When I was teaching in school, I used to take my form class to the registration-period assemblies that were the norm. If there was a visiting chaplain, he/she had two minutes in which to sell an impression before the bell rang and the moment was gone. The big events of the calendar were unmarked other than by a half-day at the end of term. And I thought assemblies were designed to give religion the tiniest toe-hold you could get away with within the law - and I deplored every minute of them.
Today I took part in an Easter Assembly, flying the Piskie flag along with the RC and C of S chaplains. In all, each half of the school had a half-hour slot. I put together a series of readings and meditations and poems which gave an insight into what happened in Holy Week, including a grim account of what, historically, crucifixion entailed. There were obvious parallels with the situation in the Middle East today. It was all to be delivered by pupils, who would be chosen for their reading/dramatic ability. None of this was under my control; I simply turned up today to work my iPod and read about 5 lines.
And it went exactly as I had expected. How can you expect pupils to know how to react to something new (and God, was it new to most of them) if their teachers are allowed to behave like surly adolescents? Not all of them, of course – but from where I was sitting I could clearly see an unprepossessing-looking guy sitting ostentatiously doing his marking, busily erasing something as vigorously as possible, paying not a bit of attention to anyone or anything. The readers hadn’t been rehearsed – because the drama teacher was too busy. The choir had ducked out of the promised contribution. And even when a member of staff did in fact think that this was a good idea, the remark to a child that “We’re supposed to expose you to this kind of thing” doesn’t really fit the bill.
On my way in, earlier in the morning, I was greeted by a former colleague: “I see you’re here to peddle your superstitions” – and there are no prizes for guessing where he stands. Now, I have sat through the dreary non-religious funeral of a colleague at which that same sceptic spoke at length, endeavouring to bring some sort of permanence to a memory, some sort of meaning to a retirement cut short. And I sat in the required silence, listening, not praying – not doing anything other than offer the polite response required of any adult in the situation. I didn’t accuse him of self-aggrandisement, or of attempting to reduce a life to an end-of-term entertainment. Nor, for that matter, did the other Christian colleagues sitting beside me.
I have to do further assembly-type gatherings until a new rector is found for my church. I’m already thinking how I can work on one year-group at least to undermine this culture of philistinism and ill manners. I expect adolescents to behave like that – though in fact I only saw one senior girl actually doing so, and amused myself be stopping her dead by watching her. But in these straitened times, I’d be wanting to tell teachers in the employ of the authority that they have a job to do, and that if they can’t actually do it they might care to think again about their vocation – maybe a career as a G20 protester? (I could teach them a thing or two about that too).
I have other, half-formed thoughts about this to which I shall return, but that’s enough for now. Let me just say that today’s assembly did nothing in the way of proselytising, and that if I were to attend an assembly led by a Muslim – or a careers advisor - I’d expect to behave exactly as I would with any other visiting speaker. It’s called professionalism.
By the way: the music (Missa Luba) was great over the new PA system. And seriously loud.