Explain tarot and learn to teach

January 26, 1996

As manager of the Kingsway Centre and the person responsible for the alternative cultures courses in our leisure programme for this year, I feel I should answer some of the points you made (Opinion, THES, January 12).

First, you describe our decision to "formalise the study of tarot within the Postgraduate Certificate of Education." This is not the case. The introduction to tarot course is being taught by a PGCE student, and the work she does in preparation can contribute to her practical commitment. To say that this brings the tarot course into the PGCE is to conflate form and content. What will be assessed is the preparation and delivery of material, not the subject material itself. In this sense it is not true to say that the study of tarot has been formalised, nor is it true to say that the study of tarot forms a part of the PGCE. Since PGCE is a publicly funded course, it is crucial to be clear on this point.

You go on to describe the tarot course as being "studied alongside Islam". This again is not the case. Both courses are in the alternative cultures area of the programme, with no suggestion or expectation that they are related, other than in their status as a cultural alternatives - both to each other and to more commonly held cultural belief systems in our community. In this sense the tarot, Islam, oriental philosophy and Celtic studies courses are cultural analogies of the courses on eco-living and alternative medicine - the emphasis is on encouraging and enabling students to explore critically the alternatives they are discussing.

The third point answers your question, "Why not add Christianity to the curriculum?" The obvious response is that the courses are presented as cultural alternatives to the mainstream intellectual, spiritual and moral systems of the community in which the Kingsway Centre lives. To describe Christianity as an alternative culture in South-west Wales would be at least inaccurate and at worst deeply offensive.

On a more general level, you place the study invited by the existence of these courses alongside what you describe as a "tax on stupidity" and "bizarre, self-perpetuating systems" of irrationality. To do this is to ignore the very purpose of our courses on alternative cultures, which is to explore the nature and structure of cultural alternatives from rational and critical perspectives. Your news item on the courses is very clear that we are not validating any specific cultural tradition or phenomenon - rather we are presupposing that complex, influential belief systems with rich histories and numerous proponents are worthy of critical investigation. This seems to me to be the very antithesis of the denial of humanity you seem concerned about. Educators are not only in "the business of clarifying what is provable and what is not" - the Kingsway Centre exists, as does the institution of further education itself, to help liberate those sections of humanity with whom we have contact, to enrich experience, and to consider alternatives in a sensitive and enlightened manner. We believe that - with the careful handling you correctly describe as important - the value of these courses lies in the liberality of spirit and pluralism of approach we are bound to bring to our work.

K. M. PALMER

Kingsway Centre manager, Swansea College

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