Tag Archives: British values

THE POWER OF STORIES

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking at the Leeds Prayer Spaces in Schools conference. I chose to talk about the power of stories. Why? Because stories are fundamental to our understanding of the world and they are the way we find a meaningful place in it.

I consider myself to be one of the most fortunate people around. I’ve not only spent much of my life teaching, I’ve also spent most of that time, as a teacher of English and music, immersed in stories. What could be better than introducing students to other people’s stories through literature and music, and then helping them to tell their own stories in words and sound? It really doesn’t get any better: I was storifying in a range of media long, long before the power of stories was realised.

So imagine my delight this week when I came across the Jubilee Centre for Character and Values’ report Knightly Virtues: Enhancing Virtue Literacy Through Stories. The Foreword begins:

‘Only human beings can tell stories. And only human beings can pass them along. To communicate what matters most, we share great narratives from literature, as well as stories from our own lives. In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre (1981: 216) argues that our lives are so deeply narrative that we can only answer the question: ‘What am I to do [with my life]?’ If we can answer the question: ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’

Stories are fun. Stories motivate. Stories spark imagination. They help us to form knowledge; to make sense of our daily experiences and our memories. Stories are where we dream. But above all, stories are universal and it’s through their universality that we build relationships, understanding what it means to be human and learning how to live well with others.

As a Christian and a teacher, this has a particular resonance and it’s one that needs to be understood by all those who clamour for schools and colleges to be secular, neutral spaces. Apart from the fact that neutrality is impossible (everybody believes something), my faith is integral to my story. It informs my understanding of the world around me. It shapes who I am. I can no more leave my faith in the car park when I go into a school than I can leave my personality.

When Philip Pullman’s General Oblation Board separated children from their daemons, creativity, intelligence and will were reduced; sometimes even obliterated. And so it is with the content of people’s stories. You cannot separate people from any part of their unique story and still retain whole, vibrant, creative people.

An article in The Conversation this week examined the increasingly vehement debate about religion and secularism, while a group of parents, with the backing of the British Humanist Association, is going to court to get humanism included in the RE syllabus. What this actually says is that we have become unwilling to listen to each other’s stories and as a result, we no longer have the necessary vocabulary to discuss them. So how can we make sense of what is happening in our schools, our communities, our society and our world when belief plays such a significant role in its events?

I would suggest that we could do so through stories. We live in a pluralist society, so no one story should dictate social orthodoxy. We should learn to respect each other’s stories and the experiences and beliefs that have shaped them. Christians and other people of faith are often accused of indoctrination and proselytisation as a means of trying to separate them from their stories in the public square. Why?

It’s in the values that we all share that our stories overlap and offer hope of a better future. Maybe one reason why faith schools are so successful in nurturing rounded humans is because those values aren’t just discussed. They are worked out in practice, in the messy business of everyday living in community. And in doing so, those values become virtues.

So instead of trying to impose a singular, secular ideology, why not find common ground in the nurturing of those virtues that we all share, regardless of religious or non-religious belief. When that happens, nobody will need to silence those with whom they don’t agree. We won’t need an Equalities Act to enforce by statute what we are currently unable to do by individual will – respect each other regardless. Just because.

I am Christian. Please respect my story. It defines me. Trying to silence me is to limit my ability to flourish as a fellow human. In return, I will respect your story as fundamental to your identity as we work together to give hope for the future to the students we teach.

 

iSingPOP

 

          

People describe the value of singing in all sorts of ways – mood enhancing, energising, a way of increasing feelings of well being, and a vehicle for developing self confidence are just a few of them. Group singing brings people together and fosters a sense of community. You can laugh, you can have fun and you can learn new skills in a safe environment. Just watch any of Gareth Malone’s ‘The Choir’ series to see all of this, and much more, in action. Singing is a physical, emotional, cultural, social and spiritual experience. And as Ella Fitzgerald said, the only thing better than singing is more singing.

So how exciting would it be for your school, your community and your church to be brought together through singing? That’s exactly what iSingPOP offers. Part of the Christian charity Innervation Trust, iSingPOP is a Primary school singing project that uses the entire school to produce its very own pop CD. Children spend 4 days learning and recording the songs, then perform them a week later to the entire community at a concert hosted by the local church.

All iSingPOP tutors are experienced in working with children. They will offer a structured experience during which children learn not only lyrics and actions, but also singing techniques, performance skills and dance routines. Lyrics, which are written from a Christian perspective, are full of positive content that help children grow in friendship, hope, peace and compassion. They cover important subjects like love, prayer, respect, role models, social justice and forgiveness. You can check out some song previews here.

The experience will include 3 days of tutor led music teaching during which children will learn the songs; an exciting recording session using a sound engineer and a mobile recording studio; the dress rehearsal and whole school concert with full PA and equipment provided, and finally the opportunity to purchase your own school CD.

Download the Schools Pack to find out more, including a detailed breakdown of costs and timings. But the benefits don’t stop there. The availability of backing tracks allows schools and churches to continue singing the songs and talking about their messages long after tutors and the mobile studio have packed up and moved on.

I recently spent a couple of days with some amazing people from iSingPOP. Their enthusiasm, their commitment and their sheer energy (even at the end of an exhausting week) were infectious: to say that I was really excited by the potential of iSingPOP at several levels is an understatement. But don’t just take my word for it – check out their feedback comments from schools, parents, churches and various Diocesan Boards of Education.

Never mind about Britain’s Got Talent or The Voice. Become part of your own, much better, iSingPOP experience – better because it will be yours, an experience that children, families and the church community will never forget.

 

 

 

EVERY PARENT MATTERS

Greeted by cheers as she visited Mulberry School for Girls this week, Michelle Obama told the girls that: ‘With an education from this amazing school you all have everything, everything you need to rise above all of the noise and fulfil every last one of your dreams’. Education, she said, was the ‘ultimate key’ to success.

The furore surrounding her speech missed a vital point – education may be the key, but the girls will have to pick up the key, turn it in the lock and choose for themselves to walk through the door. To do this, they will need plenty of support, love and encouragement beyond the school gate. As a writer in The Conversation observed this week: ‘It’s absurd to lay all the responsibility for a child’s education at the feet of the school’.

Yet the view persists that if we give children and young people the best education that the world can offer, it will solve all ills. Sir Michael Wilshaw even claimed this week, in the wake of 3 Bradford mothers taking their children to Syria, that schools must teach British values to stop pupils joining ISIS, as if there is some single causal link between off loading a set of ill-defined dogmas in a classroom and the life-defining decisions that the 3 parents have made.  As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child and school is only one building in the village. Every child also has a home.

Education begins at home, from the moment that a child takes the first breath. Talking, playing, singing, reading, laughing, crying, eating together and even encouraging babies to understand that sleeping at night really is advisable for everyone concerned are all part of learning. The more of life we share with our children, the more we are helping them to learn and grow. As we do so, our actions are communicating our values and our children are absorbing them. Far from the start of school being the beginning of education, it’s the point at which the effectiveness of the parental role as first and best educator comes into its own.

This has been clearly proven in research going back over decades, yet successive governments, instead of addressing the issue of supporting parents, have offered more, and earlier, educational opportunity. In the case of this government, that comes layered with plenty of testing to demonstrate policy success. As recently as February, the House of Lords Select Committee report on Affordable Childcare pointed out that childcare is not a magic bullet, and that it cannot make up for the hours in the week that children spend at home. The report recommended that plans needed ‘to be accompanied by support for parents’ to ensure ‘a strong home learning environment’. The response of the government was to double childcare availability.

For Christian parents the vital role of parent as educator is a given – Psalm 127:3 says that ‘Children are a heritage from the Lord’ – a special gift that God gives us; people made in His image who need to be loved and nurtured. Although we utilise formal schooling in our contemporary culture, the principle that God gave to the people of Israel still holds good, that ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’ (Deuteronomy 6:6). Teaching our children is an integral part of our daily lives and it takes place in the family – the foundational unit of society where we model for our children how we want them to live.

However good the formal education opportunities, it’s nearly always the support, encouragement and interest of parents that ensures that young people choose to pick up the key to success, unlock the door and walk through, with confidence to meet the challenges of life. If the aspirations and hopes of parents and school aren’t in synch, it’s the home environment that usually prevails. There’s a simple reason for this – it’s our parents and our community that define and nurture our identity; it’s where we feel we belong, and so it’s where we want to remain.

Every parent matters, more vitally than governments care to admit. So as well as ensuring that we offer every child an excellent academic education , we also need to give support to parents who can’t, or won’t, offer what their children need most – the support, interest and encouragement of those who love them.