"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

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Daily Mail Song and Melanie Phillips

Oh look: there she is on Fox News. Says it all really.

I am constantly warning my charges to be selective about what they:
a) Read
b) Believe
as far as newspapers are concerned. This sort of proves my point. If you aren't British - and even if you are - never try to use the Daily Mail to win an argument.

As a case in point I give you the redoubtable Melanie Phillips, "journalist", from yesterday's edition I find this intersting, not so much because of her editorial style which is as predictable as ever, but because, judging by the on-line comments, she really missed the public mood. When the readers of the Daily Fail turn on a neo-con "journalist" in this way, the end of the world (at least as we know it) must be nigh.

Gove: Spot the Difference

Uncanny eh?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Piaget and buses.

My Yr 10s have worked very hard today but we are disadvantaged by my classroom's proximity to the school's bus lane. From 2.20 to 2.40 we live on the edge and the strange acoustics don't give us any warning. Woosh! Out of nowhere a red coloured tornado flies past the window.

“BUS!” shouts Matthew.

Two minutes later the bus has turned round and wooshes past again.

“BUS!” shouts Matthew.

When I was a student-teacher we learnt about the development of cognitive thinking in children via the writings of a Frenchman called Piaget. His three year old daughter was having trouble distinguishing between "slug", "same slug" and "different slug" in the garden. I have managed to apply this principle to Matthew. He now shouts "BUS." and two minutes later "SAME BUS." Matthew is 15.

One feels tax-payers money isn't being entirely wasted on the education of children in the area.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Take me now Lord, it's time for Sex-Ed

The first lesson of Sex-Ed with 14 Yr olds is the longest hour of each year. We have the conversation about the need for maturity and common sense during which they (the boys, anyway) usually manage to snigger.

If you aren't able to be mature then I'll know that you aren't ready for Sex-Ed.

We're doing Sex-Ed? WAYHAYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!

Oh God.

My way into this is to start off with a very good website that allows the kids to explore a variety of subjects, take quizzes and be generally interactive. It usually works well with me as consultant answering questions.

But not today: this is class 9D5.

Remember to click on the British, not the Australian flag.

Which is which Sir?

Sir. SIR. It says penis. Hahahahahahaha.

It will do. It's a Sex-Ed site.

Sex! Wayhay. Hahahahahahaha.

Oh God.

Sir. Jacob's got pubic lice. Hahahahahaha.

Sir. Tell him. I haven't. Shut up Josh: you don't even have pubic hair yet.

This is going well, then.

Sir, what are gentinels?

You know that conversation about maturity and adult behaviour?

Sorry Sir. Vagina! Hahahahahahaha

I wander through to the librarian's den.

Do you know, I hate Sex-Ed?

Would you like a Jaffa Cake?

Sir, right. It says here that feeling tired and stomach cramps may be a sign of pregnancy. I think I might be pregnant.

O.K. Luke, let's run that section again shall we?

Sir. Have you ever heard of a sex thing called Sleeping Beauty?

(There is going to be no right answer to this.)

Right. What happens is you sit on your hands for ten minutes so that you lose the feeling and then when you masturbate it feels like someone else is doing it .... so I'm told.

Really? Fancy that eh?

My colleague, the Librarian wanders in.

On Friday afternoon, I'm making plastecine penises with Yr 7. They must be labelled and anatomically correct - and of course, the right size.

How do we know what the right size for a Yr 7 penis is?

Another Jaffa Cake?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Those bloody kids again!

My Year 10 have their GCSE exam tomorrow. As far as revision is concerned, it’s back to leading a horse to water etc. Short of revising for them (which, no doubt, some of them would appreciate) I don’t see what else I can do.

When we broke up for the Spring Bank half-term break I told them all to use the VLE and that I would be checking to see who had logged on and downloaded the revision material. When I checked on the Wednesday of that week it had crashed and was not available until Monday of this week. Great! However, only two students have subsequently told me that they couldn’t access it which is probably an indication of the numbers who actually tried.

Liam, I don’t see your name on the VLE.

“I know. I forgot.”

Forgot? Forgot the exam or the need to revise?


How? How do you do that?

I wrote to a number of parents before the break suggesting that their little darlings were not taking revision seriously. To my knowledge none of them have logged on so far and one came to me yesterday to ask how to do it. Yesterday.

Aren’t you cutting it a bit fine?

“It’ll be alright.”

Her name is still not appearing on my log-on statistics.

Yesterday I had three Yr 10 classes. I booked computer rooms for each occasion. I will lead the horses to water.

Group 1: top set. Purposeful work and all on task. I have no anxiety about this group.

Group 2: bottom set. The INTERNET crashed and so we could not access the revision material that way and had to return to the class for a text-book based revision lesson. None of them logged on overnight.

Group 3: an upper ability set.

When you print off revision sheets, don’t print as slides. Print as handouts so that you get eight slides to a page otherwise it’s a waste of paper.

I said that at least three times.

Literally hundreds of wasted full slide pages later ..... and no one is prepared to ‘fess up, so they remain uncollected. Another forest wasted.

Then there is the scrum around the printer because half of them don't have the wit to include a header with their name on it and it never occurred to me that I would need to tell them and so we are left with lots of odd pages and half presentations that haven't been picked up. More for the recycle bin.

I need to see from the stats that you have all accessed each of the topics.

When I check most of them have managed two. In an hour.

What do you have to do to make them take revision seriously?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Climate change, Chamberlain, Niemoller and Pascal.

This post follows on from the two that went before. It would be best to read those first.

There are still those who deny climate change: we are in the midst of a natural climate cycle, they tell us. Well, every year in this century has been warmer than all but one in the last, 1998. Given that I've yet to hear anyone who denies climate change saying that human activity has made no difference, then if we were in the middle of a natural warming cycle I can't see the argument that we have nothing to worry about because our actions must still be exaccerbating the effects of any warming cycle. That doesn't let us off the hook as some would argue. In fact it changes nothing for the Theist because we still have the God given injunction to care for the planet. Doing nothing - even if the sceptics are right, and the world is warming because that's what it does periodically - is not an option. The planet is warming. Does it matter why when we need to do what we can to counter the effects? Or starve: "Consumption of the four staples that supply most human calories — wheat, rice, corn and soybeans — has outstripped production for much of the past decade, drawing once-large stockpiles down to worrisome levels. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes in international grain prices since 2007, with some grains more than doubling in cost.

Those price jumps, though felt only moderately in the West, have worsened hunger for tens of millions of poor people, destabilizing politics in scores of countries, from Mexico to Uzbekistan to Yemen. The Haitian government was ousted in 2008 amid food riots, and anger over high prices has played a role in the recent Arab uprisings.

Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system: climate change." (A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself - New York Times)

This is the point at which the two sides part company because the deniers fall back on the economic argument. Why try to make a difference when "thousands of (American) jobs" will be lost in a competative world market?

This economic argument is already looking frayed around the edges. Today's Observer newspaper gives us an excellent example of the faulty nature of the economic argument. "In 2006, Mozambique was refused a request for £2m from the international community to improve its flood defences. A year later, after severe flooding, more than £60m in post - disaster aid was granted." Still, it's Africa: they don't know how to look after themselves there. It's third world. They're used to poverty and disaster.

This approach puts me in mind of Neville Chamberlain's famous quote following the German invasion of Czeckoslovakia. "A far away country of which we know little." -and cared about, presumably, less.

Then we have Pastor Niemoller's famous words "In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up." Is it our intention in the rich First World to simply ignore the plight of the poor in the Third World because they live in "far away" countries of which we know - and apparently care - little until we are the last ones left by which time it will be too, too late? That seems like the current strategy. It'll ruin our economy (America, Australia, China, India, Russia etc). Me first. Me first. Self interst. Never mind anyone else. Not putting the technology available to us now in place is a false economy because it will cost us more in the long term by which the chances of success will be the more limited.

My own view on climate change, other than to care less how it is being caused because it self-evidently is being caused, is to go with the principle behind Blaise Pascal's wager for the existence of God which went something along the lines of: rational people should bet on the existence of God and act accordingly because if they are right they have won everything and if they are wrong they have lost nothing. In climate change terms, then: rational people should bet on the existence of climate change because if they are right and have acted accordingly, they have won everything and if they are wrong they have lost nothing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Climate change: can there be a theology of Stewardship?

Can there be a theology of Stewardship? What do we mean by Stewardship? My pupils have an understanding that Stewardship means looking after something on someone else’s behalf. One pupil, helpfully, has a father who is the steward of a working man’s club and was immediately able to explain to the class how he looks after the club on behalf of the membership.

Christians generally accept this model for our stewardship of the planet: of course we are stewards for future generations. No one seriously denies that, but for the Theist we are also looking after the planet on God’s behalf and the injunction to do so is found in the creation myth of Genesis. We are given dominion over – put in charge of – the fruits of God’s creation. (Gen 1: 28.) “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (Gen 2:15). We are also told that God chose to make man in his own image. This generally leads to all sorts of unhelpful ideas in the teenage mind until we consider that we are talking about a moral, not physical likeness. This requires something of a jump in adolescent thought processes because it involves adeas of accountability and responsibility that teenagers aren't usually too hot on. There is also God’s comment to Noah that “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea.” (Gen 9:2) which seems to arise from the potential misuse of this responsibility for the planet.

Can anyone be in doubt that today the whole created order is experiencing the fear and dread of humanity because of our careless stewardship? What has our attitude generally been towards "dominion" over the environment (at least until recent years)? Looking back, it doesn't seem to have been a benign srewardship as we have largely (and carelessly) treated the planet as an infinite resource, only recently recognizing that the earth is showing evidence of the strain such treatment has caused. Could it actually be that we have taken the earth for granted?

The most recent IPCC Fourth Assessment Report stated that it is now very likely that most of the observed increase in globally‐averaged temperatures in the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. These figures, and the many like them, are unpopular in some quarters, disputed by big business - the oil industry in particular, and some governments and political parties around the world and there is a very effective campaign of deliberate misinformation to mislead the public. In my parent's Daily Mail I came across a piece written by Benny Peiser from the Global Warming Policy Foundation. It was vitriolic about green energy initiatives and included phrases such as ... spurred by the Government's stubborn but wrong-headed commitment to renewable energy ... so it was fairly clear which direction this was coming from. The article didn't include much about the Global Warming Policy Foundation so I did a little web-search. No surprises. The GWPF's first act was to call for a high-level, independent inquiry into the e-mails that they called "leaked" from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit. O.K. so its position becomes clearer and one which, of course, fits the approach of the Daily Mail.

According to Wikipedia Director Benny Peiser declined to reveal the sources of funding for the GWPF. Peiser said GWPF does not receive funding "from people with links to energy companies or from the companies themselves." In accounts filed at the beginning of 2011 with the Charities Commission and at Companies House, it was revealed that only £8,168 of the £503,302 the Foundation received as income up to the end of July 2010 came from membership fees. In response to the accounts the policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change Bob Ward commented ""We can now see that the campaign conducted by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which includes lobbying newspaper editors and MPs, is well-funded by money from secret donors. Its income suggests that it only has about 80 members, which means that it is a fringe group promoting the interests of a very small number of politically motivated campaigners.

According to the Guardian This month, in a letter seen by the Guardian, Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, wrote to the foundation criticising its website for being "riddled" with "multiple serious errors" about global temperature trends, citing a number of examples and inviting the foundation to urgently correct or explain them. Ward says he has yet to have received acknowledgement of his letter.

Now £503,302 is not a huge sum so it seems to me that this organisation is not a major player and yet the Daily Mail gives it acres of column space. Strange that.

Last year, the hottest on record, nineteen countries reached their highest ever recorded temperatures. Some fairly extreme weather conditions followed as a predictable consequence. We should not worry about unseasonal weather patterns leading to flooding, drought, forest fires and twisters though, although we do tend to sit up and take notice when such phenomonen hit us and our neighbours while remaining unconcerned when such events hit poor countries. "Recent figures suggest that of the 1.4m people killed directly by weather disasters around the world over the last 30 years, 83% lived in low and lower middle income countries" (The Observer "Comment" 05.06.2011) Surely these phenomena are textbook examples of the kind of impact that can be expected in a warming world. At the same time I'm starting to lose track of what constitutes "normal" weather and I suspect I am not the only one.

At the same time those of us who accept climate change need to be careful about arguing from the perspective of scientific consensus. I think there is a consensus that humanity has made a significant contribution to environmental degradation which includes climate change but at the same time we need to be clear that the science is good before we are too self congratulatory. We need to remember that there was consensus in the days of Copernicus and Galileo - but it wasn't on their side - although it is fair to say that the church has a poor history of catching up after failing to surpress what ultimately turned out to make it look foolish.

As a consequence the church is often viewed with some scepticism considering its influence over the opinions and behaviours of its massed membership, and yes there are still some whose grasp on scientific matters is akin to the notion of the flat earth. However the church, or some elements of it at least, seems to be on board this time and there are many Christian groups, congregations and individual believers at the forefront of environmental pressure groups and conservation movements.

So the recognition of the need for a moral and ethical response that goes side by side with action is growing. To those who argue that climate change is real, it is self evident that the situation we are in is a direct result of the activity of wealthy nations who were industrialised early on and that the consequences will most clearly be felt by the least wealthy and least economically developed nations. It is this deep injustice that requires an ethical response. Even so, to hear some Christians talk one might be forgiven for failing to grasp that Jesus stood in solidarity with the vulnerable and those who faced injustice: the same man who informed us that when we cared for the sick, the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers and the prisoners "...you did it to me."
(Mat 25.40)

A Biblical passage very much in my mind of late, is “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:18‐19) This is, of course, a passage about signs of God’s Kingdom: In developing a theology of climate change, this bias for the poor and the tackling of injustice is paramount. Where is Jesus’ imperative to “Love your neighbour as yourself” in the climate change debate?

Climate change threatens to cut across - indeed is already cutting across - the success of all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These eight goals were developed in response to the world’s main development challenges and include:
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development

And in the main what do we do? We bury our heads in the sand and pretend it isn't happening and/or we listen to the lies of others because their viewpoint is a safer one than the alternative: "It's all an illusion and a conspiracy. Don't worry. All will be fine."

It won't.

What should the Christian response be?

Presumably more than just turning the T.V. off standby.

The problem is that the Bible is little help to us in this matter. It has nothing to say directly on climate change and to many Christians, particularly those of a more literalist persuasion, that is the end of the matter unless you want to get tied into evangelical eschatology with Revelation being quoted as God's final word. Even more concerning is the attitude of those Christians who believe that climate change is itself a sign of the coming Kingdom and is to be welcomed and encouraged because it will usher in the Rapture.

I think we deserve a better theological response and one way into it may well be to stop squabbling about the "proof" or "consensus" of science, sunspot activity and cyclical changes in the climate and recognise these as side shows. This is a justice issue and it takes us back to the start of this post: if we are made in the moral likeness of God then there is an imperative.