Friday, March 27, 2015

The school seminar

I've just finished my four week prac placement at a local high school. It was great. It made me realise how handy my degree in classics is, especially for teaching Shakespeare. I'm sad to leave.

Here's what happened on the last day.

A religious seminar was scheduled for this day. There are four periods timetabled for each day. A group of Christians were scheduled to deliver a seminar to Years 7, 8, 9, and 10 over the course of the day. Teachers were told that they were to teach no new material if students were absent from their class due to attending  the seminar. This, of course, disrupted teaching and learning, especially preparation for assessment tasks.

I had a free period so I sat in on the seminar. Students were lined up to get their names marked off. The seminars were 'opt out' so those who didn't bring a note were expected to attend.even if they weren't interested and had other work to do. I asked the volunteer what group was running the seminar and she told me she didn't know. Students sat in circles with an adult Christian in each group. A leader (I'm not calling these people teachers) showed a video of people answering the question 'what happens when you die?'

They then presented a little skit about what's behind the screen. One person said there was nothing. One person said something the students would like, for example, movie tickets. Another went behind the screen to look and said it was something else that they would like. The students then guessed. The one who guessed 'lollies' received the lollies.

Then the leaders spoke about the resurrection, and how Paul said if the resurrection didn't really happen then there is no reason to love Jesus. They then presented 'evidence' to refute arguments that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. All this 'evidence' came from one source, the New Testament, with no discussion about the validity of that evidence or any question about presenting proof from any other source. The historical truth of the bible was accepted without question. The idea that there was no resurrection was mocked. It was spoken of as a 'fact'.

A leader then said that this may be convincing, but so what? Why does it mean we should have a relationship with Jesus? Then another leader spoke about how, when he was fifteen he had a few near death experiences - accidents, and appendicitis. When he was waiting for surgery he was scared, but was comforted by the idea that Jesus loves him. That was presented as 'testimony'.

A student then promoted the school's Christian club, the leaders told students about local church youth groups and gathered their email addresses.

I didn't say anything during the seminar. I'm sure you can see how intellectually bereft it was. I felt I'd drifted a long way away from teaching ethics classes, or any critical thinking that is encouraged in the classes I'd been teaching at the school. What I did do I'll save for another day. Or you can ask me.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Gordon Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster

The Gordon Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has applied to become a provider of Special Religious Education in  public schools in NSW. The application has fulfilled all  the criteria, yet a decision has not been made. Pastor Dan has said he was told by the Department of Education and Communities that they are referring the matter to a board of other providers, that is, Christians, even though they have no authority to make these decisions.

Please sign the petition to Adrian Piccoli asking that he hand down his decision. The policy states that while SRE is delivered in public schools that all religions should have equal access. Public school children should not be discriminated against on the basis of religion.

If this is denied I'm betting there will be applications from many more minority religions, such as Jediism, Pantheists, Wiccans, Pagans, Born Again Pagans, the Prince Philip Movement and other cargo cults, Aetherius Society, Raelism, Happy Science, the Nation of Yahweh (I've left out some seriously dangerous ones). If it is approved, the same outcome is likely, but may also include Satanists (as happened in Florida, where Satanic colouring in books were distributed after bibles were given out in schools), Communists, Capitalists, and a discussion is likely to ensure about what is a religion. There is an argument that Buddhism isn't a religion but a philosophy, and it is delivered in SRE time.

Obviously, the whole system needs to be overhauled because the Department of Education and Communities does not oversee nor enforce their own policies. See my contribution to Open Drum here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

This makes me angry

Yesterday I watched this.

WRONG LINK - WILL REPLACE - this one is like Hi-5!

It's creepy. And sinister.

There are people who put lots of time and money and energy into trying to access other people's children to convert them into Christians.

Today I watched a video about people suffering from food insecurity.

Aside from it being unethical to use public schools to convert children to a religion, something else bothers me. And that's the waste.

There are real problems in the world that require our attention. It makes me angry that so many people are focused on an issue that is not based on anything real. Their faith may be real, but the existence of their god isn't proven, or even likely. In the history of the world so much brain power, time, effort, money and activism has been wasted on something that, I believe, doesn't exist. It makes me mad that all this power could have been brought to bear on real problems, real issues, ones that are measurable, visible, knowable. When people are trying to work out what their holy book really means, it is just a waste of time. It is a text. The 'true meaning' is constructed. The is no one true meaning. The intention of their god, if gods exit, is unknowable. All this focus on religion is a waste of time, money, energy, resources, skills, understanding, knowledge and good sense.

Do something else. Do something useful. Deal with a real problem.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Shave for a Cause

It's that time of year again, when people raise money to support people with blood cancer by shaving their heads.

I'm feeling quite uncomfortable about it this year.

I understand that it probably started as an act of solidarity, so that people who lose their hair due to chemotherapy don't feel so alone. I'm on prac at a high school at the moment and some students shaved their heads at lunchtime, charging admission to the hall.

I couldn't go. I couldn't bear people laughing and cheering. To lose your hair due to chemotherapy is actually awful. The hair dies on your head. To lose it is confronting. It comes out in dead handfulls. When it happened to me my primary concern was to hide it from the children because I knew how disturbing they would find it. I made an appointment for a hairdresser to shave my head as soon as possible and wore a scarf to try to keep from scaring my children. If I was caught in a breeze without the scarf I reckon my hair would have blown off my head.

When I was bald and getting about wearing a scarf I remember exchanging looks with other bald women and not knowing if they had participated in a fundraiser or if they were cancer patients. They would have looked at me with the same question.

To have your head shaven against your will is an act of violence. It is done to people to strip them of their identity, in jails and the armed forces and in concentration camps. In ancient Greece women would shave their heads when they were in mourning. In some Islander cultures a girl's head is shaved to punish her.

When you lose your hair to chemotherapy it doesn't grow back nicely. It grows back coarse and weird. For people who voluntarily shave their heads, their hair will grow back soft and lovely. They don't lose their eyebrows and eyelashes. It isn't the same.

So, while I'm happy for people to raise money for people with blood cancer, and that they are prepared to do something to raise it, and I appreciate the work of the Leukaemia Foundation (they certainly do good work in driving patients to hospital, providing accommodation for patients, and raising money for research for treatments, which is desperately needed for people with Multiple Myeloma), I'm just not up for the cheering.

Maybe next year I'll feel differently.


I wrote this before I finished reading A Short History of Stupid, by Bernard Keane and Helen Razer.
In the final chapter on Conspicuous Compassion (the idea that we show publicly that we care, sometimes through consumption, to make ourselves look and feel good, even though it does nothing to help the causes we purport to care about), Razer writes about giving money to a young man collecting for a charity in a shopping centre. He wears a bandana, like a cancer patient. She is concerned he was immuno-compromised so rang the charity and was told he was not a cancer patient but wearing a bandana 'in solidarity'.
She writes:
"In solidarity with whom and by whose explicit permission? I was actually pretty appalled. I imagine if I had cancer to the degree it would require an immune-compromising toxic treatment such as chemo or radiotherapy, I would not want anyone representing me in fucking cancer drag. What is this? Leukaemia cosplay? What makes it okay to do near-death fancy dress and what the fuck is happening to my actual compassion when it is induced so often by imposters?"

Thankyou, Helen Razer. 

The poker game of parenting

Lately I've been feeling like parenting is a poker game.

P1: I'll see your child at the Opera House and raise you a trip to Fiji.
P2: I'll see your trip to Fiji and raise you are trip to the US.
P3: I'll see your trip to the US and raise you a trip to Europe.
Me: I'll fold.

If we don't wind back we'll be expecting children to go to the moon before they leave school.

The whole business (and it is a business, in fact lots of businesses, based on parental Fear of Children Missing Out) spirals upwards, and every turn of the screw (to mix my metaphors) is more pressure on families, whether it be their finances (working extra shifts, taking out loans), their time (driving kids around, not spending time together) and adding to the stress of modern life.

Pace yourselves, parents. Play the long game.