Saturday, October 24, 2009

Telling tales out of School


My Yr 9 classes have been analysing Aquinas and his First Cause Argument in advance of discussing why many Christians are happy to accept the Big Bang Theory.

"Is he still alive then sir?"

"Who?"

"That Aquinas bloke."

"Which part of Medieval didn't you get?"

We got through the Big Bang theory quite well seeing as we were discussing difficult ideas such as the idea that there was once a time when there was no "before" and, therefore, there was a time before which there was no such thing as time.

"Sir. My head hurts."

Then we had to discuss what we meant by "nothing" as in before time began there was nothing.

"When I say nothing, what visual image do you get?"

"An empty space."

"That's something."

"Blackness."

"That's something too."

"Now my head really, really hurts."

"If you had to make a choice between the Big Bang Theory and the traditional Creation Story, which is easier to understand?"

In chorus: "The traditional Creation Story."

"Which is easiest to believe?"

Silence.

"So what's the conclusion?"

"Sometimes the scientific explanations are as off-the-wall as the religious ones."

We are making progress.

Then we moved on the Darwin and Evolution.

"Is he still alive Sir?"

"Yes. And isn't he looking really good for two hundred?"

"Really?"

"O.K. Which period on the time line was two hundred years ago.?"

"Roman."

"Tudor."

Take me now Lord.

Yesterday was the last day of the half term and that is traditionally a dress as you please day where the kids pay £1 each which goes to a local charity.

I am faced with Billy and Tom, two likely lads in Yr 9 who should never be in the same class together. They decide to do up their anoraks to the top.....over their heads. I have the uncomfortable feeling that I am talking to two decapitated beings whose voices sound strangely disembodied through the fabric. As they are such a pain I have a fleeting desire to silently usher the other kids out via my office and leave them to it.

"But it's dress as you please day."

"Notice that the key word in that sentence is dress as opposed to do"

"Sir. You're wearing converse."

"Wow. How did that happen?"

"You look like Dr. Who....only older."

Cheers. He's 760 years old.

I had my exams analysis meeting with a senior colleague and we concluded that my department's results were 12% below target and therefore the official performance descriptor would have to be "inadequate". Now those targets are based on national assessments the kids did at Key Stage Three - two years ago - in English, Maths and Science but not in Religious Studies so I have a big problem with the data as a predictor of GCSE performance in my subject area in the first place. I ask my colleague how this can make sense given that the three of us who teach R.S. have classroom observation data consistently in the top tranche of the staff and consistently positive. Neither of us have an answer. How can you have three first class teachers and inadequate results? One of the means of assessment has to be wrong surely?

"I'm not being awful Sir. I enjoy the lessons and the discussion and all and you make them interesting and fun and everything, but I didn't choose to take R.S. It was compulsory. I don't need it for my job. I've got enough other subjects to worry about so if I do well that's a bonus but I shan't be revising when I could be doing my maths. You've got to prioritise."

It's hard to argue. I have a conscript army of students and the government wants good grades? They don't go together. The key phrase in all that for me is "I enjoy the lessons and the discussion and you make them interesting and fun..."

"Sir, Sir. Right. Jesus right. Was he real?"

I am tempted to ask a sarcastic question about why millions of people would follow a fictional character, often in times of great difficulty and often at severe personal cost including persecution and martyrdom, but opt instead for a more reasoned approach, deeply depressed at the lack of background awareness that seems to get worse year on year.

"There is no doubt about the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. He is mentioned in contemporary historical documents of the Romans and Jews. Jews and Muslims believe in Jesus as a historical character."

"Yeah, but those history people could of bin (sic) in on it."

Sage nods from elsewhere in the group.

"What? Why?"

"I dunno."

"Well come back and tell me when you do."

"The issue isn't about whether there was a Jesus. There undoubtedly was....."

"How do you know?"

"Because of the evidence."

"It could of bin forged."

"Why? Who could possibly benefit from such a conspiracy?"

"Anyway, Jesus didn't die. He moved to France and started a family."

"And that would be the Jesus that was made up then? Where'd you get that idea from?"

"That book in the Bible."

"Which book in the Bible?"

"You know. The Da Vinci Code. Honestly Sir, you're supposed to know these things."

I am going to put out a contract on that bloody man!