by Tina Olesen
“Now everyone close your eyes, relax, and concentrate on your breathing,” are the instructions that many children in state schools in BC will hear today. What happened to “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name”? Mindfulness meditation has been welcomed in, whereas prayer was deemed to be discriminatory against those without faith, and shown to the door about 25 years ago.
Our first schools on Vancouver Island were established at Fort Victoria, and many of these were run by the clergy while funded by both private and public sources. The state or “public” system was formed in 1872 in an attempt to solidify government rule, in response to fear of American domination. The schools were now to be non-sectarian, and clergymen were no longer allowed to act as teachers or administrators. Up until 1944, BC was the only province in Canada where Bible reading was not permitted in the public schools. Only one “nod to God” remained: the Lord’s Prayer was permitted in opening or closing school.
The World Wars stirred up the moral conscience of parents, and they protested against the exclusion of Bible reading in the schools. In 1944, the BC government responded to parental concerns and amended the Public Schools Act to include compulsory Bible reading and reciting of the Lord’s Prayer at the opening of the school day.
In 1969, the BC Civil Liberties Association argued that these religious exercises had no instructional or moral value, and were an invasion of civil liberties. It was not until after the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982 that the BC School Act was effectively challenged. Joan Russow and Kathryn Lambert, backed by the BC Civil Liberties Association, successfully petitioned the BC Supreme Court to remove both Bible Reading and the Lord’s Prayer from BC public schools in 1989.
Section 76 of the BC School Act now reads: “All schools… must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles. The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught…” What exactly does this mean? How is “the highest morality” defined? Who gets to decide what “the highest morality” is?
When God, the Giver of the moral law, is no longer our reference point for morality, then we have no ultimate reference point. As Francis Schaeffer stated, “If there is no absolute by which to judge society, society is absolute.” We have lost the biblical moral consensus; and now “the majority”, or the loudest most persuasive voices, assert control over the value system being imposed upon our children.
When we discipline children based on the biblical moral law, we have an authority which we can appeal to which is over and above ourselves. God, our law-giver, is the authority on what is right and what is wrong. Our God-given innate moral conscience bears witness to His law. How do we know that stealing is wrong? Both our conscience and God’s biblical moral law agree that this is so. Working with the child’s conscience and upholding God’s law as the standard, we have a solid basis for discipline and moral training.
Disciplining children is troublesome when the God-given moral law is not our basis for discipline. If we are not teaching that we are accountable to God and His moral law, then we are effectively teaching that everyone has the right to decide for themselves what is “right” for them. What happens, then, when Johnny does something objectionable? If you cannot appeal to God’s moral law, then you really cannot say to him, “What you did was wrong,” because, who are you to say what is right or wrong for him? All you can honestly say then is “I don’t want you to do that.” It then becomes a matter of convincing him to do things your way – often through bribery or threat of punishment. Eventually if Johnny keeps on doing things his way, perhaps he will be sent to the pediatrician to get some pills.
What happens, then, if half of your class keeps doing things you do not want them to do? If they are running wild and out of control and the bribes are not working any more? Punishment can only go so far; of course, you cannot spank them. They can’t all take pills… but the psychologists claim to have the cure. In eduspeak, the answer is self-regulation. Self-regulation is a fancy way of saying that we ought to teach kids to get control over themselves and calm themselves down. How do they recommend that you calm your class down? Get out the yoga mats and teach them some poses (never mind that these asanas are actually poses of worship to Hindu gods); or sit them on the floor cross-legged, palms up, eyes closed, and have them listen to the sound of your Buddhist chime while they concentrate on their breathing. Sounds religious, you say? Of course not, they say, it is neuroscience.
So, we are back to school prayer in BC public schools – only this time, it is “prayer” to pagan gods.
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