(Almost) all you need to know in one glorious Book

Well, glory be and alleluia! The Church of England have finally woken up to the fact that children need to be taught Religious Education in schools—what we called Scripture and which gave us the firm foundations on which we could build our lives. Something solid. None of this woolly ‘Whatever’.

“Understanding Christianity” is a set of comprehensive materials for children from 4 to 14 to develop their understanding of Christianity. This is intended to help them to make sense of the world and their own experience within it. Let’s hope that will scotch the idea that God is an old man in the sky.

Revd Nigel Genders, the Chuch of England’s Chief Education Officer says “The ability for young people to have informed conversation and dialogue about belief and faith is key to building a peaceful society and helps combat ignorance and extremism”. Youngsters who can hold conversations about faith and have dialogues about belief will certainly help to put a spoke in the wheel of those “safe space” wimps who constantly seek a security blanket of some kind to protect them against anything such as a dangerous thought or an offending word. I’ve met old people like that but I find it difficult to get my head round the idea coming from “thinking” students.

I do hope schools will respond positively. The Bible is actually a wonderful resource for teachers. You can grab a child’s attention with an enthralling story and, with a biblical story, move on to history and geography; if you begin with the story of Joseph you can include drama and music as well. Moses lends himself to the same treatment; from the brilliant beginning of the baby in the bulrushes you can’t go wrong. Try cooking with manna in a lesson on nutrition. No maths? Go to Noah. By the time you’ve had the children work out the measurements of the Ark, calculate the amount of food needed for the animals and compute the amount of rain that will need to fall before the Ark is afloat I think you’ve covered a lot of the basics. Then you can move on to the building of the Temple.

I’ve often thought you could teach some age groups for a year without going much beyond Genesis and Exodus, (with no nonsense about Creationism) and still cover most subjects in the curriculum. Probably I’m talking through my hat. My teaching was limited to 12, 13 and 14 year old girls, all D streamers in a Secondary Modern school near Heathrow. If there was a curriculum I can’t remember what it involved.

I do remember one beautiful summer we measured things, beginning with the playing fields. We were none of us very good at Maths so I reckoned we needed to learn practical things like how much wallpaper and how much paint we’d need to decorate a room. And how much grass seed we’d need to sow a lawn. I was qualified to teach History but even there I taught the Georgians largely through the medium of Georgette Heyer novels. As David Attenborough said recently of his Zoo Quest series—“We’d never be allowed to do it now.”

Of course I didn’t have to prepare children for exams, apart from end of term tests. I can see it wouldn’t be much preparation for A level Maths or the International Baccalaureate.

We used to know the Bible much better than we do now; not just the New Testament but the Old Testament as well. What made me realise this was reading a short story by Dorothy L Sayers. She was a very good theologian but this was one of her murders. It was entitled ‘Nebuchadnezzar’, but that was just the name of the game that was being played. It was a form of charades, where the letters of a name were acted, scene by scene. This was around the early Thirties, I think, when these games were taken very seriously, with dressing up and appropriate props such as colander helmets and toasting fork tridents. In the story, the first letter was definitely J, either Jezebel or Jehu, and the next letter was either A for Adam or E for Eve. The third letter was either N for Naaman, L for Leper or E for Elijah. They left the Bible for the fourth letter. L for Lancelot or E for Elaine was from the Knights of the Round Table. Finally, the last scene, again from the OT, revealed the word to be Jael.

You couldn’t do that these days, not even in a theological college where the teaching of the Old Testament is, apparently, severely limited. You could argue that these are not very nice stories to teach children but in the middle of the horrible history of Jezebel you read the wonderful passage where God comes to Elijah, not in the wind, nor the earthquake nor the fire “but after the fire, the still, small voice.” The hideous slaughter going on in that part of the world (the fall of Fallujah, as I write) makes the Bible battles both topical and relevant.

In any case, I don’t think, if it’s being carefully taught in context, the story of Jael hammering a tent peg into Sisera’s head, is anything like as bad as some of the on-line games modern kids play.

NB When BT said May 27th they meant June 7th but I’m not holding my breath. I actually began writing this on May 27th in hope!


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