Saturday, March 03, 2018

So that's what goes on in RE

I like the “I” newspaper for two reasons, neither of which has anything to do with the news.

I like their sudokus. I have stopped doing them in pencil.  If I make a mistake, I make a mistake and I don’t rub out and begin again. I just abandon. I call it a good day when I finish them, and an “ah-well-there’s-always-tomorrow” day when I mess up.

The other thing I liked, but they only did it at weekends, and they’ve stopped doing it, were the whole page spreads with the poems generated by Nationwide Building Society.

Today I was seriously not happy with their cover story. It wasn’t so much the story itself as the misleading headline. The small breakfast in the café was anything but.

“Teacher gave terror lessons to UK pupils”

I am very protective of the teaching profession. The long school holidays – yes, I can see how that might add a few bees into a parent’s bonnet. Skipping off on holiday during term time – yes, I can see those bees shifting to a teacher’s bonnet.

It was the sub-headline that caused a whole swarm of those aggressive African bees to make a nest in my bonnet.

“Children shown brutal videos during Religious Education lessons”

Now, let’s step back a bit. Have I, or have I not, shown some brutal videos in my time? Last week even? Well, kind of. We watched the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in a lesson looking at a liberation theology response to poverty and corruption in El Salvador. We also listened to a heart breaking account of a woman whose children were killed by a raid on the wrong house during South Africa’s apartheid era. And there was the government and police responses to Martin Luther King’s civil rights protests. The world was and is a brutal place, make no mistake. Too many things happen that shouldn’t.

I read the cover story on p3. The school was a Muslim fee paying school somewhere in London. The headline didn’t really give you any clues on that one. The “teacher” was not a qualified teacher but an administrator. The headline didn’t make that clear either. There was no mention of religious education lessons at all in the article. It was in after school and evening classes at a Muslim fee paying school and a mosque that the IS inspired radicalisation was happening.

Florence Someoneorother had the by-line. I imagine she might be one of those people I meet sometimes who ask me what I do for a living. When I say I’m a teacher they pry further – what do I teach? When I tell them I teach religious education most people don’t really remember much about it. Some never did it. Some didn’t particularly like it. And some, the ones I used to teach a while ago, invariably apologise for how they behaved in my class. Florence strikes me as being in the last category.

“Ah, so that’s what goes on in RE,” says one parent, reading the headline but no further.

“Just confirms what I always thought – it shouldn’t be on the timetable,” says another.

“Religious nut-balls indoctrinating my kid,” says a third.

And all because Florence Someoneorother couldn’t come up with a more accurate headline. With a flurry of fingers over a keyboard she has made it seem as if all RE teachers are pedalling dangerous theology. She has also made it seem as if children are like blotting paper, soaking up everything without question. That is not true of the variety of children I meet. They know how to argue the toss.

Teachers are doing a great job. They don’t view the children in their classrooms as a captive audience and themselves as someone like Moses, chosen by God, to pass down something like the Ten Commandments. They actively encourage discovery and debate, critical thinking and creativity.

Florence, your RE report if I should ever write one for you would read “Florence should express her ideas more carefully to avoid confusion.”

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