WORDS: Traditional

Share
Related Topics
DAVID BLUNKETT, echoing his master's voice, has told the schools they must spend more time teaching what one newspaper called "traditional moral values". Taken by itself, this is an unhelpful phrase. It's not so much the moral that's the problem; if you ask almost any teacher what he or she means by moral they will probably say they mean things like keeping out of trouble, standing by the pregnant girlfriend and observing as many as they can remember of the Ten Commandments. Not much disagreement there, provided that they keep the lesson simple. Nor need we linger over values, which, as I have said here before, is just a cant word for what grandfather would have called virtues.

No, traditional is the fuzzy one. It started off all right, though there was a slight blip in the 15th century because the Latin traditio meant a delivery, or surrender, and some people took tradition to mean betrayal, as to an enemy. But mostly it meant what it roughly does today: less of a handing over, more of a handing down, probably by word of mouth, like traditional folk music. A tradition wasn't something you argued about. It was passed from the parent to the child who passed it on in turn. It was received wisdom.

There came a point, however, when this perfectly simple and generally understood meaning began to lose its shape. Instead of thinking of traditional as being about something that had survived, established by time, people thought of it as meaning "old" if not positively old-fashioned and out- of-date. It's hard to say when this happened. Shakespeare has the Duke of Buckingham in King Richard III telling Cardinal Bourchier that he's "too ceremonious and traditional", but we are expected to be on the cardinal's side here, because the Duke was a baddy who wanted to kidnap the queen's little son, and Shakespeare was a traditionalist himself. The big 1989 Oxford English Dictionary has "bound by tradition" as one of its definitions, with an ill-tempered quote from Milton about people who were "as ignorant and traditional as their forefathers", but it labels this use "obsolete" and "rare". I wonder. It must have been rare enough then, but it's surely no longer obsolete now. The OED defines traditionalism as, among other things, "excessive reverence for tradition" (my italics) and dates this meaning from 1860. Chesterton called tradition "the democracy of the dead" in 1908, and 40 years later there was a scramble to be less ceremonious and traditional among the traditional public schools, when they realised that education was not, after all, a matter of Greek paradigms and when to do up which waistcoat buttons.

To be traditional, then, is as often a bad thing as a good one, with the balance slightly in favour of the bad. Those who ask for a "return to traditional values" are implying that tradition is good, but also that it is old-fashioned, values having changed. The problem for the hapless teachers now being lectured by the Education Secretary is therefore obvious. How far back do they go? How traditional do we want them to get? Who knows? Leave 'em alone, Mr Blunkett.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones