Tag Archives: pastoral

Hard Lesson #11: Guns are not glorious

ExecutionHaving been invited to read to a class of students for reading week, I looked for a chance to work with a group of older students who I have not taught in two years. The Y11 group I wanted to work with stuck in my mind because so many of the boys were obsessed with guns and violent video games. This seemed a perfect fit for one of the 12 Hard Lessons: guns are not glorious.

To approach this one I chose to read from a book of first hand accounts from World War I: Max Arthur’s Forgotten Voices of the Great War. This amazing book, which is part of a series, gives a history of the war as a collage of first hand accounts taken from the Imperial War Museum. I read two individual accounts, one by a German soldier who had bayoneted a French soldier, and another by a British soldier who participated in the execution of a deserter.

These two passages are very intense, and I was actually quite emotional reading them aloud in front of 20 students. I think the students picked up on this, and the room was perfectly still. As way of introduction I told students that whilst they may enjoy glorified violence, the truth is far from glorious, and I wanted them to understand and feel this. I think the result of this session was not a teacher preaching “guns are bad”, but a chance for students to really appreciate why guns are not glorious.

Credit: execution image by Underwood & Underwood via Wikimedia Commons, under PD.

Friends Without Benefits

Holding HandsWhat Facebook, Twitter, Tinder, Instagram, and Internet Porn Are Doing to America’s Teenage Girls

This is an abridged version of the full article from Vanity Fair. It has been prepared for educational use with students in lower secondary school (ages 11-14). Inserted at times are (hopefully provocative, discussion-inducing) questions for consideration by teachers and students. Some educators may find this material too risqué or difficult to approach, and in some places teachers may face strong pressure to not discuss such material. However, if teachers are not tackling such issues, then who is?


This year, 81 percent of Internet-using teenagers in America reported that they are active on social-networking sites, more than ever before. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and new dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Blendr have increasingly become key players in social interactions, both online and IRL (in real life). Combined with unprecedented easy access to the unreal world of Internet porn, the result is a situation that has drastically affected gender roles for young people. Speaking to a variety of teenaged boys and girls across the country, Nancy Jo Sales uncovers a world where boys are taught they have the right to expect everything from social submission to outright sex from their female peers. What is this doing to America’s young women?

Questions: To what extent is this an American phenomenon? If social networking is less popular where you are, why? And how long, if ever, until things change?

The Tinder Guy

She wanted it to be like the scene in the Lana Del Rey video for “Blue Jeans”—“hot and slow and epic.” The scene where strangers meet and fall into an easy intimacy, making love in a pool—“and they look so hot and it’s just, like, totally epic.” A boy at her school—she didn’t want to talk about him now; he’d broken her heart; but “like, whatever.” She’d “deleted him” from her phone. “I was stalking him too much, seeing him doing fun things on Instagram, and it hurt.”

They’d been instant-messaging on Facebook, and one night he told her he loved her. And then “I found out he was talking to, like, four other girls.” And now she wanted to do something to get over it, maybe to get back at him. “I mean, I should have known. All men are basically whores.” When he didn’t turn out to be her “true love”—“like Bella and Edward, or Bella and Jacob, you know?”—she decided she had to “lose it to someone,” so why not with someone she would never have to see again? And yet, she hoped it would somehow be like the Lana Del Rey song. “I will love you till the end of time,” it goes.

The guy she was supposed to meet that day—the guy from Tinder, the dating app kids were using to hook up—“I know, like, five guys who’ve done it; girls use it too, but they pretend like they don’t”—he was cute and had tattoos on his arms. He looked “James Franco–ish,” but younger. On Tinder you could meet people in your age group. She was 16; he was 17.

Alone in her room, the night before, reading her friends’ Twitter feeds and watching YouTube videos (Selena Gomez and “baby animals being cute”), she’d started feeling lonely, restless, and bored. “Sometimes I just want to talk to a guy so bad.” So she downloaded the app and started swiping through the pictures of boys in her area. She “hearted” his picture, and within a few minutes he had hearted hers, and then they were instantly texting.

“Ur hot,” he wrote. “U wanna meet?”


They arranged to rendezvous at a shopping mall in Los Angeles not far from the neighborhood where they lived. “Of course it was going to be a public place. And if it turned out he was really some gross old man, I’d just run away.” But there he was, standing by his car, looking almost like his picture. . . . Almost. There was something different about his face—it was “squishier. Like, he was almost fat.” But now here they were, and she didn’t know quite how to get out of it.

He smiled and kissed her on the cheek. He smelled of Axe Body Spray. She was sorry she’d spent so much time getting ready for this. “I even waxed,” she said. He wanted her to get in his car, but she knew she shouldn’t. They started walking around the mall, “talking about nothing, nothing. It was awkward, totally weird.” He asked if she wanted to sit down, but there was nowhere to sit except in restaurants, so they wound up going inside a Pottery Barn and making out on a couch. Later she posted something on her Tumblr blog about the difficulty of finding love.

Wheeling In The Bitches

“Gotta wheel the bitches in. Gotta wheel the bitches in,” said the teenage boy on a city bus in New York. “Nowadays you can do it so easy. There are so many apps and shit that just, like, hand you the girls. They don’t even know that’s what they’re doing, but really they’re just giving teenagers ways to have sex.”

This year, 81 percent of Internet-using teenagers in America reported that they’re active on social-networking sites, one of which is Tinder, a mobile dating app that teens use to hook up.

Questions: Were the girl and boy in the above stories looking for the same thing, or something different? How are boys and girls depicted differently? In your experience, is this a realistic representation of males and females?

Sex, Lies & Social Media

If you’re between 8 and 18, you spend more than 11 hours a day plugged into an electronic device. The average American teen now spends nearly every waking moment on a smart phone or computer or watching TV. This seismic shift in how kids spend their time is having a profound effect on the way they make friends, the way they date, and their introduction to the world of sex.

Kids have always been interested in sex, of course; but there have never been more ways for them to express that to one another, at any moment of the day, no matter where they are. They don’t even have to be together, and often they are not. “You can be sitting in class getting a boner ’cause some girl is texting you” said a boy in L.A. “It’s kind of distracting.”

As quickly as new social media appears, teens seem to find ways to use it to have sex, often sex devoid of even any pretense of emotional intimacy. There’s sexting, and there’s Snapchat, where teenagers share pictures of their bodies or body parts; on Skype, sometimes they strip for each other or masturbate together. On Omegle, they can talk to strangers, and sometimes the talk turns sexual. And then there is Tinder, where kids can meet each other on their phones. “It’s like Grindr used to be for gay guys, but now kids are doing it,” said a girl in L.A. “No one cares about anything but how you look.”

Questions: Is the sentiment expressed in the line “No one cares about anything but how you look.” heightened by social networking? Is it a good thing?

“We don’t date; we just hook up,” another girl in L.A. told me. “Even people who get in a relationship, it usually starts with a hookup.” Which can mean anything from making out to having sex. “When you have sex with a guy, they want it to be like a porno,” said a 19-year-old girl in New York.

Questions: What happens when young boys learn about sex predominantly through online pornography? Consider the idea that “learning about sex from porn is like learning history from Hollywood movies”.

The Girls At The Grove

“Social media is destroying our lives,” said the girl at the Grove.

“So why don’t you go off it?” I asked.

“Because then we would have no life,” said her friend.

The girls had been celebrating a birthday at the busy L.A. mall, and now they were on their way home; they carried bags of leftovers from the Cheesecake Factory. There were four of them: Melissa, Zoe, Padma, and Greta. They stopped to sit down and talk awhile at an outdoor table.

They were pretty girls with long straight hair—two blonde, two brunette, all aged 16. They wore sleeveless summer dresses and looked fresh and sweet. Greta, they said, was famous—or Instafamous, having thousands of followers on Instagram. She showed me a gallery of her Instapics; some were of her dog and some were of Greta pouting and wearing “the duck face.” Some of her followers, she said, were “random dudes in Italy and Arabia.”

Melissa said, “I have Facebook, a YouTube account. I’ve used Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine . . . ”

“Path, Skype,” Zoe said.

“Tumblr,” said Padma.

“I have a Twitter, but I don’t use it except for stalking other people,” said Greta.

They all laughed knowingly.

“I think everyone does it,” Greta said. “Everyone looks through other people’s profiles, but especially being teenage girls, we look at the profiles of the males we find attractive and we stalk the females the males find attractive.”
“It’s a way to get to know them without the awkward ‘Oh, what do you like to do?’ You already know,” said Padma.

“You can know their likes and dislikes,” Greta said. “‘Oh, they like this band.’ So you can, like, casually wear that band’s T-shirt and have them, like, fall in love with you or something. Or you can be like, ‘Oh, they listen to that music? Ew. Go away.’”

I asked them how they knew when a boy liked them.

“When a boy likes your [Facebook] profile pic or almost anything you post, it means that they’re stalking you, too. Which means they have interest in you,” said Zoe.

I asked them how they made the transition from social-media interaction to real-world interaction.

They blinked.

Questions: Does it matter if social skills online do not transfer to the real world? Are real world social skills still relevant?

I asked if they had boyfriends.

“There’s this boy Seth,” said Greta, “and when he liked my profile picture, I knew it was like, ‘Hey, ’sup, you cute.’ Then we held hands at a party. We were cute. But the one thing I didn’t like about him was he didn’t follow me back on Instagram. Social media causes soooooo much anxiety.”

They all agreed on that.

“The thing with social media is, if a guy doesn’t respond to you or doesn’t, like, stalk you back, then you’re gonna feel rejected,” said Melissa.

“And rejection hurts,” said Padma.

“And then you’re gonna go, like, look for another person to fill that void and you’re gonna move on to stalking someone else,” Melissa said.

“That’s how men become such whores,” said Greta.

“Guys actually take the Facebook-talking situation way too far,” meaning sexually, said Zoe.

They were nodding their heads.

“Like, when guys start a Facebook thing, they want too much,” said Padma. “They want to get some. They try with different girls to see who would give more of themselves.”

“It leads to major man-whoring,” Greta said.

“They’re definitely more forward to us online than in person,” said Zoe. “Because they’re not saying it to our faces.”

“This guy Seth, who is normally timid in real life,” said Greta, “sends girls messages asking for nudes.”

Questions: Why are people less inhibited online? To what degree should our online behaviour match our real world behaviour? Should we tolerate people who are too forward online?

“My friend, she was VC-ing,” or video chatting, “this guy she was kind of dating,” Melissa said. “He sent so many nudes to her, but she wasn’t trusting that he wouldn’t show the pictures to other people. So she Skyped him and showed him nudes that way. He took a screenshot without her knowing it. He sent it to so many people and the entire baseball team. She was whispered about and called names. It’s never gone away. He still has it and won’t delete it.”

Questions: Will those photos ever go away? Is there any way to share such private pictures safely online? Will someone you trust today be trustworthy tomorrow?

I asked if they knew girls who posted provocative pictures of themselves. They all said yes.

“More provocative equals more likes,” said Greta.

“It attracts more guys and then it makes other girls think about doing it just for the attention. They’re attention whores,” said Padma, frowning.

“My father thinks all my photos are provocative,” Greta mused.

“I think some girls post slutty pictures of themselves to show guys the side to them that guys want to see,” said Zoe. “It’s annoying.”

“Girls call them sluts. Boys call it hot,” said Padma.

Questions: How far are you willing to go to get attention online? At what point are you going too far in terms of what you share and how you portray yourself?

Mirror, Mirror

In the video for ”We Can’t Stop,“ Miley Cyrus writhes around on a bed, sticking her ass up in the air. She grinds her ass into the crotch of a woman twerking. She writhes around in an empty bathtub, sticking her ass in the air some more. She appears at the V.M.A.’s twerking into the crotch of Robin Thicke, causing an international sensation.

In the video for ”Summer Fling,“ Willow Smith stares at the nipple of a teenage boy while offering him her phone number. Willow’s 12. She sings about having a summer fling: “It’s just a couple nights, but we do it anyway.” A boy shoots water into a pool party at which Willow and her bikini-clad friends jump on a trampoline, spreading their legs.

“Of course girls want to emulate this stuff,” Kim Goldman said one afternoon at her home. Goldman is the director of the Santa Clarita Valley Youth Project, a counseling service for teens. “Girls talk about feeling like they have to be like what they see on TV,” she said. “They talk about body-image issues and not having any role models. They all want to be like the Kardashians. Kendall Jenner posts bikini shots when she’s 16 and gets 10,000 likes, and girls see that’s what you do to get attention.”

“We’re seeing depression, anxiety, feelings of isolation,” said Goldman. “I think social media is contributing to these things. We have kids who’ve had sex with people they meet on Chat Roulette. At one of the junior highs we work with, we found out there were a few kids engaging in an online orgy. They all signed into a video chat room.” One of their parents walked in on it. “Sex is everywhere. Everything is sexualized.”

Questions: To what extent do students feel that they are influenced by popular culture role models? Do students understand that fame does not equal happiness?


“I first started seeing people doing selfies in sixth grade,” said Emily, a senior at a private school in L.A. “Back then everybody was on MySpace. In sixth grade everybody started getting phones and they started posting pictures of themselves, and it was weird, ’cause, like, a lot of the pictures were supposed to look sexy and they had the duck face and we were all, like, 11.”

“Guys do selfies, too,” said Alexandra, a girl at a public high school in L.A. “They post pictures of themselves smoking, like, ‘Look how boss I am, look how gangster.’ They think that makes them hot. If a guy posts a picture in his boxer shorts, people say that’s funny, but if a girl does it, they say she’s a slut. It’s a double standard, but girls still do it ’cause it gets them more likes on Facebook.”

“My little cousin, she’s 13, and she posts such inappropriate pictures on Instagram, and boys post sexual comments, and she’s like, ‘Thank you,’” said Marley, a New York public-school girl. “It’s child pornography, and everyone’s looking at it on their iPhones in the cafeteria.”

Porn & Feminism

Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus are the co-directors of Sexy Baby (2012), a documentary about girls and women in the age of porn. They went on a research mission to a porn convention in Miami where “they were selling stripper poles to college girls and housewives,” said Bauer. “There were so many mainstream women idolizing the porn stars and running after them to take pictures, and we were like, ‘Whoa, this exists?’”.

“We saw these girls embracing this idea that ‘If I want to be like a porn star, it’s so liberating,’” Gradus said. “We asked, ‘What is this shift in our sexual attitudes, and how do we define this?’ I guess the common thread we saw that is creating this is technology.

“Technology being so available made every girl or woman capable of being a porn star, or thinking they’re a porn star,” said Gradus.

Porn is more available now than at any time in history—especially to kids. Ninety-three percent of boys and 62 percent of girls have seen Internet porn before they turn 18, according to a 2008 study in CyberPsychology & Behavior. Seventy percent of boys have spent more than 30 minutes looking at porn, as have 23 percent of girls. Eighty-three percent of boys and 57 percent of girls have seen group sex online. Eighteen percent of boys and 10 percent of girls have seen rape or sexual violence.

“When it comes to children, there is really nothing to argue about,” Alliston went on. “Kids are defined by our laws as not being able to consent to sex or to using pornography. There are few protections against them seeing it, and some people take the attitude that it’s inevitable and benign. I think a lot of people who make this argument don’t realize what porn today really looks like in terms of how the women are treated.”

Questions: In past decades, pornography was seen as empowering to women, but much of the pornography on the Internet today is very degrading to women. What effect does this have on how girls and women view themselves in relation to sex? What effect does this have on how boys and men expect women to behave in terms of sex?

The Anti-Daphne Movement

“In the eighth grade, I had friend—it was a toxic friendship,” said Daphne, now 19 and in college in L.A. “We got into a fight. I can’t even remember what it was about—probably I had bought the same shoes as her or something. It got really bad, and one of her friends, a guy, decided to make a YouTube video starting an ‘Anti-Daphne Movement.’

“Their goal was to get me to kill myself.

“It was, like, a 10-minute video. He showed a picture of me. He said my name. He recounted all the details of the fight. He said I was ugly and that I should kill myself. He told everyone on Facebook, ‘I’m a member of this movement. If Daphne has ever done anything to you, post about it.’

“It caught on really fast. I had a lot of people writing really mean messages to me and deleting me as a friend [on Facebook]. I had never done anything to these people. At school they would put gross things in my bag, cottage cheese in my binder. It got over all my homework.

“It took three months before I got the courage to tell my dad. My dad got the school to get [the boy] to take the video down. The guy who did it didn’t get in any trouble. The principal was friends with his mom. The principal said I must have done something bad for him to act that way, and I was actually suspended for a few days.

“I didn’t know this boy at all. He was kind of a weird kid. People thought he was quirky and cool. He would say he was ‘brutally honest,’ but mostly he was just rude to people. I had to stay in the same school with him all through eighth grade. I went into therapy for what happened. It’s made me so much more insecure. It’s really hard for me to trust anyone.”

Questions: How often do you stop and think that social media might be used against you? Have you ever considered using social media to target or harm someone else?

Sex & The Soul

What kind of love lives are teenagers headed for after they graduate high school? Sadly, more of the same, according to Donna Freitas, a former professor of religion at Hofstra and Boston Universities. Freitas’s The End of Sex (2013) might as well be called The End of Love. The book studies hook-up culture on college campuses.

But Freitas’s research, conducted over a year on seven college campuses, tells a different story. “Both young women and young men are seriously unhappy with the way things are,” she said. “It’s rare that I find a young woman or a man who says hooking up is the best thing ever.”

She describes the sex life of the average college kid as “Sex is something you’re not to care about. The reason for hooking up is less about pleasure and fun than performance and gossip—it’s being able to update [on social media] about it. Social media is fostering a very unthinking and unfeeling culture. We’re raising our kids to be performers.”

And researchers are now seeing an increase in erectile dysfunction among college-age men—related, Freitas believes, to their performance anxiety from watching pornography: “The mainstreaming of porn is tremendously affecting what’s expected of them.” College kids, both male and female, also routinely rate each other’s sexual performance on social media, often derisively, causing anxiety for everyone.

Questions: What kind of relationships do you want in the future? What kind of relationships do you want now? Is social media something that helps or hinders in getting what you want?


Credits: This abridged text utilisies assumed fair-use in presenting this copyrighted material for educational use. The presentation of the material, and the surrounding questions and text are by Ross Parker (https://rossparker.org, @rossparker.org) and shared under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Hold Hands image by Hilde Skjølberg on Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND.


Model PhotoshopThis lesson used to be part of a unit which was dropped from the Year 7-9 ICT Course due to time constraints. However, the content is so powerful that I decided to include it, not as a unit, but as a single lesson. The aim is to get students to think more about how the media works, and how much of what the media portrays can and should be trusted. The content of this lesson could quite easily apply to any number of subjects including ICT, Media,PSHE/Pasotral, History and Theary of Knowledge.

I believe it the video included in this lesson is extremely valuable, not only for girls, but also for boys, as we seek to shape their values and open their minds to the world around them.


  • Let’s start this lesson by seeing if any students understand the meaning of the word representation in media.
  • One way to think of representation is ” the way that reality is portrayed or shown in magazines, TV, books, film and music”.
  • Do you think we can we trust the way that others represent reality? Should we?

Representation of Gender

  • Let’s take a look at this video, and discuss any ideas which is throws up.

  • What does the above video tell us about the representation of women in the media?
  • Can you think of positive and negative gender representation of women?

Representation Examples

  • Now I would like you to work in pairs to find examples of representation on the web.
  • Links to items are to be placed into a shared Google Doc.
  • After 15 minutes I will get you back together to view and discuss the various materials found.

Image Credit: model comparison image thumbnail used under educational fair use.

Misleading Images

Doctored_Stalin-LeninThis lesson aims to introduce students to the concept of misleading images, and to try and engender in students a certain skepticism when interacting with media. This lesson could potentially be used in a range of subjects including ICT, Media, History, Theory of Knowledge, PSHE/Pastoral etc.

In the past this has proven to be one of those lessons that really gets students sitting up, listening and discussing, as most of them have no idea they are being constantly manipulated by the mass media.


Misleading Images

In general we trust photos in a way that we would never trust words: we know that photos can be faked, but we don’t usually question what we see in the media and on the Internet. Let’s use some fun examples to see what we can and cannot trust:

The resources below look at how photos can be misleading, either through accident, doctoring, creative photography or omission. Digital photography and computer technology make this process much easier and more powerful, but it is important to keep in mind that these exact issues have been relevant since the dawn of the photographic era.

Of particular interest is the process by which images are “photoshopped” (i.e. digitally manipulated), and just how much transformation is possible. The videos below give an insight into this process (they are accelerated, it really takes much longer to do this, and lots of skill too).

We can look at the impact of misleading photos from different perspectives, including:

  • Political – what might a country gain by manipulating photos of its enemy at war?
  • Individual – how does unrealistically attractive portraits in magazines make me feel?
  • Society – how have misleading photos changed our expectations and measures of beauty?

In the end, how do we know what to trust if we cannot trust what we see?

12 Hard Lessons

Stop SignThe following 12 ideas are lessons I think we really should be teaching students to help them become healthy, sane adults. But for whatever reason, they are hard to teach and even harder to learn. How can we get these messages across to students without sounding preachy or just plain weird? Of course, some of these items will be controversial. Colleagues, administrators, parents and students may at various times disagree with the content, or even with the idea of departing from the normal curriculum. However, despite the risks, I think that students really do need to be aware of these ideas, and who else is going to broach them? The question is how…any ideas?

1. Guns are not glorious Violence is ugly, the sound and sight of violent death is terrifying. Yet the media and gaming makes it glorious, and kids (especially boys) buy it wholesale. I went through this as a young boy, and maybe it is just part of growing up. Maybe if I watched The Empire in Africa as a boy I would not have been so keen on violence.
2. Masturbation is OK It is fun, reduces stress and helps us learn about our bodies and preferences. Everyone does it, yet few talk about it, and so kids grow up feeling guilty. I know I did, and it took a long time to work out that it was not “sick” or “wrong”.
3. Your body is a wonderland You might not look like a model, but make no mistake your body is a wonderland. And you only have one. Respect it, love it for what it is, exercise to improve it, look after it. Your body will age quickly, drugs will screw it up more than you can imagine.
4. God may not exist Whether your god is a super-intelligent being, the mystic power of the universe or something else, there is a good chance it may not exist. No matter how much faith you have, we just don’t know. God may be useful, but we need to be open minded about it. And please, let’s stop killing people because their god is not your god.
5. Being gay is OK I can’t imagine growing up and being gay: the feeling of having something to hide must make the shame of masturbation feel like a walk in the park. And yet, being gay is just like being different in most any other way: it is something that should not really matter.
6. Failure is great In school we punish failure, yet teachers almost all know that we learn through failure. What we want to avoid is failure from which no lesson is extracted. Almost nothing of worth is ever created without some kind of failure preceding it.
7. Porn is not sex Pornography may be intriguing, entertaining and arousing, but it is not realistic. You might say porn is to sex what Hollywood is to everyday life: a grotesque caricature full of impossibly beautiful people. But seeing as pornography is so readily available, it is easy for boys and girls to grow up thinking it is a realistic version of sex: they are generally starved of alternative, equally rich sources of information? What happens when you grow up expecting your partner to act like a porn star? What happens when you grow up expecting to behave like a porn star. Certainly this is not how to learn the art of making love.
8. Don’t rush, it’s not a race All kids want to grow up, and kids today want to grow up faster than ever. The sad truth is that whilst adulthood brings certain freedoms, it generally takes away more. On the whole, kids are far freer than adults, and this freedom needs to be enjoyed, cherished and used to its potential. Youth is easiest to appreciate once it is gone.
9. Good grades aren’t “it” You can get good grades, and still fail miserably in the real world. At the end of the day, grades are a poor way of representing some part of a student, and certainly don’t reflect the whole. Let your students know that if they get good grades that is fantastic, but what about the things which aren’t usually tested in school? What about sense of humour, charisma, social skills, passion, creativity and all the rest?
10. School will not make you “world ready” In line with point 9. above, we do learn a lot at school, but we are certainly not ready to face the world when we leave. I am not sure we are ever “complete”, but certainly we are no where near completion at the point of exiting school, nor on leaving higher education. Students expecting this (as I did at 18 and again at 21) will be sorely disappointed when reality smacks them in the face.
11. History is important Of all the subjects I undervalued at the school, history has to be the most important. Maybe at 12 I was just too young to get it, or maybe the pitch was wrong. What I know now is that history is my personal story, and explains who I am and why I am the way I am. It teaches us how not to behave (plenty of role models there), what to expect from life, and the consequences of not sharing and getting along. What could be more important?
12. There is no “normal” The Hollywood/advertising ideal of happy, wealthy, beautiful, funny, amazing people simply does not exist in the read world. At the end of the day, we all have our flaws, and we are all different. There is no “normal”, just lots of variation. Students expecting to be happy all the time in an age of widespread depression is asking for trouble. Students need to feel comfortable being “different”, so they can talk about problems, and learn to deal with them before they escalate.

Credits: Rainbow and Stop Sign image by sandy.redding on Flickr shared under CC BY-NC-SA.

QR Code Madness

QRQR codes are square barcodes, which are quick to read and can contain more information than older linear barcodes. More importantly, QR codes can contains links which take scanners directly to a location on the Internet, and can be scanned by almost any phone or laptop. These codes can, with a little imagination, be used in some really innovative ways within schools. For example, students can record audio book reviews, which are then QR coded, and stuck onto books in the library, allowing potential borrowers to get a quick overview. Or, they could be used to tell stories around school, such as how each school trophy was won.

Today I unleashed Happyism, a little QR project I have been organising with my pastoral group. The aim of the project was to be the opposite of terrorism, namely an act of trying to make people happy, inspired and positive in a public place. When students came out of class for lunch, they discovered 150 unique QR codes stuck around the canteen and stairway area. Each of these codes, when scanned with a phone or computer, took the student to a website which aimed to make them laugh, think or act. Some staff also wore codes, linking to sites relating to their subject area, personality or nationality.

At first students were a little unsure, but with a lot of prompting, a few started investigating. Within 20 minutes there were groups of students gathering around phones, animatedly enjoying a variety of videos, pictures, quotes and stories. A particular highlight was Ms. Goldthorpe, whose QR code, resting on her bump, led students to an ultrasound of her unborn child (thanks to my wife for this genius idea).

The process of gathering the sites (shared amongst students and myself) was time consuming, as was vetting them, creating codes, printing, cutting and sticking. However, the effort was more than worth it, with a real buzz around campus during the day. Even better, a number of staff asked how they could build this into their curriculum areas, showing a great willingness to try new things. If you are interested in trying this out at your school, some of the following may be useful:

  • QR Code Madess – the full listing of almost 150 unique QR codes, appropriate for use in secondary school.
  • Web QR – scan straight from the web (seems to work best with Chrome, at least on Mac).
  • QR Droid – for Android devices.
  • QR Reader for iOS devices.


SocratesParadoxes are a great way to get student thinking and talking about thinking. The initial state of confusion, followed by the illusive, enigmatic feeling of understanding is somehow enticing and enjoyable. I spent a little pastoral time discussing the following paradoxes with a group of Year 8 students, and the result was a palpable buzz in the classroom.

They are all taken from the excellent list of paradoxes on Wikipedia, and ordered (roughly) in ascending order of confusion generation:

  • Socratic paradox: “I know that I know nothing at all.”
  • Liar paradox: “This sentence is false.” This is the canonical self-referential paradox. Also “Is the answer to this question no?” And “I’m lying.”
  • Ship of Theseus (a.k.a. George Washington’s axe or Grandfather’s old axe): It seems like you can replace any component of a ship, and it is still the same ship. So you can replace them all, one at a time, and it is still the same ship. However, you can then take all the original pieces, and assemble them into a ship. That, too, is the same ship you began with.
  • Sorites paradox (also known as the paradox of the heap): One grain of sand is not a heap. If you don’t have a heap, then adding only one grain of sand won’t give you a heap. Then no number of grains of sand will make a heap.
  • Crocodile dilemma: If a crocodile steals a child and promises its return if the father can correctly guess what the crocodile will do, how should the crocodile respond in the case that the father correctly guesses that the child will not be returned?
  • Barber paradox: A barber (who is a man) shaves all and only those men who do not shave themselves. Does he shave himself? (Russell’s popularization of his set theoretic paradox.)

I and You

ChainWe come unto this earth, shooting head-first blind and wet so much like one link in a chain of boundless length. From this bundle of sopping joy we start, through an unknown life to live, and to the ultimately nameless soil to return. Each one of us the carrier of a unique cargo, an heirloom passed through us down the line of the ever-growing snowball.

By our individual nature, this process barely perceived, our awareness owed to thousands of like and dislike minds to-ing and fro-ing year on year. The same questions asked by all, answered by so few. Why am I here, where did this all come from, where do we go? Each person at the end the same, but each life lived for ones self. I am me, a bubble surrounded by blades, survival paramount. For me alone I toil for food and water and air. To what end? Why of course to carry my cargo, to complete the circle of my link, to join what has come before me to what will no doubt come after. All the while, today is all, an island separated from the bygone by history and from what is to come by chance. The past has come and gone and today, the gentle slope from there to here mutated into a bluff, then and now. The connection missed by so many minds, but felt by each and everybody. But when informed by the words of the great and gone that today is really no different than yesterday, and that indeed yesterday has lead to this day, the apparently jagged link between now and then suddenly flat lines. For now simply becomes a blip, a jump, a skip for me and only me on this great ocean. Now I see that I am the sum of my forefathers, both from my line and others. For sure I have my mother’s nose and father’s hair, but to who do I owe my thoughts? To God? Perhaps. To my teachers? Directly, yes, but in the end, did their thoughts come not from their teachers, and theirs from theirs?. And is it not logical to learn from all those who have come before, and thus be taught. For in every way we are, but for most it is never seen. How can we be sat down to learn history, a dead woman’s story, when history rides and lives through everyone of us. The dates are crammed, the names squashed in, with a little space for remembering action too. But we seem to miss the thoughts, the second chain that ties us all together.

Then the thought; if I am just a blip, and you my friends and you my enemies are too but blips, are you not me and I not you? Where do I end and you start? Certainly with my flesh, your bones, but what of the mind. Are we all linked, joined in grand world union, one global cosmic spirit man. Or are our minds apart too?

But surely this all fades, if I consider that I may be you, and you may be me, should I not strive for us? Perhaps if I considered that I could wake one morning in someone else’s shoes, perhaps then I would help him, feed her, heal them. Perhaps then you would step from your carriage, open your doors and let the masses in. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But why sacrifice the possessions of my self when I am me and you are you?

And so we struggle on, the rich getting fat and the poor thin, the fat few getting unhappy, and the many thin angry. No change in reality. Wrongs disguised and excused in the name of religion, or imperialism, or divine right. The worker still the slave, the master still holding the whip. The whip becomes the carrot, the carrot the stock option, but all so thinly veiled.

Surely there is another way. A single fire, started from so many sparks, lights the sky a fantastic red. Marx the mind, Lenin the muscle. Why not take the fat and spread it like so much butter, feed all, clothe all, house all. All for one and one for all it begins. The salvation of the poor worth the blood of the rich, no doubt. But once begun, where to stop, who is right and who has the right. Communist Red and blood, sweeping from east to Far East, a noble idea but so much harder to stomach now. The rich rebel from a far, sending in the poor, the muscle the army to rid the world of this evil and put back into place a much corrupted version of the former. The system now a puppet, controlled by those of so much power, so much wealth so much greed. Those who have forgotten that they too will pass as one more link in the chain sliding quickly through the narrow sights of the present. They will not be remembered as good or great or mad or bad, as they surely must see themselves, but tarnished they will no doubt be, for on their hands lies the blood and thirst and hunger of myriad others.

And how do we go forward? By jump and by start, by revolution followed by puppet peace followed by revolution, by endless generations of poor, dispossessed and tortured. Or should we not all together say, I am me, but by odds I could be you? Thus, should we not all treat each other as we wish to be treated our selves? I feel pain, sometimes to the core, so by what right do I inflict pain on the mind, body and soul of another. Is terror by the ruled not identical to terror by the ruling? Is not right and wrong, killing and stealing, the same for you as for me and as for them?

Let then the sword of awaking in another man’s shoes weigh heavy over the head of he who strays from the path of truth and compassion. For I am you, and by turns you are me. Need I say more, other than go with peace and love, my friend, my enemy.

Originally written 23rd August, 2003. Image by Darwin Bell on Flickr, shared under CC BY-NC.


There is plenty of speculation that technology is making us less intelligent. Certainly, in the classroom, I am seeing evidence that it is hindering the development of social skills, especially in boys. As per usual, it seems like Einstein knew exactly where we were headed:


Note: image of unknown origin, not covered under this site’s Creative Commons license.

Talking About Depression

The Last ManLast weekend, a former colleague committed suicide, tragically unable to deal with living his life any longer. Tim Ford was, on the surface, a man who had it all: great job, wife and kids. Having spent time with him, I can attest to his open nature, willingness to talk, listen and guide, his intelligence and curiosity. In short, this was not the kind of man who does this kind of thing. Yet he did. In the aftermath, a lot of people seem to be asking the same question: how did this happen, without anyone knowing or being able to help?

Whilst there are things we will never know, from what I have read and heard, it seems like he was suffering from depression, and I would guess this would be one of the key factors. The saddest thing with depression is that it is so socially unacceptable to talk about it, and this just makes it worse. Those who suffer (and I have counted myself amongst their ranks) are left feeling ashamed, confused, and unwilling to get help. The problem grows, and becomes less accessible, less visible, and less solvable. I would guess many people live like this, hiding their experiences from themselves and those close to them. And sometimes, it seems, people simply can’t go on like this. And we just don’t see it coming.

As a teacher, I feel a deep responsibility to broach this difficult, personal topic with my students. If I am not willing to open up and share my experiences with them, how will they ever learn to share with others. How many are we condemning to suffering, simply because of our own pride and fear? So, this morning, I took 15 minutes to discuss this tragedy with my students, opening up my own past and experiences for them to think about. This was not easy, and has left me feeling drained. However, I think the impact of talking specifics, rather than fuzzy generalisations, is worth the risk. I hope this is something I can continue to share with students, and hopefully it will help them realise that life is complex, and things are rarely what they seem.

I would love to hear experiences from other teachers on this issue. I would love to encourage others to do this if they feel they can. I would love for there to not be another generation growing, hiding their feelings in the shadows of shame. I would hate terribly to lose anyone else to stigma and a stiff upper lip. My biggest regret is that I was not more open earlier…that I never had a chance to talk to Tim and tell him he was not alone.

Note: thumbnail image “The Last Man” by seriykotik1970 on Flickr, shared under CC BY.