into territory that educationists have tended to fight shy of entering, perhaps partly out of a natural distaste, but to some extent certainly out of timidity in attempting to operate in an unfamiliar environment. Yet this timidity is unfounded, and any distaste must be overcome. The environment in question is the arena of politics and public administration, and it is too important and too relevant to the topic we are considering to be left unaddressed. Scottish education, like all Scottish life, whether or not some people try to deny it, exists in a very political context. That has always been the case. There has never been a time since John Knox made his pronouncements on the need for the Scottish people to be literate that Scottish education and the decisions that shape it have been uninfluenced by the political climate of the day.

The traditional system of Scottish secondary education, based on senior secondary and junior secondary schools, all resolutely streamed throughout, was structured according to a politically motivated ideology of fitting people into social categories for life, depending on their performance in a pre-teen qualifying examination. The class-based unfairness of that system was blatant. The comprehensive system that succeeded it, which most of those active in education will have experienced, tried to marry a basic shared education for children of all levels of ability with a idealistic flexibility in practice that would cater for differing intellectual, physical and psychological needs. All practising teachers are aware of the problems and pressures of that system, and of how a political aim of social fairness has in fact produced both an even more marked post-code class division by where your school happens to be and a resulting parentally-inspired gold-rush for the best placements. The system of education that now seems to be emerging, and which teachers are being expected to implement, is equally political in its business-management-inspired reliance on targets and performance indicators and production models to meet employment market demands. Politics are always paramount. Which brings us inevitably to the politicians, and equally inevitably to their side-kicks, the civil servants.

The three successive Scottish education systems I have described have each been driven by a characteristic political ideology (I refuse to use the word “philosophy”). In turn, these have been Conservative, Old Labour and New Labour. And up to last year, Scottish education has been directed by politicians in these moulds. Decades of London-controlled administrations have appointed Secretaries for Education, often in rapid bewildering succession, to supervise shifts and turns in Scottish educational policy; the one constant element throughout has been, under a set of changing initials, the Scottish Education Department. This is a civil service department whose personnel have remained much more steady and consistent over the years than their political masters, so that inevitably their influence on the changing educational policies has been very significant, while remaining often almost invisible.

It is time to return to our true subject and ask the question, “What has been the effect of all this on Scottish culture, particularly Scottish literature, in the schools?”

I wish I could report that things were fine. A Scottish administration, run by Scottish politicians, supported by Scottish civil servants (bearing Scottish names, and mostly with Scottish educational backgrounds and sporting Scottish accents), bearing in mind their national cultural responsibilities to Scottish children in Scottish schools staffed by Scottish teachers, might reasonably be expected to organise the best conditions and make the necessary reasonable requirement within a wider cultural framework for the teaching of Scottish literature, among other cultural issues, as something that future citizens of Scotland are entitled to. Alas, no such luck. This Scottish Government, like all its predecessors, seem totally unprepared to make the natural, the right, the most rational and probably the most popular decision that it could make on behalf of Scottish children’s understanding of their own country. Scottish children remain without any guarantees that they will have access as of right to their particular cultural heritage. Unlike the fortunate children in nearly all other countries in the world, vis-a-vis their own national culture, as I have said before. Who are these people who deny them their rights? And who gave them the authority to do this?

To begin with the politicians. Perhaps we should not judge them too harshly. Like most of the people in Scotland today, they have emerged from that education system that has consistently placed little value on Scottish literature and language. They have been taught by teachers who similarly have had a Scottish schooling that lacked these components. No wonder that they do not have a strong awareness of anything there that specially needs defending or promoting. Like most of the Scottish population, they think it is mainly to do with Robert Burns and not much else. The notion that they and the children for whose education they hold responsibility are the direct inheritors of a fifteen-hundred-year old tradition of speech and writing is a strange and alien idea. There is a mind-set that resists arguments, however rational and convincing, and evidence, however solid and massive. Take that in conjunction with one of the hard facts of politics, that politicians take a long time to master and fully comprehend their ministerial briefs and remain largely in timid thrall to the civil servants who have been in post through successive administrations. A combination of ignorance and timidity in educational matters is a powerful disincentive against making the simple political decision that is all this matter requires. The politicians need to realise that education is not rocket science. It is not something to be left only to supposed experts who will produce the goods. I think we have ample evidence that the committees and working groups of educationists and seconded teachers have only ever the vaguest of notions about what the goods should be. The politicians are supposed to have the vision and to inspire it in others. They are also supposed to be cynically aware of what will benefit their own image in the eyes of the public. Can both these purposes can be easily allied in one political move? It has been successfully done before, in the recent past. Back in the earlier years of this millennium, along with other interested parties, the ASLS began promoting the idea that Scotland should have its own Poet Laureate. After an initial conversation and follow-up correspondence which, as ASLS President, I had with the then Minister for Culture, Frank McAveety, more serious and wide-ranging discussions began and the idea was gradually borne in upon the Labour Executive that this was actually an issue that was both the right thing to do and something that would be of political benefit. Hence we now have Edwin Morgan as the Scots Makar, not the best of titles, but signifying a real recognition of an important Scottish literary dimension. Forget the jokes about the pies, Frank McAveety deserves all credit for actively espousing the cause of Scottish literature. Where he has gone, why should the current Government fear to follow?

But what about the civil servants and professional educationists who have had the major influence over what happens in schools with Scottish literature, etc.? It has to be said that, in the National Poet of Scotland negotiations, the role of the civil service was pretty dubious. The initial reaction to the proposal was one of guarded hostility, raising objections almost as a matter of duty. It was a reaction that had to change once the politicians got on to the bandwagon, but the feeling must remain that if it had remained up to the Civil Service, none of it would have happened. People have often said that the role of the Civil Service in Scotland has traditionally been that of a colonial administration ensuring that the interests of the London Government remained paramount. Hence manifestations of a national sentiment were to be discreetly discouraged, damped down, ignored and, in the last resort, effectively opposed. Traces of that may still linger on. I can give an example from the last decade of the last century. In 1998 the Central Committee for the Curriculum (now superseded by Learning and Teaching Scotland) received a report from a working party called the Review of Scottish Culture Group. This report had the strongly focused remit of developing the ways in which Scottish cultural components might be incorporated into the curriculum of primary and secondary schools. Like very many of the reports on education that were produced in earlier decades, the report was eloquently and gracefully written. It pre-dated the current fashion for clunking nebulous abstractions interspersed with complex tables and high-stacked boxes of points to be ticked. It set out clearly the arguments, the evidence, the resources, the possibilities for a coherent Scottish curriculum within the wider educational context, and rejected the idea of an unplanned, optional, laissez-faire approach through random and patchy provision in favour of the clear specification of a Scottish element in national programmes and syllabuses and, where appropriate, in attainment targets. Perhaps most significantly, the report stated that the experience of Scottish culture should be part of a continuous entitlement for all learners across the curriculum, well-resourced, organised and coherent. One would have expected that such proposals would have merited wide dissemination and serious consideration by educationists and the public at large. Yet what was the response to this report of the Central Committee for the Curriculum, the body that had commissioned it. What was the attitude of the Scottish Office behind the CCC? They rejected it, refused to publish it, tried to suppress it. Within a year, to cover the gap, another document was rushed out, written anonymously and probably within the Education Department, inadequately edited and clunkingly-written, entitled “The School Curriculum and the Culture of Scotland”. It omitted everything that made the original report convincing and cogent and practical, and was widely seen as an incompetent fudge. Understandably, it was received by the teaching profession with derision. It has hardly been heard of since, although Learning and Teaching Scotland still stocks it. As for the original Report, it needs updating to take account of later developments, but it should be essential reading for all, including ministers and civil servants, who wish to understand the issues involved in providing Scottish culture effectively in the schools at all levels. But perhaps the urge to censor the clear rational Scottish Enlightenment voice still pertains in the corridors of power.

One further, more recent, example of how officialdom works against Scottish literature will suffice. Following immediately upon the introduction of Standard Grade courses, the Scottish Examination Board made three attempts to revise the assessment of Higher Grade English, and some hard-won concessions were briefly obtained. In 1989 the syllabus labelled Revised Higher included specified Scottish texts for the first time, albeit in an optional literature section. This arrangement operated successfully until 1998 when the ambitious revisions of the Higher Still programme replaced it by internal assessment of an obligatory response to a Scottish text of the student’s own choice. However, in reaction to the justifiable complaints by teachers that the cumulative demands now being made were excessive, an ad hoc group was set up to review the whole of Higher English and recommend some alterations and pruning. This group worked quickly under Government pressure and came up with a number of proposals that were quickly implemented. One of the things that disappeared was this specification of possible Scottish literary texts. Even some members of the ad hoc group are not clear how this was agreed and on what basis. Its retention within the existing Higher recommendations would not have affected the overall assessment load, which remained the same for coursework. But it happened and the Scottish text element has not been reinstated. Currently the battle for it still goes on.

In the most recent discussions with officials on this matter, a slightly new set of buzz words and possible stalling devices has put in an appearance. The words that now are likely to appear as ammunition against the embedding of Scottish literature in the curriculum are “tokenism” and “narrowing”. With “tokenism” the argument is that any inclusion of a compulsory Scottish element in the Higher can only be a token gesture, a single text, a mere nod in the direction of what is right and proper. Therefore, and this is the subtle bit of the argument, since tokenism is by definition undesirable, it is best not to do anything at all. One would have thought that the rational response would be to make a fuller commitment to the issue, thus knocking tokenism out of the picture completely. But clearly I went to the wrong Logic class. The other word, “narrowing”, as in “narrowing of the literature syllabus”, refers to the perceived undesirable effect of bringing in a presumably lightweight and inferior Scottish text into a school literature programme, thus diluting the broad, comprehensive, well-planned, liberal and humane literature syllabus that is apparently thought to generally exist in Scottish schools. I think we could all agree that the use of these words “tokenism” and “narrowing” is more revealing of the level of ignorance of the quality and range of Scottish literature that prevails in influential quarters than of anything else. The final point I would make in this connection relates to a current, rather feeble, stalling device that has begun to appear in official pronouncements, to the effect that it is not possible to make any immediate changes in respect of Scottish literature in the Highers, because the current requirements at different levels, which are presumably inscribed in stone, could be upset. Therefore, the whole matter must wait until a later stage in the Curriculum for Excellence development before any decision can be reached. By which time, some may hopefully expect, a new delaying tactic will have been found. Those who have grown grey-haired in pursuing the cause of Scottish culture in schools may be forgiven for being cynical about the political and governmental environment they have had to enter and engage with.

I think the lesson from these episodes is clear, although it has taken a long time for most of us to realise it. We have to grasp the undeniable fact that, within Scotland, under all the surface good-natured approval, smiling nods of support, warm references to how great Scottish culture is – Oh, I’ve always loved the ballads – My, isn’t Burns wonderful! – I like to hear the auld Scots tongue – we’re the best small country in the world – there is in some quarters a skulking streak of hostility to things Scottish, particularly if they are undeniably good and artistically successful. What is merely pawky, or mediocre, or parochial is fine. That is not a threat; it can always be patronisingly accepted. What has to be resisted is anything that demonstrates that Scotland has produced strong individual and independent voices, creative minds that can reach out to the young and show them that their community, their nation, has its own individual and independent value. That is what panics the Establishment horses, shows up the numpties, undermines the Anglicising tendency of the socially-insecure. And where can this hostility be found? It lurks anonymously in the corridors and offices of government, rumbles in school staffrooms, whispers in the media planning suites, occasionally snarling audibly in editorials and debates. It never ever justifies itself with reasons or facts, because on its side of the fence these crutches do not exist. It is the product solely of cultural ignorance and apparently invincible prejudice.

On its own, perhaps, this hostility might be tolerated and even bypassed. Being realistic, there have always been Scots who don’t like Scotland, and there always will be. Somebody, I forget who, said, “I love Scotland, but I wouldn’t trust it an inch.” There’ll always be people in it ready to let it, and you, down. So always keep an eye on it, and never turn your back. We could live with that. However, this hostility has a powerful ally. It can always rely on inertia to do much of its work for it. If lovers of Scottish literature are happy to let the teaching of it remain an option, to rely on the good instincts of English teachers and departments to give it a fair place in their programmes, then I’m afraid they are deluding themselves. They may think, by believing the fair words of Learning and Teaching Scotland, they are giving the best opportunity for it to happen. In reality they are giving a licence for it to be ignored. The real underlying message to teachers is, “You don’t need to do this if you don’t want to. You don’t need to make the effort.” And very many English teachers and departments will gladly, even enthusiastically, take advantage of this licence. They will do nothing. And so the enemies of Scottish literature will have won again.

The irony of it all is that there are so few of them that really count. If we were to collect together all those who have shown the will and had the influence, the necessary clout, to impede and to go on impeding the implementation of this most desirable of Scottish educational reforms, there would hardly be enough of them to fill a shoogly charabanc. This contest for the cultural health of Scotland is basically a no-show. Persuade them, if at all possible, to come out blinking into the sunlight and we shall find that they have nothing to say, no arguments to put forward in support of their prejudices, no credibility of any kind.

And what do the proponents of Scottish literature and culture have on their side? Let me summarise.

  1. A powerful set of arguments based on reason and good sense – it is the most natural course imaginable to provide Scottish culture to the young people of Scotland in Scottish schools.
  2. The example of every other established country in the world in requiring its own culture to be promoted in its educational system.
  3. The true nature and quality of Scottish literature and culture, as distinct from the ignorant set of preconceptions current among the ill-informed, that is, rich in its linguistic variety, its social and aesthetic diversity, its breadth and longevity, its relevance to modern life and its inter-connectedness with the larger European and global culture.
  4. A large and growing store of resources for teaching Scottish literature in the classroom, the kind of provision made by the ASLS over many years: texts and teaching materials; critical texts to help teachers in evaluating and contextualising what they wish to teach; back-up provision for teacher education through college and university courses, and increasingly on the Internet.

What more might be of benefit to this endeavour? I would like to think that there is room in our educational service for a Standing Cultural Advisory Group, made up of people who are actually knowledgeable in the specific areas of Scottish culture (literature, language, history, drama, music, etc.), rather than the current trendy suspect reliance on the limited knowledge and judgements of non-specialists (businessmen, journalists, social workers, public relations consultants, and the like). Such an advisory group could have a very specific remit and a defined time-frame to work within, to avoid its being tarred with the dread name of Quango. Equally, I am attracted to the notion that all civil servants and local government officials should be required to acquire credits in Scottish Studies courses as part of their Diploma or Degree in Public Administration, so that they might have some actual knowledge about the country they are engaged in administering.

This article began with an example from Scottish literature, “The Dreme” of Sir David Lyndsay, to focus the topic. Let it end similarly. In the first of his “Morall Fabillis”, one of the truly great but insufficiently recognised Scottish poets, Robert Henryson, tells the story of the cock who, in the course of his scratching for food around the back-yard, comes across a fine jewel. This jewel has been carelessly swept out of the house and lost. The cock eyes it beadily and moralises about its significance and relevance to his life. He finally rejects it as not being of any use to him, on the grounds that it may be beautiful and highly prized by others with a superficial set of values, but it does not compare with the basic food and necessities of his own life. He leaves it lying and continues in search of worms and grubs and ears of corn. It seems a good utilitarian down-to-earth philosophy, a practical ‘moralitas’ for a farmyard bird. However, Henryson sternly rejects this superficial worldly interpretation. There is a higher and truer interpretation of this fable. The cock is profoundly and foolishly mistaken in his view of the jewel, an unthinking ignoramus. The jewel signifies wisdom and learning, a knowledge that enhances human life, and shines with lustrous colours as enduring riches not to be spurned by the wise and thoughtful. There is a parallel here for us. Knowledge of the rich Scottish tradition in literature, a jewel of our culture, has been carelessly swept out of the auld hoose to lie unknown and neglected. Those who find it and try to estimate its worth too often apply the wrong standards of value; they set it against apparently more utilitarian and mundane considerations – the job market, useful qualifications, apprenticeships, basic communication, social skills – all very valuable in warstling alang through life. And they wrongly reject the jewel. What they cannot or will not see is the real higher value of the treasure, the knowledge that it holds of Scottish tradition and identity and original creativity, the capacity that it has to enhance the lives of those who acquire it, to help form the informed critical readers and thinkers of a humane and outward-looking Scotland.

We have to keep believing in this jewel that is ours. We have to keep agitating for Scottish literature to be given its rightful and required place within the larger context of good literature wherever it may come from. And that means continuing to demand that it feature as of right within the Certificate examinations with Scottish texts identified as such. It means continuing to argue for a Scottish element within the curriculum at all stages, required as a basic starting point in all programme planning, not something alluded to as a notional desirable possibility in vague phraseology within a few boxes amid the verbiage of a tediously written official document. It means arguing for the provision of adequate teacher education in Scottish language and literature at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. It means continuing to lobby Scottish government at all levels for a clear and unambiguous statement and decision on the matter. It means continuing to seek support among teachers as a whole for something that they will find personally rewarding, professionally satisfying and daily enjoyable as an escape from the restricted and self-perpetuating selection of texts that make up the literature curriculum in the schools today.

If we keep at it, as some have been doing for more years than they care to remember, perhaps one day we shall have a Scottish Education Secretary who will find the will and the chutzpah to say, Enough is enough. This demeaning and evasive buck-passing has gone on too long. This is how it will be. Scottish literature and culture will be a requirement in all Scottish schools. Our children deserve it as their right. It only takes one person in the proper place to say this, and the whole shoddy official charade will end. The pissing-about will have to stop.

So why are we waiting?


Alan MacGillivray has been a Principal Teacher of English, a Senior Lecturer at Jordanhill College of Education and Honorary Lecturer in Scottish Literature at Strathclyde University. He is a Past President of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, and has written and edited extensively on Scottish literary topics. He also writes and publishes poetry in Scots and English.

(The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, arising out of his experience and observation of Scottish education from the inside over the last fifty years.)


Copyright © Alan MacGillivray 2010


Last updated 18 August 2010.