Spiritual education: a child’s right

Bryan Cowling

Most of us, at some time, find ourselves in a conversation about whether children and young people have particular rights. Some people become quite emotional about the connection between the rights of children and the rights of their parents.

But how often in such conversations do you hear parents talking about a child's entitlement to a spiritual education?

We teach our children to ask questions, to explore and to reason. We don't deny them their right to develop their intelligence. We know that their minds need stimulating and stretching. We acknowledge their right to physical exercise and a healthy diet, and we even make them exercise and eat properly when they do not want to do so!  We recognise their need to be protected and comforted.

But children are also spiritual beings, capable of empathy and creativity; able to experience wonder and worship, able to understand a spiritual dimension and to respond appropriately. In essence, all of us are whole beings, and our education must engage and develop every part of us.

A vast literature has been created over the past two decades on the subject of educating the whole child. Some of it is very perceptive, practical and worthy of our consideration. But if there is one weakness in "the education of the whole child' movement, it is the great difficulty, which most teachers have, in enhancing and developing a child's spiritual capacities.

I suggest there are three main reasons why teachers find this so difficult.

First, spiritual development does not lend itself to being "taught' as a separate subject. Rather, it must infuse the whole curriculum and colour the way we teach. Issues arise in every subject which provide an incidental, uncontrived and natural way into exploring spiritual and moral beliefs and the behaviours that may flow from them.

Second, despite tacit acceptance that we humans comprise body, mind and spirit, our godless society encourages us to live as if there is no spiritual dimension at all. True, we value creativity and we have not lost altogether the capacity to look with awe on a beautiful sunset or a remarkable ravine. For many students, both at home and at school, their exposure to adults who model the spiritual component of their lives is very minimal.

Third, in schools of all kinds, we have allowed ourselves as teachers to be squeezed into a mould that leaves little time for us to do "the infusing' referred to above or that reduces our teaching only to that which is "measurable' and will contribute to the school's standing in whatever type of "league tables' is in vogue at the time. In either case, the underlying challenge is that we live as authentic, whole-life disciples, seeing the world, our students, their parents and our profession as educators through Christ's eyes.

For my part, I believe that the beliefs which shape the moral framework of society and the spiritual dimension to our lives should be an integral part of the whole educational provision for our children " in our homes and in our schools.

Dr Bryan Cowling is the Executive Director of the Anglican Education Commission. You can learn more about education for spiritual development at the Commission's website: http://www.aec.edu.au.

PHOTO: D Sharon Pruitt