Human nature evidently encompasses a huge range of qualities and tendencies from the most glorious to the most dreadful; we regularly witness and experience a full spectrum of human conditions. Men and women have the capacity to demonstrate awe inspiring love, sacrifice, forgiveness, wisdom, compassion, fortitude, intelligence and creativity. Equally people can behave with terrifying levels of cruelty, hatred, ignorance, greed and destructiveness. The welfare of humanity as a whole depends upon the balance of these forces within individuals and nations: what is true for the microcosm is also true for the macrocosm. Given that these contrary forces have equal potential to grow strong according to the circumstances in which the human being grows and develops, it rests with parents and educators to consider what particular conditions encourage the positive powers in human nature to thrive.
In schools, much depends upon the quality of the spiritual and moral education of children and young people. Although this area of the curriculum has been given increasing importance over the last few years, it is tricky to deliver. There is much scepticism over the term ‘spiritual’ and equal concern over the delicacy of delivering ‘moral’ values in a world which is increasingly confused. However, parents are very clear that they want the innocence, goodness and happiness of their young ones to be preserved. They want to protect them from corruption, harm and misery. Finally, they want to see them grow into responsible citizens who are honest, generous, hard-working young adults capable of making a real contribution to the well-being of society.
Children learn most from example and also from the quality of ideas and precepts they have received. If the moral and spiritual values which they have been taught are evident in the people who care for them, children grow strong and clear in their own discernment and understanding. This is a demanding truth for parents and teachers alike. In this respect, schools need to develop a ‘whole-school’ approach which reflects the values they would like to support.
In meeting the various needs of a culturally diverse school community I have found that a philosophical approach to spiritual and moral education is immensely effective. Young people need to be nourished with wisdom in order to grow their own powers of discernment. Lives are shaped by the decisions we make and these are dependent upon the degree of understanding available to us. The quality of our understanding is, in turn, dependent upon the depth of wisdom which we have imbibed from external sources, from life’s experience and from within.
I am confident that I could assist headteachers and their teams who would like to further the development of the spiritual and moral education they provide in a manner which suits their particular school.