Friday, 2 December 2011
Think of the Children
I am gradually collecting all the instalments of the famous Haggerston Catechism composed by Fr HA Wilson in the years around the War and published in seven parts in later years. They aren't very common as they were printed on floppy paper, and having bought the sections that survive in reasonable numbers I'm now down to the rarer ones; the volume on The Lord's Prayer is on Abebooks at the moment for £90 ...
The striking thing about Fr Wilson's catechism classes was that they comprised a two-year introduction to the Christian faith for children, spread out over a full 120 sessions. There was an assumption, probably in those days not completely unrealistic, that children would be there on most of those weeks. They also must have been pretty attentive for any of it to go in.
We have an after-school club at Swanvale Halt that runs for an hour on Wednesday afternoons in term time. There are never more than a dozen children (whereas it's clear that Fr Wilson expected many more than that at his catechism classes) and we start with a paper-based activity, have a story, craft activity, run-around game and prayer at the end. Imparting any information to the children, even in the form of a story, is like pulling teeth. Getting them to be quiet long enough to get a word in edgeways is sometimes an achievement, as it was this week. They clearly don't think of our sessions as 'school' in any sense. None of them are maliciously rude, they're just enfuriatingly silly and it's difficult to know how to approach it: we adults continually comiserate with one another after it's all over that 'we never behaved like that with grown-ups' and therefore I don't think we know what to do. A conversation with the headmistress, who commands the entire school in whispers, may be in order!