A time for sharing values and respect

10th February 2006 at 00:00
My generation was brought up to believe that certain subjects were taboo. It used to be unacceptable to instigate a conversation about politics, sex or religion, but I did once say to a long-term friend: "I've known you for years but I don't really know what you think about God and stuff."

"I'll tell you something about God, she replied without hesitation, "he gets more broadminded as I get older."

I am always interested in what young children think about God and stuff, because whatever concept they have developed stems from what they have been told. Their drawings of God inevitably depict Him as a ghostly white figure in the style of Moses, or like the traditional representation of Christ, but much older, and usually surrounded by fluffy clouds. It is not too difficult to work out why.

Interactions during religious observance in school with a relatively small faith community can be great fun, but critical review of your performance by 400 kids and 25 cynical adults during a formal, headteacher-led assembly is quite a different ball game. I much prefer informal, unpolished contributions from children, but I appreciate that this requires planning and time from teachers who really see no problem with the other way.

I particularly enjoy the egotistical focus of youngsters' prayers. I expect the usual litany of "Dear Gods", but admire the occasional creativity of one that goes on to say "Thank you for fish and soup and chicken." Where does it say that God is not a gourmet?

We all know that the co-operation of the chaplain is crucial in creating an ethos for religious observance that reflects the school's values. One chaplain I knew was on a different intellectual plane from the rest of the world and expected evidence of more knowledge than is possessed by the average Christian. Once he swept the school congregation with his eyes and demanded to know "What was Jesus's name in Hebrew?" I did not see the teachers' reaction because my head was the first to go down. Another time he tried to reach the children's level and changed his advice about "not hiding your light under a bushel" to ask "What would happen if you tried to hide a flame under your bed?" Well, obviously, your mattress would catch fire, the first child to answer told him.

We are lucky to have a school chaplain who is tuned in to kids. He is a father himself, and is tolerant of the inevitable hitches, such as children letting pictures flutter to the floor or hiccups when using the mike.

He was telling us recently that love was necessary at a personal level before it could be expected to apply between nations, and that, in order to work on that scale, love did not have to be anything more than tolerance.

He referred to nations that did not promote international harmony such as the Romans, who were "not big on love". Perhaps I was seated too close to the radiator, but I came out in a sweat when he asked for another four-letter word beginning with "L" which is often confused with love.

I have no problems with the description of religious observance as envisaged in the report by the Executive's review group. Common sense seems to have prevailed for a change. We have always welcomed opportunities to promote school values and ethos, to share work and success, and to celebrate different cultures. Most of all, we like to see the respect that pupils show for each other on these occasions. In my view, there can be no greater spiritual uplifting than receiving recognition of your worth from your peers.

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in AberdeenIf you have any comments, email scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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