The Banality of Fun

There is a mystery that troubles RE teachers across the country. It is oft spoken of in staffrooms and on social media, at conferences and in CPD. ‘How can we make RE more fun and exciting?’ The result of this is that ‘fun’ often becomes the grand director; the dominant principle shaping lesson planning in RE. In this piece I will explore four reasons why this is problematic.

1. Inane Activities

The pursuit of fun frequently results in crass activities which distract from or replace the subject matter. One example I recently encountered of this was a year 7 class making paper Facebook profile pages for Jesus. As I observed pupils ‘liking’ Mary, ‘poking’ John the Baptist and sending friend requests (mainly to non-biblical characters of different eras), I wondered whether they were gaining anything more than unhelpful messages from this activity. Similar things can be said of the ‘Hindu Gods Top Trumps’ resource, rated highly by its 1400+ viewers on restuff.org and ‘recommended’ with five stars on TES. In this game…

Read the full article here on RE:ONLINE

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3 thoughts on “The Banality of Fun

  1. Charlotte

    Excellent blog David. Really enjoyed reading this.

    Some of my own thoughts on the issue…

    As JS Mill wrote in his autobiography (p.58) “It is, no doubt, a very laudable effort, in modern teaching, to render as much as possible of what the young are required to learn, easy and interesting to them. But when this principle is pushed to the length of not requiring them to learn anything but what has been made easy and interesting, one of the chief objects of education is sacrificed. I rejoice in the decline of the old brutal and tyrannical system of teaching, which however did succeed in enforcing habits of application; but the new, as it seems to me, is training up a race of men who will be incapable of anything which is disagreeable to them”

    This might feed into an understanding of Mill’s famous remark in “On Liberty” that “A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the dominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, an aristocracy, or a majority of the existing generation; in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body.”

    Is the real end of Ofsted to raise standards or to use schooling to create more predictable, biddable voters, more interested in being entertained than in the substance of what they might be voting for? The attempt to homogenize the classroom experience – the requirement to plan in detail months in advance, utilize “add-water-and-stir” schemes and resources rather than substantial textbooks, the ubiquitous imposition of the three-part lesson without any significant opportunity for teacher-input (in any role other than referee) and clumsy attempts at differentiation – pasteurize out any opportunities for young people to develop real understanding or lasting knowledge of the subject matter, let alone the independent critical faculties needed to analyse or evaluate anything.

    Notwithstanding the fact that these changes seem likely to lead to the further downgrading of the teaching profession, making it unnecessary for teachers to be subject-experts or even pedagogical-experts and making the delegation of most classes to those trained only in giving out and supervising “learning activities” (designed by battery hens at Pearson) and paid accordingly at half the current teacher-rate, they seem unjustifiable in relation to any long-term principle. Even in utilitarian terms, a system which suppresses the intellectual development and liberty of the majority in the interests of a minority of politicians and investors (who continue to opt out of the state education they impose on others and whose chosen schools continue to opt out of the Ofsted inspection regime) is wrong. To quote Mill again “A state which dwarfs its men, in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can really be accomplished.”

    In the 21st century can we tolerate a class of leaders who rely on the justification that “despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians”. Have our critical faculties yet been eroded to the point whereby we will vote for people and policies which are predicated on the voters’ own stupidity? Are we really turkeys voting for Christmas, prisoners willingly chained in the cave, or will we put what is right ahead of what is easy for once?

    Surely enough of us benefited from the brief window of liberal state education that existed in some places from the 50s-80s to recognize what is happening and act to stop it and to protect the liberty of future generations? “Everyone who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit” Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. 1859.

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  2. Anne K

    Lots of good sense here. I cannot believe it when I read teachers asking for advice on making teaching about the Holocaust ‘fun’. Sometimes we have to accept that some things are serious and our teaching has to reflect this. If we teach with real commitment, instead of constantly wanting to create an entertainment factor, the messages will communicate with integrity.

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