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Showing posts from September, 2008

The cry of the babe in the womb

In a fascinating article about the importance of the human voice ('Human Voices - Haud Muto Factum: Nothing happens by being mute' in Education Today, vol 58, no. 3, College of Teachers, London, September 2008) Professor Rosemary Sage discusses the by now familiar observations about the way in which a child in the womb relates to his mother's voice. She develops this still further to relate the mother's voice and heartbeat to the very rhythms of language, song and poetry.

But what really struck me was the phenomenon of the uterine scream. Many will know of Dr Bernard Nathanson and the film The Silent Scream. It is a difficult film to watch. I saw it for the first time when I was 14 or 15, together with 125 other boys in my year group, at King Edward VI School, Southampton, an independent grammar school for boys, where I was a pupil. I remember that during the showing, the 'hard man' of the year (later expelled) had to leave the room and vomit. I still remember h…

More fun and games with the French state

The French Minister of Culture has annonced a major climbdown over volunteer involvement in cultural and musical shows. The government wanted to bring in a law outlawing the presence of more than 15% voluntary involvement in popular festivals and shows.

This would have meant curtains for the popular Inter-Celtic festival in Lorient which annually includes 10,000 folk musicians, none of them paid. It would also have destroyed the Vendée's proudest cultural event, the Puy du Fou evening show, which tells France's story throughout the ages, including the civil war of 1793-96, and includes 3,200 volunteer actors.

Threatened with a demonstration of force from the feisty 'chouans' of Brittany and Vendee, the government has backed down.

The voluntary sector in France lives in constant threat of persecution from a State that is historically allergic to any kind of private philanthropy. For example, there are laws that prevent schools, religious orders and others from benefitting …

No more cakes and ale for Catholics

It seems that 'cakes' was the common nomenclature for the wafers used at Mass in renaissance England and 'ales' were the merry parties of Catholics on high-days and holydays before the Reformation. According to Clare Asquith's book Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, featuring the Count Orsino as Duke of Illyria, was performed for Queen Elizabeth herself only a few months after the visit of Duke Orsini, an envoy sent by the Pope to plead with the Queen to return to Rome.

Asquith maintains that the role played by Feste the clown , 'a licensed fool', was similar to that played by Shakespeare himself. Elizabeth by 1601 was wearing black every day, enslaved to the logic of her father's and brother's religious choices (as Olivia is: enslaved by mourning her father and brother). She herself preferred Latin, celibate clergy and ceremony, and hated the puritans; just as we get the impression that Olivia re…

And another thing (re French national curriculum changes)

One more thing has struck me after reading through the latest news from Le Monde - Education. It seems that whereas currently French children are asked to study France and the European Union in the 1st year, they will now study Africa in the 1st year and France/Europe in the 4th year. This seems to me almost as topsy-turvy as the proposed changes to the history syllabus.

Islamicising the curriculum

The French national curriculum (which - through the medium of English - we follow in some respects for Years 7 and 8, although we are not obliged to do so) is in many ways a thing of wonder. The vision of an enlightened, optimistic and purposeful humanism (secular rather than Christian, unfortunately) is rather impressive. Christians can, in fact, find much in it of great value and common sense. Even though, from a British point of view, it can sometimes seem terribly Cartesian and dry. Of course, the reality in French schools might bear little relation to the ministerial ideal, but on paper it looks good.

There is a fine idea of logical progression in the sciences, of grammatical content in the languages and - most impressively - of chronology in history. There is also a clear programme of transmitting a sense of national and European identity, through a knowledge of classical antiquity, classical literature and the European story generally.

French children in the first year of seconda…