The Duke of Wellington Arthur Wellesley said, “Educate people without religion and you make them but clever devils.” Jokes aside, it’s important to think about the moral, ethical and spiritual education in schools. When all is said and done, education is meant to uplift the race. With times a-changing we can all think, and contribute towards uplifting the race. For me, this is praying – searching for good ideas and aiming high for the betterment of mankind. Children and young people are grappling with many new-old hardships.
The news is often about tackling bullying in schools, and related issues like body image, self-harm in many forms, and suicide. What is it we want for our children’s education other than academic achievements? For them to be empowered to make wise decisions; to be honest, hard working, to uphold the laws of the land and to respect themselves and others, etcetera. These are spiritual attributes.
Do parents have a responsibility to teach their children spirituality – how to think and act in a way that’s a good outcome for all concerned? To love one another and to do to others what we would want them to do to us ~ Christ Jesus. We think of such help being given first and foremost in the family home, but too many homes don’t have parents present. Schools throughout history to some degree have sought to give that help. And that has led to other horrific problems; not the focus of this blog.
I was drawn to Nina Funnell’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Teach kids how to think, not what to believe”. She shares a funny story from her childhood about her experience with Santa, and compares it to religious instruction in schools, stating, “it is unethical to indoctrinate children through religious direction”. There’s much discussion and debate in Australia about scripture versus ethics classes, and also chaplains versus psychologists in schools. The Federal Government has just pledged millions towards the Chaplaincy program (related article).
For a time, children whose parents made a conscientious decision to have their children opt out of special religious education (SRE) in NSW primary schools, were prohibited from receiving any form of instruction during this hour. A pilot program was recently conducted in New South Wales, where ethics classes were offered alongside SRE classes. A recent report hailed the program a great success, and the NSW government will introduce ethics classes in public schools next year. They promise that there is no intention to push out religious education.
Dr Simon Longstaff, executive director of The St James Ethics Centre avers, “Every child is entitled to ethical instruction regardless of whether they subscribe to a particular faith, or not. Indeed, the Rawlinson Committee, established to review Special Religious Education in the 1980’s acknowledged that “… ethics, the study of morals and values, is valuable for its own sake and people can be moral without being religious...”.
Some parents argue that because their children’s weekends are taken up with sport and extracurricular activities, families don’t have the opportunity for religious classes and are glad that schools offer such during the week. Others have left the idea of church, mosque, synagogue, etcetera, because of dogma and fear of brainwashing.
Vivid memories of my own experience come to mind when I was in Standard 7 in South Africa (aged 14). There was mass excitement, because we were going to watch a movie during school hours. I was shocked at what I saw, and wished I could escape the assembly hall. The Christian-based movie (denomination unknown) left you with a no-uncertain choice – either you were “saved” or you burned in hell, separated from all your loved ones depending on which way they chose. The graphics were in your face, and I saw some kids in tears. There was chatter amongst us for days about which way each of us was going – not hard to guess! As you can tell, parents were not consulted about this educational movie.
I’d been attending a Christian Science Sunday School for several years by then, and we were taught that God is Love, according to the Bible. And that heaven and hell were not localities, but states of consciousness here and now. Everything in this movie clashed with my understanding of God and love. Other than that occasion, the religious instruction classes were mostly fun, sans heavy theology.
Parents want the best for their children, and governments are working hard to accommodate the many needs and wants; striving to keep abreast of the times. Anyone can join in prayer to support those efforts by the lawmakers, the teachers and the parents who do the hard yards for our precious next generation.
Of special interest…
There was a young American woman in the 1800’s, Mary Baker, who grew up in a strict Puritan family. When she was twelve, she wanted to join her church, but questioned the teaching of predestination, to the dismay of her father. Mary shared her deep concern with the pastor, and he was obviously touched by her love for God and for mankind, and accepted her as a member even though she refused to accept the teaching. Years later, then Mary Baker Eddy, she discovered and founded Christian Science, and The First Church of Christ, Scientist. Spiritual education for children was so important to her, that she included Sunday School for children up to the age of 20. She stipulated in her Church Manual, under ‘Sunday Schools’, that amongst the first lessons to be taught must be the Ten Commandments. These Scriptural laws are a common moral compass today. At a time when women didn’t even have the vote, she wrote, “All education should contribute to moral and physical strength and freedom.”