R.E.- Babies and Bathwater

Religious Education appears to be heading further towards the margins as a consequence of measures such as E-Bac and the short supply of teachers qualified and willing to engage. There seems to be a substantial coalition happy to see this trend continue – those who do not value the subject’s contribution to the curriculum in terms of a relevance to the needs of the economy (interesting that RE has grown in popularity as a GCSE and A level in recent years) and those who feel that it is better to leave it to the home and to the faith organisations. Both views flying in the face of traditional notions about the proper scope of a liberal education but hey, I’m out of step! Needless to say the problem is less acute in the schools that provide for the elites, but that’s another suitcase.

One defence of the subject clearly relates to the need to provide the young with opportunities to reflect on their own attitudes and beliefs (and so protect themselves from indoctrination) and the need to support and inform a tolerant, multi cultural society. One could add notions of helpful knowledge in relation to understanding our own history and culture to this mix. The new technologies can be readily used by a subject that perhaps more than any other, needs to reach out beyond the classroom. Allowing RE to lapse back to the grim days of Religious Instruction makes schools continuously vulnerable to the accusation that they are failing society. Whilst acknowledging that there is a process of evolution in relation to religion and society, how sure are we that we no longer need to deliver the subject’s entitlements, when at best there will be fewer children who learn about religion at home or in society and at worst, when what they do hear might be similar to the process of  a vacuum being filled with poisonous gas.

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Written On The Heart

New Year’s eve in Stratford at the Swan Theatre to see the RSC perform David Edgar’s play about the King James Bible. Wonderful – not only for the usual brilliances of acting and stagecraft but for the insights – the incredible courage of the men and women who were incinerated at the stake for their belief that the Bible should be read by all and that the difference between the original text and the subsequent inventions of  priests (men) should be clear to all.  The controversy about key words – are we to be a flock (and to have free will) or to be enfolded (to have none)?, are we to be a church (controlled) or a congregation (to control)? and are we to be ruled by priests or by elders?.

The other fascinating insight I took from the play was the process of compromise that constituted the final text – some of the words indeed fell to a puritan interpretation, others to the traditional  Catholic preference , thereby incorporating and  marrying the two extremes in the one.

‘Written on the heart’ refers to the quotation from the play that explains that none of the text can be properly understood unless the reader has both love and compassion written upon their heart. Not a bad lesson for 2012 – the basic rule of all faiths and none- if we have no love for one another and for our children, we shall not see beyond our own selfish world and are likely to create a violent and greedy one.

We can talk about an ethos, but in the spirit of the King James Bible, let us speak plain, we need love to provide the respect, compassion and self esteem that underpins a just society.

Striking Teachers

It is some time since I took industrial action – in the 1980’s disputes when we were again trying to restore recommended pay levels. Things are a little more complex this time and yet the case is stronger – this isn’t just about a bigger salary and broken promises, this is surely about an expression of frustration and anger about a host of things.

 Top of my list for supporting the action on the 30th November is connected to the ‘we are all in this together’ promise made by the Coalition. We clearly are not, and haven’t been since the 1980’s. How is it that the boss of a supermarket company or investment banker can really be paid over £1 million p.a.? Are they worth over 20 teachers or nurses? It can’t be a question of qualifications – teachers, nurses and doctors surely match anybody’s requirements. It can’t be a question of stress or workload. It can’t be a question of responsibility or contribution to society. The usual reason given is that the big money is needed in order to attract the highest calibre people. It’s the market place stupid.

This is the nub and the logic of this is that business people and bankers will only work for the money. Others who are prepared to work in the public service are having to pay the price. This is happening as the value of pensions is being eroded. (What an argument! – public service pension provision is far better than in the private sector so we need to reduce everbody to the poorest level). What was needed was an all party look at occupational pensions and a fair and national scheme devised for everybody. Whilst they were doing this they could have done the same for the care of the elderly.

I suspect that allowing this type of inequality and the continued exploitation of good will is one of the main causes of our current economic and social plight (as well as the politicians who got us here by buying votes with money they did not have, and now can’t get us out because the necessary measures will ensure their demise at the polls).

The problem has been around for some time, but it was for the Coalition government to see that the key was to enlist public support and to act accordingly. Instead, they are making the situation infinitely worse, for the continued alienation and scapegoating* of public servants in this way will undermine all our futures. In the education world, all of this is being compounded by gallery playing ministers, who think that all the education system needs is more competition from the subsidised ‘free’ and elite schools, some ‘traditional’ history lessons and a copy of the King James Bible each (go read it in the library as we are marginalising RE lessons where you might have been taught about scapegoating*).