Bible study and English studies – 2

In a diary entry I made last week I mentioned the previous day’s issue of  The Guardian, which reported that the poet laureate, Andrew Motion, wanted children to be taught the Bible in school. Then I expressed my own doubts whether it was possible to teach “religion free” bible. What I did not notice until today was that in the very same edition of the paper Andrew Brown, editor The Guardian’s Comment is Free – Belief , was asking much the same question at greater length than I had at the time I made my entry.

The Motion approach is rather like tourism: pupils are to be shown the delights of a literature they do not know, but which is strange and fun. But tourism is something we can perfectly well do without, it is entirely discretionary spending. The traditional approach was much more like teaching the language of a country where you will live. It wasn’t an entertaining diversion, but something vital.

By this time, I know, half the readers will have abandoned the article to write comment saying more or less “nyah! It’s not true! Why should anyone bother learning anything that isn’t true?” But lack of truth is the worst possible reason for not learning, or teaching stories like the Bible’s. All societies understand themselves through myths which are not true; so do every one of us as individuals. I used to rage against this fact and deny it, but it has itself the blunt weighty authority of truth. If you try to kick it away you will only bruise your foot.

As for why we should prefer one myth to another, the answer, I think, is that we need to share the myths of parents and grandparents, because if we don’t know how they understood the world, we can never learn from their experience; and the whole of culture and of civilisation, depends on learning from mistakes we don’t have to make ourselves.

POSTSCRIPT

Letter to today’s Education Guardian.

I’m eternally grateful for my early indoctrination into all things biblical. How else could I have appreciated The Life of Brian?

 

Roy Matthews

Rainford, Merseyside

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