"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Friday, June 7, 2013

Buddhism and eleven year olds

Well, it's that time of year again: Sex Ed with 14 year olds ("Shut up or we'll talk about masturbation again.") and Buddhism with 11 year olds.

I'm very fond of my 11 year olds: there's something about their unselfconscious enthusiasm that I find very appealing and they do make me smile. Because they've to study Buddhism under our schemes of work here at the Knowledge College up to GCSE, we thought we'd start them early.

Picture this, Dear Reader: it is the last lesson of the day and it is swealteringly hot, yet they arrive with boundless energy. There is much excited talk of new hamsters and the pattern on Kyle's socks and Zorah shyly tells me that she's 12 today. This is something of a breakthrough as Zorah doesn't usually speak. She even manages to make eye contact briefly.

They are momentarily thrown by the fact that I have moved the chairs and tables to make a big space in the centre of the room but recover well enough for them to decide, as one, to sit on the floor rather than the chairs.

Why not? I think. They were used to carpet time at the end of the day in their primary schools. Yes, why not?

I sit on a table and look at their excited, smiling faces. Isn't puberty a waste of decent personalities?

Karl pops his head round the door. Karl teaches Maths downstairs. "Well, I've had three non-contact lessons today and I've managed to mark one book." he announces. Taking him to be a consummate professional rather than the lazy item he really is, Shelley suggests in all seriousness that, if that's the case, he might possibly be making the work too hard.

Oh Bless!!!! Can I have this little lot all day, every day please?

Their first task is to complete the subject evaluation sheet that we do annually at this time of year. I sneak a look over a few shoulders and am very pleased to discover that they enjoy their work and see me as an exciting, helpful and enthusiastic teacher. (I knew I loved this lot.) There is a specific question that asks what the teacher is particularly good at. Their responses include:
  • Helping and explaining things
  • Answering questions
  • "Religion and stuff"
  • Being me
  • Being Kind
"Sir?" It is Luke 4. "I can't find "boring" on this sheet. I wasn't going to use it, but it's on all the other subject sheets."

Well, it won't be on the R.S. sheet will it? Think about it.

"That's because it's not boring."

There you go then Molly.

There is a degree of sage and satisfied nodding and I wonder why my colleagues in other subjects haven't had the wit to edit the questionnaire to remove the teenager's default description of everything.

When it came to the question: In order to be better, what could the teacher do? there were a lot of comments like "No improvements needs to be made." No. Really. Stop it. You'll make me blush, together with one suggestion that I grow an afro. There's always one, isn't there?

Given that by the time they are 16 they will all hate me on principle, I take much comfort in this all-to-brief window of affirmation.

Responses collected, Would you like me to read to you? They nod, wide eyed. Jonny's right thumb goes in his mouth. They like the story of the Buddha and there are some sensible questions about his young life as a spoilt prince before they move on to construct Buddhist shrines - hence the furniture rearrangement. We look at six or seven pictures of Buddhists at worship and through question and answer we build up an idea of what is on the shrine and why. There is also a little side discussion about the posture of meditation which I found quite perceptive.

Fortunately my resources box is brimming full and off they go: exotic material to cover institutional tables, scented candles (can I smell burning hair? Will the fire alarm go off?), huge paper flowers (courtesy of Wilkinsons, only £1.00 each, a bargain).

"Sir. We need the statues." I prop open the office door and they reverently remove a selection of Buddha's from the shelves. ("I want the gold one." "I want the fat one.")

"Sir. It's not fair. I'm not tall enough to reach the shelves. It's hard being a midget."

The Fabulous Kath in the Kitchen had provided me with uncooked rice and lentils as part of the food offerings. Confident that all the local charity shops would have plenty of faux-oriental china for sale I had been hugely disappointed only to be able to source two in three weeks.

I move a couple of the latent pyromaniacs away from the candles. Yes. Hot wax does hurt doesn't it?

"Sir. We need more food." I point to the office again. They have a good hunt around and return with:
  • Two bananas
  • A satsuma
  • An apple
  • Three apricots
  • A bag of mixed dried fruit and nuts
  • A wide variety of strange teabags
  • A pint of milk
  • The remains of Karl's packed lunch.
When I'd finished returning Mrs. Singh's milk and Karl's half eaten "man v sandwich" sandwich to the fridge, we take stock. Where did those toffee's come from?

"What about money?" Luke 1 suggests.

In the resources box are a great many pre-Euro Estonian Kroons. They find their way on to the shrines. (I'm sure I can smell burning hair and have a surreptitious look around to see who might be slow-burning their way towards a letter of complaint.)

When Chloe comes back from the toilet - "That blouse didn't fit anyway Sir" - we are ready for Stage Two: the guided meditation.

That'll have been the bad Karma, Chloe.

The earlier conversation on meditation posture is recapped and I have already found a lovely Youtube Buddhist Chant ("Om Mani Padme Hum") so off we go. And it isn't too bad: of course there is a  certain amount of slightly awkward giggling at the start but in the main they handle it extremely well and get into the swing of it. I use a meditaion based on the Buddhist concept of Lovingkindness. They concentrate on their breathing and we try some visualisation.

At some point Dr. Kav appears, camera in hand, and gingerly steps over the meditating hoards to take photos for the website. I wish I'd got a camera because the sight of him standing on a chair on one leg like a ballerina and leaning forward has to be worth its weight in blackmail opportunities.

Harry chooses this moment to be shy and tries to hide his head behand a particularly large floral display but he's no match for Dr. Kav's photographic skills/contortions and "snap", he's caught.

In the feedback, they are overwhelmingly positive about the experience.

"I'm going to try this at home - only without the candles."


  1. As I said over on FB, love this post. I'm glad you have some kids that are ready to experiment!

  2. Brilliant. Why can't they stay 11 until they are 21?