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FOCUS ON EDUCATION “Evoking Spirituality in Public Education”

Posted on Apr 26 1999

By Anthony Pellegrino

“When we bring forth the spirituality of teaching and learning, we help students honor life’s most meaningful questions”. This quote is from an article by Parker J. Palmer who touches on a rarely mentioned facet of teaching and learning. Let me hasten to explain that Mr. Palmer is not suggesting the meaning of “spirituality” as it is understood in religion. He explains, “I mean the ancient and abiding human quest for connectedness with something larger and more trustworthy than our egos…with the mystery of being alive”.

Being alive and adjusted is more than passing a test. The spirituality he discusses concerns asking questions to questions that do not lend themselves to easy answers. At times the answer is not as important as the search for it. Mr. Palmer continues, “Spiritual mentoring is not about dictating answers to the deep questions of life. It is about helping young people find questions that are worth asking because they are worth living, questions worth wrapping one’s life around”. We do not need to change or add anything to the current curriculum. It is at the heart of every subject we teach.

Some of the questions can be: “Does my life have meaning and purpose?” “Do I have gifts or talents that the world wants and needs?” Whom and what can I trust” “How can I rise above my fears?” “How does one maintain hope?” Inwardly, we and children ask such questions all the time. But do we ever openly discuss them? Do we explain to our children that these are questions that are eternal. That we too share to wrestle with them a we search for answers that will help us through life.

Sometimes I feel that we teach too much, “Will that be on the test?” or “How do I get a raise?” type of education. When one learns how to handle questions of the heart (spiritual questions), the student will understand the practical value of a sound education. Spiritual questions do not have answers in the way math problems do.

Most of us scream that we need more budget, more personnel, and other mores, forgetting that the child before us is more complex than a number on a page. He needs to come to terms with himself especially when he feels neglected at home. To whom can he turn to? It is our duty whether as teachers or adults to guide him with the questions that confound him.

If we understand what is dormant within ourselves, we can more deeply understand the dormancy within our youth. Some youngsters present themselves as dad–dead as to thought, to feeling, to relationships. We must find the keys to unlock their bolted hearts and lead them back into the joy of life. But to do so we must first rekindle the spark of spirituality in ourselves.

Again Mr. Palmer says: “Spiritual questions are embedded not only in the disciplines we teach–they are embedded in our own lives. Whoever our students may be, whatever subject we teach, ultimately we teach who we are”. The most important step towards evoking the spirit in public education is to bring teachers (and parents) together to talk, not about curriculum, techniques, budget or politics, but about the deepest questions of our teaching lives”.

St. Augustine tells us: “Teaching is the greatest act of charity. Learning is facilitated by love” And spirituality is the key to respect for a student’s mind. Students need our companionship on their journeys into a rich life. Let us give them wisdom with their understanding.

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