Spirit Quest - On public education

Spirit Quest

Faith-based education is wrong turn for a spiritual education

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective
04 November 2011 — “Papa, don’t you have work to do?” Papa had just put his four year old daughter to bed. He had read her one of her favourite stories that she knew by heart. He tucked the blanket around her and then stretched out beside her for a few moments before going to his desk. 
Suddenly, her little head perked up. She looked questioningly at her father and then exclaimed the words quoted above, cute and probably a bit precocious for her age. She had often observed her papa, that he was a busy man and knew that he didn’t get to bed for a long time, and was probably up in the morning long before she stirred from sleep.
Her father is an elementary school teacher. Some thirty small children would be waiting for him at school in the morning. They would be acutely aware if their teacher was unprepared for them. More than being up on the content of the lessons, he would also have to be aware of his charges, their needs, their capacity for learning. They are, after all, individuals not an amorphous lot. He would also have to respond to the many directives coming down the tube from the principal, the superintendent, the board of education, and of course the children’s parents. There is also playground supervision where teachers need to have an eye on bullying which has been going on for ages but has recently been much in the news. Nor would this be the only class he would be teaching, marking close to 100 report cards, and not just once a year. However well he may have been prepared to teach a lesson, one youngster with a learning disability or an attention deficit  or even some measure of autism would give credence to the saying of Robbie Burns “the best laid plans of men and mice gang aft aglee.”  And great could be the turmoil ensuing.
Teaching is anything but a simple task. Even at the elementary level, or should we say, particularly in the first grades where patterns of learning are formed and bad habits easily acquired, teaching is a demanding discipline.  Do I make my point?
Ish Teilheimer, the editor of Straightgoods  (www. straightgoods.com), a weekly internet publication much like True North Perspective, and very worthwhile perusing, in a recent editorial wrote, “Along with wind turbines, and gun registry, one of the hot buttons targets, the right wing loves to snipe at is teachers.” He states that, “The workday for most teachers starts long before the school bell and ends around bed time.”  — not the children’s, but their teacher’s hour of rest.
He further states that, “the old complaint that teachers are overpaid because schools shut down for the summer doesn’t hold water, - schools shut down but the teachers don’t. Their summers are often taken up with professional upgrading.”
Being the father of a teacher makes this a very sensitive issue for me. I am well aware of the demands, the stresses and responsibilities experienced by the incumbents of that profession. My son and his spouse are both teachers. This is not to say that it is more demanding than many others jobs, but certainly no less.
So why the war on teachers? One reason is probably because over the years teachers have developed powerful and well-heeled teachers’ unions. I am old enough to remember the days when teachers were unprotected and underpaid. They were also undereducated for the enormously demanding task. Not only do the unions negotiate for higher pay and benefits but organize and provide  for the enhancement of teacher education and curricula development. Unfortunately there is a significant element in our society that simply hates unions, after all they sometimes seem so “inconveniencing.”
Teachers are a very special group. Few, if any go into this profession because it is an easy way to make a living. If they did they would soon see their error. Teachers generally are active in the community. As minister of  congregations I knew I could count on their support. They coach sports and drama, music, and especially today, environmental programs. As a case in point, my son has been very much involved in the “greening” of schools, such as helping children plant a vegetable garden on the school grounds and instilling in them an understanding and appreciation for composting and recycling. 
I know he works very hard but then of course who am I to speak, after all us clergy work only on Sundays, ha!.  Papa’s little girl, my beloved granddaughter, is very conscious of her father’s work at school and at home. 
Spiritual educational need not be religious or denominational. There has been from time to time pressure for the privatization of education. Fortunately the tory, John Tory was soundly defeated when he ran for premier of Ontario advocating government funding for faith based schools. Education needs to remain public. A spiritually based education means becoming aware of the movement of the spirit — that a spirit dwells in all of creation. In short education needs to teach reverence for life which includes the environment as well as ones fellow students and teachers. Is the little sweetheart in your life getting a spiritual education? I hope so. 
Hanns  F Skoutajan
SQ  04/11/011    

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