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Monday, February 22, 2010

Classroom Subject Matter

Take a look at your local school system or the closest school.  What subjects do they offer?  They most likely include a language class or two, arts (if you are lucky), history (most likely not recent and by far not recent world history), mathematics, and various sciences.  Where is the part of the curriculum that is not about subject matter, but about becoming a better human being?

It may be found in slogans or phrases in school literature, on walls, or in school district/school mission or vision statements.  Some are clear and concise, while others are not.  Here are four examples...(with the school names removed to protect the innocent)...

"We are committed to creating a culture of success by building the knowledge and skills to ensure college, career, and life readiness for every student."

"We Believe...
•     in public education.
•     everyone can learn and achieve.
•     each individual has intrinsic worth.
•     respect, honesty, self-discipline, and a sense
       of fair play are essential to the development
       of personal integrity.
•     in personal responsibility and accountability.
•     in striving to do one's best.
•     in the value of a supportive, nurturing family.
•     in the power of positive thinking.
•     in valuing and utilizing diversity, we can
       achieve common goals.
•     effective communication is essential.
•     a sense of humor contributes to a healthy, balanced way of life.
•     it is the responsibility of every individual
       to contribute to the betterment of a
       global society.
•     in the benefit of individual pursuits and the
       value of collaborative contributions.
•     successful change requires vision, personal
       action and a willingness to take risks.
•     no failure is fatal . . . no success is final. 
•     learning is an essential life-long process."

"It is our vision that all students can learn from a student-centered instructional program which provides a quality educational environment and promotes academic excellence, social responsibility, and emotional well being."

"The school's four strategic goals are to:
  1. Improve academic achievement of all students, particularly in math and science.
  2. Prepare students to pursue advanced degrees in math and science.
  3. Promote good personal health and healthy life styles.
  4. Increase awareness of careers in health and medical sciences."
These are common examples and I am not presenting them as either good or bad ones.  They have in them the hopes and dreams of individuals and groups whose fondest wish, I am sure, is a better education.  

I propose, however, that the fundamental basis of our individual, and collective, development is either missing or obscured by such statements. Our fundamental basis of development is virtues - "
`What is the purpose of our lives?' `Abdu'l-Bahá.--`To acquire virtues"

Do the students in your school or school district find that this is something important in school?  If not, then where is this a priority?  Some contend that the development of virtues is something to be done at home with family or with one's group of worship.  By doing so, we create two worlds - one where virtues are given high status and another where they are not.  A contradictory message, no?  

Do I propose that religion be taught in public schools? No. Virtues are the core of all religions and even non-religious ethics and morals.  We are attracted to them much like gravity pulls us to the ground.  Look at this list of 52 from The Virtues Project and consider which of these are worthy to develop.  Then imagine a classroom (no matter what the subject) where the teacher and students used these words in conversation, especially when they would recognize the virtue being put into action by someone in the classroom.  The effect would be to meet and exceed many of the school vision statements concerning how these children will have a positive impact on the world.

I leave you with this to contemplate...
"The virtues of humanity are many but science is the most noble of them all. The distinction which man enjoys above and beyond the station of the animal is due to this paramount virtue."
How many students of science consider the practice of it to be a virtue?

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