Saturday, 20 May 2006

Traditional Hymns in School

I used to teach Science, and although I miss the fun and games I used to have with some of the more interesting practical sessions, one thing I don't miss is the relentless pressure exerted by the need to cover the syllabus.

My A level and AS level Psychology students have to work to pretty tight specifications because of the exam pressure, and if I had any GCSE classes for RE, they would be under the same constraint. But at Key Stage 3 (that's Years 7-9 in secondary school, or 11-14 year olds) there isn't the same sort of pressure, although I am expected to follow the scheme of work; and so, I occasionally take a lesson or two to go "off message."

I get very annoyed by the fact that the only hymns the children are ever exposed to in school "liturgies" are the teeth-grindingly awful standard 70s rubbish like "Bind us together" with the excuse that "the kids don't know any of the traditional, old fashioned hymns, and the words are unfamiliar ..." usually followed by, "and anyway, the young people don't like to sing ..."

So, for example, I had one lesson at the beginning of May where I asked 2 volunteers to go and pick daisies from the playing field outside the classroom. They made a small daisy chain, and I lit candles and crowned the statue of Our Lady. I also taught the children the Marian hymn "Bring flowers of the fairest" (I put the words up on PowerPoint, and went through the meaning of some of the unfamiliar words and phrases) and we all then sang the hymn (yes, everyone, even the boys, and no, I didn't need to threaten them with death first) much to the consternation of the English class next door. We finished off with some prayers.

Today, two of my classes were treated to a brief explanation of the reasons behind Henry VIII's split with Rome. I got to tell them about the "kindness" of the King in having St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More beheaded... the kids weren't too convinced, until I went into the details of what being hanged, drawn and quartered actually entailed. They were absolutely horrified (the scientific training I had comes to the fore here, as I give graphic details!) So I think that, for next lesson, we shall go "off message" again, and look at some of the other English Martyrs. I feel a need to sing a few verses of "Faith of our Fathers"...


Anonymous said...

"the kids don't know any of the traditional, old fashioned hymns, and the words are unfamiliar ..."

Er, aren't they supposed to be in school there to learn things?

I would so lose my temper at that.

Mulier Fortis said...

I do... frequently. And, as my Parish Priest points out: "How do we know the hymns we know?" It's not exactly rocket science.

So I shall continue to wage my battle agains naff hymns by using the trad ones as teaching aids. Well, the powers that be are forever saying that we need to cater for different learning styles. The kids have no problem learning pop songs, so they might actually learn a bit of doctrine this way!

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