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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 07/03/2010 | 2 Comments

Over the next few months if people review my new book or comment on it I plan to make it available on the site unless it is personally abusive.  I don't plan to respond to every comment people make about the book,  however I am keen to respond to the piece that Kenny Farquarson has in today's Scotland on Sunday.

First, I must point out that it is generally a very positive, interesting review of what he thinks is 'an important' book. Indeed it is very gratifying to read someone's summary of your book where they pick out some of the key points that as an author you would also draw attention to. It is also great to know that Kenny could see that while I was mainly talking about Glasgow some of what I described is relevant, perhaps in a more dilute way, to other parts of Scotland – such as Dundee where he comes from.

However, Kenny's one critical comment is, from my point of view, so unfair (and at odds with the rest of the piece) that I am itching to give an answer. Towards the end of the article he writes:

Craig's analysis has its flaws, notably when she tries – bravely – to offer remedies to the problems she so successfully identifies. Under the heading "A Richer and Healthier Inner Life" her prescriptions include "spiritual practices such as meditation" and "more beauty in people's lives through... classical music". Call me a cynic but the day when Glasgow Green is full of locals sitting cross-legged on mats listening to Mahler on their iPods is, I suspect, still some way off. Too often the resolutely middle-class Craig sounds like she's describing a primitive tribe, not her neighbours. (The "classical music" reference is a real giveaway – the transcendent power of popular music, whether classic soul or modern dance music, simply doesn't occur to her, it seems.)

First the solutions I most promote to help solve some of Glasgow's problems are not what Kenny suggests. I make it clear that I think the single action we need to take is to make child health and well-being the number one 'Purpose' of the Scottish Government in place of sustainable economic growth. Other measures I call for relate to alcohol consumption, a maximum, not just a minimum wage, residents in areas outside Glasgow's boundaries making a contribution towards the upkeep of the city's facilities … .

I don't see there being one big idea or solution to a problem which is multi-faceted ('wicked' in some people's parlance) and I  call for the type of integrated approach suggested by the American philosopher Ken Wilber. In the four quadrants setting what this may look like, I outline twenty-one separate points ranging from more diversionary youth work, more mixed class housing developments to more women in positions of power. In the quadrant relating to "A Richer and Healthier Inner Life" I write: 'More beauty in people's lives through contact with nature, classical music or art." I also write in another point: "More people participating in spiritual practices such as meditation."

A great chunk of the book deals with how  Glaswegians often have a very narrow view of the world and what they find interesting or  appropriate for them. Indeed I  even write that commonly folk from working-class or deprived Glasgow see education, various types of art, even eating out in restaurants dedicated to good food as 'no for the likes of us and it's crap anyway'.  So the idea that I'm suggesting classical music and meditation become major vehicles for improving the lives of adults in Glasgow's poorer communities is a misrepresentation of what I'm saying. Of course I don't think that the man standing waiting for the bus for Shettleston is going to jump at the chance to enrol for a meditation course. But more's the pity: there's a huge amount of evidence that learning techniques to control and direct your inner life is hugely beneficial for physical and mental health and we can't afford to dismiss them out of hand. 

Mindfulness meditation is now being adopted in some schools throughout America, Australia and the UK as a way to improve child well-being. The results are very encouraging. I am no fan of lots of school well-being approaches as they are often about social control and engineering but I have few objections to this approach which is much more under the individual's personal control. I know of one school in a very poor area of Greenock where the teachers introduced it as a way to try and help calm the youngsters down as many of them come from very neglected and stressful backgrounds. They find it helpful. Meditation is also being used successfully in Scottish prisons and with people undergoing various types of anti-drug therapy. Is it not helpful if some people begin to realise that the quality of life depends on our thoughts and is actually subject to our control?

And what of music? I accept that I'm middle class now but my father (an ex engine driver from Maryhill who lives across the road from me) certainly keeps my feet on the ground. If he comes into the room when I'm listening to Mahler (my favourite composer coincidentally) he'll often say 'that wid gie yer backside a sore heid' (or words to that effect). He's got an ear for music and can knock a tune out of various instruments and (after listening to a few minutes of a great composer or peformer) has even be known to say that 'Ah could dae better maself'.

More importantly, I'd like to point out to Kenny that Glasgow is UNESCO City of Music. There's more music of all types happening in Glasgow (rock, pop, jazz, folk, classical) than just about any other city in the world yet this fact has not contributed greatly to the city's flourishing given the hellish statistics that I quote. Given this I just didn't think it made sense to talk generally about music as an antidote to the city's problems. Of course,  I'm aware that music can serve many functions for people – it can provide and cement their identities, it can be used as a form of rebellion, for socialising, for dance, for religious purposes … .  I simply chose to select out classical music and link it to beauty. If I had space I might have elaborated and outlined how it could also help with the development of other positive personal characteristics. So what's my reason for arguing this?

Recently at one of the Centre's events on well-being and music Richard Holloway spoke about the Sistema Scotland project inspired by Jose Antonio Abreu.  Thirty years ago the pioneering Venezuelan economist, politician and musician set up the State Foundation for the National System of Youth and Childen’s Orchestras of Venezuela (FESNOJIV). Venezuela now has 125 youth orchestras, 57 children’s orchestras and 30 adult performing orchestras. There are also music schools located throughout the country. Over 250,000 children are involved in urban and rural areas.

Over the years FESNOJIV has produced a number of internationall renowned classical muscians but cultivating musical talent is not the main aim. Abreu’s vision has always been to use music as a development tool which would teach children about responsibility, hard work, respect and sacrifice. These are all necessary to achieve anything in life. Abreu’s intention was always for the orchestras to have most impact on the life of young, poor, marginal young people for the slums – the ‘barrios’. Many have become involved from juvenile detention centres or from living in the streets.

Children do not require any previous musical experience to become involved. They are given an instrument – usually a violin – to start. If this doesn’t suit then they try out others until they find one that suits them best.  There are also opportunities to support the orchestra in other ways. For example, by mending instruments. 

As this initiative is a tool of human development it is funded by the Ministry of Health and Social Development, not the Ministry for Culture.  A major research study into the impact participation in the orchestras has on young people revealed that their involvement does indeed support the development of positive attitudes. Interestingly, the research also shows similar benefits for the parents of the children who take part.

Other benefits have been reported. Making music has now become part of the daily lives of many families. This may not have made them better off economically but it has created ‘spiritual affluence’. Other studies have shown that the young people who take part are much less likely to get involved in crime or drug taking. In the communities which have young people’s orchestras, studies have shown that deliquency and drug abuse has fallen by about 30 per cent. One important reason is that so much of children’s time – often as much as six  hours a day – is taken up by the orchestra.

Sistema Scotland is currently running a project in the Raploch in Stirling and are now looking for other sites. When he talked about the project in the Raploch Richard Holloway was clear that one of the great benefits is that it brings beauty (and no doubt spiritual affluence) into these youngsters' lives.

Of course, I have sufficient nouse to understand that we're not going to have punters sitting on Glasgow Green listening to Mahler on their iPods and I don't think that Kenny is a cynic for thinking that isn't on the cards either. But if Glasgow is going to flourish then we'll have to fanthom out ways for us to move on from an exclusively one-dimensional, materialist and functionalist approach to life.

So Kenny I'm grateful for the care and attention you took with the piece. I can see you grasped my arguments and really understand the problems I outline but on the 'quibble' you raise I want to assure you that I'm not that daft ... .

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Joined: 22/03/2010

Comment Posted: 22/03/2010 15:20

I read a piece on your new book in yesterday's Sunday Times and will be buying it. I am very interested in buying your first book, The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, but it seems to be out of print. Is there any way of getting hold of a copy please?
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