Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Sex ed rant..(last part)

Recalling that these posts are just therapy for me and probably of no use to anyone else, I will proceed with my rant for the last time, I promise.

So far I have argued that sex education can not be confined to biology lessons, it simply doesn’t belong there as it isn’t science and treating it as science trivialises the issues. I have also said how worrying the attitude of the state is to children, how it sees them just as young consumers.

How can we teach about growing-up to children in such a way that we do justice them, treating them as precious and unique gifts of God whose wholeness, dignity and grace must be preserved and encouraged as much as is possible?

For Catholics, surely the answer lies within the context of the Theology of the Body. In order to get anywhere with this however certain things will need to happen. Firstly, we will have to reclaim Genesis from the biblical literalists. Adam and Eve and their intended nature and fallen nature are essential to an understanding of the Theology of the Body. We live in a culture where even mentioning Adam and Eve makes people think you are a simpleton who denies evolution. In contrast, Adam and Eve profoundly encompass what makes us human, what makes us so dependent on God and through God’s interaction with them we understand more clearly why a second Adam was needed to redeem us. Secondly we need to be really convinced about the validity of what we are doing, if we were then we would face the secularists with confidence and on our own terms, we would also face sex education with joy and confidence…we are a long way from this.

I have often been tempted to say to my fellow teachers (but lack the bottle), Holy Mother Church loves and cares for us and wants to protect us from lousy sex., She wants us to be good lovers by teaching us to love in the way God intended us to love each other. Yes, we must adopt an unpopular NO SURRENDER approach to the sanctity of life, to sex before marriage, to contraception and to all forms of illicit and immoral sexual activity. However, we must not forget that the Catholic Church is a great defender of the sensual world. We have great feasts, we ought to know how to put on good public pageantry, we have fantastic art and music and our sensual world transcends the ordinary because it is all directed towards God. We are equally at home with the natural and the supernatural and with the marvelous and the miraculous. We are the home of mystery and awe. Little of this penetrates the average Catholic secondary school and our children are not properly nourished as a result.

What about the non-Christian world? I have some sympathy with any secularist who says he doesn’t want to have to believe in God. I do believe that we can deliver good quality sex-education in this context too. Firstly, a new anatomy of the human body is needed. An anatomy that takes into consideration our self-awareness. An anatomy that acknowledges that the human body is the seat of the intellect (our ability to reason), the will (our ability to desire) and our heart (our ability to love). Without this anatomy, children are left without any framework for their emotions and will be left believing they are consumers is a shopping mall of choices and lifestyles devoid of higher purpose. It is truly is sinful if we allow this to continue to happen to the younger generation.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Sex Ed. rant (part 2)

In the previous post I established that the teaching of human sexual reproduction can hardly be classed as science and should not really be considered part of the science curriculum because at its most basic (for these young children) it is condensed into a series of half-truths masquerading as fact. Teaching should not be about the delivery of “facts” and the forced digestion of said facts by small people.

The counter argument to this is one that has never seriously been tackled by the Catholic community, it says something like this: well they have to know the facts of life.

The “facts of life” is a cliché that we rarely question. We rarely look at its meaning. I have already argued that it is important that sexual reproduction is studied at school but that this can be effectively confined to the animal and plant kingdoms and there is no need to venture into human sexual reproduction in biology lessons. It is also vital that puberty is handled sensitively and effectively. My poor grandmother was never told as a child what would happen to her and the shock of that first bleed was terrifying for her and left her nearly suicidal. Break the cliché down, however and it appears that the life forces we are talking about can be broken down into bullet points, “facts” like past FA Cup winners. Facts to talk about dispassionately, facts complemented with obscure anatomical names and badly drawn diagrams. Facts that deliberately diminish the sensitivity that should be shown to this subject.

I know teachers who get the pupils to shout out “penis”, “vagina” "fallopian tubes" etc at each other. Obviously, there is a lot of reticence on their part to do this and a lot of giggling when they do. Is this right? Personally I’ve never equated teaching to “working a crowd” and it is something I could not do. I am uneasy about that position of power that a teacher can suddenly find themselves in, I’m uneasy about milking a moment at the expense of the very real feelings and trauma that some of the young pupils may be experiencing. The issue is, that if we make it into “science” by learning the medical vocabulary of sex, we have started to dehumanise the process. We are also telling the young people that this is what sensible adults do. We are telling them that sensible adults have decoupled sex from emotion, sex is no big thing, just a bit if fun that grown-ups get a lot of pleasure from, but hey its scientific and biological so that makes it OK. Obviously the logical next step from bigging-up the science in sex is to then say how science can control/tame/manipulate sex for “our benefit”. We are now on seriously dangerous ground and we only got there by teaching some “innocuous” biology that everyone says is necessary: the “facts of life”.

So that is the compulsory education our children have to have in schools. Read the governments “Every Child Matters” documents and you will see that out of necessity, it is very much a lowest common denominator approach to children. The government has decided that as a lowest common denominator, that everyone can agree on, children can be viewed as emerging consumers; learning how to assess risks and make choices. The whole of the educational system is about children learning how to assess risk, make balanced assessments and make choices. It is as if this is all the freedom we have. The whole problem with it is that it relies on only one way of thinking that runs something like this: there is an argument for something, there is the counter-argument, weight the two arguments up and come to your own conclusion. It is a great structure for an essay but a crap way to live your life. We as Catholics live in a world of non-negotiables and immutable truths, we do not fit into this scheme and the sooner we realise how we are being squeezed out of society the better.

To be continued…

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Sex education rant....

There is something going on at work that is causing me great anxiety. I fear my faith may very well be clashing with what I am supposed to do in order to earn a living. It is truly tearing me apart, but ultimately I know what has to be done.

Exactly what is going on, I will not reveal as I don’t want to be recognised which would put those I teach and the school where I work in a difficult position.

The bottom line is I feel that I cannot deliver what is expected of me in terms of the National Curriculum as I feel it contradicts my Faith and could actually harm those in my care.

So, I will only talk in very general terms, mainly as therapy for myself and in the vain hope other teachers may feel able to support me with their prayers and maybe some ideas of their own for a resolution to these problems.

As things stand, parents may not withdraw their children from biology lessons where the mechanics of the sexual act are being taught. They can however withdraw their children from any of the touchy feely discussion type stuff that goes on in PHSE (Personal Health and Social Education) though there are moves afoot to make this compulsory too.

I am classed (against my will) as a Science teacher so the biology of the sexual act has to be delivered by the likes of me. We can have no difficulty in looking at plant reproduction and mammalian reproduction. Plant reproduction can involve experimental work and is good science. Most children have pets, so mammalian reproduction can be related to their pets. The nature of this study relates back to their experiences and we can quite happily discuss bitches on heat and puppy care and male dogs getting excited and “showing their lipsticks” (the children’s phrase not mine).

We live, thank God, in a culture which still has taboos on third parties watching the sexual act between adults. We certainly(whether we are religious or not) have taboos about children watching this. So why should it fall the responsibility of the hapless science teacher to have to describe and produce diagrams of said act for a random group of 11 year olds? We can have no difficulty with diagrams of rabbit or dog sexual organs and little difficulty, apart from some squeamishness, about possibly watching a video that contains some animal sex or animals giving birth. We are just about behaving as scientists, relating theory to the reality of the world around us. Teaching about the human sexual act is not science, there is no investigative work, no relation to real life experience (for 11 year olds), no analytical work and certainly no experimentation (most of these would be illegal). There is simply no need for human sexual intercourse to be on the biology syllabus for pre-14s.

Talking about puberty should firstly be the responsibility of parents and then form teachers. Detailed biological accounts of ovulation and ejaculation can wait till they are much older. A discussion about puberty should be all about the fact your body is getting ready for adulthood, but that you are not yet an adult and you have to get used to your new (and evolving) shape and appearance for many years before you can consider yourself ready to have children of your own. Some child always helpfully chirps in at this point that their cat had kittens when she was too young and hasn’t grown properly and has bad hips as a result.

I wonder why the secular world still has taboos about children watching sex between humans? Could it be that there is still a suspicion that people are more than just a biological machine, that there is some higher dignity involved in making love, or is it just some good old-fashioned shame and guilt that they are so good at accusing Catholics of being riddled with?

To be continued…

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Last Things...

When I was at school, we supported, year on year, a home for limbless ex-servicemen. We provided the men with cards and Christmas presents and a certain amount of money from our fundraising exploits. Most of the men were veterans from WW1. Being a somewhat reflective and some say morbid child, I often used to wonder where I'd be when the last man to serve in the trenches of WW1 had died. To me it seemed far more momentous than where I'd be when 1999 became 2000, or what age I'd be when I married...

Well here I am. Harry Patch has died. May he rest in peace.

There is just this dreadful feeling that it could all happen again, not in the same way, the map of Europe is very different, but in a subtle, all voted in by our elected representatives way, a feeling we are walking into a nightmare. A feeling that Europe in particular is facing a crisis of monumental proportions on which the souls of millions will ultimately rise or flounder.

So I'm a bit reflective as I look over this stunning, peaceful and hard fought for Wessex countryside....these days with genetically enhanced, super-productive stock, the grain is now much shorter than the poppies that rise up through the fields proclaiming something and nothing, if anyone cares to listen.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Prayer in financial hardship

I found this inside one of my MIL's prayer books. It dates from the great depression. It still seems very relevant and is a rather beautiful prayer.

Monday, 20 July 2009

40 years ago...

This shows my level of interest in the moon landings

not much has changed.

Divine Intimacy

Deb, in her comments to my previous post, has got me thinking I should write more about Fr. Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen's remarkable Carmelite devotional manual Divine Intimacy. There are some cheap copies available on Amazon but I whole heartedly recommend the Baronius Press edition, the binding is durable, once the book is open it remains open with no stress on the spine. The pages are beautifully type-set and I feel it is worth the money. It will last a life time.

I'm not going to write a book review however. The rest of this post is just a rambling on the reasons why I find it an inspiring book.


A few weeks back I was talking to our parish priest and he kept repeating a phrase about how priests are expected to live in "a monastery of one". I think he was driving at the loneliness or atleast the solitaryness of his vocation, perhaps with some envy of those who have a monastic life in a community. No doubt life as a parish priest can have its lonely times, coming home to a ready meal for one in a large and draughty presbytery after being stuck for hours in a tedious meeting with the diocesesan health & safety committee, must be grim. Family life too can be a lonely experience. Caring intimately and patiently for sick loved ones is a lonely experience. Sorting out family finances is a lonely business. Going to work and working in an increasingly secular and at times anti-Catholic environment is blinking lonely.

People who know me well, know that they shouldn't ever expect sympathy off me. I do hope our parish priest wasn't looking for sympathy.

There is a type of loneliness that I do believe is a healthy part of our spiritual development. We can feel very lonely when our emotional response to a situation is significantly different to those around us. However, if our response is due to our increasing desire for intimacy with God, then surely this loneliness is wholesome and good. Surely Our Lord felt a little alone from the people around him when he calmed the waters round his little fishing boat. Surely Our Lady felt very alone when she had to let others know of her pregnancy. Loneliness is good if it is a result of an increasing desire for an interior life united to the Lord. Infact surely it is inevitable and surely is it just as likely to happen in a convent, in a draughty presbytery, in a suburban semi, in a large and loving family.

I feel that somehow over the centuries we have lost track of our innate prayerfulness, our desire for intimacy with God, our desire to turn every gesture, movement and utterance over to Him, to do His will. This is not just for priests and religious. It is for all. Anything that helps us do this, when coupled to the sacraments and the prayers of the full Body of Christ, is worth pursuing.

The book does need some knowledge of the pre-1970 liturgical calendar and I find that I still have difficulty reading the writings of the Little Flower the book contains, she is such a demanding and inspiring yet "insipid in style" Doctor of the Church.

Those of us who do retire to our secret rooms to spend time in contemplation and prayer can find we relate to hermits in the desert and find Carmel an inspiration.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Our Lady of Mount Carmel- Pray for Us

This is undoubtedly my favourite Marian feast. Fr Gabriel in Divine Intimacy expresses its essence beautifully:

Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel indicates a strong call to the interior life, which, in a special way, is Mary's life. The Blessed Virgin wants us to resemble her in heart and mind much more than externals. If we penetrate into Mary's soul, we see that grace produced in her a very rich interior life: a life of recollection, prayer, uninterrupted giving of herself to God, and of constant and intimate union with Him. Mary's soul is a sanctuary reserved for God alone...

Those who wish to live truly devoted to our Lady of Mount Carmel, must follow Mary into the depths of the interior life. Carmel is the symbol of the contemplative life, of life wholly consecrated to seeking God and tending wholly towards divine intimacy; and she who best realises this very high ideal is Mary, Queen, Beauty of Carmel.

"Judgment shall dwell in the wilderness and justice shall sit in Carmel. And the work of justice shall be peace, and the service of justice quietness and security forever. And my people shall sit in the beauty of peace, and in the tabernacles of confidence" Isaiah 32:16-18

Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Souls in Purgatory

Occasionally in Spain you will see a Carmelite nun nipping out of the convent to the chemist for medicines for her sisters. It is a sight that makes my heart beat faster. There is no colour on earth richer or more full of hope than the brown of the Carmelites.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

More shorts

Currently I'm just enjoying the peace and quiet of rural existence. It is so quiet out here that your senses really do become more attuned to the movements of nature. There are times of quiet elation and joy in the stillness and beauty of it all. There is much to thank God for.

DH and I are really enjoying Taylor Marshall's podcasts on St Paul at the moment. I strongly recommend them to you. Yup I know it is the year for priests, but you're never really relieved of your duties to study Paul. The podcasts can be found here.

Husband is still unwell and being very let down by the health service, the delays in his treatment are nearly intolerable. I still remain undiagnosable, the GP has ended up saying I'll just have to learn to live with it, what ever it is. I'm nearly 6 foot and am struggling to keep my weight over 9 stone, my hands are still very painful and I know there is something amiss with my metabolism (the tiredness is chronic and has little to do with looking after DH). "Still it isn't life threatening, so get on with life".......so the doctor says. I'm offering my sufferings up for the priesthood....

The Year for Priests is so important. I wonder what you are dong for it? There are so many priests dear to me to pray for, at the moment I'm concentrating on one a week, but also saying a general prayer for all priests each day. Don't forget Bishops in your prayers.....and make a super human effort not to criticise them. Is there any way of letting priests know they are being prayed for......some anonymous card we could send them to let them know they are in our prayers and let them know their flock are faithful to the desires of the Holy Father?

Finally another physics based lolcat that made me laugh, this one may be going on my classroom wall.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Oxford odyssey

A not very good short story wot I wrote....

Margaret, I’ve enjoyed this little weekend coach holiday in Oxford, and if you weren’t now fast asleep next to me, I’d love to ask you what you thought. I think you enjoyed that farce at the Playhouse too much last night, you could hardly stay awake at Mass this morning. I wont wake you, we’ll probably be stopping at the Stafford services, you get a good kip in before then. Well, I’m glad you invited me, I haven’t been away since Frank passed on and this made a lovely change.

Oxford meant such different things to you and me. Though we were in the same class at school, you went to the right parish and the nuns at school were full of aspirations for you, filling you with thoughts of becoming a professional, a doctor or lawyer. I was at the “shawlee” parish, which to them meant Irish and ignorant, I had to work so hard to get into teacher training college with little or no encouragement. The irony is you found Thomas, married at 18 and had those wonderful boys of yours, including your Andrew who got into Oxford who you have been so proud of. So you rightfully have a claim on Oxford, it has memories for you. Me, teacher training in Liverpool and a lifetime teaching in the mill towns of Lancashire, marrying my Frank when I was close to retirement, having a few precious years with him and then….No, Oxford was for someone else, not me, nor any of the children that passed through my hands. Actually it brings out the old Labour socialist in me, but I won’t tell you that!

If those nuns are rustling their habits on some cloud up there, I wonder what they think of us, are they proud?. I can’t help remembering they ignored me in class because our Mam washed coal for a living, or that it how it felt to me as a schoolgirl.

Margaret, I really want to wake you up and talk about that Mass with you. I wonder what you made of it? When was the last time you saw three priests with birettas? Gosh what a sight, what reverence. Oh, and those altar boys….oh everything was just so right and so prayerful. I was nearly in tears, I was. I felt exhausted by the depth of prayer and closeness to God. I wonder what you felt?

The problem is it has got me thinking. I mean, I’m dreading my turn on the rota as Eucharistic Minister. I don’t want to do it anymore and I don’t know why. Father won’t be pleased, I’d be letting him down. But I can’t do it if it doesn’t feel right, can I?

Oh yes, and despite these knees, I’m going to genuflect properly once again, and get rid of that pathetic curtsey of mine, I can do better for Our Lord……

Sunday, 5 July 2009

10 things...

The wonderful Mrs Pogle has circulated this meme and I've decided to join in, like her I'll open it up to anyone who is interested.

The "rules" are:
To keep this award, I must do the following:

1) Say thanks and give a link to the presenter of the award.
2) Share “ten honest things” about myself.
3) Present this award to 7 others whose blogs I find brilliant in content and/or design, or those who have encouraged me.
4) Tell those 7 people that they’ve been awarded HONEST SCRAP and inform them of these guidelines in receiving it.

The temptation, when it comes to me and my blog is to drop a significant consonant from the title, but I'll refrain.

(1) I have a Chinese name which means beautiful Cassia blossom
(2) I have one leg longer than the other which causes me to walk funny when I'm being too vain to wear my special insoles.
(3) I always wear a cheap perspex cross with a thorn embedded in it. The symbolism works on many levels.
(4) I have a weakness for military hardware and love military aircraft and ships.

(5) I like Strauss waltzes (and I've never admitted that to anyone before - there's real honesty for you)
(6) Scottish oatcakes, butter and marmalade ...what a treat!
(7) I'm allergic to asparagus
(8) I drive an N reg Rover 214 and am too attached to it, she's an old lady and the rust is getting such that I will need to replace her
(9) I cannot multitask, I can't even hold a conversation if the telly is on
(10)I would like to travel the length of the trans Siberian railway one day....

What about you?