AT WHAT point should we begin to worry about undue influences on our children? According to the new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, this should be when they are still in nappies.
When Morgan took over from the ousted Michael Gove, early indications were that she would be a more emollient presence. While it is too soon to say yet, the new Education Secretary did make a slightly bonkers speech last week, asserting that toddlers must learn British values.
That seems a little tough on the tots, if you ask me. I’m not even that sure about British values myself and I’m old enough to match in age a roomful of toddlers.
Before progressing further with this topic, I would like to draw attention to how The Daily Telegraph covered this story. The splash headline “Toddlers at risk from extremists” ran across the top of the page – not that far above a picture of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with their toddler prince. Thanks to Twitter for pointing me in the direction of that happy conjunction.
Here we are, facing a roomful of toddlers, all eager to hear about British values and keen that their young minds shouldn’t be warped. So what does the Education Secretary wish to impart to her young audience. Well, here goes...
“One of the most important roles of the education system is that it should prepare young people for life in modern Britain...”
The toddlers in the audience are beginning to shuffle on their nappies, so hopefully this won’t take long.
“I am clear,” the stern-looking woman at the front of the nursery class continues, “that public money should not be used to support any school or early years provider that does not support this aim because it seeks to promote ideas and teachings that run counter to fundamental British values.”
“Please, Miss,” one of the toddlers (possibly a columnist in the making) interjects, “what on earth are you talking about?”
“What I mean, little matey, is that toddlers as young as two should be taught fundamental British values in an age-appropriate way.”
“Pardon me, Miss, but isn’t this really inventing a problem that doesn’t really exist just so that you can be seen to be doing something? And, while I’m getting agitated sitting here in my nappy on such a hot day, isn’t this just another of those policies announced to win back Tory voters who might be tempted to vote for Ukip? Oh, and can we now play in the sandpit in an age-appropriate and fundamentally non-offensive manner, please, Miss?”
At which the new Education Secretary thanks her lucky stars that she is in charge of teachers rather than being one...
So what are fundamental British values, exactly? This is an honestly put question from a fully grown-up, non toddler person who would like to know. I suspect that what we should be teaching our toddlers in as non-boring a way as possible are basic, decent human values of kindness, thoughtfulness, equality and thinking of others, and so on. In other words, basic human values, not necessarily British ones. Shoving “British” in front of values sounds robust and may well comfort those of a certain age and inclination. But it doesn’t really mean a lot, does it?
This, by the way, is not to do down Britain – merely to point out the absurdity of introducing British values while discussing early years education. Me and Postman Pat are at one on that.
ON BBC4 the other night there was a programme called Great Poets In Their Own Words. Among those featured was the York-born poet WH Auden, seen in a clip from the Michael Parkinson show in 1972.
Two things were noteworthy about this. One: Auden, with his magnificently raddled face, as fatigued as an old leather chair, lit up a cigarette during this interview. And two: that all that time ago, smoking poets appeared on prime-time television to discuss lofty intellectual ideas, something which would be much less likely nowadays.
There weren’t many channels then, of course, and now television is fractured and layered, with so much available and correspondingly little to watch.
That said, BBC4 usually has something or other of interest, from Scandi crime to arty discourses, so not all is lost.