It is the calving season in cattle rearing communities. It is a time of frantic activity and sleepless nights. It is a time when farm budgets can be in the balance. (I knew one dairy farmer who had to call a vet to conduct a caesarean section on one of his Friesian herd of cows: the calf died, the cow died the next day, and there was still the vet’s bill to pay). Calving is a serious time of year.
Calving came with its own vocabulary, some of the terms of which were beyond someone who had spent decades away from a farm. “Bee stings,” would come up in conversations, “what relevance had bee stings to the birth of calves?” It was a mystery.
It was only through a web search that I discovered that it was not “bee stings” but “beestings,” what did beestings mean, though? Another search said that it was colostrum, the first milk given by a cow after calving. It was only a third search that revealed the importance of beestings or colostrum in providing calves with antibodies.
The beestings, colostrum, antibodies process seems to be a reflection of conversations in the classroom. Attempting to explain concepts often means using terms that are as inaccessible to students as the terms that being explained.
Teaching religious education to a post-religious generation, there is an awareness that the language of religious institutions is increasingly difficult to explain. Terms like atonement and salvation are a mystery to students who have no conception of what they might mean and who continue to look mystified when they are explained.
An explanation of atonement only brought questions as to what sort of God demanded the death of a son in order to be satisfied. The explanation brought suggestions that God was a cruel and destructive figure.
The idea of salvation was even more opaque. It was thought strange that anyone would believe that Jesus had to be killed for them to be “saved,” saved from what? It was thought to be an idea from long ago that they did not see as relevant to them, because most did not believe in heaven or hell, and those who thought there was an afterlife did not think Christians were the only people who reached it.
There is no sign that the church has the capacity to adjust to the reality of the classrooms. Religious advisers still seek to impose locally agreed religious education syllabuses filled with language that is two steps away from meaning for most students. The words they use are no more comprehensible than beestings is to a non-farmer.