“I am sorry another year are being withdrawn from RE,” commented the teacher, “the stuff you do with them is the stuff that is close to their lives. Relationships, life and death, those things matter to them far more than knowing facts about things like biology.”
The proposals for the return to school include “catch up” plans. RE is not included in the plans. Students who are already battered by the provisions of lockdown are to be required to spend an extra hour a day at school to learn things that they are deemed to have missed. Of course, when every school in the country makes similar provisions, no-one gains any advantage and everyone suffers disadvantage. If all schools focused on the students rather than the grades, there would of course be some who took private tuition and moved ahead, but that will still happen with all schools running “catch up” programmes. There will always be people who gain an advantage over others, that does not mean that everyone else should suffer a further assault on their mental health that is entailed in longer days and additional homework.
The problem with the education system is its obsession with arbitrary measures of success. The learning of facts to pass an exam is deemed to be the purpose of lessons. The absurd statistics issued by the Department for Education make no provision for indices of the important things in life. Why is there no index of the happiness of the children in a school? Why is there no measure of their potential to be good citizens? Why are students not taught to be ambitious for the things that cannot be quantified, for those are the things that really matter?
The question will never be asked, for my subject does not count in the statistical tables, but were I to be asked for a single concept that I might wish students to master before they leave, were I to be asked what ambition I should wish that they might develop, I think it should be that they would understand the meaning of “shadow casting.”
The idea of shadow casting is found in E.M Forster’s novel A Room with a View where the character George Emerson describes it in this way:
“There is a certain amount of kindness, just as there is a certain amount of light,” he continued in measured tones. “We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”
The best of ambitions is not to amass qualifications, but not to cast dark shadows. Unfortunately, there are no qualifications in such a life changing attachment.