On Faith And Spirituality In Education

Greg Rakozy
Greg Rakozy

In Douglas Todd’s article, “The “great professor’s” blind spot”, he argues that higher education is no longer welcoming and supportive of spiritual and religious theories. Todd sympathizes with students who are stuck in a system that he considers to be “ruthlessly secular” (Todd, 2015). Secular college and universities limit students’ learning and freedom to openly express themselves.

It is not uncommon for human beings to want to learn more about themselves in regards to religious and spiritual growth. Recognizably, some individuals may not practice religion or know the meaning of spirituality. So what is spirituality? In Todd’s article, spirituality is referenced as the experience of the transcendent, or the quality of transcendence, something that welcomes, but does not require, religious beliefs (Bento, 2000, p.653). Spirituality can also be viewed as a place in one’s heart that holds all of the questions about their purpose in the world which is reflected in one’s actions (Campbell, 2003, p.20).

In 2005, the Higher Education Research Institute conducted a survey which focused on college students’ search for meaning and purpose. This study revealed that not only a high percentage of college students place value on integrating spirituality in their lives; but also discovered a higher than expected level of engagement in spiritual and religious pursuits (Hoppe, 2005, p.83). Another study done by Los Angeles’s Higher Education Research Institute revealed that a substantial number of third-year college under-graduates expressed a strong interest in spiritual matters. The study concluded that 77% of students agree that humans are spiritual beings, 78% discussed religion or spirituality with friends, and 75% to “some” or a “great” extent are searching for meaning or purpose in life (Hoppe, 2005, p.94).

Notably, a vast majority of students are incorporating religious and spiritual practices into their daily lives. Should institutions embrace the importance of spirituality in the lives of students?

The education system is highly objective when it comes to students expressing spiritually related personal beliefs and opinions. It is largely ingrained, in today’s society, to teach students certain material that requires them to think in a particular way. It is a matter of black and white, right or wrong. Many times there is only one “right answer” to a question despite other valid reasoning, personal beliefs, or new research in the field today. What is viewed to be problematic about religious and spiritual beliefs is that they can’t always be scientifically proven. This more than often creates skepticism in the “ideology of professors” (Todd, 2016) who are taught under the same institutions to think this way and to question what can’t be proven. This does not mean such beliefs are untrue, or make them invalid. We have to consider the fact that many have been raised to think in certain ways, and students can be quite sensitive to people questioning the beliefs that are considered to be outside of the “social norm” of school teaching.

Quite often discussion strategies are used to get students thinking on a particular subject. While beneficial in expanding an individual’s thoughts on a topic, they can also be highly controversial. It is in these discussions, instructors sometimes ask students to express their own opinion and ideas. It can limit students “formulation of world views” (Todd, 2015) and ability to learn when they deem the environment unsettling. Ultimately, the fear of in expression often arises from a professor’s blatant disagreement often based off the dictated curriculum that intimidates students. In the eye of a student, the lack of recognition of his or her backgrounds has the tendency to come off in a form of snobbery and disrespect.

A great example of school’s utter non-acceptance to one’s culture were the residential schools established by the Canadian Government in the 1880’s. It was behind those very walls that the minds of aboriginal children were stripped of their cultural norms and forced to convert to the Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living (Hansen, 2009). The system’s attitude of inferiority towards the Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were unequal much like they are today. This, today however, does not only apply to Indigenous people, for it also prevails towards any beliefs unlike the school syllabus. Whether it is the professor’s personal beliefs or the curriculum that creates this bias can be hard to decipher, but it is easy to imagine how students still feel shame, embarrassment, sadness and frustration much like those before us did.

A suitable example to consider is Steven Harper’s open apology that was made on June 11, 2008, which officially acknowledged that the treatment of aboriginal peoples in residential schools was morally wrong, and had no place in our country (Hansen, 2009). The last residential school was closed in 1986 (Hansen, 2009) in Saskatchewan so it isn’t uncommon to assume that the prejudice towards religion and spirituality has completely diminished by now. Unfortunately, it’s not the case. Students may not be treated with the same severity as they once were, but the degree of intolerance towards religious and spiritual practices that students face today is still evident. It is ironic that the school curriculum is still heavily influenced by the Canadian Government, who deem such acts to be unacceptable.

Schools would benefit from a more diverse curriculum to fulfill the emptiness of “intellectual culture” (Todd, 2015) because meaning and spirituality has been shoved out of academia. (Todd, 2015) A way in which spirituality in higher education would seek to restore life, energy, and enthusiasm to classrooms is to spark student inquisitiveness (Vokey, 200, p.2). Failure to do so impedes a students’ desires to learn, thus limiting their potential to succeed (Vokey, 2011, p.2).

When students are at school, they are looking to further develop themselves by finding their career paths. Many experience stress and question themselves throughout their journey. Spirituality and spiritual development can result in learning outcomes that lead to personal and social transformation in students. Being spiritually connected and using it as a mind-body technique can help decrease stress responses and build up resilience to stress (Fricchione, Ivkovic, & Yeung, 2016, p.27). Other outcomes positively associated with spirituality are: physical and psychological health, self-esteem, optimism and a sense of personal empowerment, racial or ethnic awareness and tolerance, academic performance, and an overall satisfaction with college, and a sense of community on campus (Capeheart-Meningall, 2005, p.33).

If schools were to amalgamate courses that explore the art of living it would considerably help students find their path and understand who they are. It is essential that we explore the metaphysical questions of life as to why we are here, and how we should live. Exploration of self produces a better understanding in students; which is crucial in school to successfully figure out who, and what they want to become.

Students coming to campuses today are a diverse group ethnically, religiously, and spiritually. No learner should feel ill at ease when expressing his or her personal beliefs because of an opinionated or intellectually detached professor. Each should be able to express doubts and fears without concern of being scorned or belittled. Morals, ethics, and conscience and numerous other topics have served as a catalyst to some of the greatest minds in history. Examining them helps students understand who they are and what they may become. TC mark

References:

Beck, B. (2005). What is spirituality? New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 104, 3-13.
Bento, R. “The Little Inn at the Crossroads: A Spiritual Approach to the Design of a Leadership Course.” Journal of Management Education, 2000, 24(5), 650-651.
Campbell, L. “The Spiritual Lives of Artists/Teachers.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Research Association, Chicago, April 21-25, 2003.
Cepeheart- Meningall, M. (2005). Role of Spirituality & Spiritual Development in Student Life Outside the Classroom. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 104, 31-36.
Fricchione, G., Ivkovic, A., & Yeung, A. (2016). The Science Of Stress. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Hansen, E. (2009). The Residential School System Retrieved from http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/home/government-policy/the-residential-school-system.html
Hoppe, S. (2005). Spirituality and Leadership. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 104, 83-99.
Todd, D. (2016, October 8). The “great professor’s” blind spot. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from http://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/douglas-todd-the-great-professors-blind-spot
Vokey, D. (2001). Longing to Connect: Spirituality in Public Schools Retrieved from http://edst.educ.ubc.ca/files/2013/06/Longing-to-Connect.pdf

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