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Saturday, 16 June 2018

Biblical Studies, Social Sciences and Feminism, 1970-1990

From school, I went to Manchester University to 'read' Biblical Studies. I had been brought up in an evangelical church, but was a bit of a rebel and after finishing an A level in Biblical Studies by correspondence college I  developed a critical rather than a devotional stance. I collected books from an early age, mostly second hand. I arrived at freshers Week with plenty of books, and read. The Freshers' events held no interest. In fact, thanks to my upbringing, I was a social isolate. My contacts and friends were the same kind of people I knew, the Christian Union. It was there I met my wife to be, and now companion of 50 years, in which we developed as agnostics and atheists together. we married in August 1969. Academic studies in the Bible were fundamentally opposed to the conservative views of the Christian Union. Our paths soon parted. I have to say that the usual advice of going to University to enjoy the social life passed me by. I divided my efforts between my studies and my wife-to-be. We married at the end of my second year. She had finished her degree and was beginning her PGCE in Didsbury. We lived in a dismal flat in a seedy street in Disbury close by one of Tesco's early corner stores.

In 1970 I began a PhD thesis on Ancient Hebrew Marriage. It had come up in a final undergraduate year course, Ancient Hebrew Social Institutions. During this year which I was newly married (in the summer vacation). What we now call Feminist Approaches to Bible Study did not then exist. Phyllis Trible was working in the wings towards the end of my research, and this and my first article in 1972 put equity for women on a lower rung of the academic ladder. Christian male antagonism was the norm. I was brought up in a church (which I rapidly left, and departed Christianity altogether) in which women were forbidden to take part. Women should keep silent in church, their main role being to wear a hat. At 17 years f age I attended what was called a ministry meeting (it was compulsory, really) of the topic of Freedom by an evangelist named Stephen Small (the irony had not struck me then). The tradition was to have questions afterwards, during which I asked when women would be allowed to contribute. Even the CofE were having similar discussions, with a similar level of entrenchment which would delay the beginning of women ministers. An abrasive little man (who had had me in his sights for a couple of years) jumped up and shouted that I was shameful to ask that question and gave and aggressive and rancid performance of male privilege. At this distance I can name names - his was Mr Perkins. He was clearly out of order, but the 'oversight' (their term for the older male committee) phoned me to tell me I was out of order. That was a defining moment for me, when I left the church and Christianity, though the process was gradual.

I am writing this fifty years later when my wife has dementia and complex disabilities. The human mind is rational

Biblical criticism then was in constant conflict with evangelical conservatism and I was liberated by it. I don't now agree with all the elements of biblical criticism, but was empowered to approach the Bible critically. The basic of contemporary criticism then was historical and literary - constructing an ancient Hebrew history, and uncovering literary sources. That was the norm up to the point my thesis was written, so I took an interest in who (in biblical literature) said what, when and why. I was ready for the jump to ask who held power over the expression and interpretation of Bible material. So for example, I studied incest rules as authentic history, not as persuasive theology or political hegemony. Biblical studies is still divided between conservatives and rationalists. Sometimes they are called maximalists (believing that most of the Bible was historically accurate) and minimalists, which includes me, to whom biblical traditions were written with social, political and theological purposes. To put this crudely, the Bible affirmed the power of the priesthood. In doing so it downplayed the contribution of women.

At this point, some readers will raise the question of the divine origin and inspiration of the Bible. This means different things for Jews (the Hebrew Bible, called Old Testament by Christians) and Christians (The New Testament, but referring back to the Hebrew scriptures). Each religion has conservatives who assert the Bible's accuracy and authenticity as 'the word of God', and a range of 'liberals' who have a more indirect and nuanced approach. The shift from 'inspired by' to 'inspiring' raises questions about the expressive and creative process (where do ideas and insights come from?) and why religious scriptures should be singled out as better than the rest, Shakespeare, novelists, playwrights etc. Many works can be inspiring. My own view is that the Bible contains an ancient national literature, developed over centuries, and has to be studied like any other classical and near eastern texts, critically in every sense of the word. That it contains theological texts does give them special standing. The laws are not a deity's instruction but human politics, just like secular laws. When laws cease to serve a useful function, they are repealed. No law in the Bible can be assumed to apply to our circumstances today.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Philip Davies, Old Testament Specialist. RIP

Philip Davies (1945-2018)
Philip wrote a chapter on Jerusalem in the book I organised and edited, Creating the Old Testament. It is clear from the obituary below that this owed much to his time working  in Jerusalem. The chapter drew on the biblical stories of the foundation of Jerusalem, through as you can see below his academic experiences in Jerusalem. Philip was like me a minimalist, showing how little of historical accuracy can be drawn out of Old Testament/Biblical texts. That the existence of Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets and exilic theology cannot be assumes to depict history. The texts come from a socio-political-theological whirlpool in which writers and 'schools' defended their empires and ideas. Nothing in the Bible tells us how to live our lives, any more than Homer's Odysseus does. The university academic is duty bound to critique, to ask difficult questions, to resist simplistic answers. Creating the Old Testament similarly made no simplistic assumptions of historicity. Historicity is tied up in the fact that someone, somewhere wrote the stuff, for reasons only he (probably) knew and we can in part deduce. Old Testament scholarship has to deconstruct the intellectual ideas of its past. I said that nothing we assume about ancient Israel is essentially trustworthy. Stories had an agenda which is still being worked through politically today. A number of us knocked these ideas around in the last quarter of the 20th century, seeking to undermine entrenched opinion. It was a kind of intellectual siblinghood we all valued.

I honour a courageous life well spent.


By Thomas L. Thompson

Professor Emeritus

University of Copenhagen

June 2018

The death of my most dear friend Philip Davies on Friday, May 31, by cancer is a great loss to our entire field. He was not only a scholar of great talent and integrity, who interested himself in all that touched biblical studies. He was also ever a scholar of astonishing originality and discipline, whose impact on the field was immeasurable, not least because of the clarity of his arguments and his ability to focus on the rhetorical center of an issue. Who would have dreamt that such a simple distinction as that between the “biblical Israel”, the “ancient Israel” constructed by historians and the “Israel of the past”, which no longer exists, could have provoked a decade-long debate among biblical scholars, archaeologists, historians and theologians as Philip did in his 1992 essay, In Search of Ancient Israel?

Philip was a scholar, whose long active involvement in the roles of teacher, adviser, editor and publisher created in a career of some fifty years an understanding of the production of knowledge in modern research and scholarship, which was without parallel. The title of his Festschrift captioned Philip as “Far from Minimal’ (Burns and Rogerson 2012). When one tries to describe Philip’s contributions to biblical scholarship as associated with but a singular direction in scholarship, one should consider that this volume, honoring Philip, appeared as the 484th volume of the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series, a series for which Philip had been one of the founding members! Philip had also been one of the founders of the journal itself, as long ago as 1976, before minimalism had found a voice of its own. Philip also had more than forty years of involvement with the program of Biblical Studies in Sheffield, which engaged him in the training of a great number of graduate students. Philip was a scholar who dealt with problems and the critical voice he brought to any given issue defined his method. I think Ingrid Hjelm’s reminder:
“One should and does think of Philip Davies as a minimalist, but he has supported so many maximalists as well”! The breadth of Philip’s scholarship was his greatest gift and it forms the greatest challenge for any who wish to address his critique seriously.

I first met my friend in England in 1975. It was shortly after I had received my PhD from Temple University and I was giving a brief lecture tour, which James Barr had arranged for me to discuss my dissertation. Philip, I remember, had returned to England to take up his new teaching position at Sheffield. I will never forget the physical landscape of our meeting, although I continue to avoid any significance it might have had for me. We stood facing each other in the sun. He stood on the shiny black-asphalt paved street near the corner of a curved sidewalk and we talked—for some two hours—about all that was going on in the field: about Gottwald and Weippert, archaeology in Europe and the ever-plaguing problem of the Americans’ biblical historicizing. I cannot recall any of the details of our conversation, except that it continued and we did not move from the street corner or out of the sun. Perhaps we were afraid that if we went to a pub for a beer or stopped the conversation in any other way, it might never be taken up again.

I first had direct experience of Philip’s teaching capacities in 1986, when Philip had a research leave and was teaching a course at the École Biblique and I was also working at the École on the Toponomie Palestinienne project together with Francolino Goncalvez. I was also preparing a literary reading of the origin stories of the Pentateuch, which the Sheffield Academic Press had agreed to publish. As I was living in the Old City, we decided to meet every Thursday—with as many of his students who wished to come—at my apartment for a lunch of falafel sandwiches and beer. Some 6-8 students usually came. After lunch, we discussed things biblical as long as we and the beer lasted; that is, until about 6:30 PM. Conversations always brought forward two interrelated themes, which Philip and I enthusiastically were involved in: history and archaeology on the one hand and the literary implications of texts and narrative on the other. The first circled around the question of developing historical interpretation of Palestinian archaeology, which avoided efforts aimed at historicizing biblical narratives. My Toponomie project occupied much of my workdays at the time and engaged me in tracing and identifying the considerable oss of the cultural heritage, which had been embedded in Arab names of villages, wadis, springs, wells, hills and valleys, etc. Both this and the potential of developing post-processual interpretations of archaeological remains engaged Philip’s experience with the Palestine Exploration Fund, brought our conversations to a clearer awareness of the role played by politics in our work. Nevertheless, the students’ interest in biblical studies repeatedly brought our conversations back to the problems related to a Zionist interpretation of a “history of
Israel”—rather than Palestine—in terms of a biblical-archaeological construction of history, ever in deep conflict with a literary and folkloric analysis of biblical origin stories. This second theme awoke in Philip sharp, incisive critique, laced with an irony, which repeatedly exposed the deep sense of his humor and joy in his work.

I was not unaware of how generous Philip was in such discourse, both to me and his students. He had an impressive ability to become quickly engaged in whatever was most central and relevant to his students and colleagues. Their interests quickly became his own. Rather than turning a conversation to his own interests, his interest became that of his interlocutor! What he brought to the conversation was simplicity and clarity and an immense understanding of sound critical methods, expressing his immense reading and experience. What was most
interesting about discussions with Philip was that he was rarely interested in finding agreement. He rather seemed to be always taken up with clarifying what was ambiguous or confused. In these early discussions, Philip and I rarely agreed on very specific issues, but I always came away from such a conversation understanding better what I had meant! Philip Davies, as a teacher, was, perhaps, the most well-read biblical scholar of his generation. He was engaged in the whole field and sought ever to see it as interrelated and coherent. He was that rare scholar who was engaged in the whole of biblical studies.

A few years after our meetings in Jerusalem, I had the great good fortune of teaching with him for a semester in the theology department at Marquette University in, I believe this was in the Autumn of 1990. Philip came to us on a teacher’s exchange program and took up the teaching obligations of my colleague John Schmidt, who spent the semester in Sheffield. Without the least hesitation, Philip and I sought to find again the common ground we had shared in Jerusalem and began to meet at his apartment each week. The context, however, was quite different this time. Not least because I was quite well-prepared for these conversations, engaged as I was in finishing the final draft of a history of European and American scholarship, regarding writing the “history of Israel” from Wellhausen’s Prolegomena to Ahlström’s History of Palestine. Two years earlier, I had spent eight weeks in the library of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and shared many lunches with Gösta as he set out on the demanding final draft of his History.

When I met with Philip while he was at Marquette, so many changes had occurred in the field of biblical studies that I felt that the greatest need I had was to find a clear and simple narrative to guide me through the restructuring debates of the 1970s and 1980s, which I felt had changed biblical studies so radically. I could bring the many conflicting arguments and perspectives onto the table for discussion, but I lacked both clarity and simplicity, for me unfathomable virtues, which Philip possessed in abundance. Looking back on these difficult, at times heated, but always new and fresh discussions that Philip offered with such generosity, I see in retrospect of his death our loss of an immeasurable gift of clarity. Honored be his memory!

Friday, 9 March 2018

At the dentist

A visit to the dental hygienist today led to an interesting conversation. We will call her Kay and her assistant Jenny. Their children are in nursery and infant schools locally. Kay has known me for years and was asking about my research and I mentioned that Living Contradiction was published last September. That led to a conversation about infant schools when I said that my ambition is for schools to be happy places for children.

Jenny’s daughter was in Reception but receiving an extraordinary amount of homework “because the curriculum was too big to fit into school hours” (quoting the class teacher). Jenny’s concern was that this was upsetting her quality time with her child. She would normally read to her and with her, play imaginatively, chat about the day and so on. But homework was a formal list declared completed in a homework book. The child is 4 years old. What madness is requiring schools to do this? Seeking to fill every minute up to a 7pm bedtime? The mother’s instincts that relationship, enjoyment, and well-being should take precedence are absolutely correct. Homework at this age is inappropriate, the school’s neurotic response to government and inspectors misguidance. I advised ignoring homework and being creative with filling in the homework book. Jenny said she already was, but felt vindicated by our conversation.
Kay’s eldest was 7-8 and entering the world or digraphs and trigraphs (incidentally disempowering parents). This is classic step by step SSP (Miskin phonix) assuming that the children had not puzzled over tough, rough, bough, cough, dough, through and though long ago. I could read before school and can barely remember the process. Then, recognition, sounding out and reading as a habit all mingled. By 1982 I wrote a dissertation on reading readiness in which the current wisdom was this multi-approach was advocated. Of course phonics were not ignored, but English has more exceptions than rules, such as I before E.

I explained that my philosophy was that school should be an enjoyable place where children were happy and motivated, and that this was against government ideas of top-down authority and punishment. We will talk again. I have looked out a spare copy of Living Contraction for them.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The Egyptian Book of the Dead: Weighing the Heart

A few friends are teaching ancient Egypt in primary school so here are a few pertinent points.

We are used to the pyramids and valley of the kings so are aware that death was high on anyone's agenda. The pharaoh's spent much of their wealth on their tomb, even a minor pharaoh like Tutankhamen. Grandiose ambitions for the afterlife were shared by common people also. The Egyptians were world powers (in their own terms from the 3rd to 1st millennium BCE. Some pharaohs were prolific builders, like Ramses II ("the Great", around 1200BCE) whose statues are everywhere in Egypt. The Pyramids were a millennium earlier.

Customs about the afterlife were part of funerals. In royal tombs, the steps to the afterlife were painted on the walls with scenes painted on the walls at great expense. More common funerals would use papyrus scrolls, sometimes specially produced, sometimes off the shelf. Funerals were generally optimistic, as I guess they are today. We assume that whatever happens in the afterlife, it will be good rather than bad. A funeral represents a passing from one state to another. It is a time to remember good acts. So it was in Egypt. The funeral programme walked the dead through the transition, informing them of what to do and what to say. It was not really a ritual and there are variations.

The first stage was in the Hall of Justice (Maat, pictured as a goddess). Justice is represented as a feather (Ostrich, it is often said). The feather is a stylus, a pen, with which laws were made. The feather was weighed against the dead person's heart to determine whether he (or she) had been a good person. A monster, the Devourer of Death, stood by but never seems to get any action.

Here we see the jackel-headed god Anubis bringing the dead in dressed in white. Why white may be too difficult to know at this distance - a neophyte changing statuses maybe? or maybe it is just artistic (see also below). The colours came from chemical deposits, crushed down and stabilized in gum, so the remain bright today. In the second scene, Reds are iron oxides, blues are copper oxides, green from malachite (copper), yellow from ochre and later arsenic trisulphide, white was chalk mixed with gypsum. Colours were naturalistic, based on observation. White dress was common then as best clothes. Anubis checks the scales, with the heart on one side and the feather of justice on the other. . Then the verdict is written down and the dead taken through to Osiris seated on a throne. His green face represents his role in fertility and rebirth; deities usually were given gold skin. There is a lotus at his feet representing beauty coming out of mud and filth. Across the top are seven pairs of divine figures, representing completion or wholeness. Three stands for plurality, five (less common) represents divine activity, and seven, perfection and completeness. Animals can have symbolic associations, maybe as predators (hawks, crocodiles, cats, dogs, jackels) or beauty (ibis). The most significant bird of all the mythical Bennu bird, is both, part crane and part hawk.

The pictures here come from this book, alas out of print but there are other books available, such as a Penguin, which give an account and translation of the Egyptian funeral documents. I have focused on weighing the heart, but the long papyrus scrolls present pictorial every stage of the journey of the dead. A soul has to go through many mansions and has to know their names, and the names of the custodians and gatekeepers. The scroll gives them the information which they have to memorise. The journey ends at the boat of Ra sailing over the sky from dawn to dusk.

This next picture shows the familiar heart-weighing with Anubis checking the scales and the recorder behind alongside the Devourer. The third version below has a female subject.

Here the dead woman is led by Horus and the Devourer is under the scales taking a particular interest. There is an interesting mix of blue colours, light and dark, in this illumination. A decorative monkey sits on top of the scales

If teaching Ancient Egypt in KS2, weighing the heart/soul in a balance of justice is a useful way into moral and citizenship education. Next, the soul of the dead hovers as a bird over the corpse.

The soul has to journey through many mansions, each with doorkeepers and passwords which are contained in this ceremonial programme.

The dead and his wife sitting, with their souls as birds in front

One lion represents yesterday, the other tomorrow

The dead's senses are opened for future life eternal and future food and luxuries are piled in front

The eyes of the soul are opened for future life

The soul worships Ra on his solar boat, the solar disc appearing above the hawk's head.

Finally, a page of hieroglyphs. Original pictures, for example of water, have come to symbolise a sound so there are hundreds of hieroglyphs to represent consonent-vowel combinations. A simpler alphabet was to come later. The glyphs in this passage below are simplified so often look nothing like the pictures they used to be. Hieroglyphs were the work of specialist priests, far too complicated for common people.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Research, Pedagogy and Power

Stephen Bigger.  [Content also appears on]
The last two months has been a baptism of fire in twitter-feed. Especially between 'Tell them things then test them" pedagogy and the broader learning which includes inquiry, activities, drama and so forth. As a teacher I did both, mixed in different ways, sometimes even in the same lesson. I embalmed a mummy and directed the class to act out bits of whatever we were talking about. A whole-school Passover, including 100+ pupils in the hall crossing the Red Sea was remembered a year later (pupils called me Rabbi) and a narrated and acted out Rama and Sita story was acted out for whole year assembly. This work was knowledge-rich, resulting in quality writing and was examined in the normal way - but it was delivered in as exciting and entertaining ways as I could muster. And definitely no worksheets, and few books either because suitable books were not available. Knowledge-rich need not involve droning teachers and unthinking pupils - it should encourage thinking and discussion.

My own education, primary and secondary, was of the tell them and test them variety with rewards (gold and silver stars) and punishments (normally public shaming). I was banned from being str monitor when I sabotaged the whole exercise, not discovered for several weeks. I was a bright pupil who didn't want external rewards (stars) so I laced my work with deliberate errors. Looking back, this damaged my progress until I was 14, but I was looking after two younger siblings (7 and 3), a house and a garden. I had older siblings, but they were away at boarding school. My head was not focused on school-work which generally involved teacher bullying and sarcasm, with canings from time to time.  At 14 I discovered self-study, became an avid book buyer and got on with it. At university I noticed that I was the only one in class who had not been 'spoon-fed'. I am emptying  my attic and looking at the notes I took for myself from A level onwards, in tiny handwriting I could not emulate today. In research terms, much of it is still usable.

So calls for bullying 'tell and test' leave me cold. I don't remember any teacher with pleasure, and I do remember most teachers. At least caning has been outlawed.  Why revert to what didn't work educationally sixty years ago?

So to my thoughts on research into pedagogy. First a truism not always appreciated. Education is not the same as schooling, and vice versa. Schooling is forcing children/YP to attend a particular place and do as they are told. Education is learning, developing, becoming curious and becoming exited about life and the world. The Unschooling Movement argues that education is better done outside school, drawing on the work of John Holt about children failing and succeeding to learn. It is possible to go through school and pass exams without learning much.

So we start with what is education and what is learning. Well before the age of 5 I really enjoyed picture books. Donald Duck, I remember. We weren't allowed comics since mother (a coal face miner's daughter with delusions of grandeur) thought them working class. Enid Blyton was middle class so that was our reading diet. I can still sing the Noddy and Big-ears records. Coming to the point, home was reading-rich and picture-book rich. I don't remember learning to read, but I do remember teaching others to read.I remember laughing during silent reading and having to turn it into a cough.

Coming out of this, motivating pupils to learn could be higher on the agenda than becoming passive receptors. Managing learning through fear, linked with expulsion of recalcitrants, seems poorly fitted to develop motivation. In saying this I am not saying that anything goes, since good self-discipline will benefit both the individual and the class. In the short term, some pupils may have developed negative attitudes over time so the teacher is trying to turn them around by building a good relationship which takes the sting out of their past experiences.

Ethics.  This gives us a key question to ask of pedagogy, To what extent does it value the pupils and respect their various needs? Does their experience in school promote their happiness and well-being? Are the benefits of the class experience appropriately shared? Our focus is on motivating pupils by being supportive, helpful, empowering and not being authoritarian, bossy and unfair.

Critical Pedagogy.  The word critical means a range of things in different contexts but always from the action of offering criticism. That criticism may be logical - i.e. the argument doesn't follow. It may be evidential, that what is said is not based on evidence. It could be ethical, where the argument made is not fair. Critical Theory asks all these questions but since the first two are common to all disciplines, the focus on social justice provides it with a very distinctive set of questions. Stimulated by the rise of the Nazis in Germany, its philosophical message of social justice was the stark opposite of the oppressive policies of the brown-shirt thugs. Many were secular Jews and the social message of the prophets is clearly visible. The Critical Theorists moved from Frankfurt to America for their safety. Their distinctive philosophy against oppression across society fed into feminism, anti-racism, studies of class and more recently sexuality. It has been applied to education as Critical Pedagogy, encouraging democratic schooling, hearing pupil voices (opinions) including school councils, the involvement of pupils in their learning and school lives, social justice in schools, respect for pupils with special needs and so on. In brief it is a philosophy of respect. Critical theory tends to be a grass roots movement against top-down instrumentalism making judgements and disrespectful authoritarianism based on punishment, sarcasm and belittling. The early stages of critical pedagogy is well summed up in Teaches As Intellectuals: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Learning by Henry Giroux (1988 and still available). His chapter (9) on 'Teachers as Transformative Intellectuals' emphasises that teachers are "transformative intellectuals who combine scholarly reflection and practice in the service of educating students to be thoughtful, active citizens" (p.122). This was an argument against a more instrumental view if the teacher's role "devaluing and deskilling", an insight still relevant today. More recently see   The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Education Apple, Au and Gandin 2009,

Self  Study. There is not a great deal written about self study and different things are meant so I will be careful to define my meanings. One meaning is studying oneself, a kind of personal psychotherapy. That is not centrally what I mean but reflexivity (which I take this to be) is not unimportant. A second meaning I see online seems to be supplementary education, offering additional supervised schooling when they come home from school. This is not self study though is advertised assuch This sounds to me of unhelpful cramming when the children should be out playing.In my case play would have included free unsupervised reading of books I had chosen, but would also have included climbing trees and taking long bike rides.

I preferred to find out for myself than be told, and regarded (and still do) what I am told with some suspicion. This applied before the age of 5 when I campaigned to deny the existence of Father Christmas. I gather local mothers used to knock on the door to tell be to shut up. I didn't of course. My favorite  school activity was finding things out for myself. we had radio but no television, and of course home computers were not yet invented. I had the umpteen volumes of the Children's Encyclopedia (second hand) and was a voracious reader; and I remember trying to reduce a dead bird to a skeleton (age about 8) and helping with the harvest in days when horses still ploughed.

Up to the age of 14 I did not engage in study.I don't remember what was taught, but I do remember the derision were were held in by many staff. "You are going to learn this whether you want to or not"; "You will learn Latin even if it kills you". Teachers who were bullies remain most firmly in mind, bearing in mind that physical assault was allowed. I was brought up as an evangelical Christian (I have been an agnostic since age 18) and this caused me not a little stress in my teens, particularly as church elders were abusive and I was close to excommunication. I jumped before being pushed.

I did two A levels by self study (Latin and Religious Studies) the latter in nine months supported by a correspondence college. At University, learning Hebrew, Greek, Akkadian, Ugaritic as well as broad reading requires self-study discipline. Moving on the PhD straight after requires more of the same. I had been well set up. Later I completed PG Cert and later still MA by self study. The question is how can self study be encouraged earlier in school as a matter of routine. The internet provides a different context so research using it needs to establish criticality - testing the evidence for claims on social media and other internet sources. Don't accept it, test it. I am aware of schools in which this is taking place. If this becomes established generally, changes to assessment will have to take place. Self-study requires agency (feeling in control) and motivation (feeling the task is worth doing).

Authority as Relational.   I take my subtitle from a book by Charles Bingham. What is Authority? You can hear Trump saying 'I have Authority. I am President' as if it is a cloak he puts on when taking office. 'You have to obey or take the consequences' (that was Mugabe, not Trump yet). Authority is something earned, and may not be earned by authoritarianism. Ruling by fear and not relationship may produce compliance but not cooperation or collaboration. Model 3 he calls 'critical' meaning that all involved, pupils and teachers declare themselves to have equal status and voice. Self motivation and self discipline is the name of the game. The big task of schooling is how to achieve that goal. Within a framework of curriculum appropriateness, it has to involve pupils having some say over what they choose to study and letting them explore how to research properly. That authority is relational assumes that classrooms (and schools) are relational, that they are dominated by positive and helpful interactions and relationships, and that authority grows out of those interactions and their implied respect both ways. Resisting authority assumes that authority is claimed by particular individuals (teachers and leaders). If authority is distributed in a context of collaboration and cooperation, resisting authority means opting out of the group dynamic altogether. In a sense this form of group authority could be called distributed authority or perhaps collegial authority. It would need operating principles like keeping safe and showing respect, and some sort of mechanism to balance dominant personalities/voices.

Tom Sergiovanni spent his academic life reconceptualising leadership including Moral Leadership.
He regards competence and virtue as the two major principles of leadership. Most recently The Lifeworld of Leadership: Creating Culture, Community, and Personal Meaning in Our Schools explores the broader implications of school relationships. Whilst his initial thoughts focus on senior management, distributed leadership operates throughout the institution and throughout the community. He sums up:
"the more leadership is emphasised, the less professionalism flourishes. The more professionalism is thriving, the less need there is for leadership."
Pedagogy is an ethical and moral activity in which the whole community (in this case the school) create culture and personal meaning. This requires interpersonal relationships of a high order.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Alternative to Wikipedia Bio

I am setting out a biographical introduction for those who search for me online. I do not sanction any inaccurate entry on Wikipedia since ignorance and malice both feature. My entry is point-of-view, me speaking. I notice a few Wiki entries that pretend to be objective when they are not but are written by the person they feature.

Born: 1948 in Lincoln, UK.
Married in 1969 to Jean Margaret Webster from Bradford, Yorkshire.
School: De Aston Grammar School, Market Rasen 1959-67
University: Manchester, 1967-1973
Qualifications: BA (Hons) First Class in Biblical Studies, PhD in Old Testament Studies, PGCE in Early Childhood Education, MA in Education.
Employment: Buxton Boys Comprehensive 1973-4; South Wilts Girls School, Salisbury 1974-1981; North Riding College of Education 1981-3; Westminster College, Oxford 1983-1999; University of Worcester 1999-2008 FT and to 2017 PT
Books: Creating the Old Testament: The Emergence of the Hebrew Bible 1989 (edited);
with K Ashcroft and D Coates, Researching Equal Opportunities 1996;
with Erica Brown (editors) Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Education: Teaching Values Across the Curriculum 1999;
with Sean Warren, Living Contradiction: A Teacher's Examination of Tension and Disruption in Schools, in Classrooms and in Self, 2017.
PhD supervision,successful completions: 15
Doctorates examined: 14
Religious Affiliation: None.
Research interests: the Ancient Near East; Critical Biblical Studies, Multicultural Education; Critical Pedagogy; Children's Literature;
Amazon author page:; including full publication list.;

Bio from recent book: 
After a degree and PhD in Biblical Studies at Manchester University, I first became a secondary teacher and from 1981 a lecturer in Education in teacher training institutes, in Scarborough, Oxford and Worcester, ending as head of department and head of research  in Education. Over that period I produced three books in collaboration with colleagues, made chapter contributions to others, and wrote many articles and book reviews. These are listed in, some with full text links. In Biblical Studies, my PhD focussed on marriage in the ancient world, and later I designed, edited, and wrote substantial sections of the book Creating the Old Testament: The emergence of the Hebrew Bible (1989). I have an academic interest in the study of world religions, as an outsider. Over the years I have developed a keen interest in the broad methodology used to study ancient texts, interrogating the assumptions of readers concerning the motivations of writers. Recently I have contributed several articles on religion in southern Africa. Much of my writing on education has focussed on values and critical theory relating to race, gender and disability, such as the co-written book Researching equal opportunities in colleges and Universities. With university colleagues, I designed and co-edited the book Spiritual, moral, social and cultural education: teaching values across the curriculum (1999). In semi-retirement, I concentrate on PhD supervision, recently guiding Sean through to successful completion. I encourage researchers to think outside the box, to be critical of assumptions and the status quo to become open to new ideas and approaches, especially relating to empowerment. I wrote an ethnography of an empowerment programme with disengaged youngsters as a Master's thesis by research (2008).  Other students have undertaken research on Indian and Pakistani education, others on police training, drama, science education, and early years education . I have leisure interests in horticulture, and in children's literature, with research writing on Malcolm Saville, Alfred Bestall (Rupert Bear), Eileen Marsh, David Severn (Unwin) and James Lennox Kerr.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Part of a 2013 article

Critical education and embodied learning.

Stories are part of a broader nurture and education process that has itself to be examined for its assumptions and objectives. The tradition that the west pays lip-service to is that education should enable children to think intellectually, to express their feelings creatively, and to develop their character morally. The aim is autonomy, that is, developing the ability to draw inner guidance from within based on evidence. This message underlies government reports and inspection regimes, and has been the basic assumption of several generations of educational thinkers. I refer to ‘lip-service’ because policy and practice do not always match. Neither SAT tests nor examinations actually promote autonomous learning but reward memory and conformity. Schools are authoritarian institutions that demand compliance. Stories and literature are certainly part of the curriculum, but this does not necessarily bring about embodied learning.

I here explore two ideas, one old and the other new. The old is that of critical education, or education critical of society and the status quo. Early ideas in Frankfurt, Germany, were driven out by the Nazi party to America where critical studies were further developed. When applied to the reading of story, a critical reading would emphasise equal opportunities, discrimination and prejudice, status and class, justice, dominant voices and unheard voices, and so on. We could survey the whole published body of children’s literature to see whether these themes are covered or marginalised; and we could critique a particular book through these headings. This critical strategy has strengthened considerably over the past fifty years. Books written in the light of this agenda are increased gradually. There is not a chapter on critical theory in Hunt’s International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature (1996 or 2004) although some aspects are addressed to some extent under ideology. Meek opens the encyclopedia emphasising that child readers should “interrogate texts” and become “critical and not conformist” (Hunt, 2004: 10). Nor is there a treatment of children’s literature in The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Education (Apple, Au and Gandin, 2009). Two starting points would be ‘Critical Media Education and Radical Democracy’ (chapter 21 by Kellner and Share) and Teilelbaum’s ‘Educating Children for “Good Rebellion”’, chapter 23, pp. 318-325. How to respond to television, film, comics and the internet has as its aim morally aware and (politically) active students. “Good rebellion” means not accepting unjust and unacceptable government and power structures. Its origins have socialist ambitions, of which groups like Leslie Paul’s Woodcraft Folk, with outdoor pursuits and fireside stories, are the best known example (Paul, 1951). This has links also to the work of Paulo Freire (1970) in turning literacy education into a politicizing act. The implications for children’s fiction is that stories can generate deep thinking on self and relationships if the readers are socially aware and engage with social justice. The child reader in turn learns to interrogate the relational and social implications of the story both in private and through group (including class) discussion. Teachers need to be tuned into this in order to facilitate the discussion. In practice, published stories are varied in quality and children will be in a position to critique stories for content, characterisation and assumptions of privilege. The selection of stories for publication favours the bizarre over the ordinary. The discussion of the book is thus crucially important to prevent readers simply accepting its hidden assumptions and messages.

The newer idea of embodied learning I take from studies of theatre and performance. Here, ideas are performed to audiences, and the actors embody the ideas, points of view and feelings. The aim of a performance is to be as authentic and convincing as possible, the actors living the ambiguities, dilemmas and contradictions that they depict (Riley and Hunter, 2009). This book emphasises that performance can become research into human feelings, attitudes and relations and moreover can reach its audience more powerfully and rapidly than a wordy research monograph would allow. I am applying this to children’s stories in two ways.

First, the writing of stories for children is a performance (ideas and values being displayed for public audiences) bearing the same demands for honesty, sincerity and authenticity as applies in drama and the theatre. Quality writing is thus a craft requiring talent and dedication. Writings for children potentially affects their development and ideas, and needs therefore to be of the highest quality and integrity. Although authors need freedom in their writing, stories should be defensible as promoting healthy personal and social development, and not promoting prejudice, hatred, disrespect and other such negative attitudes. However, stories need to be thought-provoking rather than bland homilies, and are likely to stimulate thinking about these negative themes.

Secondly, the child reader as audience can be emotionally moved by the book, and led to consider issues that might be potentially world-view changing, even life-changing. In a story in written form, this demands vividness in description and honesty in characterisation, characters who impress as real, engaged in dilemmas which are true to life. This will not be the case where characters are cardboard and adventure plots banal. A serious issue emerges on what is suitable for children to read. In adventure stories, children have routinely been placed in danger, and excitement linked to this. The limits are constantly tested, stories for example engaging with death, war and atrocities (such as Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust by Livia E. Bitton Jackson. Where a story is sensitive and does not indulge in gratuitous and sadistic violence, it should be capable of promoting personal development. If the story gives the impression that human life has little value, then it is potentially harmful.

Imagining Reality.

Both writing stories and reading stories involve acts of imagination, but they are different. The child does both by telling, acting out or writing stories as well as reading them. The writer’s imagination needs more research, since there is a subtle combination of research, observation (ethnography, in fact) and make-believe in the production of a work. An event described in fiction may have happened in real life; characters may be combinations of people encountered; personal characteristics may have been observed in real people. Yet the combination is a new act of creation. The population of a story with characters requires the integration of these background factors, and their visualisation into a new character. Some, like Harry Potter, will have positive qualities, but others, like Pullman’s Mrs Coulter will be anti-heroes, threats to the main characters, enemies in real life. Children of course need to deal with friends and enemies, so each has a literary purpose. And evil characters have the potential for redemption. For the child reader, the story provides a new world to enter, with new people to meet and deal with. They may resemble people they know, or be larger than life. The reader becomes part of the virtual community created in the book, an onlooker who likes or dislikes the various characters. The reader shares the emotions encountered in the group, the tensions as danger comes, the anger at acts of selfishness or betrayal. Even where the characters are creatures of fantasy, with talking animals, or wizards, or evil 5 spirits, the story provides an adventure which has to be engaged with intellectually, emotionally and morally. Since real life is full of ambiguity and uncertainty, a story can develop a high level of complexity.

In conclusion.

There is a place for both stories as entertainment and stories with a serious message. However, many story writers for children create their stories within uncritical comfort zones, and the exceptions to this surprise and delight. I agree with Meek (in Hunt, 2004:1-12) that criticality should begin in the kindergarten, with infants. Children tend to be bombarded by media materials and skills to distinguish the good from the bad can prove useful. Of course, good and bad are to be problematised – it is the discussion about what is good and bad that is important. The same applies to books: stories bear messages which should not be blindly accepted but rather challenged in an attempt to understand them more deeply. Children will not be able to do this unless they are guided and taught.


Apple, Michael W., Wayne Au and Luis Armando Gandin, 2009, The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Education,

Bitton Jackson, Livia E. 1980, Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust

Briggs, Raymond 1983 When the Wind Blows

Foreman, Michael 1972 Dinosaurs and All that Rubbish

Freire, Paulo 1972 Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Hope, Laura Lee” (pseudonym) The Bobbsey Twins, available at Project Gutenberg,

Hunt, Peter (editor) 2004 International Companion Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature,

Paul, Leslie 1951. Angry Young Man.

Pullman, Philip 1999. The Subtle Knife.

Riley, Shannon Rose and Hunter, Lynette (editors) 2009 Mapping Landscapes o Performance Research: Scholarly Acts and Creative Cartographies