3pm Friday was the opportunity to meet with the head teacher of my son’s school. For those of us who were either enraged or unemployed enough to give up time, she had emailed to say she would be available to discuss the sorry event which had presented itself as the festive assembly. The final assembly of the presumably now immediately retired Reverend.
Armed with all sorts of information, all direct from the vicar, I entered into a rather casual meeting with the crew clothing jumper that masqueraded as a head teacher. I gather my approach has now been idly described as ‘ripping into’ the head and being ‘nasty’ but I care not a jot as a) I rather enjoyed making the head gulp and b) I still think I’m right.That being said, there had been enough provocation for one week and my irritation stems from incompetence as much as from the ill judged revelation.
So what is my thinking about the matter and what are my issues with the resulting witch hunt?
Well firstly, there is the issue that the Reverend can’t remember saying anything that would indicate Father Christmas may not exist. To be honest, I don’t think this is entirely true, more likely it was perhaps the only conceivable answer the vicar could give to a mother who was asking to know what exactly he had said (and why). I think what is true, is that he never meant to suggest Father Christmas was not real (and no, I do not accept lack of powerpoint slides as an excuse). For me this is the issue, as I believe a man who has been a vicar for that many years should have learned that caution should be taken, politics should be avoided and that sticking to a nice happy story about the nativity is wisest. It is far from wise or festive to focus upon the hagiography of St. Nicholas which includes the murder and pickling of three children. Not exactly a merry Christmas story for children by any standards.
Secondly, there is the issue that the school never told the Reverend there was a problem (or reaction) to what he had said. Why was he sat eating bourbon biscuits in the staff room after the assembly when the teachers were running up and down the corridors implementing their damage limitation plan?
The school didn’t even communicate to the Reverend that they had an issue with what he said or that he was likely to get any come back. The first he heard of any disillusionment (or crying children) was when my friend’s husband phoned him the following morning. Hardly demonstrating that the issue was being sensitively managed. (It seems the head teacher herself was too busy eating biscuits in London to contact Tatton-Brown and one of the governers rushed to that particular job some 24 hours after the assembly).
Thirdly, the school sent an email which suggested that they had not previously taken to find out what the content of any assembly would be. I am genuinely stunned. No caution, no consideration of any one’s politics, evangelicalism or capabilities to run an assembly? No learning objectives? No consolidation with the curriculum? Simply no planning and no management, just a casual “oh yes, do pop along and do a Christmas assembly.”
Finally, I don’t like being lied to and played by someone who I entrust my child to 5 days a week. When you say you have spoken to the vicar and done all you can to manage the situation, that shouldn’t translate into; despite the vicar having spent the last 24 hours trying to contact me, as the head of the school, I only got around to phoning him less than two hours prior to this meeting.
I realised fairly quickly that I was wasting my time trying to have a serious conversation about protecting my son from other assembly guest stars (who could potentially offer evangelical / fundamentalist view points without censor) . It seems that I am one of only a few voices who is concerned about a school that doesn’t seek to vet the content of its guests. Ironic really, when I have been asked to sign a form confirming whether my son can eat popcorn and watch a copy of Stig of the Dump. As far as I remember, Stig of the Dump does not attempt to undermine a now secular cultural tradition based on benevolence, nor does it seek to disrupt a child’s faith in magic and kindness.
One thing which no one has really considered is the damage which this episode has done to the church and its engagement with the young generation of today. My son wishes to be baptised but earning, and maintaining, a seven year old’s trust is not done through undermining his understanding of the world, nor is it done through demolishing his dreams and fantasies. Ask yourself this vicar, how can he believe in Father Christmas and God, when you’ve just dashed his belief in Father Christmas? How can you preach about concepts of such complexity as the real and the unreal without opening yourself up to an attack about your inability to prove your own faith? Think vicar, think.
This incident has bore witness to several distasteful facets of society: the pitch fork “burn him” mentality of a playground full of mothers, the political machinations of an ill equipped head teacher, and the ill judged intellect of a childless vicar. Am I glad I went to see the vicar? Yes, I suspect he now knows how grave a mistake he made. I think he also knows, with a deep etched anxiety, that simple words cause serious damage to little minds. Perhaps in this case my parenting ‘style’ has paid off, because I believe my son should have space to explore his own views of the world and not be dictated to by church or by state (or mother).
My ardent evangelical view is this; the world is a putrid, vile place and Father Christmas provides a bit of magic for probably no more than 5 years in any child’s life. Leave that magic alone. Let the child find out how fucked up this world is in his own time.
I, for one, now believe in Father Christmas more than in any other time in my life.
As Salvator Rosa said ‘Be quiet, unless your speech be better than silence’.