The Role of Spirituality in Public Education

I believe we have raised a generation of kids who appear to be morally and ethically deprived, but it’s important to realize that we ourselves are the same. As adults, we are just as seduced by narcissism and materialism as our kids. We are information rich but ethically and morally poor. Biologist Edward O. Wilson says we are “drowning in information while starving for wisdom.”Many contend that perhaps returning prayer to public schools is the answer to this cultural dilemma, while others argue that schools should be a place free from religious influence. The practice of mindfulness may offer a way forward, as it helps education leaders find common ground between various religions and can effectively teach ethics and morality in a secular way. Practising mindfulness allows us to nurture the development of skills and values that emphasize moral character, love, compassion, patience, harmony, altruism, forgiveness, responsibility and a concern for others.Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and is the focusing of one’s attention and awareness. It’s a psychological and spiritual faculty that is believed to bring wisdom through reflection. Although it has its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness is not inherently a religious concept, and therefore can easily be taught to all.

Spirituality is defined in many ways. For some, it’s a belief in a power in the universe that is greater than oneself. For others, it’s having a sense of interconnectedness with all living things. For others still, it’s an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life. Spiritual practices can include contemplation, meditation and prayer, and they are intended to develop a person’s inner life. Spiritual experiences can include the feeling of being connected to something larger than yourself, a feeling of being connected to others, a feeling of being connected to the human community, nature, or even the cosmos or divine realm. Spirituality is even often experienced as a source of inspiration, creativity, epiphanies, “aha” moments or intuitive clarity.A growing body of research indicates that developing our inner selves, using techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, meditation and reflective writing, is critical. Mindful techniques not only help us to cope with the stresses of our world today, but also help us to develop sound ethical and moral practices. Contemplative or mindful-based approaches have the ability to enhance the climate of classrooms and schools, help students and teachers stay calm, concentrate and focus their attention, and feel empathy, kindness and compassion toward others.Highly regarded research institutions like Harvard and MIT are beginning to measure and understand what happens in the brain when people use mindful techniques. This is significant because there is growing recognition within the scientific community that spirituality is an important part of being human, and the belief in something larger than ourselves may actually be wired into our brains.

In my view, the shift to mindful teaching and learning is a critical next step in the evolution of our public education system. In addition to nurturing our children cognitively, socially, physically and emotionally, we also need to nurture their moral and spiritual development. In doing so, we’ll help them cope with the stresses of life, develop sound ethical and moral practices, bring peace within themselves, absorb and process new information more easily, become more healthy, athletic and creative, tap into their imaginations more freely, develop their intuitive comprehension and be more easily inspired. With this solid foundation behind them, our kids may well become better equipped to deal critically, creatively and compassionately with the challenges of our world today.If we reframe the way we think about spirituality in public schools, it will be a revolutionary prescription for education in the new millennium.