The moral is - drop the jokes;Reviews

5th March 1999 at 00:00
THE BEST LESSON PLANS IN THE WORLD - EVER. Comic Relief, free from PO Box 66, Nelson, Lancashire BB9 86F.

BARE NECESSITIES FOR LIFE. Christian Aid, Freepost, London SE1 7YY pound;4.99.

RE IN PRACTICE...IS IT FAIR ?. The Christian Education Movement. CEM, Royal Buildings, Victoria Street, Derby DE1 1GW. pound;6.50.

Terence Copley feels uncomfortable about mixing Red Nose romps with serious subjects

It's a long time since the first Red Nose Day when, as deputy head of a big comprehensive school, I appeared, complete with red nose, to lead collective worship in Year 10.

Pupils didn't know whether to laugh or whether the school establishment required them to laugh: a coercive dose of unfun. An uneasy silence descended. I took my nose off to an audible sigh of relief.

Charity events in secondary schools can still have a misplaced air, with some children committed to and conscious of world problems, and others who just want to be out of school uniform and muck about for a day with a chance to throw wet sponges at their teachers.

Best Lesson Plans in the World - Ever appears in a cool, ring-bound folder with plans for learning about human rights, children's rights, homelessness, fair trade and disability, from information provided by Oxfam, Save the Children, Centrepoint, the Refugee Council, Christian Aid and the Alliance for Inclusive Education. They're aimed at key stages 2 and 3 with a Red Nose rating to show difficulty and an outline lesson plan including estimated time, learning outcomes, posters and other illustrative material including "silly ideas" to start the lessons. The intention is to show children why they're raising money and to run lessons before and maybe after the event. After the event could be a dead duck.

I like the idea of linking fun activities around the school, if they are really fun, to consideration of the underlying reasons for the whole thing. But can this be done without killing the fun? That's a difficult tightrope for the teacher.

The illustrations and charts are striking, although they don't photocopy well, and there are instant lessons for hard-pressed teachers who've probably had to spend weeks planning their own wacky gear and hairstyle for the day. The down side is that despite some good activities such as a leaving home suitcase exercise, the lesson plans are very fact-packed.

The worship material, wrongly titled "assembly", doesn't relate to spiritual development and some of the text is too densely written for key stage 2. I'd prefer lessons in which children are asked what they think basic rights should be, and explore the issue from their end outwards.

Bare Necessities for Life is a key stage 2 pack of three posters with teaching notes on the themes of food, water and the environment. We see a Peruvian family eating basic food from an underground oven, clean water being carried by laughing Ethiopian children and pupils from the Green School in Andhra Pradesh, India tending their garden.

Some activities have an air of the implausible for busy teachers: buy some corn; prepare a Mother's Day tea party for mums who help in the school; do a range of things with pond water... all from a scheme which is not explicitly related to national curriculum schemes except some general references to the sacred literacy hour.

Is it fair? consists of two 32-page booklets, one primary, one secondary, in a series intended to apply religious insights to social and moral issues. There is plenty of writing and little illustration, but the text is primarily a resource for the teacher. The subject is justice, of humankind and, for religious believers, of God. These are useful primers and they achieve what some texts claiming to be RE in the area of justice and world development do not, namely to include religious points of view without caricature.

All these materials are signs of fresh attempts to inform and engage young people in perennial world issues about which they could so easily feel indifferent or impotent. But I worry that somehow the providers still haven't found a way-in that marries their expertise and experience to the essentially me-centred and materialistic world that many children inhabit. And I worry how far serious learning and Red Nose romps mix.

Terence Copley is professor of religious education at the University of Exeter

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