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Changing the future peoplescape on values

Thursday, January 23, 2014
Book Review

Wesley Gibbings
A review of Values For Life 
by St Andrew’s Theological College

St Andrew’s Theological College (SATC) has responded to a recurring call for enlightened values education in the school system with a publication that resists the difficult temptation by religious folk to preach and proselytise.


Values for Life is the product of a collaboration involving the College and a network of seasoned educators from the Presbyterian primary school system. Sandra Dopson’s delightful illustrations also add colour and life to the stories. She is better known for her acrylic landscapes.


SATC chairman, Justice Peter Jamadar speaks in the preface to the 84-page primary-level workbook of a “deficit in constructive core life-values throughout the country” and expresses hope the publication will help “in a positive transformation at both the personal and societal levels.”


Wishful thinking or not, the 24 thoughtfully composed and illustrated stories are sufficient to at least pique youthful interest in the qualities of the key protagonists.


Two opposing adult gang members, for example, unwittingly recognise striking similarities between their respective sons who turn out to be best friends. In the end, peace between the gangs reigns, and young readers are drawn—through simple, poignant questions as virtual arbiters to dissect the transacting of this “peace.”


In the lesson entitled Freedom, two police officers visit a school and talk to students about fighting and bullying. They demonstrate the impact of violence on victims through a process of role-playing before a group of troublesome students. 


The exercise emphasises the negative, long-term impact of bullying and violence on victimised students.


This perhaps is the best-case example of the value of police youth clubs and community policing strategies once championed by people such as retired deputy commissioner Winston Cooper and others who now lament the gradual disintegration of the effort in exchange for a heavier police hand.


Then comes the story of Patriotic Raj whose life is referenced by a mother who was once asked a probing question by her 10-year-old daughter on the issue of patriotism. “Isn’t that when people die or go to jail for their people …?”


In a rare error, the name Gandhi is misspelled in this chapter, but the story diplomatically makes the point that standing at attention for the National Anthem and flying a flag are highly over-rated as signifying acts of “patriotism.”


This is a valuable classroom resource that should reach schools outside the perimeter of the Presbyterian school system.


There are virtually no references to any specific religion and no attempt to convert anyone to anything. In fact, when questioned on this particular approach, SATC deputy principal Rev Harold Sitahal said it was a deliberate effort to promote an “ecumenical approach” to values education.


Love, in the book, is depicted as an act of selfless sacrifice by a poor mother met by the generosity of a thoughtful child. Portraying the child as hero and at the centre of a solution in the story does much to respond to misplaced contemporary concerns about a co-called “lost generation.”


Values for Life deserves more than a second look by the Ministry of Education and everyone with a concern about teaching, not preaching, early lessons on values and changing the future peoplescape.


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