Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prayer in School

"As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools."

I read that on a bumper sticker once and it made me chuckle. I've been thinking quite a bit lately about public schools and the situation teachers are finding themselves in. I love teachers. I don't like public schools much. I feel that no matter how much politicians tell us that education is important, their actions tell us otherwise. Long before the debates over cutting teacher's pay or firing teachers to balance budgets came to pass, I had a feeling that the public school system was crumbling. For years now I've been mulling over what factors are leading to the demise of our public education system. Some are obvious. For instance I think it's obvious that we are still teaching children for factory careers that they will have for 40 years and then retire with a decent pension and a gold watch. What someone has failed to realize is that most factories in the U.S. no longer even exist! I think it's obvious that anyone who has a child, or has taught a child knows that child love to learn, that they have an inquisitive nature from the moment they are born, yet we constantly stifle learning by hand feeding children information they then need to regurgitate on a test and rarely follow their inquiries on a path that may lead to them actually learning something.

There are some things however that are not very obvious. I think public schools have no spirituality. I do not say this lightly. I have been and still advocate for the separation of church and state. I do not want a teacher that has different religious beliefs to pass their doctrines to my child as "truths." However, as are the problems when trying to please everyone, me included, we tend to go too far in one direction and that is never good. I think that what has happened is that in an effort to be inclusive and culturally sensitive we've excluded all religious culture and sanctity from our school and this has not served our children well.

I believe all people have a spiritual side, if not a spiritual connection to a creator. I call that creator God, but I have no issues with anyone who disagrees with that. I think religion is personal and for some a private matter. Spirituality is not religion. Spirituality is the connection we have with each other, with nature, with the animal kingdom and if you are a believer, to God. Excluding this type of spiritually from a child's life is quite damaging. A child that cannot see his connection to a bigger whole cannot see he own worth. A child that cannot see how his actions affect others cannot make wise decisions. When we take spirituality out of the classroom, we take out the very essence that is the value of learning. Learning becomes dry and devoid of life itself.

All this has led me to wonder, why not have prayer in school? Not a teacher led prayer, but moments throughout the day set aside for prayer in whatever form that happens to be for each individual child, a sacred time set aside for reflection. Would the system suddenly crumble? Isn't that happening already?

Here at Ivy League-West, we value the spiritual and sacredness in all life. We say a morning prayer to greet the day. We pause before lunch to say a brief prayer of gratitude for all who worked so hard to get our food to our table. During special celebrations, the lights are turned off and we light candles (the safe battery-operated ones). We do not promote one religion over another, but we do acknowledge that we are part of a bigger picture. We acknowledge our very sacred place in that bigger picture. I like doing that and I know the kids really like it too.