The LA Times is reporting on a “Spirituality for Kids” curriculum being presented in some Los Angeles public schools.
‘Spirituality for Kids’ is not religious,” said Karen Timko, who is in charge of elementary counselors for the Los Angeles Unified School District and has included the group in a resource fair for counselors. “It’s tools for navigating your life.”
This is another good argument for appropriate separation of church and state, religion and public education. (Yes, I’m in favor of that.) It’s also a good opportunity to show some of the confusion that exists on religion. The curriculum developers’ website says,
Founded in 2001, SFK was established to create global change by empowering children with the understanding that all possibilities lie within – their choices can influence the world around us.
This is close to truth, and close to a secular truth, except for that important word “all.” Yes, possibilities lie within us, and yes, as the same web page shows, education can yield positive character outcomes for children. I’m all in favor of teaching character in schools, a curriculum that has been sorely neglected or distorted over the years. As an education major at Michigan State University in the mid-1970s, when MSU was regarded as one of the top education (teacher-training) schools in the country, I was taught “values clarification,” the doctrine that every child’s values are to be brought out, respected, clarified, and celebrated. Our professors had apparently not anticipated Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s values.
No, it’s not character education that’s the problem. It is the teaching that “all possibilities lie within.” This is in fact a direct contradiction of historic Christian doctrine, which says we must rely on God. It is through Christ who strengthens that we can “do all things.” (The context counts on that, by the way; it’s not about being able to do everything we wish, but about living a life of spiritual power in any kind of circumstance.) Note that the point I’m making does not depend on your agreeing with Christian doctrine; the fact is that the SFK curriculum conflicts with a major point of Christian doctrine, and thus has definite religious implications.
But beyond that there is the title wrapped around the whole program: “Spirituality for Kids.” If they had called it Maturity for Kids, or Character Development for Kids, or Life Skills for Kids, that would have been one thing. But they called it “Spirituality for Kids.” They can say all they want that it isn’t religious, but are students that dumb? Do they even want students to think spirituality is divorced from religion? And if they do, are they not in this also teaching something definite about religion, i.e., that religion is optional for spiritual development?
The excellent National Study of Youth and Religion spoke of large numbers of teens who are “spiritual but not religious.” Obviously there are implications for religious belief in this. I would hope that school administrators in Los Angeles and everywhere would not be blind to this.