What? “Teach” Spirituality in Schools?

I was so happy to see this article on the Greater Good website: “The Case for Discussing Spirituality in Schools.”  A baby boomer myself, I thought back to my school days when the good nuns at Saint Frances de Sales and later Blessed Sacrament schools were very bent on teaching us the facts and rules about Catholicism. I am quite sure the word spirituality never once crossed their minds. No element of the curriculum was devoted to helping us develop, or even acknowledge, that part of ourselves that sought connection to something greater than ourselves.

No, religion in the fifties and sixties was not open to individual exploration. It was a pre-set done deal which people were expected to merely accept—no questions asked. In fact, questioning any form of authority was considered rogue, distasteful, and was strongly discouraged.  Any expression of almost any type of individuality was discouraged as well. (These were the days when all pencils were yellow and all underwear and sheets were white.) It was all about conformity—about fitting into the group. The thought of personally trying to connect to anything that did not have an exact definition in the dictionary would have been scary. A teacher encouraging such thoughts would have been accused of something like witchcraft!

But the world truly has changed since my school days. Increased mobility means we now live near, and work with, people from all over the world. Every day we come up against cultural mores, lifestyles and religious beliefs that clash with our own. Every time we turn on a television or computer we hear more about who believes what, who thinks their beliefs are better than others, and specific contents in religions from the other side of the world. Unless we go around with our heads buried in the sand, there is no way to pretend the world outside of our own little niche does not exist. Nor can we honestly avoid noticing that many of these others are good people too—guided by rules from different holy books than ours, or no holy book at all.

This leads us into recognition of spirituality as a common human search for connection to something greater than ourselves, as opposed to being about a list of preset beliefs dictated by one holy book, or one church. No longer can we get away with congratulating ourselves for holding mutually insular views. No longer can we insist on reinforcing religious provincialism in our children’s education.

The need to address spiritual truth—that spirituality IS about way more than any given organized religion—and that we owe it to our children to encourage them to develop a broader, more authentic spirituality than what our holy books teach—is part of an ever-growing need in our society to embrace a “bigger” story. We need a story that encompasses both organized religion and open spirituality, one that can meld the rich rites and rituals of a given religious tradition with an open minded—and open hearted—welcoming of input from other sources of spiritual wisdom.  Only in acknowledging this larger story that includes everyone are we living in full truth. In fact, living in full truth also requires acknowledging that reality is more complex, and more paradoxical than our human minds can assimilate.

This should make contemplation of the spiritual reality all the more fascinating, and something we owe it to our children to encourage. We don’t want to deaden our children’s spiritual nerves with overly easy ready-made answers that come from some outer religious authority, or rigid clinging to holy books written in a different time and for a different culture.

We DO want to DEVELOP spiritual capacity—in our children, in our adults, in our society in general. Not only do those with a more developed spirituality lead to richer lives, but they also tend to display traits that are beneficial to society in general.

Just as an example, spiritual development tends to lead to a deeper sense of the word “community.” While to a traditionally religious person, that word may refer primarily to those in his own congregation, the more spiritually developed a person is, the broader and more inclusive his sense of “community” is. Eventually it may encompass everyone and everything in the universe.

Other traits that take on a deeper meaning to the spiritually developed person include forgiveness, gratitude, acceptance, humility and a willingness to follow a “spirit authority” – a deeper and more genuine way of saying they submit to the “will” of a (mostly metaphorical) God.

 

About Margaret Placentra Johnston

Author of Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind, Margaret Placentra Johnston writes in hope of challenging both religious believers and nonbelievers to consider a broader perspective.

A practicing Optometrist, Margaret also loves helping people see better in the physical world. She lives in Virginia with her husband and has two grown sons.


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