Reading last Monday's (June 27) interviews in The Post with John Aldridge and Sir Robert Dowling, (head of George Dixon School), about the need to encourage children to see themselves not just as British but as citizens of both Europe and the world, and the role that the new school subject, Citizenship, plays in this process, set me thinking.
Although I am a firm believer in WH Auden's warning that "we must love one another or die", I must say I am always deeply suspicious of any new Governmentinspired addition to the school curriculum; yet another " initiative" that pushes out of the school day yet more academic "school subjects".
I wasn't any more convinced when I saw the syllabus for the citizenship course.
John Aldridge may optimistically believe the course will be instrumental in helping young people to address their role "in their local community, the UK and the world," but I suspect he is being naive.
After all, a syllabus that takes into its enormous scope everything from "rights and responsibilities, the criminal justice system, the press, Parliament, the voting system, democracy, international relations and globalisation," to mention just a few topics (all of which must be explained, debated and clarified in a couple of periods a week) seems to me to be an impossible task, no more than superficial windowdressing, especially since so many schools, beset as they are by illiteracy, classroom disruption and child deprivation won't take the subject with the seriousness it perhaps deserves.
In any case, aren't schools fighting a losing battle to make children feel European when so much of the press is so vehemently anti-Europe and TV rarely shows us our ordinary European neighbours.
To their credit, many young people show every sign of welcoming the fact of being European, unlike so many of my generation who, trapped in a Second World War timewarp, are determined not to be ruled by Germany.
Just what do we offer to our youngsters as practical help in being Europeans? We tell them they don't have to learn foreign languages, which might help them work somewhere in Europe. Those who do choose languages are taught, often by unqualified language teachers, a course that barely rises above international teen-speak, with its "hi!...cool!"
They have endless practice in shopping and writing letters to foreign penfriends - all the stuff that fossilises them in the language of the 14-yearold. These children will never become bi-lingual adults, able to hold down a job abroad.
And it gets worse. Bored to death with childish pap, fewer children do GCSEs in languages; even fewer do A-level; yet fewer do modern languages at university, so even fewer will end up teaching languages in schools.
There is a Government initiative to teach languages in primary schools, but because language teachers are so thin on the ground, such courses will be run by "volunteers."
Have we learned nothing since the early 60s, with Mrs Kellerman's Leeds experiment to teach French? Pupils had two lessons a day and were even taught maths and geography in French. With French in action every day they saw the sense in knowing another language.