So, hands up everyone who remembers The Big Society. It was Dave’s 2009 blue skies thinking idea for the brave new world of his post-election Britain. Underpinned by its philosophy of autonomy and sense of social purpose, he rode the crest of a wave. Has he shaped a socially creative society?
Well, judge for yourselves from the Prime Minister’s new year message for 2015. He says nothing about the morality or humanity of a burgeoning social capital. At the start of a year when he has to go to the polls, the message is almost exclusively about money in people’s pockets, complete with behaviourist overtones of reward (although, notice, no mention of punishment, the flipside of the reward coin). It’s a simple equation. Work hard. We will reward you. Money not morality.
But embedded in the message is one brief phrase, breath taking in its arrogance and its damning assumption about our current culture: ‘we are changing the values of our country’. From Big Society to Big Brother. From autonomy to control. Because any administration which thinks that it can change the values of the society which it governs is one which fails to understand freedom, individuality, diversity and its moral responsibility.
Now, I know that the word ‘values’ had to be in there somewhere because that’s the current mantra. But here’s what Mahatma Ghandi had to say about values:
‘Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values.’
So it follows that if you plan to change a nation’s values to those you find acceptable, you are also planning to control what each individual within that nation believes, says, does and thinks. And that has really serious implications for the world of education; a world which is increasingly seeing the DfE and Ofsted acting as the Thought Police. The promise of decentralised power echoes falsely in the most regulated, inspected and controlled education service that we have ever experienced.
So are we, as teachers, to emulate the government and change the values of those we teach? I have never regarded that as my role. I teach children how to think, not what to think. Our individual values are a very personal outcome of what we believe, shaped by everything we have ever seen, heard and experienced. So classrooms are ideal places not just for pupils to reflect on their own values but also to consider those values in the light of what others believe. Classrooms are not, and never should be, places where a centralised (British) values system is imposed.
So I guess that social capital or the social creativity of the modern Britain for which we are preparing the next generation won’t be playing any part in the election debate. It looks like it will centre on British values. And it also looks as though economic growth is set to become the new black of our nation’s value system.
Writing in Idea magazine recently, Dave Landrum, the director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, posed these questions about our identity: ‘… what’s at the irreducible core? Who are we when everything else is stripped away?’ The national identity which shapes our society is undergoing structural changes that will resonate far beyond the summer election and we need to be part of that debate. We need to encourage our students to be part of the debate.
And above all, we need to ensure that there is a debate, one which secures a society that recognises diversity of values, faiths and beliefs. Only then can we claim that we have created the Big Society. That still matters to me, even if, in its origins, it was only a convenient political rhetoric for an upcoming election.
Hard on the heels of the Netmums survey about nativities, which showed that schools are increasingly abandoning trad nativity plays at Christmas, comes feedback from a survey carried out at Brent Cross shopping centre. Here are some interesting, very modern views, from the children who took part:
52% think Christmas Day is the birthday of Father Christmas
35% think Jesus was born at the South Pole
30% think the Jewish festival of Chanukah is a Japanese cartoon
25% think that the wise men used Google Maps to find the stable
10% think that Jesus Christ is a Chelsea FC footballer
10% think that Rudolph was present at the birth
Prospect magazine has also been involved in a seasonal survey, commissioning YouGov to find out about Christmas observance for three groups of people – Christians who go to church, Christians who don’t go to church, and those who profess no religion. They found that Christians who go to church send more Christmas cards, are more likely to have a Christmas tree in their home, expect to share their Christmas dinner with more people and give more to charity.
So if the statistics are accurate, the meaning of Christmas is very confusing to children, while church-attending Christians throw themselves into the celebration and sharing of Christmas more than most!
Christians in Education will be back with regular updates in the new year. Until then, have a peaceful Christmas as you celebrate the birth of Jesus with family and friends.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
No, not REM. School nativity plays. A new poll suggests that under pressure to modernise, nativity plays are losing their religion as schools take artistic licence with the traditional story of Jesus’ birth. About 2000 parents have expressed concern that Christmas traditions are being pushed aside as drunken spacemen, aliens, recycling bins, punk fairies, Elvis Presley, footballers and even a lobster have all started to appear in the nativity story. In some cases, the nativity has given way completely to winter celebrations, with traditional carols replaced by themed songs.
Political correctness? Collective guilt about materialist cravings? The wish to avoid specific reference to a Christian festival or our Christian heritage? Whatever the reason, two thirds of parents who responded to a Netmums online survey said that they would like their child’s school to have a trad nativity, while 13% of parents plan to share the Christmas story at home.
‘This study shows many parents who aren’t religious look to the nativity as a comforting part of the Christmas celebrations and want their school to embrace and celebrate it,’ said Netmums’ Siobhan Freegard.
If you plan to share the nativity story with your child this Christmas, you might like to download The Nativity, a free app that tells the Bible story simply but beautifully. And there isn’t a punk fairy in sight.