Why my hatred of Harvest Festival is more than sour grapes

I never liked having to do Harvest Festival, but at least when I was running morning singing assemblies, I could inject it with my own brand of culture, inviting musicians to volunteer to play to the songs we’d chosen and scoring simple accompaniments. That was almost fun. When singing assemblies were scrapped in favour of ‘visitors’, I was somewhat peeved, but also glad I could take a step back and let someone else do it. The festival has been something of a limp affair ever since, but I remain as aloof as I can. That’s the sour grapes bit.

The school’s celebration of it is historical. In spite of being a non-denominational state school, they have traditionally traipsed all the children from KS2 up to the local church once a year for the event and I can’t fathom why. We’re not affiliated with that church or any other. Most of the pupils I have taught have referred to themselves as having ‘no religion’, although there may well be something else written on their data sheets by their parents. I find the ritual that we are required to carry out, irksome if not downright disturbing. It’s narrow-minded, selfish, arrogant, patronising and hypocritical to sing songs of praise to a deity who has apparently created everything and given us this ‘bounty’, and in the same breath, ‘pray for those in need’. Are we really saying, ‘Thanks for all this stuff, Lord. Shame about those who starved to death this year.’ and all the while smugly thinking that our measly donation of a tin of spaghetti is somehow the meaning of it all? I do despise the atmosphere of benign indifference, the unquestioning faith in one’s own entitlement, the incredible Victorian confidence that things are the way they should be, without a hint of alarm at the suffering caused by our harvesting of the world’s resources and the outrageously widening gulf between the 1% who own more than half of it and the other 99%. Surely I can’t be the only one who finds this celebration to be both ridiculous and insulting.

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Oh look, I’m right again

Being in any profession for more than 20 years (yes, me) means you may have had to watch the same old stuff go round again and again. Sometimes something is brought back having been thrown out because it didn’t work the first time and nobody else is old enough to know that it isn’t new and wonderful. Sometimes it’s something that was abandoned against your best protestations, only to make a reappearance some years later as a good idea. Often, we just throw away good old stuff and replace it with tat – but that’s a different story!

I’m currently feeling the need to vent spleen over the reintroduction of a weekly ‘singing assembly’. That’s all very well – perhaps we could cope with the sudden change in our timetables (having already spent many hours trying to get everything to fit), since it could be generally argued that collective singing in a primary school is a ‘good thing’. However, we used to have a singing assembly. I ran it. I didn’t want to – particularly as it always needed to have overtones of collective worship – but I put that aside and concentrated on getting the best out of the whole of Key Stage 2 and a bunch of disparate, pupil volunteer musicians. We did pretty well – there were 3-part harmonies and instrumental accompaniments. I mainly plundered the gospel repertoire for its sheer musicality. Then one day, without explanation, I was unceremoniously ‘thanked’ for everything I’d done and informed that it was not going to happen any longer. I did object, in spite of not really wanting to have to run the damned thing in the first place, on the grounds of there being no more collective singing, and possibly very little singing at all. Now, some 5 years later, we’re told that the lack of collective singing is an issue and so we’ll be having singing assemblies once a week, led by a paid outsider. It’s unlikely that anyone will have the courtesy to say I was right.

Yes this is rather petulant but only one example in many of just how little value is placed on experience and expertise. It’s all about rank – as it has ever been – and in education those are very different things.