Monday, June 28, 2010

Religious Education: A ‘No Cigar’ in the Ethical Mind

I taught in two schools.
A technical school, and an international school.
I used to think that none fared better than the other, until I read the “Five Minds for the Future.” On hindsight, I know why the international school, regardless of the money involved, produced students more fit to face the challenges of the real world, as opposed to the students of the technical school. What could the first school have done wrong? Let me describe them one by one.

The first school fosters technical discipline. This is shown in the dual curriculum of Academics and technical subjects. Incoming Juniors are required to take a placement test for their “major” subject in the next two years. These “major” subjects comprise Electronics, Computer, Drafting/Architecture, Industrial Electricity and Mechanics. As they graduate, they are consequently given two diplomas – one for having finished the academic subjects, and the other, for having specialized in his chosen discipline. Most of the graduates end up taking technical courses, and not a few prove to be successful.

The second school fosters ethics. I could say this because apart from its clear academic discipline, the international school rises above the rest. It teaches its students synthesis of the different disciplines, creativity from what they have learned, respect of the different cultures surrounding them, and above all, the proper way of dealing with people, events, the society, and the environment: ethics.

We could leave this with an obvious conclusion: the first school lacks training on synthesis, creativity, respect and ethics; while the second is great in all five. But I would like to posit another factor to the equation.

You see, the technical school is also a school run by a religious congregation. Therefore, as part of its core curriculum, the religion subject is taught. The international school on the other hand, cannot even dwell on religion – an absurdity if you ask me. But to buy peace, the curriculum simply does not have it.

So why isn’t the first school a leading example of ethical minds?
Can religious education be an example of a no cigar in ethical education?

The curriculum of the Religion department in the first school contains various subject matters essential to the said area. It has basic theology, basic philosophy, basic sacramentology, to mention a few. It also boasts of immersion programs, retreats and outreach programs to assimilate the events in the real world.
However, taking off from the idea of Gardner, this ethical education does not have any strong foundation. As a whole, the school jumps from aspiring to become disciplined to aspiring to become ethical! In turn, the students do NOT absorb religious education as an ethical teacher, but they view it as a wholly different discipline which they have to specialize on, apart from their “technical discipline.” It gets the students into an unending cycle of discipline after discipline, without synthesizing, creating, respecting and being ethical. The teachers, too, lose heart because they think that they are instilling values to the students. Much to their disappointment, they create a negative environment for ethics to truly stand out.

So how should we achieve ethics?
Yes, we have Gardner to thank. But I wish to stress that beyond religious education, we should have a spiritual awareness. This is totally different from the former. When one has knowledge of a greater Being, other than himself, he can produce endless amounts of positivity – thus: the five minds.
If he realizes that everything has a purpose, he learns that he exists to fulfill that purpose. If he is educated such that everything is interrelated, then he cultivates the power to synthesize. If he realizes that everything has order and meaning, and that everything has been provided for him on this earth, then he becomes creative. If he learns that he owns nothing, not even his body, he gains respect. Finally, if he knows that what he does affects everything, regardless of space and time, he gains an ethical mindset, regardless of religion, gender, class, age or race.

Spiritual awareness is my take on how to achieve the Five Minds.
Apart from the religious education one receives in school, there should be a stress on the metaphysical. Also, imagine if we all took things into this perspective: there would be greater possibility for understanding, generativity, and peace.

                But this kind of education is classically disturbing. It can never happen.
                But we can always be creative enough to think “out of the box” for it to take flight!

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