Education Quandary: 'School Cadet Corps – good or bad?'

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

I'm not going to be much help here, as I'm right there with your ambivalence.

Like you, I'm a woolly liberal, not that comfortable with seeing young teens marching and saluting. I even wonder if they can understand what they are doing. But, as a one-time enthusiastic Girl Guide, I also know the delights of dressing up, belonging to a group and acquiring new, if not very useful, skills like being able to whittle a stick and tie a reef knot.

Also, to be honest, the older I get the more I come round towards the "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells" view that discipline, order and self-restraint are pretty central to life, both for individuals and for society at large – and the more I worry that we aren't doing enough to encourage young people to set aside their rampant self-interest and be part of the greater good.

Even so, unlike the Tories – and some Labour politicians – I don't think that cadet forces and boot camps are satisfactory answers to the problems of ill-disciplined "yoof". Both seem to me like the usual off-the-peg solutions that politicians love to proffer for problems that are actually deeply entrenched and highly complex.

Probably like you, I'd be a whole lot happier seeing the boys opting for the Scouts, or the Woodcraft Folk, or a school charity, or a drama project, rather than the military. But it's their lives, and if the Cadet Corps is what they want to sign up for, I'm sure they'll get a lot out of it.

Readers' advice

First, it is the sons who will be doing all the military stuff, not the parents. They might well enjoy it. Second, has this parent heard of "learning by doing"? Practical experience will teach the boys more than any theoretical ideals.

Sally Lawton, Oxfordshire

I was a Sea Cadet between the ages of 12 and 18, and I am now a member of staff – and I feel no conflict at all with my socialist ideals. You are not forced to join the military, you are not subject to bullying or brutal "rituals" of entry. You go to have fun, with a tradition based upon the Army, the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines or the Royal Air Force. Anyone can join, regardless of sex, race, religion, politics or income.

Yes, wearing a uniform and accepting some discipline are required, but through cadets, I have learnt how to work in a team under pressure, how to inspire and how to compromise, as well as gained leadership skills, first-aid knowledge, survival techniques, self-reliance and respect – all of which have made me a better person, and well rounded in the eyes of universities and future employers. Camping, abseiling, powerboating, sailing, engineering, canoeing and flying are immensely exciting, and cadets are heavily supervised while they are shooting – and, incidentally, rifle shooting remains the only Olympic sport without a single fatality.

Kieran Miles, Croydon

See it as a rebellion against parental values. You "abhor the conformism of the military"; what about the conformism of liberalism?

John Crooks, London SW15

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary, Can you explain what all the fuss is about with the Early Years Foundation Stage? I'm a childminder, and I haven't seen anything in it that bothers me – but am I missing something? There is so much in the newspapers about it. By law, I will have to follow it in September, and I would like know now about any downsides.

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed in this column, to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address on your message. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries can be found on www.hilarywilce.com, searchable by topic.

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