"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Educating our children

Most of our young people are wonderful! But we seem to be failing far too many of them. Every time I read about those disaffected youth who are setting fire to old established family businesses, getting into drink and drugs in a big way, spending all day glued to TV's and computer games, I ponder where we are going wrong, and inevitably I always come back to education.
I visited Herm a few years ago, a very small Channel Island ‘community’ where life of necessity is simple. I watched the children playing outside, gloriously free and dirty and happy, using what nature has given them, the trees and bushes and grass and flowers, and their own abilities to run and hide and shout and climb trees, to be themselves. There was not an adult in sight. And I recalled the vision held by Alastair McIntosh in his wonderfully inspirational book Soil and Soul for a spiritually rich and holistic education. He imagines a life-long curriculum of organic food and biodiversity, energy alternatives and respect for all, healing skills incorporating not only the most advanced scientific advances but also the spiritual healing principles, of poetry and story. There would be the study of conflict resolution and how to eliminate the causes of war. And the kids would have fun and play in tree houses.
The Dalai Lama stresses that education ‘constitutes one of our most powerful weapons in our quest to bring about a better, more peaceful, world.’ (1)He emphasizes the need to open children’s eyes to the needs and rights of others, so that their actions have a universal dimension, and they develop their ‘natural feelings of empathy so that they come to have a sense of responsibility towards others.’ He reminds us that traditionally it has been assumed that ethical and human values would be taught through a child’s religious upbringing rather than in mainstream state education. With the declining influence of religion and faith in family life this vital part of a child’s education has become neglected. The Dalai Lama proffers three guidelines for the education of our children. First, he says, we need to awaken their consciousness to basic human values by showing them how these are relevant to their future survival, rather than presenting them as solely an ethical or faith issue. Then we must teach them how to discuss and debate, to understand the value of dialogue rather than violence for resolving conflict. Finally there is the urgent need to teach children that differences of race, faith, culture, while important to preserve, are nevertheless secondary to the equal rights of us all from whatever background to be happy. And of course this is best done in the security of a close loving family unit.
The Global Justice Movement describes the purpose of education as to ‘teach people how to become life-long learners and virtuous human beings, with the capacity to adapt to change, to become masters of technology and builders of civilization through their ‘leisure work,’ and to pursue the highest spiritual values.’
Alastair McIntosh’s wish list is long but the spiritual message is clear. Such an education is about ‘building of community as right relationship between soil, soul and society, powered by the passion of the heart, steered by the reason of the head, and then applied by the skilled technique of the hand.’

Regrettably the purpose of education as seen in most of our traditional schools is to train people for jobs, rather than to be the rounded and spiritually grounded citizens of tomorrow. As a result the system becomes shackled by the needs of exams and syllabuses and league tables. May it come to pass sooner rather than later that many more of our schools come to be judged not only on their position in academic league tables but on how successfully they turn out well rounded, happy, respectful, empathic and spiritual citizens.

(1) His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ancient Wisdom Modern World: Ethics for the New Millennium (London: Abacus, Time Warner Books UK, 2000), p.192.

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