Tag Archives: education

A Voter’s Manifesto (part 5 of 5)

Link to part 1

Link to part 2

Link to part 3

Link to part 4

Education

Education is a tough one for me, as it’s not a sector that I have much experience with or recent exposure to. I am aware that there have been sweeping changes made recently, mostly implemented by Michael Gove, and that they have been hugely unpopular with those who actually work in education and understand the sector far better than either Gove or I do.

In the past, we had universities without tuition fees. Scotland scrapped tuition fees. We should follow Scotland’s lead and return to tuition that is free at the point of use. Yet universities should not be privileged above other forms of education. The recent rise of apprenticeships has been a good thing and continued investment in this area, with post-secondary education funding being split in the proportion of people going to university to those entering apprenticeships.

The start of a child’s education is important, and the closure of many Sure Start centres was a backwards move. This should be reversed, so as to enact and signify a real commitment to the future of our young people.

Education should not be merely about learning facts and rote recall. Any amendments to the syllabus must not be so radical as to disrupt teachers or students. A fair balance must be sought whereby knowledge is valued, but where understanding of how to use facts is also highlighted.

As well as the academic subjects, there must be a recognition of the value of the creative subjects and sports, but no child should be expected to do well in all fields.

Immigration

The recent rise of the far right, including but not limited to, support for the EDL, BNP, UKIP and some portions of the Conservative party, show that there is an appetite for a discussion on immigration. Such a discussion need not be conducted on the same racist terms that its agitators choose to frame the debate in.

Unfortunately it needs to be stated that there should no quotas on either gross or net migration. Any public discussion on the matter must include a proportionate measure of the facts, not speculation, including but not limited to the numbers of migrants, the numbers in work, the number unemployed and their net contribution/cost to the economy.

Tobacco & gambling

Tobacco and gambling provide some little amount of leisure whilst at the same time causing a great level of harm. Profits derived from these industries will be taxed at a flat 90%. This is not intended primarily as a tax-raising measure, but as a deterrent against such corrosive industries that do more harm than good to society.

Culture

For too long, there has been disproportionate spending on the arts focused on London. This needs to be more equitably distributed. However, as it is a non-essential part of the economy, I would not propose any above-inflation increases in funding.

Defence

In the words of Tony Benn, “If you can find the money to kill people, you can find the money to help them.”

Any company which manufactures instruments of death will be subject to a 100% tax on their profits, with those funds ringfenced to the medical treatment of those wounded (both physically and mentally) as a result of war. If this means that they are no longer able to carry on in business, so be it. I would rather spend money on unemployment benefits for a short time than on war.

The nuclear weapons programme, Trident, is to be wound down and eventually scrapped. Yet this should be done gradually, so as to ease the unemployment that will inevitably ensue as a result of this corrective measure. The collective engineering expertise that is currently employed by the defence sector may be gainfully employed elsewhere, not least in the construction of new  power stations, new homes, new transport infrastructure, to name a few.

Concluding remarks

Thus concludes my preliminary sketch of a manifesto. I could go into much more detail on more issues. I have also chosen to not include my more radical ideas as I don’t think they could be realistically implemented in the next parliament. Instead I have opted for optimistic realism rather than pie-in-the-sky thinking. Though no doubt some will think I have opted for the latter.

This has been something of a wishlist. Things I would like to see included in a manifesto which I think I could vote for. But on top of all of these, what I would love to see is an honesty in our politicians that while they will aim for these, that they will fail. No party in my lifetime has successfully met all its targets and fulfilled the promises made in their manifesto. So I will be less inclined to vote for anyone who promises the earth.

Unforeseen circumstances will arise for which there is no manifesto promise, but which needs to be dealt with during the course of the parliament.

The real aim though has been twofold. One has to been to clarify my own thoughts, and indeed I could go on tinkering with this for ages. But the other one is for your benefit. It has been to stimulate thought. You might disagree with me wholly and that’s OK. If it gets you to think and wonder what sort of things you would want to see, then you can get a jump start on the political parties and examine their manifestos with something in mind. If you are a member of a political party, you may even have some say in shaping the policies that end up in a manifesto.

I have not written this in a way that has been designed to persuade. I have not asked that you agree with me. But I would do so on this final point. In a democracy, we should all count equally and be allowed to have our say and to be listened to. We need not be limited in our choices by the options that are presented to us. We can be imaginative in coming up with solutions to the problems we face as a society. If we can present alternatives to our politicians and stand strong in our beliefs, then there is room for democracy to work.

So that’s my manifesto. What’s yours?

Jumping in the middle

In my recent review of Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction I said the following:

“[Cullen] puts forward a hypothetical situation where one friend says to another, “how can you claim to know about x if you haven’t read y?” when another pipes up, “ah, but you can’t possibly consider y without having read the rebuttal by z.” And so on. I have, from time to time been part of such conversations (see the comments below this blog piece from last year) and I frequently find them frustrating.”

Here I wanted to expand on that a little, as it is rather pertinent to some thoughts and conversations I have had of late. Having finished my formal education shortly before my 23rd birthday, I have spent most of the last decade being either taught for a professional post-graduate qualification or being self-taught. It is the latter of the two I wish to focus on here.

The main question is this: if you are to be self-taught, where do you begin?

If you’re reading this, you will probably know that I love reading. Yet I’m not the kind of reader who can pick up a book, find a comfortable spot in a nice chair and read a book cover-to-cover in one sitting. I read on trains, coaches and buses as I criss-cross the country, either to get to work or to visit family. It is this time that I have to teach myself. But I haven’t thought to myself: “I want to learn about X. So let’s devise a curriculum that will help me do that.” Rather, I just like to dive in.

The problem with this is that jumping in the middle means you’ve missed the start. But where is the start? If you follow the link above, you will see that the discussion there concerned Ludwig Wittgenstein. Though I now own a copy of Philosophical Investigations I haven’t yet got round to reading it. My intention is to start on it as soon as I finish Paul and the Faithfulness of God (of which I am currently up to about page 940 out of 1,520). To read Wittgenstein is to read a work of philosophy. But can it be properly understand as work in its own right, devoid of the background against which was written, ignorant of the target audience and oblivious to earlier work in the same field by others which Wittgenstein may be building upon or rebelling against?

The argument may go something like this: “How can you read Wittgenstein without first reading Hegel?” “How can you read Hegel without first studying Kant?” “Can you really understand Kant without considering Aquinas?” “Do you comprehend the relationship between the views of Aquinas and Augustine?” “Where would Augustine be if it hadn’t been for Plato before him?” And so on.

I have read some works of some of those thinkers, but by no means the majority of the works of any one of them. Others I have only read snippets about in secondary works where they are mentioned. Must one go back in infinite regress in order to understand the most recent thinking? If one tries that, one might be drawn to the writer of Ecclesiastes: “The making of many books has not an end, and much study is the weariness of the whole body.”

So we never end, it seems. If one wishes to be learned, then the age of human civilization (though but a single beat in the symphony of the history of the cosmos) is too great for any one person to master. I know things you don’t, things you will never know or comprehend. Yet you know far more than I. Your experiences, your emotions, your way of seeing the world has been honed over the period of a lifetime. To try to replicate that would take another lifetime, but we each have only one to live.

From philosophy to history. I have made a start at a recognisable beginning with Herodotus and Thucydides, but given the vast complexity of the last few millennia, but should that stop me from reading Hobsbawm until I worked my way through every nation state, every people, in all eras up to the start of the period that Hobsbawm looked at? I would argue that the answer to that is ‘no’. It seems right. It feels right. But why?

I might use the analogy of a scratchcard. If I am interested in one part of the card, I may scratch at it and learn something of what is underneath. To put it in some kind of context, I may scratch around it a little, but does one necessarily need uncover every portion of the card to get a true and fair view of the image on the card? Or can one afford to uncover the centre and bits around it, satisfied that that is enough to form a reasonably well-informed opinion?

I suppose the ‘informed opinion’ is what really concerns me. Most of us know that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” but how do we determine what is “a little knowledge” and what is “a lot of knowledge”?

The irony is, I would suppose that all these questions have been asked before, and others have put forward answers to them, but that I am ignorant of those responses.

What is a faith school really like? Part 3: Sport, standards and legacy

Here, I conclude my look at what life was like in a faith school, where I was educated between the ages of 7 and 16. This doesn’t cover every aspect of school life, but I think it gives a fair impression, often contrary to the portrait painted by those fundamentally opposed to faith schools. For the other posts in this series, please see here:

Sports

The way PE was done might be considered a little odd; in hindsight it probably was. This was largely due to the small size of the school. The boys and girls would have separate lessons, but I can’t really comment on the girls’ lessons since I was never there.

The church had, as an additional ministry to the school, a theological college. Various people from inside and outside the church would come and attend small classes, preparing them for either church leadership or missionary work. It was these ministers-in-training who would lead the PE lessons and they had fairly free reign in what they chose to do. As it happened, at just about the time I moved to the MLC, the 2 ministers-in-training consistent of a former tank driver and a hot-headed Scottish rugby enthusiast (who was also married to the pastor’s daughter!).

Consequently, they introduced rugby to the school, which we had never played before. Previously the autumn/winter sport of choice was football. The rugby was kind of a mixture of league and union, and was semi-contact, rather than full contact. So we had lineouts, mauls and scrums, but not rucks. To tackle someone, you had to get both palms of your hands on someone’s torso or arm, but you weren’t supposed to use excessive force (this rule wasn’t always followed, not least by the PE teachers themselves). The trouble was that the MLC had a spread of ages. I joined the MLC early, at the age of 10, and was playing with boys up to the age of 16. As such, there was a significant physical difference and I did not enjoy myself one little bit.

In the summer term, rugby gave way to volleyball, which I was actually very good at, in spite of my short stature. Occasionally, though, we would do athletics. I had a reasonably good technique on the discus, and I was always better on the long distance runs than the short sprints.

Academic Standards

The school was subject to regular OFSTED inspections just as any other school would be and, as far I know, always came out with a clean bill of health. Being a small school, we were limited in what we could offer. At the time I did my options in year 9, the total number of GCSEs one could sit was 9. I sat all 9. After I went to sixth form college, I met people who had done between 10 and 13 GCSEs, but such extravagance was not afforded to us. I may have been able to do more, but I suppose we will never know.

Of course, the ultimate aim of a school is to educate students. One of the key measures of this is the exam results and you can also trace how their subsequent academic career has panned out.

By the time I left, the school was on the wane. The school regularly outperformed all the other local schools in terms of their GCSE results and the sixth form college that I went onto held the school in extremely high regard as the handful of students it turned out every year were well-rounded, hard-working students with good academic pedigree.

The staff taught multiple subjects, which I think was unusual compared to most schools. The principal, who was qualified to be a chemistry teacher, taught chemistry, one half of the biology syllabus, history and geography. The vice principal, who was qualified to teach maths, taught maths, physics and the other half of the biology syllabus. The one teacher who was qualified to teach history actually taught English language, English literature and also French. The French was interesting, as our regular French teacher left shortly after getting married, but since one foreign language was compulsory, we were in a bit of a rut. So this teacher was actually learning French at evening classes and then teaching us on a lag of about a month. The fact that one-third of her first class (i.e. 2 of us) got a grade A made her quite chuffed. Her husband taught us the first year of IT, with her eldest son teaching us the second year. This was an odd situation, as her other son was in the year below me, so he ended up having his elder brother as his teacher, as well as his mum!

Not everyone lived up to their full potential, probably with no one falling shorter of what they were capable of than myself. In my mock GCSEs I picked up 7 A* and 2 A grades. At this point I became a little arrogant and embarked upon reading the entirety of Frank Herbert’s Dune series, with the bulk of my revision being done with the BBC Bitesize. Now Bitesize was designed for people who would struggle to pass and contained very little to take people from an A grade to an A*. Consequently, I dropped a grade on 8 out of my 9 GCSEs and ended up with a pretty poor showing of 1 A*, 6 A and 2 B grades. Some might say that they were good results. But given that my mock exams had me on 7A*s and 2As, I was pretty gutted.

Legacy

When I left in 2000, the size of the school had dipped to just 38 students (aged between 7 & 16, remember); at times it had been nearly double that. My year, with 6 people in it when we finished year 11, was one of the largest year groups there was. The school closed down a few years after I left. There simply weren’t enough children coming through and so the projected funds weren’t enough to keep it going. I was informed of this during my 1st year at university, though I can’t recall if it shut down mid-way through 2003 or 2004.

To characterise the school as a centre for indoctrination would be grossly wrong. An intrinsic part of it being a christian school was that it actively promoted sceptical thinking and free enquiry. While some chose to become christians whilst there or after leaving, others did not. There was no coercion of any kind to force people down one route or another. There were some who chose to become christians while they were at the school, some who made the choice afterwards. There were some who later rejected christianity and some who

Today, I am a christian. But am I a christian because of my decade at a christian school? No. I would say I am a christian despite having spent a decade in a christian school. Over the time I was there, the church became more and more conservative. Some of this leached into the school, although the headmaster was avowed Thatcherite. Having learned to think critically, I rejected this conservatism in favour of a far more sensible worldview that was in closer accordance to the christianity I discovered for myself through reading the bible and conversing with others. This is a process that carried on after I left school, went through sixth form college, university and in my working professional life.

My decade in a faith school made me a life-long learner.

What is a faith school really like? Part 2: Curriculum and teaching

Carrying on my look at what life was like in a faith school, (see here for part 1 – looking at the background of the school), here we come to the curriculum and teaching of the school.

Curriculum

One of the ideas that seems to have some currency is that faith schools are a hotbed for teaching creationism. As popular as this idea is, it is without evidence.

The curriculum conformed to the standards that were required of any school, as laid out in the legislation governing primary and secondary education at the time. When a child was in the ILC, and for the first few years in the MLC, they studied 4 core subjects: Maths, English, Social Studies and Science.

All four were done through self-learning. We never had lessons for these subjects. Each week, you would have a tiny piece of card, on which you would write your targets on a day-by-day basis. You would write down the page numbers that you intended to work through the next day. These would be checked to ensure that you weren’t being too easy on yourself. If you didn’t finish your work by the end of the allotted time, you would have to finish it for homework.

When you had finished a page, you would have to mark it. All students marked the work themselves. You would have to ask permission to go to a “scoring table” which had the books with all the answers in them. You’d check your answers against the model answers and say if you got them right or wrong. You’d then get a monitor (classroom assistant) to double-check that you’d done the scoring correctly.

Maths

Maths was done through a company called Heinemann. Most people started at age on Heinemann primary mathematics group, working through the problems one by one and when you finish one book you move onto the next. I was a slow starter, so I actually started on infant maths, when I was aged 7. However, the self-learning style suited me much better, and I raced through these.

Once I finished all the primary maths books, I moved onto the secondary maths books. These were completed with as much gusto as all the previous ones and before long I was onto uncharted territory: Heinemann 8 and then Heinemann 9. These last 2 were supposed to reflect the year numbers in which you were supposed to do them. However, I finished Heinemann 9 not long after I started year 9, and there were no other textbooks to work through. So for a while, I was at a bit of a loose end, but I managed to accelerate my work in other areas and to do past examples of GCSE maths coursework.

English

This was by far the toughest of the subjects to do. The books we used were called LIFEPACs. I think they were christian, but any references to anything identifiably christian were few and far between. They were much more advanced than students at state schools were used to. This is evidenced by the fact that the grammar which we learned by the age of 10 was that which students found was actually part of their A-level courses when they encountered them 6-8 years later. They were based much more in understanding the material than the rote learning of Social Studies and Science (see below).

Social Studies

This is a mixture of mostly geography and history, with a few random bits thrown in. This was mostly done through the ACE system, an American christian education plan. ACE stands for Accelerated Christian Education. The books were known as PACEs, Pack of Accelerated Christian Education. They were really easy to work through and I confess I made no attempt to use them the way they were ever intended. When you open the book, the left hand page contains text for you to read; the right hand page had individual sentences with one or two words omitted. Your task was to read the text so that you could fill in the words. Most people did this simply by scanning down the left hand page to find the sentence that matched the question they were being asked.

The ACE system wasn’t followed precisely. As it was an American set of books, and social studies included history, there was, inevitably, a few PACEs that focused on American history. What the school did was to omit these PACEs and instead, one of the teachers wrote their own books on British History. There were 2 levels: the yellow book and the green book. This was our first exposure to what I was now call “proper study”. In order to answer the questions, we had to go away and do research. The answers weren’t to be found on the adjacent page, as they were in the PACEs. Instead, you’d have to trawl through 3 or 4 textbooks (these ones weren’t written by our teacher) to piece together an essay-style answer. Nomatter how bright the student was, everybody struggled with British History.

Science

This is pretty much what it says on the tin. Bear in mind that this started from PACE 1, started at the age of 7, though to (I think) PACE 94. I know certainly got to the 90s, but didn’t get through to the 100s. They covered all the basics that you needed for science, though there was a noticeable lack of experimental work. As a consequence, we never set foot in a laboratory until we were doing our GCSEs.

But they laid out the basics. There wasn’t much chemistry at all. What I remember of the biology PACEs mostly revolved around naming bits of a plant, describing how they related to the reproductive process and lots on photosynthesis and various cycles (like the water cycle and the carbon cycle). I was never particularly interested in these; instead, I longed for and savoured the more physics-based PACEs, especially those on astronomy.

Creationism?

Since this seems to be an odd fascination for some people, I thought if you’re likely to skip straight to any particular paragraph, it would be this one. But if you’ve done this, please do take the time to read the wider context.

As stated above, the school did not teach creationism. That said, the headmaster was partial to it and there was about half a dozen issues of Ex Nihilo magazine (which did more to educate me in Latin than in science) in the school library, next to New Scientist. These were never introduced into science lessons.

The church did support creationism and I recall one summer when the evening services ditched the sermons in favour of watching Ken Ham videos.

As part of the biology syllabus for the double-science GCSE, we had to do some basic evolutionary biology. This mostly consisted of genetics, learning about genotypes, phenotypes, inheritance and variations based on mutations. Roughly, this made up about a quarter of the biology syllabus we studied (set by the EdExcel exam board). The only thing that could possibly have been misinterpreted as creationism was a strong emphasis in science to have a sceptical attitude. This included scepticism about what we were being taught. Yes, we had to know lots for our exams, but that should never stop us questioning accepted wisdom. This was not limited to science, and such an enquiring attitude was encouraged throughout the school curriculum.

GCSEs

Mid way through year 9 (i.e. when I was 13) I had to take my ‘options’ – so they were ironically called. This was supposed to mark the end of the self-learning and the start of the classroom work. At this point all the ACE and similar work was left behind. It was a mere educational backdrop; now the work towards the important qualifications began. Classes varied in size depending on how many people were doing each subject and what ‘tier’ they did. For example, if you wanted an A or A* you had to do the upper tier in each subject. If you did a lower tier, then your maximum grade was capped. The largest class would have years 10  & 11 taught together, so for something like IT, we had up to about 14 in the class when I was in year 11. The smallest class was the upper tier maths. There started out with 3 of us in the class, but one found it too tough and dropped down a tier while the other person left the school before finishing their GCSEs. So it ended up being one-on-one tuition.

For most subjects, the bulk of year 10 was spent getting our coursework done. There were some mock exams done at the end of the year, but they were just intended to see how you were getting on. The main mock exams came in January of year 11 before the final run-in towards the real things.

Coming up

In the last part of this mini series, I’ll look at the academic standards of the school as well as the challenges it had which other schools didn’t. Some of that will relate to gaps left above, but I’ve done so for reasons of space. I’ll also look briefly at the school’s legacy and how it has, or hasn’t, helped shape me as a person.

What is a faith school really like? Part 1: Background and setting

Followers of the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association will be familiar with their opposition to the idea of faith schools. This gets my goat a little, not only because they seem to be wasting a lot of their hot air talking about matters which are not especially important, but also because the image they would like to paint of faith schools is misleading and inaccurate. Why do I claim this is so? Well, it’s because I spent 9.5 years in a faith school. As such, I feel I am in a reasonable position to say what does and does not go on there. Further than that, both my sisters went and my mother was a classroom assistant at the same school.

So this post is part-autobiography, part-mythbuster as to what goes on in the particular faith school that I attended.

The background to the school

In the early 1980s, my local church set up a school. Various parents at the church had some concerns with the quality of the education in the local mainstream schools. Some had started to homeschool, but there were enough qualified people in the church from which to resource the founding of a new school with a christian ethos.

Pupils would typically enter the school at the age of 7 (though admission did happen at later ages) and leave after the completion of their GCSEs (O-levels) when they were 16. I entered in January 1991. The school was split into two main classrooms, the Intermediate Learning Centre (ILC) and the Main Learning Centre (MLC). The ILC was for students aged 7-10/11 before you would go to the MLC. You would then stay in the MLC until you left, aged 16. The whole school was housed within the church building. The ILC occupied one room near the front of the church and the MLC occupied the basement. This necessitated a lot of shifting of furniture on a Monday and a Friday or, as happened sometimes, the church building was needed for a mid-week funeral.

Each student would have their own “office”. These were desks that were separated by yellow boards of wood, where you would keep your books and stationery. They were fairly small, so if you needed more space, you had to ask a member of the teaching staff if you could use a tressle table. To ask for assistance, you had to put one of 2 flags on top of your office. There was a union jack which was for a monitor (teaching assistant) and a random-looking “christian flag” for a supervisor (class teacher).

Admissions

One of the key objections to faith schools is that they are selective, and therefore potentially discriminatory. In my school, the criteria was the beliefs of the parents. Their parents did not need to have to be members of the church nor did they even have to be regular attendees. All they had to do was to show a commitment to a church and to agree to the doctrinal basis of the school, which was tied to that of the church. This was not binding on both parents; I can recall at least one family where one parent refused to have anything to do with any church, though the parent was a member. That said, the vast majority of the children at the school were from two-parent families where both parents were christians.

What was not selective was academic ability. This resulted in a wide of people actually being admitted. The year above me had 3 people in it. One was a chap who was great with computers long before it became “cool” to do so – he went on to do Computer Science at Oxford University. Another chap had a mental disability; had he not been in this school he would have had to go to a special school. If I recall correctly, his great achievement was leaving school with 2 GCSEs. Everyone was chuffed for him, as he had (and still has) a heart of gold. The third chap had missed out on several years’ worth of school, as his parents had moved around a lot and he had had to restart every time they moved.

As a student there, I was not party to the full details of the school’s finances. It was fee-paying, though I am unaware whether or not it received any government subsidy. I don’t think it did, but I can’t be 100% that that’s correct.

With all that said, I have no evidence of anyone ever having been turned away from the school. As it had to be fee-paying, some families in the church couldn’t afford them and so opted to home-school.

Uniform

When the school was founded, they wanted to have a school uniform that would mark the students out as being distinctive; something that couldn’t possibly be mistaken for belonging to another school. In so doing, there was a bit of a quandary. Most of the colours and styles were already taken. So the school opted for what was left: brown.

The boys wore brown jumpers, brown caps and predominantly brown ties (though the tie did have yellow and green narrow stripes in it), yellow shirts and grey trousers. One thing we were able to look forward to was turning 13, because then we were allowed to ditch the caps. The girls had 2 different uniforms: one for winter, one for summer. The winter uniform was similar to the boys’ except that they wore brown skirts and had brown bowler hats instead of caps. In the summer, they wore brown and white gingham-check dresses and had straw boater hats. For sports, we had dark green tracksuits. The rest depended on what sport we were doing.

As a result, we were very noticeable, though not always in a good way. Most students walked to school, and there was a high level of verbal bullying from students from other schools. I lived at the other end of town from most people, so was a rarer sight. As my mum worked at the school, she preferred to drive the 1 mile there and back, so I didn’t walk terribly often. But when I did it wasn’t unknown for me to have things thrown at me (often apple cores and banana skins) en route.

Coming up

In part 2, I’ll look specifically at the curriculum and teaching. To satisfy some people’s thirst, I have included a small section on creationism in this, as that seems to be a topic of interest and ire in equal measure amongst those who take an interest in faith schools.

In part 3, I’ll finish off the curriculum by looking at sports, before discussing the academic standards and the legacy of the school.

Reader’s digest

Hello again

Busy week, this week, so I don’t have much time to write my own material. So please find below a selection of recommended reading that I have come across. Some of it is new, some old, but all of which I find interesting. I hope you do too.

A new, private university is to be set up in London, charging fees of £18,000 per year. While this has been reported in a few media circles along similar lines (outrage at the privatisation of education and the exorbitant fees) I think The Church Mouse has hit the nail on the head with the real agenda. The only surprise in the coverage is that I’ve yet to come across anyone who thinks the idea has been nicked from Jamie’s Dream School.

Sometimes I wonder if these are made up, but apparently a formula for making a home-made bomb was replaced by a cake recipe. What I really want to know is how good were the cakes?

In the world of science, news reached me about anti-matter. I’ve been interested in anti-matter since I was a teenager and have spent many hours pondering its existence and properties. Unfortunately, I lack the necessary equipment to be able to conduct meaningful experiments with it. Fortunately, the folks at the Large Hadron Collider don’t have so many limitations as I. They have been able to contain some anti-matter for 1,000 seconds. For the laymen’s article on this, visit the BBC, but for the hardcore among you, the paper is freely available on arXiv (though it is large and takes a while to download on a broadband connection)

Not a new article to read by any long stretch of the imagination, but worthwhile nonetheless. This is something I’ve had renewed interest in of late. I’m still working my way through NT Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God series (albeit that I cheated by starting at volume 3. I’m currently about a third of the way The New Testament and the People of God, and the follow-up, Jesus and the Victory of God is sitting on my bookshelf, looking very inviting. This, combined with the reaction I got from some quarters to my review of Thomas O’Loughlin’s book about the Didache, has prompted me once more to look at the Jesus Seminar and its critics, amongst whom Wright is almost unquestionably the most prominent.

See here, for his comeback on the methodology of the Jesus Seminar and a collection of their writings. To be honest, I don’t know how seriously these guys are taken these days, as it has been over a decade since the publication of JVG and the linked article. I don’t hear much about them in the mainstream press and if they are evident on the blogosphere, it must be in a different sector to the one I peruse.

Sticking on the theme of NT Wright, I stumbled across this the other day. It is a curious blog which denounces Wright as a “wolf” and on the surface appears very conservative and fundamentalist (in the modern sense of the term) . Yet, unusually, it doesn’t seem quite as bleating as some other “false teacher” sites I have come across. Wright himself is quoted quite a lot, though I myself have not yet had sufficient time to read the full catalogue of all his writings, so cannot tell if he is being quoted out of context.

The blog makes quite a lot of reference to New Perspectives on Paul, an idea which I have heard of though know precious little about. I am well aware that Wright has written a few books on Paul in the build up to volume 4 in his Christian Origins series, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, currently due for publication in 2012. From what I can gather, this is to be the magnum opus in the New Perspectives movement, though at the moment I choose to concentrate my own theological focus on Christology, rather than Pauline soteriology.

Finally, to end on a lighter note (possibly), what is the best way to reduce the emission of methane in the atmosphere? Well, according to one Australian gentleman, you need to get in either a jeep or a helicopter and shoot camels!