Shortly after the introduction of the English National Curriculum in 1989, I was fortunate to be selected as part of a group charged with the responsibility of providing guidance and materials, to ensure that the content of this new framework was accessible for pupils with special educational needs. I often reflect upon this formative time in my career, when I worked alongside a dynamic team of colleagues from whom I learned much, sharing our experiences and given the privileged position of time to debate curriculum issues, and explore a range of pedagogical initiatives. From our base in Cambridge we had opportunities to work in schools in many parts of the country as we developed and trialled resources and approaches to differentiated learning and providing access for pupils with diverse needs.
In a highly charged atmosphere, where at times professional differences and tensions came to the surface (though enduring friendships were made), we often disputed ideas and argued about curriculum priorities and children’s needs. As a team committed to improving education for children who were often marginalised, I believe that all of us anticipated that the curriculum would continue to change and recognised that priorities would shift according to national requirements and political whims. We also felt that such debate was a healthy process within any education system that exists within a democratic country.
I still uphold a strong belief, that in order to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all learners, it is critical to keep the content of the curriculum and the ways in which it is delivered to the forefront of our thinking in schools. There will always be differences of opinion with regards to whether greater emphasis should be given to one subject over another, or about the place of the arts or sciences in the education of children, but yesterday I read a news item which felt more like an excerpt from science fiction rather than the product of a serious educational discussion. Sadly, having probed the report further I find that what I had hoped was some strange form of fantasy, is in fact a chilling account of a discussion currently taking place in South Carolina in the USA.
A proposal currently being considered within South Carolina would see December 15th each year celebrated as Second Amendment Awareness day. For any reader who is unaware, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. This, unsurprisingly has been a source of considerable debate within the United States for many years, with both pro-gun lobbies and those who would like to see the abolition of this right, locked in fierce arguments. Yet it is not simply this altercation between factions holding polarised views that caught my attention yesterday, but rather a suggestion that amendments should be made to the State school curriculum to ensure that all children are taught about their rights to bear arms and the handling of guns.
Chuck Scott from the Gun Rack Range, in Aiken, South Carolina states that:
“The earlier kids learn to be safe and have proper instruction the safer they’re going to be and the less accidents they’re going to have.”
He further stated that:-
“Kids need to know what it’s about and why it’s so important and that’s what sets us apart from other countries.”
The article reporting this latest potential curriculum initiative on WRDW News (Sunday, December 28th, 2014), tells us that “In 2010, 15,576 children and teenagers were injured by firearms across the country, (USA), guns kill twice as many children and young people than cancer.”
Mr Scott is of course right, if people are to be encouraged to carry lethal weapons, then it is to be hoped that they are taught how to handle these safely. I am sure that members of the armed forces and police officers undertaken stringent training in this regard as part of their professional development. However, this proposed addition to the curriculum is not advocated for those for whom it could legitimately be argued must be appropriately trained for when they may be called upon to use firearms, but for children, the majority of whom will hopefully never have such a need.
Clearly, as I am not an American citizen I can express an opinion of this situation only as an outsider with limited experience of the context. There are nonetheless, several issues here that give me cause to question the appropriateness of this proposal. Firstly, according to Mr Scott the National Rifle Association (who describe themselves on their website as “America’s longest-standing civil rights organization”), will develop the curriculum to be applied in schools. I find it strange that such an important and presumably controversial educational initiative should be placed in the hands of an organisation that sits outside of the usual educational legislative process. Are democratically appointed education policy makers in South Carolina prepared to abdicate their legislative responsibilities to an unelected interest group? If so, it seems to me that this could be a dangerous precedent and may open the floodgates for other interest groups to exert pressure for change.
A second factor within this report that I found particularly interesting was Mr Scott’s notion that the right to bear arms is “what sets us apart from other countries.” I am sure that for many of us who live in these “other countries”, when we think about what is good about that nation, the carrying of guns comes a long way down the list (if indeed it appears at all!). Is this really what Mr Scott and his friends would wish to single out as a distinguishing feature of his proud nation? I suspect that there are many other citizens of his country who may feel less than comfortable with this suggestion.
I am aware that within the United States of America, there are many who in challenging the proliferation and greater sophistication of publically held weapons are held up to ridicule and abuse. Should you doubt this to be the case, you might be interested to follow the stream of vitriol aimed at Cliff Schecter, an American journalist who wrote an article titled “Learning Nothing? The Gun Battle Since Newtown 14.12.14) http://linkis.com/XmsjA . In this article he provides a chilling list of eighty eight education establishments where students and teachers have been killed or maimed in gun incidents in recent years. As of yesterday, 365 responses to his article (many of which are abusive in nature to say the least) had been posted, the majority suggesting that his attitude is unpatriotic and misguided.
There is no doubt that all children in schools need to be taught about the dangers surrounding firearms. But perhaps if these potentially lethal devices were not so prevalent in society there might be opportunities to address other means of creating a safe, just and more equitable world within the school curriculum. It does seem to me that the Second Amendment that is so treasured by some individuals has done little to inspire confidence that children in schools may remain safe from harm. Personally, I believe that those who carry guns pose a greater threat to the safety of children than those who choose not to do so.