Page 9, 1st July 1994

1st July 1994
Page 9
Page 9, 1st July 1994 — Children need assembly
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Children need assembly

Heads of secondary schools recently claimed that Religious Education and school assemblies have no influence on students. But teacher Mary Kilbride argues that these are useful building-blocks for a child's self-esteem.

Justin Templer stirred a hornets' nest with bis article (29 April) on the betrayal of religious education by Catholic schools. Here is another response, by parent Denis jackurn

WHERE HAS MR TEMPLER been for the past 20 or so years?

Does a busy working life, away from horn; have to mean that he was unaware of important developments within the Church concerning the passing on of his faith? It sounds more like he was so involved in his important career, that he failed to communicate with his wife (and vice versa) about the "shift in policy, in that the responsibility for teaching children their religion Was transferred from the school to the parents".

Did Mrs Templer not think of informing her husband about this "shift"? Mr Templer goes on to say that he was "blissfully assuming that he and his wife were doing all that they could to bring up their children in the Catholic faith by sending them to Catholic schools"!

I can hardly believe that any responsible Catholic parent would leave such an important task to the school alone. It is woefully sad that there is still the old-fashioned idea that the school should provide the whole menu for the spiritual and moral formation of its pupils.

As a Catholic family, did not Mr Templer think they were in any way responsible for teaching their children how to pray, or read Scripture, or how to know the truths of the Catholic Church?

Clearly if the attitude of parents is to compartmentalise religion, then the Good News will always remain childish and largely irrelevant. What concerns me is that there are too many people still who live and work in a high-tech world, where communication skills are an absolute necessity, and yet when it comes to the subject of catacheties, they think and act like underlings.

I know many intelligent professional parents who are highly skilled in their precious careers, and yet when it comes to the passing on of their faith to their children, they haven't a clue! They seem embarrassed at the thought of praying with their partners or with their children.

What this means to the child, is that the Catholic faith is placed on the same level as belief in Father Christmas! It is kept in its little box, to be brought out on Sundays only, or special occasions like weddings and funerals, so it never grows up and becomes the dynamic energy force that Jesus Christ meant it to be.

Of course we need our Catholic schools, Mr Templer, and ones that teach good, sound Catholic doctrine and apologetics, but we also need parishes, catechists and homes, where the 'Faith is taught and practised in an adult way, always underpinned with deep prayer. THE CURRENT WORD FROM the heads of secondary schools is that Religious Education and collective worship have no influence on the behaviour of children.

Therefore it is a waste of time to inflict such practices on pupils and that the Secretary of State in trying to insist on Christian assemblies is merely showing his ignorance and lack of appreciation of the school world as it is now.

One's first response is to ask, how do they know? Such a yardstick is not applied to anything else taught in school.

No-one questions the usefulness of Maths or the intrinsic value of Geography before including them in the syllabus. ("We never use Algebra at home guy so can my Johnny be excused from it? And does he really have to bother with this project on economic life in Central Africa?") The second is to consider the Church schools where prayer is part of the fabric and ask whether behaviour is better in these schools than in the ones where secular values prevail.

Most people know that schools where there is an accepted standard of behaviour, a general agreement on values and respect accorded to every pupil and teacher are the ones which score every time and by and large these are the Christian foundations.

Collective worship at the beginning of the school day has the effect of gathering at least a large section if not the entire school together to reflect on purposes and to raise the sights of the children and staff from the mundane to what might even be sublime.

Not the sort of assembly where notices Iltnd/or harangues form the largest part of the occasion nor the assembly where a bit of trendy social science is presented.

The assembly where real prayer for the children, for their families, for the school, for people undergoing hardship, figures prominently; where children are reminded of their God-given role in the scheme of things whether or not they pass their examinations, whether or not they are the brightest or the most promising at sports.

The self-esteem of each child can be boosted at assembly and from this follows the respect that must be given to other people.

If we are all sinners struggling together to better ourselves with the help of God, then we are all in it together a community with a set of values which transcend denomination, race and any other divine element.

The leader of the assembly Head, Deputy, teacher does not preach from on high but shares the sense of striving and falling short holding up perhaps for our admiration great Christians of the past, examples of those people who have done better than we have saints, living examples today of great Christians. We all need inspiration; it is an occasion when the Head or whoever is taking assembly can pray in harmony with everyone to "Our Father". Children ought to leave assembly feeling good about themselves and positive about the day ahead.

Their own regular participation in assemblies gives children a platform from which to share their particular concerns with everyone else. (I recall an excellent assembly produced by a third year group dealing with one's options in life as well as at GCSE)

Religious education continues the theme of the importance of each individual as a child of God. These children may be poor at Maths, have little going for them in the world they find themselves in but they are children of Gpd they're unique.

How can such a training not affect behaviour? What other subject can have such a beneficial effect on the standards applied out of the classroom? Of course it is important that children are taught these values by teachers who sincerely believe in them; that assembly is .never conducted in a cynical way.

Children, however hard-bitten they try to appear, really do believe what their teachers tell them especially about themselves. "You are weak at Science" is accepted at face value but so is "You are a special individual with a God given role in the universe you are important."

The separation of religion from morality is easier said than done. Everyone knows really good people who profess no religion and indeed scorn the idea.

But what went into their background? Giving children a set of values to live by; teaching them to respect themselves and each other may well be possible outside a religious context. But it cannot be easy. If children work and strive for a person rather than for abstract reasons surely the easiest way to encourage good behaviour is to encourage devotion to a personal Saviour.

The ethos of a Catholic school is noticeably different even to the most casual visitor. The general standards do not depend on doctrine rigidly rammed home or fear of hell fire but there is a residual love for the children which children sense and parents acknowledge.

The common acceptance by staff of the Christian spirit of a school does not demand that all staff are practising Christians: It never follows that children themselves go to church or act differently from their outside friends in any obvious way.

But over the years the daily assembly when all pray together; the regular RE lessons when the Bible is studied and questions of morality are discussed in a Catholic context do have an effect on the lifestyle of all concerned. Hard pressed Heads can alw g justify the lack of a religious asseit bly not to mention assigni some RE lessons to a we k member of the arts faculty witl4 a light timetable but so much is lost in this way.

If children do not learn to p at school, if they do not share the richness of Christian traditi n through Religious Education,

are the losers because there us almost certainly nowhere else o learn these lessons.

Unless each child leaves sch ol with a set of personal values, of self-esteem and of respect fr others, there will be no decline the number of people trying Io beat the system in any way thati is to their immediate advantage regardless of any harm done to others.

Of course, a majority may w 11 reject the overt religious teachijtg that they have received it is cool to go to church.

But if we accept that the times-table or a quotation fr Macbeth long forgotten c n suddenly come back to mind, lis it so unrealistic to hope that the values imbibed over years of Glutstian education will surface in time of need or, indeed, of temptation?

I was told by one who had left a Catholic school many years earlier: "I am not a Catholic but I alwars find it a comfort to say a Hil Mary?'

This is one battle that Mr Pa must try to win.




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