Who's to say what's right and wrong?: John Patten wants morality back in the school curriculum, but is this practical in an age of diverse values? - Schools are turning into factories

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The Independent Online
Masud Hoghughi, director, Aycliffe Centre for Children, Co Durham; author of 'The Delinquent'

WE ARE not born with a conscience. We acquire it through a recognition of the outcomes of our behaviour, and eventually extrapolate from the particular to the general and learn the rules. In order to do that, you need to have the existence of certain moral rules, and exemplars for those moral rules in the people who are responsible for the child's upbringing. So you have to have parents who are capable of discerning and enforcing boundaries.

We have people in society who are so disadvantaged that they are constantly struggling to survive. If we were all uniformly poor, it wouldn't matter, but some are profoundly and undeservedly poor and they can see large groupings of other people who are not.

They may not be able to articulate that they are questioning the moral rules, but the morality of the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic tradition has no use for these children and their parents. Their rules are rules of hedonism and looking after their own immediate family - the law of the jungle and personal survival.

There is a huge amount of information about the acute ability of teachers not only to identify that a child may be going wrong, but also to have the power to do something about it.

Teachers actually have children for the larger part of their working time, more consistently and for longer than anybody else. If we could create schools in which ideas of good citizenship were being pursued by teachers, and being confirmed and reinforced by what happens outside to children, then teachers would have a significant influence in shaping children's moral behaviour. But the difficulty is that teachers are increasingly being turned into factory-style workers; we've become so preoccupied with product rather than process.

The unfortunate thing about what John Patten says is that it is about people in positions of power and wealth making statements about the children of the dangerous classes. If you treat them as pariahs, who need to have their place taken by surrogates, then you further disempower them.

The answer lies in what we can do, in this incredibly intelligent but also incredibly stupid society, to release the immense power and goodwill that exists towards refocusing our society on the family as a unit for co-operative, affectionate social living.