Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Views on respect: Janet Daley

Janet Daley
American-born political commentator Janet Daley is a former lecturer
As well as contributing to the BBC's Moral Maze, she has been a regular newspaper columnist

The deterioration in behaviour has increased shockingly since I arrived in the UK nearly 40 years ago.

I sympathise with Tony Blair's attempts. Governments always feel the need to make some initiative or to intervene in some way where there is a clear prevalence of antisocial behaviour.

It sounds fatuous but it is difficult to know what any government could do that didn't look ludicrous.

I don't think it is the business of government to instil good parenting skills or general civility. You can't decree it by government fiat.

It has been public policy that has been responsible, very largely, and the philosophy that prevailed in the state education system and in popular culture.

Anti-authority, anti-judgemental attitudes were promoted in education - the idea that teachers should be treated as equals, not as figures of authority.


In the 1980s there was a very strong prohibition on instructionalism and authoritarianism - teachers shouldn't stand up in front of a class of pupils and pretend they were authority figures.

Instead they should regard their teachers as counsellors and guides in the child's quest for their own personal fulfilment.

It was about children discovering their own needs and feeling it was a social injustice if their needs weren't instantly met, however immature they were.

That notion permeated right through the popular culture. It is very much regretted now. Teachers find it difficult to keep discipline and get order in the classroom.

It all got underway in the 1970s, and by the time I left academic life in 1988, having been working very closely with colleges of education, the people who were actually professors of education were instilling this in a really serious way.

It was anti-examination, anti-authority, anti-knowledge in many ways.

No kind of behaviour was inherently wrong - it was a question of what felt right.

Children were consciously politically motivated to be not just rebellious but to be politically uncivil.

It is much, much easier to dismantle traditional culture than it is to reinvent it.

Civil servants don't move on that quickly, often not until public opinion has long since left their view behind. It takes 15-20 years before these people gradually retire out of the system.

It is very difficult even for a government of the best of intentions, but with political nerve and political will anything can be done.

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