100WCGU WEEK #178

And as she looked around the ravaged living room she knew what the crumpled paper and tinsel meant. Not just that Christmas was over for another year, but that for her it was over forever. With a heavy heart she had discovered that the final parcel did not contain the stuffed animal she had seen in a window display, which she had so specifically requested of
the accommodating man in the red suit (after assuring him of her 
good behaviour). The doll’s face seemed arrogant now, almost mocking her in proving the kids at school were right about him, and she hated that. 




We are some of the most important people in the world.

So I reckon everybody has their ‘thing’, a quality that they really value and in turn it helps to make them who they are. For some it will be honesty, telling the truth even when it’s most difficult to do so. For others it could be loyalty, compassion or maybe some combination of virtues. These are the characteristics we seek in potential friends and partners, praise in colleagues, what we aspire to perfect for ourselves and things that we can’t stand to see abused or violated. What are yours?
I value two things above all others, these aren’t necessarily the qualities I think are the most important or the only things needed to make you a good person, but for some reason they resonate with me. The first is fairness and the second is open-mindedness. 
You’d be forgiven for wondering how I conclude that this makes us some of the most important people in the world.
Well, firstly we have Twitter, many of you will have Facebook, undoubtedly you will associate with people who aren’t RE teachers (or teachers at all), which means you are exposed to a multitude of world views all day long.
Secondly, watch the news. The world is full of truly saddening scenes at the moment. The needless loss of life in Tunisia is devastating, as is any act of violence. These are special though, these acts have the power to change the world.
Now ask yourself, how many times are you faced with ignorance about Islam, holy war and terrorism? I am so tired of reading the same statuses criticising the entirety of a religion based on acts of some (who many Muslims don’t even recognise as part of their faith)
I am immersed in a world of virtual opinions or at times a bystander to conversations on public transport between people declaring that immigration is an act of religious colonisation and must be stopped (interestingly often coming from those of us whose ancestors colonised most of the world, using their resources and erasing their culture as we went)
This isn’t just a worry about ‘Islamaphobia’ a word which the very existence of is upsetting. In turn, I get frustrated at the attitude towards Judaism demonstrated by some of my students who blame the conflict of Israel and Palestine on a the whole religion. I recently dealt with a child who showed severe disrespect during a lesson on the holocaust and used ‘well they’re killing Muslims’ as his justification for a total lack of humanity when faced with the suffering of others.
We are the people who can help to open minds, to shape the perspectives of the young people we have the privilege of working with. If this particular young man continues in his views I will question myself, whether I did enough to educate him in the value of compassion. Our students are so impressionable that without dispelling the myths from the facts and encouraging them to remain good-hearted we may lose some of them. This is increasingly relevant in our role of safeguarding students against extremist and the recent cases of students fleeing their homes to join up with groups abroad.
My main two concerns are the lack of knowledge about Islam and the recklessness with which ignorant people share their views. I woke to an article last week stating that ISIS had ‘crucified’ two boys for not fasting during Ramadan, now I’m not a Christian or a qualified historian but it doesn’t take a genius to have read the article and realise that nobody was crucified at all.
What had taken place was bad enough in itself and did not need dressing up. My immediate concern is that if that if this article was on my news feed then how many people will have also seen it, more worrying still, how many will have bothered to read it and find the inaccuracies? How many people can distinguish between radical groups and the truth of a religion? How many people spent their day under the impression that Muslims are now crucifying anybody who doesn’t fast?!
In my school we spent several days following the events surrounding the Je Suis Charlie publication, working out our school approach. Searching for the appropriate way to condemn the actions, support freedom of speech but preserve the right to protest against offensive material and ensuring that we were well backed up with political and religious legislation. It brought about some of the most beneficial debate, textual analysis and evaluation of the year whilst ticking all of the SMSC boxes. HMI would have been proud. But more importantly, it enabled students to engage with topics often swept under the rug, to ask questions without fear of judgement and to gain what we hope was a balanced perspective.
  • How do you approach these issues?
  • Do you have a policy for addressing potential radicalisation?
  • Does your school encourage or discourage discussion?
  • How do you ensure the true message of a religion is understood by students and not media distortions? or the lasting negative impression made by a minority of believers?

This is more of a vent and a beseechment. Have the difficult conversations and talk about the controversial issues. We have the power to cultivate open-mindedness and equality. To promote tolerance and respect. You can be the person who enables a child to grow into an adult who demonstrates all of the virtues we value in ourselves.

“The future is in the hands of those who belong to the 21st century with the opportunity to build a better humanity by training the mind.” Dalai Lama
We are some of the most important people in the world.

Can the religious teach religion and should we tell?

Isn’t it interesting the things we do that we just assume everyone does? It wasn’t until discussing this issue on 

that I appreciated the range of views out there. I have always openly shared my religious views with students.  If I’m being honest, I don’t think this was a conscious decision as a trainee. A student will have asked whether I’m a Christian (I’m white and I teach RS so I must be, right?) and my brain will have been running on either ‘mustanswerstudentquestionstoproveIknowmystuff’ autopilot or after months of little sleep and busy days perhaps it just didn’t occur to me that it may not be the best idea…whatever the reason- I did. It is only the last few years that I’ve really seen sharing my own views as an asset in the classroom and I’m so glad that I do. 
I teach in a school that may appear very diverse, though actually in terms of religion the vast majority of the kids I work with are Muslim. This begs the question, would I would be so forthcoming with my views if they were likely to spark a debate, or cause a situation between us where they felt that their views were not being appreciated? I can’t say for certain what choices I’d make. However, I do know that my agnosticism has been a way to introduce so many positive qualities into my classroom. It helps promote tolerance of world views besides your own, my students never feel that I listen to their views but think they’re wrong (I hope) It also breeds a culture of being able to ask questions and the understanding that we don’t all know everything. I tell them that one of the reasons I class myself as an agnostic is that as an RS teacher I encounter all kinds of wonderful things from all religions, so how could I choose just one to subscribe to? With older students it enables me also to share the darker side of religious history (and present) and explain how this may make it hard for people to believe. The scene is set for me to play the role of devil’s advocate convincingly as they know I am not swayed by any religion, but I am careful to impress upon them the love I have for religion and it’s value for individuals and society. I love how it reminds them that I don’t suppose to know everything about life, death and beyond and that the beauty of RS is often in the questions we can’t answer- not those we can. A quality I’m working on is that of embracing ‘being stuck’ how rewarding it can be to not have a scoobydoo! (Then of course, how to unstuck yourself using a plethora or well differentiated resources, of course) 
At first people ask why I teach RS if I’m not even religious, I explain to them how I feel- that I just love the good that can come from it. The sense of community, morality and hope. I’m upfront that if I were, maybe I’d find it hard having to teach views that I categorically do not agree with, that I would worry about swaying students towards views of my own and that an objective nature plus a love of religion is the easiest way I can think of to deal with our subject. Usually the same people end the conversation by saying ‘I suppose it would be hard to teach RS with strong personal beliefs, actually.’ I respond with the fact that I’ve always envied that spark of faith I see in others and the way it gives purpose and strength to what they do, though I do wonder if it makes the job harder.
The very nature of the subject is designed to encourage sharing of ideas and the nature of the assessment criteria leans towards justifying opinions. The AQA spec we follow awards 50% of its marks for providing a range of views and justifying your own. Is it right to expect students to do this if we won’t? Are we just depriving them of an alternative view they may be able to use?

I guess what I’m asking is two fold really. I’m interested in how you find teaching a broad and balanced curriculum if you have strong beliefs of your own and then, whatever your beliefs, do you share them? 
More thoughts at http://www.blogsyncre.org.uk

Thanks to @missdcox for getting the ball rolling!

RS by any other name would smell as sweet

Religious Education, Religious Studies, Morality and Ethics…

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about changing the name of RS. I say at the moment but actually it comes around like double denim. I say RS but many of you reading this won’t use that term in your school. 

I have always favoured Religious Studies- possibly because that’s what it was called throughout my own time in school, so it’s what I saw as ‘normal’. I can’t shake the feeling that it may alter the impression of the subject and when I think about a national change being imposed upon me I feel a little uneasy, especially with such CRaP (Culture, Religion and Philosophy) alternatives knocking around. Mostly that’s because I don’t like not to get my own way and a quick glance at Twitter tells you we have some very different ideas about what to call the subject. 

However, when I stop sulking like the eternal teenager that I am, I very quickly reach the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter whatsoever. All this talk about the potential names for RS is an irrelevant debate and a waste of 140 characters. Until we can agree with as much national concurrence as possible where we are taking the subject, (the aims, content and assessment) you can call it whatever you want and I’ll continue to teach my students in the way I see fit. This is worrying. If changes were made and teachers (such as myself) continued with our own take on the subject we will never get anywhere. This is not to say I oppose progress and will ignore improvements, I am as keen as anyone to raise the status, rigour and academic demands of the subject whilst maintaining its unique ability to allow students to just ‘wonder’ sometimes and think about the world we live in. I’m just hoping anybody who reads this is considering putting their time and effort towards helping shape the future content rather than branding. 

I’m fortunate enough to have whole school T&L role, experience across many other academies and increasing this role to SLT in January and I’ve seen the subject delivered in lessons that could easily have been named:

  • Colouring in and poster making
  • Social issues for schools that don’t deliver PSHE
  • Memorising things you don’t care about 
  • Elements of vaguely religious history for the apathetic

and most commonly

  • Fulfilling our obligation in the minimum time

Any one of those lessons may have been called RE, Philosophy and ethics, morality, beliefs and values or any other exciting acronym that a keen HoD could dream up. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter what we call it if the content or delivery is weak. 
Changing the name of diarrhoea wouldn’t improve the situation for anyone suffering from it. Starburst are still just Opal Fruits after all!

In my mind (a funny little place) religious education implies getting taught how to be religious or the basics of how different religions follow their belief. It conjures images of spending 5 compulsory years labelling holy buildings and yet I know that this is unfounded, I’m sure many of you are a part of an RE department which does amazing things to open the minds of our young people to the wonderous variety of spiritual and moral expression. To those people I ask, would changing your department to Religious Studies mean anything to you? and where do you think the connotations for our beloved subject come from?

I choose to teach thematically, looking at a relevant world or religious issue from a variety of viewpoints and encourage students to appreciate the diversity of views as well as formulating their own well-reasoned opinions, which may or may not be based on a religion. If asked, I am honest with my students about my own (lack of) beliefs, telling them that as an agnostic I am open to the idea of all kinds of ultimate truths but accept that I may never really know any of them, so I just try to be a good person and have faith that a benevolent God would appreciate the effort.*** Having said this, I’m keen not to take the ‘religion’ out of RS. My degree was a combined honours with philosophy and it is philosophy of religion which is my specialism, however, it just doesn’t feel right to call the department ethical studies or morality or philosophy or any other turn of phrase which doesn’t include religion.

As I attempt to navigate twitter and build a stronger network of co-professionals in order to develop myself, I have realised how important a name can be. We are very careful with our little boxes as we attempt to get a whole careers worth of pedagogy into 140 characters, we choose our handles in order to attract like-minded folk to embark upon this journey with. We are giving a representation of our whole selves in a couple of profile pictures and a brief bio. So maybe it matters, maybe there will be a flurry of comments to tell me that it’s ludicrous to assume that ‘RE’ signifies learning to be religious and that religious instruction is implied by neither. Maybe you feel strongly that ethics should play just as much a part in the name of the subject as to make it relevant for all. Or maybe, just maybe, you use the phrases interchangeably and feel that there is as long as the holistic needs of the student are met you could call it ‘poohsticks’ if you wanted. Either way, I’m interested in how you do things and if there is a rationale behind it.

Perhaps we could all agree to just use one term from now on?

If so, I suggest ‘poohsticks’.

*** An interesting issue picked up on in another blog I read recently which I’ll be going into at another time. I had actually planned on talking about that tonight and got totally sidetracked with this after feeling the inexplicable need to alter the phrase ‘RE’ on the programme of study sheets I was given.