Some people can polish gibberish and make it shine

A FRIEND and I had a nasty debate the other day about the teaching of religion in schools and it made me realise that it is true what they say: never debate religion and politics with friends - if you value the friendship, that is.

A FRIEND and I had a nasty debate the other day about the teaching of religion in schools and it made me realise that it is true what they say: never debate religion and politics with friends - if you value the friendship, that is.

At the risk of losing more friends, I dare say that overkill on religious education could have the unintended side effect of dulling the brain.

A good illustration is the e-mail I received this week that tells of a teacher asking his class why phosphorus trichloride is polar. The blissful answer from a hyper-religious pupil was: "Because God made it so."

In all fairness, if you teach children that God makes everything, you have to mark that pupil right.

Similarly, a pupil who explains rain thus: "We all have to pray, do unto others as they do unto us, forgive those who hurt us and help the poor, then God will give us rain and blessings", can't be marked wrong if that is what he was taught.

But teachers are not known for their fairness, like the one who marked me wrong when he asked us to make a sentence using the particularly difficult word, "fastidious". My answer was: "My father knows the meaning of the word fastidious."

That to me is a perfectly correct English sentence, but I was marked wrong nevertheless.

I noticed, subsequent to that, that the questions were enhanced to include the phrase ... "to illustrate that you understand the meaning".

As a parent now, I appreciate the importance of communicating un- ambiguously, otherwise they dribble past you and make it seem like it is your fault.

That is quite like the young fellow who went to boarding school and was given strict instructions to write home at least once every quarter. He hated writing letters, but had to oblige lest his parents withheld pocket money. So he wrote: "Dear parents, I promised to write to you at least once every quarter. This is the first time. I will write again next quarter. Your son, Jabulani."

I remembered Jabulani the other day at a funeral. A man was called to speak about his deceased friend and for a full 10 minutes, all he said (almost verbatim) was: "Err, the deceased was my friend. In actual fact, I don't know what to say, you know. Ja, this guy here, he was, you know ... eish. Anyway, I can't believe this. He is gone now. Today is a sad day ... a very sad day. We are crying. He has left us. We will never see him again. I could not believe it. I still can not believe it ..."

Yada yada yada yada.

At the end of the waffle, when he stepped proudly off the podium, the air was tense with emotion. He had clearly touched many a heart. And if it were not a funeral, he would have got a resounding applause.

As they say, some people are endowed with the gift of saying absolutely bugger all and make it sound profound and intellectual.

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