The right choices;Secondary;Religious Education;Books

15th May 1998 at 01:00
BITING THE MORAL BULLET. By Kevin O'Donnell. Hodder amp; Stoughton. pound;21.99

ONE WORLD, MANY ISSUES. By Graham Langtree, Lyn Clarke and Mandy Kennick. Stanley Thornes. pound;9

Can young people in the United Kingdom really face up to world moral issues? Are they too self-obsessed and apathetic? Simply too young? Or is the real problem a feeling of powerlessness?

Teachers (like me) who are a bit long in the tooth have been addressing world issues for years, without noticeable global improvement - but then there's been no control group to see if the world would have been any different without our efforts.

Bruce Kent, vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, says in the introduction to Biting the Moral Bullet that his visits to schools show that children feel impotent in the face of global problems. The book is about exploring the roots of global conflict and possible ways out. Kevin O'Donnell edits a team who have produced schemes of work and black and white photocopiable activity sheets for use in key stage 4 RE or PSE or Years 12 and 13 general studies.

Nothing is ducked. The book addresses dealing with anger using conflict resolution, awareness of inflammatory language, identifying problems, mediation and case studies. It leads into gender issues and role expectation, civil disobedience, aspects of war including pacifism conscientious objectors, the just war, defence needs, the arms trade, refugees, the UN, the conversion of armament industries to civilian goods production and religious attitudes to war. This latter is difficult when each religion is reduced to one page.

The text is reasonably balanced - it puts the case for and against the Gulf War's Desert Storm operation, but shies away from arguing in favour of the Falklands War. Those who worry about books designed to influence attitudes as opposed to merely listing "facts" will find this scary, but the real value judgments are that we do not have to carry on living like this as a world - there are ways out.

The book does not go so far as to suggest we might survive only if we have the sort of world view, what some might call a religion, that prioritises the elimination of conflict, but perhaps that's reserved for Year 14 and above.

One World, Many Issues integrates religious material into its units at every stage. It is intended as a textbook for the GCSE short course in RE. The One World subheadings are: many questions; one family?; many choices; wonderful world?; many religions; many problems.

The text is illustrated with colour photographs and key quotes and questions are highlighted. Although the text is dense, it remains attractive and provocative, including the moving letter to Father Christmas written by the son of murdered headteacher Philip Lawrence.

There is a GCSE question bank for each unit and at least three faith viewpoints for each topic. The book is written with the syllabus in view, which is good and bad. Good to have so relevant a text, with questions and activities built in. Bad in that some of the syllabus's downside can come over into the text.

It is a pity to see religions sliced into quotes to fit the secular section headings, and hard to see how a child could gain a coherent understanding of any one of them by this means. It is also a pity to end with "problems". Of course, the planet is full of them, but there is also hope, as we are reminded in some of the selected quotes on page 7. Only Graham Langtree could juxtapose Jesus and Woody Allen so well.

Will we get through to our young people in an age even more cynical than that in which many of their teachers grew up? Will young adults embrace the world as spiritually-minded stewards? If the next generation lives under similar storm clouds and a depressing sense of impotence, it will not be for lack of effort on the part of the writers of these two books.

Terence Copley

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