What do we value? Do we have to consider what we value about education as well as these “British Values” that everyone is talking about?
There’s plenty in the news about values at the moment. Every Tom, Michael and David is talking about values.
The Sun newspaper sent a ……………. how shall we put this?………… a large pamphlet that resembled the aforementioned newspaper to 22 million homes in the UK, espousing their own set of British values under the auspices of supporting the England football team in Brazil.
It was not pleasant reading.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education have explained what they think are “British Values” and it goes something like this –
“Equality (ha) between genders and tolerance of other faiths”
“All schools to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”
“Freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions.”
There are quite a few anomalies between what is said and what actions take place, and not just from politicians. Who could possibly argue against liberty, fraternity and equality? – a trilogy of words you will never hear from Mssrs Gove and Cameron because it’s far too “French”, and we all know what we think of the French because The Sun newspaper says so!
Yet, it’s the actions of virtuous living that demonstrate the real worth of those three words, not a series of explanations that flow freely from the mouths of those who then behave in a way that totally contradicts what they are saying – all in the name of values.
For example, does Mr Gove “tolerate” our right to have a different opinion about pedagogy to his own or does he rough-ride across it, belittling it and then trampling it into an underworld because it’s his values that are more important …………because he’s the one in power?
Where is the liberty to teach in the way we want to teach? Where is the liberty in learning when everything is so prescribed?
Should we really tolerate as much as we do?
We often talk in these blog posts about the brilliance of Radio Four. Here’s a small extract from the radio stations “News Quiz”. Bob Mills and his fellow contestants were discussing this whole issue of values.
Bob Mills: It’s time to draw the line. There’s going to be a line drawn in the sand because they need to promote British values but the problem is no one’s absolutely sure what “British Values” are. At the moment, the one that’s top of the list is tolerance. Apparently we are very tolerant which is the worst possible thing in the world you can be.
My neighbour is having an extension built. He’s got two little kiddies and he needs more space. He’s given me a schedule of works and the works are taking place within set times and that’s how you’re supposed to do it. And I’m a nice bloke and a good neighbour so I am tolerating the noise that is coming from the work. I don’t like it, but I’m tolerating it.
And that’s what tolerance is really – you put up with things and yet it’s supposed to be the great British value, which it never used to be. We used to accept and encourage and embrace.”
So is tolerance something that we should hold in such high esteem?
Naturally, there are some things that we should tolerate and “put up with”. To avoid a certain amount of pain and suffering we have to accept and tolerate but should we really tolerate prejudice or the suffering of others to placate our own needs and values? Should we tolerate injustice, inequality, indiscretions? Should we tolerate deception, anger, aggression? Or should we look a little deeper into why these behaviours, feelings and destructive emotions raise their ugly heads and work towards prevention rather than reaction?
“British Values” – what exactly are they? And is what I value the same as what you value?
Is it really enough to value something or should that value be virtuous?
Hitler had a set of values – ones that happened to be inhumane.
Tony Blair had a set of values – one of which led us into a war with Iraq – which 2 million British citizens took to the street to protest against because of their own set of values.
Mrs Thatcher had a set of values that essentially said ‘Look after the pounds and the pennies can go hang themselves if they haven’t got the wherewithal to climb the economic tower of opportunity.’
Is this what constitutes a British Value – that we should look after ourselves, our own needs and our own inflated egos before we consider the needs of others? As Bob Mills said in the programme when discussing the children’s game of “Pass the Parcel”……
“I’m in charge of the music and it’s my kid’s birthday. That’s British values”.
In concluding the conversation about tolerance on “The News Quiz”, Jeremy Hardy said,
“Are we really going to teach this to little kids? You can teach orphaned, traumatised refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo to say “mustn’t grumble”?”
Frank Cottrell Boyce, co-producer of the magnificent Olympic opening ceremony of all things British in 2012, wrote an interesting piece about values in the Guardian.
The headline of this piece said “You can’t teach values, British or otherwise. You can only live them.”
Within the piece he continued.
“The trouble is you can’t teach values. You transmit values by living them. Well, actually you can teach values but you need a gulag to do it in. “Values” are what we call laws or ethics when they become part of the culture. When we start to breathe them. You can’t Ofsted them into existence. I got my values from my parents, my church, from punk rock and the BBC (thank you Oliver Postgate, Blue Peter, Jackanory and John Peel – yes, I’m making a list), but most of all from how the people around me behaved. They paid their taxes, were active in their communities, welcomed strangers. Not what they said, but what they did.”
We would partially agree with this. It’s certainly what is done and not what is said that is important, and to an extent you can’t teach values – well not in the didactic, knowledge based manner that Mr Gove values. You can however, teach values through the curriculum chosen, through giving young people an opportunity to think, to discuss, to develop their own set of virtues, through demonstrating virtues. You can teach that one shouldn’t tolerate oppression, prejudice and cruelty.
You can, as Frank Cottrell Boyce suggests, transmit them, live them, demonstrate them – but in doing so those values become a shared understanding of what it means to live virtuously.
We want to do more than tolerate. We want to embrace. We want to share and jointly own those values that are virtuous – lovingkindness, empathy, consideration, compassion to name but a few. And it’s not good enough to just say they exist. We have to act in these ways to make “tolerance”, for example, a virtuous value.
If Mr Gove is really enthusiastic about teaching values in school, he might consider using our model of intelligences to look at what we could be doing. Using the model in the name of teaching and learning is one way that we could teach values and live virtuously – through determining what we actually value; a starting point for any remodelling of the aims of education.
Intellect is only one intelligence. There’s social, personal, physical and spiritual intelligence as well, and there’s the intelligence of not thinking – of our animal-like instinctual intelligence, and the intelligence of how that is used and managed. Sometimes there’s value in fight and sometimes there’s value in running away as swiftly as you can. Are we really valuing all of these intelligences in what we offer to children and young people today?
If we value more than intellect in a school setting, then we are already helping people to think about what they value and how they want to live. If we consider the importance of empathy, of caring for others as much as ourselves, then we may live with more contentedly. If we value our health and our wellbeing (and the health and wellbeing of others) as much as we value our ability to pass exams, then we might live more honestly and hopefully. If we value a child’s ability to draw as much as their ability to write, then we might be enabling a whole cohort of children who previously felt worthless.
Ask any parent what they want for their children, and the first words to escape from their mouths are usually – “to be happy”.
Isn’t that something to which we should aspire first and foremost? Should we tolerate an education system which makes many young people (and those teaching them) feel unhappy and worthless? Or should we stand up and “grumble”?
If Mr Gove wants to consider teaching “values” perhaps this last point is something that he should have considered (and valued) from the outset.