"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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sir, I don't get it! Teleology and Yr 10

So, as William Paley said: Imagine walking through the countryside, so far away from civilization that is possible to believe you are in a totally natural environment. As you walk, you find at your feet two objects: a stone and a pocket watch. As you examine the stone you see nothing remarkable about it at all. As you examine the pocket watch you see clear evidence of design: symmetry, beauty, intricacy, interdependence, purpose and detail. Where there is design you have to surmise the existence of a designer. i.e. the watchmaker.

The universe is like the watch, Paley said. It too, has all those design characteristics and more. Therefore we must surmise the existence of a designer: God.


Sir, I don't get it!

Which bit?

All of it.

Do you understand analogy?

It's when you're allergic to something.

So Thomas Aquinas, Medieval monk and scholar, argued for the existance of God in ways not entirely in accordance with the thinking of his age.

His First Cause Argument, part of a larger series of similar arguments for the existence of God, goes something like:

Every effect has a cause.

Nothing that we experience is caused by itself.

There can not be an infinite regression of causes.

Therefore there must be a First Cause.

That is what everyone understands as God.

Although Aquinas predates modern thought, he is largely responsible for the acceptance by many modern Christians of the Big Bang Theory and Evolution: God is the trigger that sets the whole process in motion.

For me personally that is a bigger God than the Hebrew tribal totem who created the world in six days and I find that transcendence and omnipotence very exciting, while I find the traditional creation story, which I believe to be religious myth, very limiting.

Remember, though, as I have said before, with the God of classical theology ANYTHING is possible. The outcome is the same, though: there is a creative and sustaining force in the universe and we call that force YHWH.

Sir! Why do we have to do this?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Time for Sex Ed

There doesn't seem to be a good age to start sex-ed. It either seems to early or too late. What happened to the window of opportunity which is the right time? Let's be frank: there's a lot more teenage sex happening than anyone wants to admit. I can be sanguine about that to a point but the fact that much is unprotected is a cause for alarm.

Don't get me wrong, we've an excellent programme and are well resourced but where I teach, there is a proportion of kids with little culture of responsible sexual behaviour. There is a minority of pupils - usually from the less educated and lower socio-economic groups - who are spreading chlamidia around amongst themselves. They know there is a school nurse anonymous drop-in programme but they shun it.

They'll only give us tablets.


Well you can't drink and take the tablets.

So, these precocious, in your face and far too sexually active to be age appropriate teenagers would rather drink and shag than get better.

Chlamydia. Thats a nice name for a little girl.........

Still, as my week-and-a-half-away-from-seventeen year old daughter commented:

Doesn't Chlamydia make you infertile? You should just leave them to get on with it and let the gene pool find its own level.

So perceptive and so compassionate all in one!

And yes we have the unplanned pregnancies too and an unknown number of secret abortions. In one of my classes I have a fifteen year old expectant father. He is very cocky (!) and full of himself and at the same time he is a frightened and vulnerable little boy who burst into tears when we were looking at Christian and Buddhist attitudes to abortion. This is the same boy who absolutely lost it when he and his girlfriend were separated in the post morning break chaos on the corridor and he was directed away from the crowd by some colleagues. "If my baby dies I'll never forgive you, you bastards." Then he broke his knuckles punching the wall in a temper tantrum. The upside is that a lot of the kids think he's an utter knob. "Who'd have sex with him? Not if he was the last man on the planet."

So tomorrow morning I will introduce the topic to a class of 13/14 year olds. Three quarters will listen intently, keen to learn and understand, grateful and relieved that there is an adult willing to have a calm, relaxed and informed conversation. ("I could never have this conversation with my Dad.")

The other quarter, though, will fall into giggles at the mention of the word "contraception" and will be on the verge of hysterics at the word "condom". Some will faux-faint at the sight of the prosthetic penis (Percy). These are the least well educated and from most socio-economically deprived section of pupils. They have limited horizons (I've never been to Leeds. I once went to Dewsbury with my mother on a Saturday and it were busy. I shouldn't like Leeds") and very young parents. I know that a cycle is about to be repeated with many of them. While the others listen, learn and take it all in, this group remain completely untouched and untouchable by any concept of sexual ethics, self respect, issues of STIs, contraception, sexually age-appropriate behaviour, teenage pregnancy or abstinence. "We've done this." they will proclaim with a worldly boredom. "I know this." Some will even argue. "No that's not right. You can't get pregnant the first time. I didn't." Last year I had one 13 yr old discussing loudly her experience of having the implant and the weight loss that followed. The looks on the other girls' faces were pictures of shock and disdain. The looks on the boys' faces, however, were quite different.

What's to be done?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What is it with teenagers?

What is it with teenagers?

I have decided, rightly, or wrongly, not to explain the whole priest thing to my students. It just seemed an unnecessary complication but I have been receiving a steady stream of enquiries. Some youngsters said they always believed that I was a vicar. Interesting. Is this my innate holiness and spirituality or simply the fact that I teach Religious Studies? Others have asked:

So are you a Christian, then?

Are you religious?

Do you go to church?

Do you believe in God?

They seem to have little concept of the religious. Now that's fair enough as most of them are avowed Atheists (at present) or closet Agnostics. Their religious education up until now hasn't helped I have to confess with sadness: they did the World Tour of religions at their previous school and don't know their Karma from their Kirpan. I am regularly told that Jesus was the founder of Islam. or, more worryingly:

But Jesus wasn't a real person was he? It's all made up.

If I had £5.00 for every time I've said There is no doubt about the historicity of Jesus ....

I have worked with teenagers for twenty-five years. I ask again: what is it with teenagers? How do they know so little?

I blame their Religious Studies teacher.

No. Actually I blame their parents.

I'm just ringing about Karl's behaviour in my lesson.

Oh really. That's dreadful. What subject is it?

Religious Studies.

Oh well. What do you expect?

Cheers! Thanks for your support

But we're all entitled to our opinions.

Not if they're ill informed. (I didn't say)

No. I'm sorry. I can't support you on that.

So he can do as he pleases then?

...Well ... no. ...I expect him to do as he's told.

And do his work.

Ah, well, we're all entitled to our opinions.

This completely misses the point. I want their bloody opinions. I'm forever saying I don't care what you believe. What you are being judged on is your ability to argue a point. There aren't generally right or wrong answers as such but there are good and bad ways of arguing your point.

Then I mark their work.

But you said we could put our own opinions.

That's true but there is the issue of the factual nature or otherwise of what you have written. You can't expect marks at GCSE for writing: "I don't agree. It's crap." or "All Muslims are terrorists."

But you said we could have our own opinions ....

Only if you argue them well.

But that's my opinion.


You said we could put our own opinions.

I survey their little faces, open to accept my wisdom and guidance (Hahahahahahaha) and wonder, not for the first time, how we have have bred such a generation of self-centred, right-wing fascist know-it-alls with no imagination or compassion.

Do you know the Bible Sir?

A bit more than Dan Brown.


Bring on the albino attack monks.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Aren't teenagers wonderful?

In my current frame of mind ALL teenagers are vile, hormonal, defiant and foul-mouthed. The logic behind this is that the teenagers I taught on Friday morning were all those things and therefore all teenagers are.

Firstly you have to understand the language and recognise that all terms are used with a truculent voice tone.

"It's sham, that is!" means: "I'm really sorry, sir, but I don't think that's fair."

"That's gay, that is!" means: "I'm sorry sir, I don't like it."

"I wouldn't dare!" means: "I'm terribly sorry sir, I'd rather not."

Me: "O.K. folks, we need to go to assembly now."

Them: "Thats, sham, that is I wouldn't dare. Assemby is so gay!"

Then in to lessons:

One "young lady" told me very clearly and loudly - and once again just to be sure - exactly what I could do with myself in good anglo-saxon terms. (Good luck at church camp, by the way girl.)

Every child on that register - all 28 of them, aged 14 - has a statement of special educational needs and most have that need identified as "behavioural issues". Well that's fine and dandy then! It's kindergarten with added acne. An hour with the class from hell who have the collective concentration span of a gnat, (What's a gnat, sir?) and all the charm of salmonella. Still they remained in their seats, no one hit anyone - today - and most managed to write a good six lines of misspelt musings on why some people do and others don't believe in God.

"How do you spell paedophile, sir?"


"You know, paedophile vicars and that."

These are the least well informed children in the history of the universe and yet thay have managed to pick up on paedophile priests.

"Sir, what's a vicar?"

"Is the Pope a Christian, sir?"

"I'm a Christian, sir. I was baptised."

Do you believe in God, then?

"Don't be stupid."

Then in the afternoon - an oasis of calm and civility. Eight 17 year olds: bright, personable, witty and high achievers taking their first year of Advanced Level Religious Studies. We looked at the Philosophy of Religion starting with religion and science. How nice to be able to talk sensibly with keen minds about oscillating universes, quantum mechanics and Aquinas and the First Cause. Aren't ALL teenagers wonderful?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Temperature, DFS and a new corridor

So, here at the Knowledge College it continues to be cold. I overheard this between two kids today.

"It was -13 where I live last night."

"That's nothing, It was -4 at my house."

Erm ... I blame the maths staff.

I taught Yr 7 today. They are all a bit dippy. Sweet but needy and I love them all. Well, not Braden obviously.

We were watching a video extract and I didn't switch it off in time before the adverts appeared. The first one was for the furniture retailer DFS.

"DFS. DFS. Desparate for Sex. Hahahahaha."

"Go and stand outside Braden."

"But Sir, it's snowing."

"I know. Desparate for Silence."

Over the Christmas break they shaved some room from two big classrooms to make a new corridor in a problem area where it's always congested. Oh the excitement has been palpable.

"Where are you off to?"

"Maths Sir."

"It's the other way."

"But I want to use the new corridor."

It's like going on an escalator with a three year old.

The staff have been just as bad.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Revision, (as if!) exam marking and tears.

Well, here at the Knowledge College, it's been exam time again. This is also known amongst the staff as the period which will destroy Christmas if you leave marking the papers until the last minute. I left marking the papers until the last minute but still had a good Christmas!

I hate marking at the best of times, but mock-exam marking is the worst. Given that our Yr 11s will be sitting their final exams in a little over five months, the results are usually quite disturbing: on top of the culture which sees revision as a sign of effeminacy I have the added problem of:

"But it's only R.S. Sir. Who needs an R.S. qualification?"

I have set them last year's GCSE paper as their mock. Ignoring the many who are unable to understand the meaning of IN SECTION A ONLY ANSWER 1 QUESTION and the choice indicators: EITHER Q3 OR Q4 and who go on to answer every question on the paper (badly), we still have the joys of specific answers. Here is an example:

Q10: Explain the rights of those involved when abortion is being considered. (6 marks)

I am expecting something which includes:
a) Under the law a woman has the right to choose providing she meets certain specific criteria as set out in the 1967 Abortion Act.
b) The father has no legal rights.
c) Some analysis of U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Unborn Child.
d) Evidence of an understanding that medical staff have a right of opt-out through conscience.
e) Perhaps some understanding of the conflict between a legal right and a moral conviction.

Here is the answer from the first paper I mark:

Their are serten rights of law for abortion of the way of it been considered for people because some people in the world have laws of it not allowed for it to be took place.

Well, I'm glad we've cleared that up then.

It is my own fault. I always mark the weakest groups first in the hope that they will be the easier to mark. I never learn. They are the most fraught and the least legible. I have six exam groups and two are weak: they took longer than the others.

What amazes me is the absolute waffle and rubbish they write asserting it to be what "most religious people believe." (Or usually belive) I use powerpoint in the classroom and so I know exactly what I taught down to the very slide in each lesson. I did not teach "Christians believe animals and humans are equal because you wouldn't want to of (sic) been hunted now would you?"

We were in the same room at the same time but clearly in different dimensions.

Still my faith in human nature is restored. The very first paper I mark in the higher groups earns its owner a grade A.