Challenging Assumptions

I was recently removed from a Facebook discussion after I challenged a cherished axiom of social/political/theological juncture.  (And no, it wasn’t about immigration.) I have also noticed that when I blog about anything that hints at scrutinizing accepted talking points, the traffic drops to nothing. People don’t even read just to say, “What an idiot.” When I want hits, I write sentimental schmaltz. Critical thinking is not a particularly popular pastime.

So what sorts of challenges are unwelcome? How about the one that most recently made me persona non grata.

Ever since Engel v. Vitale was decided by the US Supreme Court in 1962, prayer has become increasingly banned in public schools. What began as a ban on school-sponsored prayer during educational time eventually led to the decision in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe (2000), that student-led, student-initiated prayer at high school football games violates the Establishment Clause.  By extension this covers any student-led student initiated prayer at any school function.

Because Engel is a flawed example of judicial activism, it is bad. If prayer was constitutional for 171 years, it doesn’t suddenly become unconstitutional. This is just like the three-prong test of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) that sets out the requirements of any legislation that touches upon religion. If three prongs weren’t necessary before 1971, they don’t somehow become necessary afterwards. Any cases based on Engel and Lemon (like Santa Fe ISD) are, ipso facto, flawed.

To this point, I no doubt have my cheering section of politically active, conservative Christians behind me. This is, after all, pretty standard Strict Constructionist, Original Intent stuff. However, I think there is a need to re-evaluate, not the legal arguments, but the moral arguments that have become a popular extension from them.

As I mentioned above, I had my comments removed from a Facebook thread. This happened after I challenged the following statement: “Morals declined when we took prayer and God out of school.” (Being removed from a discussion is nothing new to me. I’ve even been thrown out of an entire conservative Facebook group for holding a minority opinion on an issue.)  This proposition has become as much a part of the warp and woof of Christian conservativism as the legal analysis of Engel and its progeny. How dare I question the unquestionable. Yet that is exactly what I do.

I do this for two reasons. First, and most simply, because the truth matters. Second, and perhaps more controversially, because, as I addressed in another instance on this blog less than a year ago, conservative Christians have succumbed to sloppy scholarship.

I do this from two sources of evidence. First, it is worth examining school-sponsored prayer in state education outside of the United States. Second, there is the issue of the historical record and proximate cause.

I bring to this discussion seven years of experience as a teacher in the state schools in England and Wales. As recently as 1998, it was statutorily re-affirmed that in state schools all pupils must take part in a daily act of collective worship unless their parent has requested a waiver. The acts of collective worship must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.” Not only that, but children are also required to attended Religious Education lessons throughout the entire course of their compulsory education. The majority of these RE lessons must also be based on Christianity.

With that experience, and over a decade of living in conservative rural England, I can assure you that the continuation of prayer and even of Christian education in state schools has done nothing to slow the decline of morals, of the young or the not-so-young, in the United Kingdom. Robert Bork once wrote that America is slouching toward Gomorrah. If the United Kingdom sought to pursue the moral standards of Gomorrah and its sister city Sodom, it would be an upward move. These two ancient conurbations of sin are veritable Cities Set Upon Hills compared to the morality of Sceptred Isle.

But what of the possibility of an actual causal link between Engel and moral decline? This raises a couple of related questions. First, did the removal of the content have an effect? What was the nature of that content in 1962?

We first have to recognize that in 1962, prayer in school wasn’t particularly widespread across the United States. It was actually at its peak in the 1920s, though it had been ruled out in quite a few states before or shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Along with mandatory Bible reading, it was the subject of considerable litigation in the state courts, sometimes upheld and sometime overturned, based on state constitutions.

Even though it was patchy across the US, what was the content of prayer in schools in 1962? Let’s look at the prayer that was ruled unconstitutional in Engel. In New York, the following prayer had to be recited by a school official each day: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country.” After Engel, that one sentence was no longer recited publicly at some point during the day. It that enough to send the nation into a moral tailspin?

I cannot count how many examples I’ve seen of charts, graphs, and tables marking the decline in morality since the Engel decision. The interesting thing is that they don’t chart back before 1962 to indicate trends already in the making and unchanged by Engel or its progeny. And of course they don’t demonstrate a direct causal link between the removal of a one-line prayer and the rise in violent crime, sexual promiscuity, music piracy, or whichever evil they are attempting to emphasize. Generally they are based upon the self-evident statement that such evils are what happens when God is removed from public schools. A little circular reasoning goes a long way.

I will finish by going to the heart of the matter. Did “we” (through Supreme Court justices appointed by three different Presidents before almost all of us were born) take prayer or God out of schools? I know I prayed in school long after Engel, which was decided two years before I was born.  Prayer is, after all, talking to God. And can anyone remove God from a school or any place else? On the other hand, how many kids were actually praying when a teacher or principal recited “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our country”? Or was it form over substance?  Can the acts of Supreme Court justices confer collective responsibility upon anyone, not to mention lives not yet in being?

In the UK, God is mentioned everywhere in school and He gets his own lessons, yet almost no one acknowledges Him. In the US, He is not officially mentioned and churches (other than liberal Protestant denominations) continue to grow. He is more openly acknowledged in the media and in politics than in 1962. There are more open visible followers of Jesus amongst young people in America than ever before. In trying to make a connection between the virtually symbolic act of removing prayer from schools and the abundance of sin, there has been ignorance of the fact that grace has much more abounded.

Would it be nice if we returned to the practice of a content-free, one sentence, ecumenical prayer in public schools each day? Perhaps. Is it going to stem the dishonesty, violence, fornication, or whatever other ills we identify in our young people or in our society? No. That takes real prayer. That takes changed hearts and changed lives.

The Impossible DREAM

It appears there will be a token vote, perhaps as soon as tomorrow in the House of Representatives, on the frequently defeated Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act before the end of the lame duck session of Congress. I don’t know if the House has the votes, but the Senate won’t get past a cloture vote, so it’s a moot point.

Nonetheless, it’s litmus test time again.  Time to pull out all the talking points and treat them with the sacredness of Holy Scripture. It’s “amnesty by the back door,” “amnesty by the front door,” “amnesty by climbing in through the window,” etc. I just wish Holy Scripture was treated with the same sacredness.

The DREAM Act would allow children who were brought to the United States by undocumented parents to walk a narrow path to conditional permanent residency and eventually to full permanent resident status. Applying criteria we would never think of applying to those who providentially arrived on the planet north of the Rio Grande – especially if their parents were also so blessed in their own arrival – a few people will received a few opportunties they wouldn’t otherwise have. Of course the hitch is that the oppotunities will completely transform their lives. If there’s one thing we don’t like, it is people having their lives transformed when they don’t deserve it.

Other than the possibility of living out of the shadows and fringes of society, one of the aspects that irks opponents is the possibility that those for whom the DREAM Act is intended will be considered eligible for in-state college tuition. More than one commentator has asked why these people should get the benefit of resident fees when American citizen students from other states don’t. It could be because they are from out of state and aren’t  in the state for other the educational purposes. That’s the usual criteria. But this is a matter that will be decided by the individual states, or even the individual institutions or university systems, depending on how individual states have chosen to operate that decision making process.

One of the more outrageous comments I heard in opposition to the DREAM Act was that it was like letting the children of bank robbers benefit from the proceeds of their parents’ crime. However, this comment highlights a serious misconception that a lot of people seem to have. Legal residency isn’t a property right. Even citizenship is not a property right. It is not a possession. It is a legal status. There isn’t a big citizenship pie which can only be cut into so many pieces, so that only so many people can have some. If that were the case, we would need to consider imposing Chinese-style limits on the number children allowed in each family.

Undocumented aliens haven’t stolen anything by being undocumented. They haven’t stolen safety from drug lords and corrupt government officials. They haven’t stolen the possibility to work for food and shelter. They haven’t stolen the fear of detection that could lead them to being sent back to a place of danger and poverty. Were the DREAM Act to become law, they wouldn’t be stealing a chance at legal residency.

Status is an interesting thing. I was reading yesterday about the changes in the pecking order at Court due to the introduction of Kate Middleton into the British Royal Family. Particularly amongst the ladies, princesses mostly, there seems to be a great deal of concern as to who will now have to curtsey to whom and under what conditions, chiefly revolving around whose husband is in the room at the time. It is easy to look down our egalitarian noses at such nonsense.

But are we anything from outraged to at least a bit irritated that undocumented aliens, whether adults or children, would acquire a status, whether permanent residency or even citizenship, to which they are not entitled? Yet status is something about which the Bible reveals God is very interested. It also uses the analogy of robbery:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

So how do we filter our attitude toward undocumented residents through Philippians 2? Is it useful only in “spiritual matters” or how we treat each other in church? Is this one of those areas where our Christianity and our politics need not meet? Do we bifurcate our responsibilities as a Christian with our responsibilities as a member of the body politic? Are we willing to wash the feet of our undocumented brother and then ring up ICE to pick him up and deport him?

But say it’s nothing to do with Jesus. (Say it at your own peril, but say it nonetheless.) Let’s say it’s just economics. Won’t passage of the DREAM Act lead to all these barely-legal aliens flooding our state colleges and universities, taking away places from natural born (and even those despised anchor baby) citizens? And since they tend to be poorer than rightful Americans, won’t they then be stealing all the financial aid?

I suppose there is an argument to be made for keeping an uneducated social and legal underclass in America. After all, they aren’t going anywhere. Despite all the calls for rounding up every undocumented resident and shipping them to the nearest international bridge and forcing them to walk across at gunpoint, logistically it isn’t going to happen, regardless of which political party is making policy. Likewise, they are not going to voluntarily “go back” to a country most haven’t seen since early childhood. And there are all those necessary jobs that just wouldn’t exist within the constraints of exisiting labor laws, so if we let all these people become legal, who will do the work beneath the dignity of most citizens?

One of the arguments made against the DREAM Act by people like William Gheen of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC is that by allowing the narrow group of qualifying individuals (not that ALIPAC would ever characterize them in such a way) to obtain permanent resident status, they will then be able to bring more relatives into the US legally. But I thought that was what they wanted in the first place: legal immigrants. Thus they expose their agenda, which is really about keeping immigrants out altogether.

Here’s what Gheen said on FoxNews about the beneficiaries of the DREAM Act: “If these illegal aliens, millions of them, are turned into citizens, what it’s gonna do, it’s gonna displace and replace millions of innocent American college students; it’s gonna displace and replace millions, perhaps tens of millions, of American workers; it’s gonna displace and replace millions, eventually, as you said, tens of millions of American voters.”

The best estimates seem to indicate that there are about 65,000 undocumented students graduating from US high schools each year. So we’ve gone from millions to thousands. But graduating from high school isn’t enough. The DREAM Act requires them to also get at least an associate’s degree, complete two years toward a bachelor’s degree, or serve two years in the military during six years of conditional residency. They are ineligible to receive federal financial aid toward their education. They must also keep their nose clean. If they do all that, they are eligible for permanent residency – LPR status with what is commonly called a green card (though the card itself is not green). Permanent residency petitions normally take in excess of a year to process, so really they are looking at seven years of conditional reisidency. LPRs, who must also stay crime-free to maintain their status, become eligible for citizenship after five years. So yes, it is possible for several thousand college-educated or veteran children of illegal immigrants to become citizens after a twelve-year process.

So in reality, the number of students are a drop in the ocean of higher education in the US, where there are over 19 million enrolled. Yes, they will eventually join the job market competing for jobs, but it will be hard to “displace and replace” millions of workers with a few thousand immigrants.

How they are going “displace and replace” voters, I have no clue. As far as I’m aware, there is no competition for the eligibility to vote. A 30-year-old veteran of the US military who was born in Mexico showing up at a polling station will not force election officials to tell a Son of the American Revolution, “Sorry, but you are no longer allowed to vote, as we have to let this new citizen vote, since he got his citizenship under the DREAM Act.” What utter nonsense.

The last bit of nonsense that needs to be addressed is the objection raised by a number of opponents, namely, that we need comprehensive immigration reform rather than a piecemeal approach. If there was any real will in the Republican Party for any sort of immigration reform, this might have a shread of credibility. The only immigration reform desired by most non-Hispanic Republicans is to build the wall higher with enough guns pointed to Mexico to stop new arrivals combined with more aggressive efforts to flush out undocumented immigrants domiciled in the US. The DREAM Act will be rejected now and forever because it does not fit this agenda.

Yet, I can’t get Philippians 2 out of my mind.

The Decline and Fall of the English Language

I was going to blog last month about how a BBC2 documentary found that 80% of Britons cannot recite a single verse of poetry. This is not helped by the fact 58% pupils never study poetry in school. Not a line. The ones who do read Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish lesbian who was just named the new Poet Laureate. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Miss Duffy’s poetry, but reading a single living poet does not constitute a sufficient literary education.

Like I said, I was going to blog about it, but I’d just be whinging once again about the state of education in this country. Then yesterday I was having a conversation with a couple of 14-year-olds. It start with me telling off one of them for using a participle that is an inappropriate term derived from an innocuous noun. He had no idea what a participle is. Okay, that’s not a big surprise. I probably didn’t learn about participles until at least the 9th grade, maybe even the 10th.

The disturbing thing is that neither he nor his friend knew what a noun is. This is something I learned well before the 5th grade, because by then we were parsing sentences. Now with the average 14-year-old, I have trouble getting them to write in sentences. I had a 16-year-old who handed in an entire 1500-word coursework without using a single mark of punctuation. I’m not exaggerating. But back to the boys in Year 9. . .

They had heard the term “noun” before. They just couldn’t agree on what it was. One of them thought it was a “doing” word. The other thought it was a “describing” word. He contended it couldn’t be a “doing” word, because that was an adverb.  These were not pupils in the bottom English set. They were not pupils with special educational needs. Because I was teaching a mixed-ability group, there was a top-set girl who actually knew that a noun was a “naming” word.

No poetry, no grammar. Is it the end of the English language or the end of civilisation?

One thinks of Eliot. . .

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends

No, wait. That would be trite  to anyone who has seen this over-used reference to Eliot.  And on the other hand, clearly it would be lost upon anyone with a secondary education in Britain in the last decade. I believe the general response would be, “T. S. who?”

Rick Perry, Texas and Secession

I love that Texas Governor Rick Perry has stirred the liberal hornets’ nest over whether or not he said things supporting Texas’ right to secede from the Union. He is now saying that his comments were misinterpreted. What a shame. I thought the way the TEA Party crowd in Austin understood them was perfectly good. I say this realising that supporting Texas puts me on the Potential Terrorist List with Homeland Security. But then again, I suppose Rick Perry will have to be on the list for saying, “States’ Rights! States’ Rights! States’ Rights!” so I suppose I’m in good company.

Things didn’t work out so well the last time Texas seceded. Maybe it was because they were held back by all the other Confederate states. When that didn’t go to plan, I had relatives who moved to Cuernavaca rather than live under oppression from Washington.

I have enjoyed all the rantings in the comments to the CNN articles. Being the Commie News Network, it attracts a lot of lefties shrieking about treason. And then the silly comments like ” You can deal with Mexico on your own, as it will then be your neighbor and your problem – not ours” – yeah, because California doesn’t have a problem with illegal aliens and no one has ever trafficked into Arizona.

Or “Please separate from us. As a teacher, I am looking for creative ways to bring up our national average in education. Please leave by all means.” I wonder where that teacher lives and works. Maybe in California, which ranks 22 places lower in Moran Quintos “Smartest State” rankings. In fact Texas ranks above all of the enlightened Left Coast states. It also graduates a higher percentage from high school than all of them.

Then there was “We can pick up Cuba or PR to replace Texas so that we don’t have to change the flag.” Yes, it would be better to absorb a Communist country than have Texans who don’t believe in the dominance of central government. After all, Obama is lifting all the restrictions with Cuba and Castro has responded by saying he is willing to talk with the US about anything as long as it is on equal terms.  So it won’t be absorbed, but it is willing to be an equal partner. I’m sure Cuba is a model for the Obama administration – not just free health care, but government intimately caring about the lives of every individual. If Texas misses out on an opportunity like this, it will put Texas in the 2010’s and the rest of the US in the 1950’s.

If Texas can’t secede, then it should invoke it’s power in the Treaty of Annexation to divide into five states. That would give it ten US Senators and control over 18.5% of the Senate. This wouldn’t have an immediate effect, because the Democrats currently effectively control 58 seats and will probably have 59 when Al Franken is admitted. Eight added Republican seats would only give the Republican 49 of 108, but a 49/59 split is easier to overcome than a 41/59.

Professional Secrecy

I didn’t blog last week about Alex Dolan, when she was suspended by the General Teaching Council for undercover filming in schools. The footage was shown on the Channel 4 investigative program Dispatches and actually brought the state of Britain’s schools into the open. She showed very bad behaviour in four different schools, including teachers hiding badly behaved pupils from Ofsted inspectors, and pupils openly threatening violence against her. She revealed that the education emperor has no clothes and the GTC did not take kindly to being exposed.

This week it is the turn of Margaret Haywood, who filmed the neglect of elder patients in a hospital for Panorama, the BBC investigative program. Even though all the patients gave consent after they were filmed, she was charged with breaching confidentiality and struck off the nursing register. Because she was too concerned about patient care, she was declared no longer fit to be a nurse.

I’m also reminded of the cops who beat up newsagent Ian Tomlinson from behind as he walked down the street with his hands in his pockets during the G20 summit. Tomlinson later died. Apparently the balaclavas over their faces are part of their uniform to protect them from fire, but they are still supposed to wear their identification number. Their numbers were not visible, so it took a while to identify them from the video footage.

Is it any wonder that three of the areas of public service people know aren’t working are education, nursing and law enforcement?

Children and Society: Cause and Effect

Some people on Facebook seemed surprised recently at my willingness to return to what has now become the Obamanation. Though this is not possible for a number of reasons, the newspapers continue to be filled with good reasons flee. I continue to marvel at the British Government’s lack of ability to discern the relationship between cause and effect, instead destroying the remnants of this society, completely baffled by both.

Side by side today in the Mail Online, were a stories about a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old. The older boy shot a teacher in the face with a pellet gun at Beal High School in Ilford, Essex. He got a 15-day suspension. His friends who helped conceal the gun after the incident got shorter suspensions. The teacher was lucky to have been hit between the eyes and not in one of them.

While I agree with the spokeman from the National Union of Teachers that children who use violence against teachers should be expelled rather than suspended, this is the same union that wants all faith schools in the country to be stripped of everything that makes them unique, better performing, and over-subscribed.

The 8-year-old refused to get ready for school on morning. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to go to school, but just because he got up late and was not doing as he was told. His mother smacked him with a hairbrush. A teacher found out. The mother was charged with assault and the boy taken into care by Somerset County Council. She now gets to see him for two hours a week. His long-term future will be determined when she is sentenced later this month.

The court will have to hear from social services whether they think the mother has been re-educated sufficiently to know that even though the law allows for “reasonable chastisement”, social workers are ultimately the interpreters of this language. If they like you, you get your child back. If they don’t, they can (and will, from countless stories in the press) permanently sever the parental relationship. Once an appeals court finally says that bureaucrats have over-stepped the mark, they may also say that unfortunately it’s too late for parents to have their children back.

Parents can’t discipline their children and schools are faced with increasing numbers of children who cannot be controlled at home and no power to control them at school.

Success is Failure in British Education

For the first time ever, a grammar school has failed an inspection. For those unfamiliar with British education, grammar schools are selective schools. Prospective pupils have to pass an entrance exam known as the 11-plus. Where they use to be commonplace, there are now only 168 remaining in England. In most places in the state sector there are only non-selective comprehensive schools.

So how did Stretford Grammar School fail inspection? Was it the location in a highly disadvantaged area? The 30% of pupils for whom English is a second language? After all, if the national average of good GCSE grades  (A*- C) when English and maths are included is 47%, how poorly must Stretford Grammar have been doing to have failed and threatened with closure unless the turn things around? I’ll tell you how poorly: 92% at grades A*-C. Nearly twice the national average.

So what did Ofsted find wrong with Stretford Grammar?

“These include the good personal development and well-being of pupils, the positive attitudes found among students, good attendance and behaviour, the feeling of safety and security in the school, positive pupil/teacher relationships, high staff morale and the good teaching and learning in the sixth form.” Oh, wait, sorry. Those were more of the good points.

So what was wrong with Stretford Grammar?

Lacklustre teaching. The inspectors didn’t like the teaching styles. They couldn’t tick the right boxes concerning what makes a good lesson. Oh, and girls weren’t making enough progress. This is surprising, because everywhere else the problem is that boys are underachieving. In other words, Stretford managed what other schools don’t.

So in case you were wondering, this is what a failing school looks like.

Sacrificing Education to be a Good School

In English primary schools, children sit Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) in May of Year 2 and Year 6. Children in those years (the age equivalent of 1st and 5th grade in the US) spend much of the year preparing for them. This is not because they benefit the child in any way. The tests are one of the Government’s way of judging whether a school is doing well.

Academic accomplishment these days is assessed with the use of imaginary levels. This is not just in primary school, but through most of secondary school as well. In each subject, the Government tells us what skills are required for attaining which levels. The SATs assess these levels in English, Maths and Science. The expected level for 7-year-olds is Level 2.

At a recent parents’ evening we discussed the Older Child’s upcoming SATs. The school wants him to do well… but not too well. This is because schools at all are judges very heavily on what’s called “value added”. They have to demonstrate how much better pupils are performing from one test to the next. As long as Older Child gets a Level 2, he can get a Level 4 at age 11 and the school will still look good. If he were to get a Level 3, a Level 5 at age 11 is only average progress. If he only gets a Level 2 now, a Level 5 at age 11 will look that much better.

Government policy fails to take into account that children develop mentally at different times. It can only deal with uniformity. Everyone must progress at an accepted pace. The Government needs to create league tables, ranking schools from good to bad. Ofsted inspectors need data, especially since the new inspection regime is based much more on paperwork and spreadsheets than ever before.

If Little Johnny (or Older Child) is not the right number of pedagogically indefensible socialist all-must-have-prizes imaginary levels above the last assessment than the school has failed. Is it any wonder that schools and teachers are pressured to get children perform in such as way that benefits the school over the education?

The Swinging Vicar

I’m a bit surprised the Church of England has been so harsh on Teresa Davies.

Sure, there was the problem of showing up so drunk for services that she visibly swayed from side to side.

And then there were the swinging holidays in the south of France. She and her husband advertise on swinging websites. She admitted to the tribunal that she and her husband meet strangers for sex. She had previously denied she had sex outside of her marriage.

As a result a church tribunal has banned her from serving as a priestess for 12 years. I’m sure they will hear from the swinging lobby within the C of E on this one. After all there seem to be strong lobby groups for others who openly have sexual relationships outside of marriage. If anything, this seems to be a case of heterosexual discrimination. Maybe it will even go to an employment tribunal.

Within the team ministry in Daventry, she was given special responsibility for children’s work. She won’t have to give that up entirely. She’s now training to be a Religious Education teacher in schools. She can bring her values into that values vacuum that is British education.

If that doesn’t work out, after a few years she can always go back to being an Anglican priestess.

Ninety Years

At eleven o’clock this morning, the class I was teaching paused for two minutes of silence. Actually, it was a couple of minutes after eleven, because it took a couple of minutes to achieve silence. Thus while we were being silent, there was noise around us. There was no bell to indicate the time so that everyone was in synch.

Even though Year 9s cover the Great War in history, it is not until the summer term. The Year 9s I was teaching didn’t even have the benefit of knowledge to help them grasp the significance that we were observing the moment that exactly ninety years before has seen the end of the most devastating war up to that time.

When I was growing up in the States, we didn’t think much about that war. But then the US lost a mere 116,708 soldiers with 205,690 wounded. That may sound like a lot, until you realise that the UK with half the population at the time lost 994,138 with 1,663,435 wounded, it puts it into perspective. That’s why there is a war memorial in every village in the UK. They were engraved with the names of local boys lost in First World War with most of them amended with a smaller list from the Second.

Though my pupils sat through a Remembrance Day assembly a couple of hours before, it focused on those who served in all wars since 1918. Ninety years is a long time, after all. Most of my students don’t know who their great-grandparents (or reaching back to WWI, often great-great-grandparents) were, not to mention whether they took the King’s Shilling in the Great War. I doubt that even one of them remembered somebody during that 120 seconds at eleven o’clock who served in the War to End All Wars. It might as well have been the Wars of the Roses – history with no connection to the present. History only for the historians.

May enough people continue to care so their memory might be eternal.

Keeping History in Context

At the same time as the election of Barak Obama, in GCSE history we are covering race relations in the United States 1929-90. I’ve never taught this in an American school, but imagine the approach of the syllabus would be roughly the same. We look at the KKK, lynchings, Jim Crow laws, the effect of the Depression on blacks, segregation in the Second World War, Brown v. Board of Education, Little Rock, Ole Miss, Rosa Parks, MLK, and the key events of the Civil Rights Movement. The key idea is that white people, especially but exclusively Southern white people, hated black people (though we aren’t authorised to cover that they were only called “black” for a brief moment in time in the shifting language from Colored to Negro to black to Africa-American). Whites were mean and evil to them, but somehow the black people passively resisted all the white people and eventually Barak Obama was elected.  That last bit falls outside the time period, but it is too good to not mention.

I was commenting on another blog about the relationship between Obama and the legacy of slavery, an institution which the blog owner referred to as an atrocity, saying the same thing I told my students when introducing the background of slavery in the US: we have to be careful in imposing the values of the present day upon the past. People in the mid-19th century lived within a completely different frame of reference. It is very possible that people living 130 years from now will be tempted to condemn aspects of the present day which we cannot imagine would be any other way.

C.S. Lewis says as much in his well-known introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united – united with each other and against earlier and later ages – by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth.

Thus I think about my cousin Melba. Melba was my dad’s first cousin, born in Kentucky in 1915. I got to know her before she died and I don’t think there was an unkind bone in her body. I don’t think I ever heard her speak an unkind word.

Melba and her husband were tobacco farmers. Her husband had died not long before I met her as an adult (we had visited in their home when I was a very young child) and she was winding down the farming. Being the family genealogist that I am, you can imagine that I took in every story I could about living through the 20th century as a tobacco farming family. Tobacco farming is very labour-intensive. Melba spoke with affection about the niggers that worked for them, especially one man who worked for them for many years.

My late 20th century ears were a bit shocked at first. After all, this was a word for which I received corporal punishment from the school principal when I was in the second grade back in 1972. (In my defense, even then, I didn’t habour any ill feelings for the black pupil. I was only saying it because my friend Scott was saying it, but it was a offense of strict liability.) Then she referred frequently to a nigger woman that had been her domestic help until recently.

I don’t for a minute think that she thought of any of these people as equals. But neither did she habour any ill will. It was just the society in which she was raised. She probably supported segregation as long as it lasted in the Bluegrass State. I don’t remember her speaking about it in any negative way. That was just the way it was. On the other hand, I never heard her complain about integration. Maybe she did at the time, but by the time we talked, that was just the way it was.

At the same time we can be glad that everyone in the United States has the same civil rights and participation in the political process, and appreciate that common attitudes have changed, we need to be careful how we characterise the nature of those developments and the broad strokes with which we tend to paint history.

Forcing Sex Education on Five-Year-Olds

I ignored this story when I first saw it in the Daily Mail, but it is all over the news now. The Government plans to teach compulsory sex education in England from the age of 5. Ministers may not even allow for parents to withdraw their children. In other words, unless parents can afford a private school or opt to homeschool, their very young children will be subjected to a combination of the National Curriculum requirements and the bias of their particular school teacher.

Schools Minister Jim Knight thinks sex and relationships education from age five is needed to combat the ‘earlier sexualisation’ of youngsters. It is the usual sex education policy of fighting fire with fire. So if small children are going to see sexual imagery in every exposre to the media, the best thing is to explain it all to them. Even at Key Stage 1 (ages 5-7) teachers will be told not to duck discussions about ‘explicit sexual matters’ if they are raised by pupils. They don’t actually have to teach about sexual intercourse until Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11).

State schools that are faith-based will be allowed to include their own guidance and values in the curriculum. For Catholic schools, that is rather clearly defined. I’m not sure what it means for Church of England schools, since the C of E’s own values about sexuality seem in quite a state of flux. But in nondenominational non-faith state schools, there will only be guidance from the government. As Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, was quoted in The Independent, this is a Government that wants to see “a whole generation fornicating”, something I’ve been saying for a long time.

The other guidance will be form the lifestyles of the teachers themselves. I can’t see how fornicating teachers will be teaching about sex as appropriate only with the context of marriage. If they were to do so, their hypocrisy would undermine what they are saying. As much as teachers may try to keep their private lives private, pupils eventually know whether a teacher is married or living with a “partner”.  Children observing and under the influence of hedonistic teachers can hardly be expected to follow a different path.

Pearls Before Swine

I was discussing the number of Christians in the world with one of my classes and one boy questioned the number of worldwide believers. He doubted that the number was accurate. I agreed with him.

I explained that while demographic experts used a variety of data, that data was not always accurate. I explained that the Chinese government says there are 100 million Christians in China, while researchers at Shanghai University estimate the number is closer to 300 million, because most Christians in China worship in underground churches and are not recognised in the government’s figures. That would put the number of Christians in the world closer to 2.3 billion instead of 2.1 billion.

Then I made the mistake of explaining that many Christians in China and elsewhere are persecuted for their faith. Some kids, including the boy that questioned the numbers, thought that was pretty funny.

I don’t know why I then mentioned that they might have seen in the news that a British Christian who was working with handicapped children in Afghanistan was murdered just a couple of days ago. One girl laughed quite openly. I wanted to cry.

Language Barrier

“Sir, can I work with someone else?”

“With whom?”

“Huh?”

“With whom would you like to work?”

“Huh?”

With whom would you like to work?”

“Whaddya mean?”

“What do you mean, ‘Whaddya mean?’ You asked if you could work with someone else.”

“Yeah. Can I?”

“It depends. With whom would you like to work?”

“Huh?”

“What’s the problem? I’m not going to let you work with just anyone.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So with whom would you like to work?”

“Whaddya mean ‘whom’?”

“I mean, with whom would you like to work?”

“What’s ‘whom’? I don’t know that word.”

“Ah, I see. ‘Whom’ is the objective case of ‘who’.” The declension of pronouns is clearly beyond his grasp. The despair of the inevitability of having to end a sentence with a preposition begins to weigh upon me. “Who do you want to work with?”

“Sam.”

“Fine.”

A fourteen-year-old boy, very intelligent for his year group according to standards of the day, looks back at me like I’m some kind of idiot. He mutters sarcastically to whomever will notice as he walks away, “What’s he on about? Whom. Why doesn’t he just speak English?”

Little Ladettes

Two articles in the Daily Mail today reminded me of a conversation in a lesson yesterday, where some pupils were just incredulous that I only drink alcohol occasionally and never with the intention of getting drunk.

The first article, by Sarah Lyall, a correspondent for the New York Times and recent author of an ex-pat view of the British, asks in the headline ‘Why are you Brits such DRUNKS?‘. The answer could be related the title of the second article, “Mum branded a ‘disgrace’ after she buys 13-year-old daughter stash of alcohol to take on school charity walk“.

But the problem is that I talk to 13-year-olds every day, including yesterday, for whom getting drunk is regular behaviour. These are not down-and-out rough-and-tumble council estate kids with no hope. These are middle class kids from tidy homes. They can’t imagine being able to socialise or have fun without alcohol. The kids yesterday attributed my lack of regular drunkness to my wild religious fanaticism, you know, the fact that I believe in God.

But neither yesterday’s children nor my present school stand out particularly. At my last school, 14-year-olds regularly talked about going out and getting drunk. And it was not like they were sneaking out of the house to do it. Their parents preferred to know where they were, even if it was stumbling down the streets throwing up or urinating in alleyways, behaviour that was also well-known by their fellow pupils.

And I have seen it myself. My favourite kebab shop is for obvious reason right in the middle of the drinking establishments in our fair city. Any time from 8:00pm on, teenagers, usually wearing the slightest amount of fabric that could called clothes, and shouting the foulest language, wander up and down the lanes in drunken packs.

The one thing they all of these pupils have in common is that they were girls. It’s not that boys aren’t doing the same thing. Rather it seems to be the new expression of feminism – working very hard to equal, and now it seems outdo, the men. And if they are drinking like this in their early teens, think of what they will be like in a few years.

Dealing With Aggressive Disbelief

One of the most draining things about my job is dealing with constant militant atheism. It’s not the entertaining sort of atheism I encounter when blogging – the kind that usually comes from adults able to string two thoughts together with some sort of a logical connection. No, this is an atheistic fundamentalism that is supported with the sort of logic that is based in single unanswerable questions.

“God can’t be real because who were his parents?” “Science has proved there is no God because it was a Big Bang.” “God isn’t real because if he was we could see him.” “God can’t be true because it is just made up.”

They don’t even ask the difficult or probing questions. They are so convinced that the most facile questions prove the non-existence of God that they refuse to even listen to the simplest answers. They cannot conceive that their rhetorical questions could possibly have answers. They haven’t thought of an answer (not that they have tried, because they find the very thought of thinking about God revolting) so there cannot be an answer (or more than one).  I never cease to be amazed at the misplaced intellectual self-confidence of 13-year-olds.

Recently I tried to explain the problems with trying to prove a negative. Somehow, despite their mental superiority, they can’t grasp this.

Yet the worst is not the constant questions to which no answers are desired or heard. It is the anger, the aggression,  the vitriol behind this stream of anti-God sentiment.  I just can’t understand how so many children could be so angry about Someone who they don’t even believe exists. They want to blame Him for the ills of the world they insist He did not create nor does He sustain.

When they have to learn about anyone who does believe in God or why they do, the militancy and anger gets reaches new heights. Many of them cannot even read from a textbook without inserting commentary phrase by phrase about how what or who they have read is rubbish.

I suppose it is fortunate I only have to put up with this five days a week.

Customer Service

I’m sorry I haven’t posted recently. Between participating in the active conversations going on in the comboxes of recent posts and completely revising my Key Stage 3 schemes of work, there hasn’t been time for anything new. That being said, I have to relate and email exchange I had today at work. One of the lovely children I teach stole my DVD remote. I need a new one. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

From:Sol
To: parts@companymanufacturingmyDVDplayer
Sent: Monday, September 22, 2008 9:26 AM
Subject: replacement remote

I purchased a DVD player, Model DDVDH1, Serial No. R452007005054A, from Asda in Hooterville, England a few months ago.

I no longer have the remote and would like to know if it is possible to purchase a replacement, either from you or from a supplier of your products in the United Kingdom.

Kind regards

Sol

From: parts@companymanufacturingmyDVDplayerbutusingadifferentemailaddress
Date: 22/09/2008 15:28
To: “Sol” Subj:
Re: replacement remote 

Hello,
We would need to know the model radio you have.
Thank you

From: Sol
Date: 22/09/2008 17:39
To: parts@companymanufacturingmyDVDplayer
Subj: Re: replacement remote

As stated in my previous email, I do not have a radio, I have a DVD player. As I stated, it is Model DDVDH1. Thank you

They’re Back

The summer holidays are now well and truly over. After three days getting ready, the kids arrive tomorrow.

It is 37 school days until half term.

Palin’s Creationism Hurts Obama’s Chances

So it’s not bad enough that Sarah Palin is pro-life, she is a creationist? She may even support the teaching of Intelligent Design. The liberal blogosphere is in a tizzy. How could such a person be running for Vice President?

They somehow think this is going to be a negative. In all of their haughtiness, they forget that most Americans are creationists. According the a 2005 CBS poll, only 15% of respondents believe humans evolved without God being involved. 51% said God created humans in their present form. For creationists and other ID proponents, Palin’s views only confirm her credentials.

Despite the hopes of the shrieking Left, Palin’s views will not drive any voters away.

The issues was made directly relevant to voter preferences by a CBS poll in the aftermath of the 2004 election. It found that 47% of Kerry voters believe that God created humans in their present form. Another 28% of Kerry voters believed in God-guided evolution. 56% of Kerry voters wanted Creationism and evolution taught in schools.  24% of Kerry voters wanted Creationism taught instead of evolution.

Clearly if Obama is going to be more successful than Kerry and actually win, he will need the support of creationists and ID proponents. I am very happy for his supporters in the blogosphere (or anywhere else for that matter) to continue mocking them and deriding them. Alienate them – please.  It just further demonstrates that Obama’s beliefs and values are not those of middle America.

Country Music Goes PC

As I have mentioned before, I’m a big fan of country music artist Taylor Swift. I may not fit her target demographic, but clearly she has a broad enough fan base to be the only female artist in the history of the Billboard country charts to have five consecutive Top 10 singles from a debut album.

I was pleased to learn that she got her high school diploma through a Christian homeschooling organisation. Families have to agree with Aaron Academy’s statement of faith. I’m guessing that means Taylor and her family are Christians.

I acquired a copy of the available-only-at-Wal-mart EP Beautiful Eyes. Since we have no Country radio in this country, I had never heard the radio mix of “Picture to Burn”. I was disappointed that the PC lobby apparently got to her record company. The lyrics originally said:

So go and tell your friends
That I’m obsessive and crazy,
That’s fine
I’ll tell mine
You’re gay,
And by the way,

Now the last part says:

That’s fine,
you won’t mind
if I say

The thing is that the original lyrics weren’t even offensive gay listeners, if the 90 comments on the 9513 blog are any indication. It’s only politically correct straight people who couldn’t get the context and the usage. The original lyric is about retaliation and fighting fire with fire. (Not exactly turn the other cheek stuff, but when have you ever known an offended young woman to thinkabout that when it comes to lying ex-boyfriends?) The new lyric makes no sense.

A perfectly good lyric has been sacrificed for the sake of a group who don’t even care.

Benefits of Swearing

For students who feel they might be short a few marks on English GCSE exams, they can always add a few obscenties. In fact, the only thing a student needs to do is write some obscenties.

The largest exam board, AQA, gives marks for f**k off, as according to the chief examiner, Peter Buckroyd, “It would be wicked to give it zero, because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for – like conveying some meaning and some spelling. It’s better than someone that doesn’t write anything at all. It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank.”

An AQA spokesperson tried to distance the board from the chief examiner’s remarks. The only thing is that it is the chief examiner who writes the exam and trains the other exam markers. So the AQA office can meaninglessly distance itself all it wants.

The Government has a regulatory body responsible for all the exam qualification, Ofqual. They don’t want to get involved. Their spokesperson said, “We think it’s important that candidates are able to use appropriate language in a variety of situations but it’s for awarding bodies to develop their mark scheme and for their markers to award marks in line with that scheme.” Who creates the mark scheme? The chief examiner, of course.

The student who wrote the exam answer used by Mr Buckroyd to train markers did not get full credit for “f**k off” because he did not include punctuation. “If it had had an exclamation mark it would have got a little bit more because it would have been showing a little bit of skill. We are trying to give higher marks to the students who show more skills.” According to The Times, with an exclamation mark it would be worth 11% of the marks on the GCSE paper.

School’s Out For Summer

Well, as far as the pupils are concerned.

I have to go back tomorrow for a few hours. I need to make an appearance at least. I can’t actually do anything in my room, because it is being used for a first aid course all day.

Because the Unnamed Woman had to go out of town today, I had to get a ride to school today with a colleague who also lives in Hooterville. Unfortunately, she couldn’t take me all the way home – something I didn’t know until she was about to drop me off on the opposite side of the city. All of a sudden I was stranded some miles from home. It is a good thing I didn’t bring my usual bags with me today and only had my lunch box.

I had to walk for a mile to get to a cashpoint so I could get money for a taxi. I’ve checked the route on Google maps to confirm this. Not bad for a disabled person with significant mobility limitations. It was another 1.7 miles to my house. The taxi cost me £7, about as much as it costs me to commute all the way to work and back each day. It took me nearly an hour from the time I was dropped off until I got home.

Fix

We are coming into the home stretch. There is one more week of school. At my previous school, apart from Sports Day, this meant working them to the bone up until the last lesson. At my current school, in addition to Sports Day, there are other school activities plus the use of a time-honoured tradition, the I-can’t-be-arsed-to-teach -you-and-you-can’t-be-arsed-to-learn video. Surprising as it may be, this has not severely affected academic results.

For primary schools, it is the last chance to have their school fete and raise a bit of money. At the school where the Unnamed Woman is secretary of the PTA, that was last night. In the pouring rain. Since she is the real mover and shaker on the PTA, she organised almost the whole thing for days upon end. She even bought a load of raffle tickets and put my name on them. Now that was a waste of money. A real waste of money.

Instead of leaving her to do the many other things she was doing, the chairperson of the PTA needed the Unnamed Woman to assist with the draw, by keeping track of who won what, because everything has to be reported to the local government.

I have never ever won anything in a raffle. I still haven’t. When the local celebrity stuck his hand down in the middle of a bunch of folded up tickets – we are talking a huge plastic file storage box – he pulled out mine. The top prize. £100! Only I never saw the ticket. The Unnamed Woman unfolded it, looked horrified and to shouts of “fix” quickly shoved it back into box with the hundreds of other tickets. I don’t know why they were shouting – I was the one who should have been shouting and didn’t even know it until after everything was said and done.

So not only did the Unnamed Woman donated hundreds of hours of time, she also donated the top raffle prize. My £100. I’m not bitter.

Punished for Refusing to Pray to Allah

In my first teaching position, I was at loggerheads with my head of department because she insisted that pupils be taught to put “(PBUH)” – abbreviation for the traditional Muslim blessing “Peace be Upon Him” – after writing the name of the false prophet Muhammad. She was not a Muslim and the handful of Muslim pupils in the school couldn’t have cared less whether anyone did it. Not surprisingly, I would not speak a blessing upon a false, Incarnation-denying, Trinity-denying prophet, nor could I, in good conscience, and in light James 3:1, encourage my pupils to do so.

Sadly, it is all too common practice in teaching Religious Education to teach the rituals of other religions in a kinaesthetic way. For most students there is no conscience issue. They would be just as happy offering incense to Caesar and saying it is nothing and it is meaningless. They wouldn’t know and honestly probably wouldn’t care that many Christians have died for just as much. That former head of department never understood how this violated my conscience and frankly didn’t care.

So why do I mention these things from the shrinking past? Because for some people they are the things of the present. An RE teacher at Alsager School in Cheshire (whose identity is unavailable as Alsager School does not publish staff names on its website or in its prospectus, but who news reports indicate is Welsh) gave detentions to two boys who refused to pray in Allah in Arabic following the Salah ritual motions. They were punished for being “disrespectful to the prophet.”

This was after the teacher had a child produce a bottle of drinking water and began washing her feet with it. The pupils had to wear the relevant headgear. One girl who did participate (though her mother was not happy to learn of it) was told off for not doing it right. Apparently enough of them didn’t do it right, because in addition to the detention given to the two boys, the whole class missed breaktime.

The grandfather of one pupil noted, “But if Muslims were asked to go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion, there would be war.” This is a bit of an overreaction. We know from a number of recent incidents that there would only be protests in the streets threatening to kill anyone involved, and a significant number of Christians in third world countries would be attacked and killed by local Muslim mobs. Okay, and maybe a few churches would be burned down. Oh yeah, and there would be the official threats against the United Kingdom and any of its allies from various Islamist governments around the world. And admittedly this would be serious enough to warrant a terrorist attack or two.  But honestly, there probably wouldn’t be an actual war.

Summer

We’re coming into the home stretch of the school year. Three more weeks. All the reports have been written and most of the marking has been done. Now there’s lots of administrative stuff to fill the time, including all of the planning for the new year.

It’s during these long summer days that I’m most jealous of American teachers and their three months off. You can get a lot done in three months. We get six weeks. June would be such a nice month to spend at leisure, reading in the garden, writing a book, or working on an advanced degree.

June is almost over. The longest day of the year has passed, and now we begin to ever-shorter journey to the depths of winter. Yes, it’s all downhill from here.