Amazing Grace

12th May 1995 at 01:00
50 ACTIVE ASSEMBLIES, By Peter Norton, Heinemann Pounds 13.99, 0435 30242 6 Age range 10 -14. If it is the case that many secondary pupils consider themselves hard done by as a result of having to endure five years of collective worship, how much harder it may be for teachers who have to spend a professional life-time within it. But over decades of attending collective worship one has the opportunity to see golden oldies interpreted in different ways as society itself moves on.

Grace Darling, for instance, was 30 years ago presented in "Stories for the Senior Assembly" type books as a heroic child rowing through the perilous seas, with some minor assistance from her father. She was then moralised (or immoralised, as a GCSE pupil later mis-wrote) as a role model for children, by well-intentioned adults. Now she can be re-packaged as a young woman rowing out, with the help of a man who happened to be there - her dad - to rescue five perishing men on a wreck.

Grace appears in Peter Norton's book as an examplar of bravery (plus ca change), "a quality women were not then expected to show". "Today we know better not to judge what personal qualities an individual may have just by their appearance" (page 81). What was it about Grace Darling that appeared unheroic? Or is being female merely an "appearance"?

The real point of the active assemblies in this book (and despite its 1995 publication, "collective worship" doesn't make an appearance) is that the proposed events attempt to abolish the passivity of pupils and stir the apathy. There are short plays with a narrator, or mime, a pancake race for three volunteer pupils, assemblies in which volunteer pupils hold up cards with labels on, suggested OHP sheets - all within a clearly scripted format which tells the teacher how to wind up at the end. The content is a mixture of Christian and moral with some assemblies using material from other religions.

Despite the "active" notion in the title, most of these assemblies are not much more active than those of decades ago. They presume a teacher up front, or hovering closely, assisted by a small team of helpers presenting a theme which post-1988 we can identify as more often moral than spiritual, to a mainly silent audience. Neither songs, nor prayers nor reflections are offered as options. Much of the "action" is question and answer by the teacher presenter to those willing to answer. The rest of the action must be in the minds of the silent majority, rather like it was 30 years ago.

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