Was I One Those Teachers Who Smothered Creativity, or Indoctrinated Children?

A commentary on our education system.

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Several months ago, a news article came across one of my news feeds titled, We are born creative geniuses and the education system dumbs us down, according to NASA scientists. My immediate reaction was: No way was I a part of a system that “dumbs down” kids. I made them smarter. The truth was, this headline disturbed me, and when I first saw it, I ignored it and never bothered to read it, thinking I’ll read it some time later. Well, later is here, and I read the article. Here is the jest of the article.

Scientists gave a test that looks at the ability to come up with new, different, and innovative ideas to 1,600 children between the ages of 4 and 5. What they found was that 98 percent of children fell into the genius category of imagination?  The scientists were so astonished that they decided to make it a longer study and tested the children again five years later when they were ten years old. The result? Only 30 % of the children fell in the genius category of imagination. When the test was given at the age 15, the figure had dropped to 12%. Curious about adults, they tested them as well. Shockingly, only 2% of adults are still in contact with their creative genius after years of schooling.

The results were replicated more than a million times, implying that the school system robs us of our creative genius. That is especially disturbing to me because that means I played a part in it. I was a school teacher for 35 years. I had to ask myself: Did I really “dumb down” kids? I refused to believe it, but these results suggest otherwise. This bothered me, so I set out to prove otherwise.

The Huffpost’s article, How Schools Are Killing Creativity, says this about schools.

You were bullied, made fun of, and you had this teacher that told you to stop dreaming and live in reality. So what did you learn at school? You learned to stop questioning the world, to go with the flow, and that there’s only one right answer to each question. The “whys” you have always wanted to ask are never on the test, and they are omitted from the curriculum.

I had to admit, there is a lot of truth in that. I taught in a system that gave standardized tests which counted 50% of the student’s final mark. My focus as a teacher was preparing students for the government test, so I’ll be honest, all creativity went out the window. We didn’t have time to create and look at a diversity of viewpoints. We taught only what we had to in order to  prepare students for the test.

Benjamin Greene, founder of Britain’s biggest brewery says, “The biggest atrocity of all is to indoctrinate our children into a system that does not value their creative expression, nor encourage their unique abilities.”  I would have to agree, and sadly, I had to admit I may have contributed to it.

During my research, I came across numerous articles suggesting that our school systems indoctrinate children. This was even more disturbing to me, as in my mind, there was no way I was a part of a system that indoctrinated kids. I was preparing them for life and the “real world.”  Was I naive?

Most dictionaries define indoctrination as, “The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” American Journalist and author, Peter Hitchens said, “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?” Do our education systems teach children what to think? Having been in the education business, I would have to say yes.

Curriculum presents a point of view, and even though we as teachers try to teach kids to think critically, they are reluctant to do so. Students resist thinking critically, unless forced to, and with standardized tests, they didn’t have to for most part. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion said, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” I must agree. I believe we as an educational system have failed to teach our students how to think for themselves, or at least do it well. Instead we teach them “facts” to learn for a test.

American astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “When Students cheat on exams it’s because our School System values grades more than Students value learning.”  Therein lies the flaw with the education system. There were thousands of times during my career when students would say to me, “Just tell me what I need to know for the test.”

American journalist, H.L. Mencken said, “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”  Are we teaching kids to be submissive? If we are, I am troubled!

I taught in the Catholic School System, and so I had to ask: Do Catholic schools indoctrinate? Catholic Answers’ article, In Defense of Indoctrination, does not hesitate to admit that Catholic schools indoctrinate, for it states:

…indoctrination itself is not wrong, because children have to be taught something in order to grow up to be functional members of society. The question is, what should they be taught? This means that Catholics and other Christians should have the right teach their children about God and his moral law without being unfairly labeled as practitioners of “indoctrination.”

Maclean’s article, Why are schools brainwashing our children? maintains that education systems in the Western world are “brainwashing” young children to be social activists, saying,

Increasingly, faculties of education in Canada and much of the Western world are preparing their student teachers to weave social justice throughout the primary school curriculum…as well as into a range of cross-curricular activities, events, and projects. The idea is to encourage kids to become critical analysts of contemporary issues, empathetic defenders of human rights and gatekeepers of the beleaguered Earth.

Is that a bad thing? Depends who you ask.  An article by The Federalist, says,

Many people have long suspected that governments sometimes attempt to indoctrinate their people to increase the government’s own power and influence. Unfortunately, ambitious governments will not stop at merely controlling what their people can do; they must control their minds.

The article goes on to say,

Few people seem to have a clear definition of indoctrination, and thus call anything they dislike indoctrination (e.g., “Leftists professors are indoctrinating their students,” “Those fundamentalist Christians are indoctrinating their kids,” or “Facebook is indoctrinating its users.”).

What is the solution to indoctrination then?  This same article states:

The only real solution to indoctrination, then, is good teachers. Good teachers (which include parents, mentors, and other knowledgeable adults) train students in methods of thought while supplying the stuff of thought. They teach a person to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.

I tried to be one of those teachers, and it’s true! Most of the articles related to indoctrination and the education system are critical of the system’s use of a LGBQT Inclusive Curriculum, or promotion of a liberal agenda, or a conservative one, or a sex-education curriculum that they believed promoted promiscuity, and on and on. All maintained that the school system is indoctrinating children. According to the definition of indoctrination, they are. The reality is, you cannot remove viewpoints from school systems, as every curriculum designer, and every teacher has their point of view.  Is that Good? Depends on your perspective.

As far as I am concerned, if teachers are ‘indoctrinating’ kids to stand up for human rights and to protect the planet, then I am proud that I was one of those teachers. I say bravo to the teachers who do so. If our educational systems are stifling creativity and teaching kids to be submissive, then shame on them. As The Federalist article says, teachers must be allowed to teach their students “to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.”

These Pathogens Have Not Been Eradicated?

A commentary on the state of our world.

A Pow Wow my wife and I attended two years ago.

Last week my wife, a friend, and I attended an event called, “Meet the Inuit.” It was a series of talks by Inuit, Metis and Indigenous speakers, along with cultural performances. Many speakers said things that caught my attention. One Indigenous speaker talked about the clash of two cultures; Indigenous, Inuit, and Metis cultures verses European culture.

This made sense to me. Indigenous culture is present orientated—time conscious without clocks—whereas European Canadians are future oriented—time conscious with clocks. Indigenous Canadians (likely all Indigenous peoples) share their possessions freely—at least traditionally,  cooperate, are spiritual, and live in harmony with nature whereas European Canadians are savers and hoarders, compete for goods, driven by capitalism, and try to conquer nature. The world views of these two groups are vastly different.

Some of the speakers shared their experiences in the Residential Schools. It always strikes me when a Residential School survivor speaks of being taken away from their parents at ages 4 or 5, given haircuts and new clothes, told never to speak their native tongue, kept from their siblings who were attending the same school, and forced to stay several years in an unwelcoming large building. One speaker even told us how his brother literally was taken off the street by government agents without his parents being informed. His parents thought his brother had gone  missing.

CBC News has an article titled, Genocide against Indigenous Peoples, reports that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, now deems the treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada a genocide. Previously, the museum had said Indigenous Peoples faced cultural genocide rather than genocide.

The United Nations’ convention on Genocide (1948) says a genocide is:

  1. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  2. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  3. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

As The Star’s article, Cultural genocide?  says;

Canada did not pack Indigenous people onto train cars and send them to be gassed, or march them into fields and execute them with machine-gun fire. However, our country committed not “cultural” genocide, but just regular genocide.

We forcibly took children from families — sometimes at gunpoint — and flew them to remote locations they could not escape — sometimes in tiny handcuffs — where they were submitted to a program of forced labour and “education” designed to destroy their cultures and civilizations. This desire to destroy cultures seems to be the reasoning for various public figures’ use of the adjective “cultural” before genocide. The other reason, I presume, is that some cling tightly — and childishly — to the idea that Canada has always been on the side of goodness and justice, and they find it very hard to accept, admit, and announce that we are a country that committed a program of genocide that lasted for many decades.

Results of Rwandan Genocide

Let’s call “a spade a spade.” Canada committed genocide against our Indigenous, Inuit and Metis people; a genocide no different than the ones committed by Nazi Germany during WWII, or Rwanda in 1990s.  I must confess, I was one of those Canadians that held to the idea that Canada has always been on the side of goodness and justice. I no longer think that, and I now recognize that Canada has a dark past. Let us not forget the Japanese Internment during WWII; another dark part of our history.

One of the Indigenous speakers talked about how our greatest hurdles come from within. He spoke about what he called, The Six Social Pathogens.

Merriam-Webster defines a pathogen as a specific causative agent of disease. It typically refers to a bacterium or virus, but in the context of the speaker, a pathogen is a causative agent of the disease of racism. The six pathogens are: assumptions, presumptions, stereotyping, profiling, bias (for, or against), and misappropriation of feelings. This speaker says everyone—whether we’re aware of it or not—has some or all of the for mentioned pathogens working within us.

Before I go any further, let’s define the six pathogens. An assumption refers to something that is accepted as true without proof, whereas a presumption refers to an idea that is considered to be true on the basis of probability. Stereotyping is a set idea that people have about what a person, or group of people, are like. Profiling is the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behaviour. A bias is a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned.  Misappropriation means to put to a wrong use, so misappropriation of feelings is putting our feelings to a wrong use.

These six pathogens don’t just apply to attitudes towards the Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit people. They can apply to any group. As I observe what is happening in my country and the world, I would argue that these pathogens are presently very active. A Statistics Canada report in 2016 (the latest statistics I could find), revealed that the number of violent hate crimes rose 16% from the previous year, driven by increases in common assault, criminal harassment and uttering threats.” A 2014 Statistics Canada report found that, in two-thirds of cases, victims of crimes don’t report these hate crimes to the police.

As long as these six pathogens are alive and active, and there is a “us verses them” attitude, racism, prejudices, hate crimes, and so on, will continue. As long as we identify with a tribe instead of the human race, there will be conflict. As long as Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, or Muslims, or Buddhists think their faith is the right faith, there will be religious conflict. As long as there is masculism, there will be feminism. As long as feminist seeks to promote the rights and equality of women—which they should—and see themselves as equal with men, there will be misogyny, which is the disrespect and oppression of women.

As long as conservatives, as opposed to liberals, think their philosophy is best, there will be political tensions. As long as there are people who believe in “White Supremacy,” there will be racism and hate crimes. As long as there is ethnocentrism—The Cultural Superiority Complex, there will be anti-immigration. I could go on and on. Neale Donald Walsch, in one of his Conversations With God books, said, “Your way is not the only way. It’s just a way.”  We humans need to integrate that. Unless humans are willing to understand and accept differences, our planet is headed down a dark path.

Now, I had to ask myself: Do I have these pathogens? When I thought about it, and was completely honest with myself, the answer is yes. Have I made assumptions, or presumptions? Yes. I once believed Christianity was the superior religion. Did I stereotype? Yes. I once thought that people living on the streets were just too lazy to get a job. Did I profile? Yes. I targeted “unique” individuals in high school. Did I have biases. Yes. I had preconceived ideas about Indigenous people—they were lazy, drunks, etc.—until I educated myself. Were my feelings misappropriated? Yes.  I had my opinions about the LGBT community until I got to know some of their members. I would judge people based on first impressions, when I knew nothing about them, or knew anything about their story. In other words, I didn’t follow the Muslim proverb:  To understand a man, you’ve got to walk a mile in his shoes, whether they fit or not. Other variations of this proverb are: walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins, put oneself in another’s shoes, put oneself in another’s place, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and see the world through someone else’s eyes. Now, I try to do this; I try and  understand others and avoid judging them. I’m not saying I’m always successful, but I try.  If humanity did the same, perhaps our planet would be in a better place.

Love You Forever

Europe, here we come!

I been thinking a lot about Robert Munsch’s book, Love You Forever. Robert Munsch is an author who was born in the U.S. but moved to Canada, so as far as Canadians are concerned, he is a fellow Canadian. One of his best-known books, Love You Forever, was published in 1986. It is a book that we used to read to our children. It’s a wonderful story about a mother’s—could just as easily be a father’s—love for their child. So why am I thinking about this book now? It’s because we are off to see our daughter in Ireland for the next four weeks which is why you likely won’t hear from me for a short while. My wife and I are so excited about seeing our baby girl.

The following is how Munsch’s story begins:

A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

My wife and I have three wonderful children. Our eldest is a school teacher. Our second born is getting her masters in Dublin, Ireland and our youngest, our son, is an environmental scientist. We haven’t seen our “Irish” daughter since Christmas. The thought of spending time with our baby girl reminds me of the book, Love You Forever.

Later in the book it reads:

That teenager grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was a grown-up man. He left home and got a house across town. But sometimes on dark nights the mother got into her car and drove across town.  If all the lights in her son’s house were out, she opened his bedroom window, crawled across the floor, and looked up over the side of his bed. If that great big man was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

Now in our case, all three of our children are grown up and none of them live across town. Our eldest, the teacher, lives two hours away, our middle child is overseas, and our son lives four hours away.  So, needless to say, we don’t sneak over to our children’s homes and sing to them, as tempting as that may be. But we do spend time with them whenever we can.

erseasonallyear.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/will.jpg”> From: newindianexpress.com

[/caption]James E. Faust, an American religious leader, lawyer, and politician, once said, “The depth of the love of parents for their children cannot be measured. It is like no other relationship. It exceeds concern for life itself. The love of a parent for a child is continuous and transcends heartbreak and disappointment.”  This is so true.  The love for my children cannot be quantitatively measured.

Henry Ward Beecher, an American Protestant Clergyman in the 1800s, once said, “We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.”  How true that is! It wasn’t until after my first child was born that I really truly appreciated my parent’s love for me. When I reflect on all the sacrifices they made for me and my siblings, I understand a parent’s love now. My dad always took time away from busy schedule at his business to teach us some new skill, such as welding. My mom comforted us through many illnesses and injuries, and always dropped what she was doing to do so.

Nicholas Sparks, an American author, once asked, “What it’s like to be a parent: It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love.”   This is another truth!

When I was teaching, I encountered parents who expected their children to get honours (80% or higher) in all their courses or they would be disappointed. That is not love. That is approval.

What is love? Love needs to be unconditional to be real love. It is a love that doesn’t have to be earned. It is a love doesn’t have to be proven. When someone unconditionally loves you, they love you for who you are, no matter what you do or how you behave.

My wife and I have always just accepted our children for who they are, even though that was very difficult at times. Our middle child is a free spirit or loves adventure. That is why she is studying in Europe and travelling to various European countries when she is able. If we had not chosen to love her unconditionally, then we would have likely discouraged her from going overseas, and she likely would not have gone because of our communication to her that we disapproved. Instead, we supported her emotionally, financially and spiritually, and because of that we a jetting off to Ireland in a few hours.

The way I see it, loving your children unconditionally has its perks. Because one of our daughters is in Ireland, now we have an excuse—as if we need one—to visit Europe. Because we loved our son unconditionally, he doesn’t hesitate to give a helping hand when we ask him and likes to spend time with us. Because we loved our eldest daughter unconditionally, she graciously has a place for us to stay whenever we are in her city and comes to visit us regularly.

files.wordpress.com/2018/07/image.jpg”> From: http://lhyme.com

[/caption]I’m super excited about spending time with our daughter, but I’m also excited about spending time in Ireland.  Ireland is a glorious place with beautiful landscape, a rich history and wonderful culture. The people of Ireland have a reputation of being very hospitable and friendly, much like Canadians do. One thing that truly sets the culture in Ireland aside from other countries, is the pubs. While it is widely recognized that Ireland has a bit of a problem with the over-consumption of alcohol, pubs are quite different in Ireland when compared with North America. In North America, a pub–more commonly known as a bar– is simply a place to drink. In Ireland, however, it is a meeting place. I look forward to meeting people in the Irish pubs and enjoying a cold beer. I’m sure I’ll have some stories to blog about when I return to Canada.

I’ll sign off with an Irish drinking toast

May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

DNA: The Mystery Molecule

A commentary on the effects of trauma.

DNA: A double helix molecule

One of many subjects I taught in high school was biology, otherwise known as life science. One of my favourite topics to teach was on DNA which stands for Deoxyribonucleic acid. I always told my students—because that is what science told us—that DNA doesn’t change except when a mutation occurs. A mutation is a change in the DNA’s code. A number of months back, my daughter, who is presently studying in Ireland, talked about a study she read about.  The study was done on Holocaust survivors where the researchers determined that genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered were capable of being passed on to the next generation . I was quite fascinated with this idea as I had always believed change cannot occur in DNA unless there was a mutation.  This suggests that a person’s life experience can affect succeeding generations.

How can our life experience change our DNA? I wanted to know, so I did some research. There is a branch of study know as Epigenetics which studies how a person’s experiences can affect how their genes are expressed.  LiveScience says these “epigenetic changes are biological markers on DNA that modify gene expression without altering the underlying sequence. It says researchers have found that environmental factors, such as trauma, stress and even diet, can activate epigenetic changes.” In case you are not sure what is meant by gene expression, it is the process by which genetic instructions—the DNA code—is used to synthesize gene products. These products are usually proteins, which go on to perform essential functions as enzymes, hormones and receptors.

More specifically, environmental factors may alter a person’s genetic expression though chemical tags attached to DNA that turn genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that these tags might somehow be passed on to future generations thereby affecting the way their DNA is expressed. A CBC article talks of a McGill University study where researchers found that rat offspring raised by mothers that were anxious and non nurturing became anxious when they became adults, whereas offspring raised by relaxed, high-nurturing mother rats became relaxed adults when they grew up.

This has huge repercussions.  A CBC article, Researcher proposes study on how residential school trauma may have affected genes, tells of an indigenous researcher who is wondering if the experiences of residential school survivors had lasting effects on their genes.  Another CBC article, How ‘vicarious trauma’ is passed down from parent to child in military families, says there is a new generation of children grappling with effects of parents with PTSD from Afghanistan deployments. It is documented that children of traumatized people are at increased risk for mood and anxiety disorders and the article suggests this might relate to epigenetics. A Scientific American article, Changing Our DNA through Mind Control? reports a study that found meditating cancer patients are able to affect the makeup of their DNA.

National Human Genome Research Institute has an article, Child abuse leaves epigenetic marks, which sites research showing that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) patients who were abused as children have different patterns of DNA methylation, the process of replacing a hydrogen atom with a methyl group,  and gene expression compared to those who were not.

Researchers at Tulane University School of Medicine have found that exposure to violence, suicide or the incarceration of a family member can leave lasting marks on stretches of DNA called telomeres in children. Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA found at the end of chromosomes that act as protective caps. Telomeres shorten a little bit every time a cell replicates until they reach a certain limit whereby cells will no longer replicate.

Science Alert has an article, Depression Can Physically Change Your DNA, Study Suggests, which describes how researchers from the United Kingdom have found evidence that depression doesn’t just change our brains, but also alters our DNA and the way our cells generate energy.

An Huffpost article, Suicide and Trauma May Be Woven in DNA for Native Americans, says researchers found that Native people have high rates of Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) and health problems such as post-traumatic stress, depression, substance abuse, and diabetes which are all linked with methylation of genes regulating the body’s response to stress.

from http://www.howmanypeopledied.net

I’ve already referred to the study on Holocaust survivors, where a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital did a genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had to hide during the second world war (see Holocaust). The researchers also analyzed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders compared with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. Their conclusions:

This is the first demonstration of an association of preconception parental trauma with epigenetic alterations that is evident in both exposed parent and offspring, providing potential insight into how severe psychophysiological trauma can have intergenerational effects.

Perhaps there is more to this. Science Daily has an article called, DNA Is Dynamic and Has High Energy; Not Stiff or Static as First Envisioned. It says researchers are now saying DNA is not stiff or static. It is dynamic with high energy existing naturally in a slightly underwound state and its status changes in waves generated by normal cell functions such as DNA replication, transcription (the making of ribonucleic acid or RNA), and repair. The article says DNA is accompanied by a cloud of counterions (charged particles that neutralize the genetic material’s very negative charge). In other words, there is an energy field around a DNA molecule.

The article, Quantum Entanglement Holds DNA Together, Say Physicists,  says a group of physicists claim that the weird laws of quantum mechanics may be more important for life than biologists could ever have imagined. They say DNA is held together by quantum entanglement.

These physicists describe a simplified theoretical model of DNA in which each nucleotide—the main building block of DNA—consists of a cloud of electrons around a central positive nucleus. This negative cloud can move relative to the nucleus and so moves back and forth like a harmonic oscillator. When the nucleotides bond to form a base, these clouds must oscillate in opposite directions to ensure the stability of the structure.  In other words, energy is a part of the DNA molecule.

The Metaphysical Institute, maintain that humans have an integrated energy field known as the Aura which has a number of layers that surround us and permeate our bodies and cells. The different layers or fields within our Auras each have different purposes. The institute says all diseases, illnesses, injuries, mental and physical problems are caused in part by disturbances in energy fields. Research has found that disturbances show up in the fields before any disease or other problem appears.

Researchers discovered that DNA naturally fluoresces, is an article by Phys.org. The article says a Northwestern University team recently caught fluorescing, the property of absorbing light of short wavelength and emitting light of longer wavelength, in DNA. In other words, DNA involves the absorption or emission of energy. Some are even suggesting that one of the major functions of human DNA is that it receives and transmits energy. Some spiritual writers say the passing on of environmental influences of DNA involves the molecule’s energy field. This comes to no surprise to me as Albert Einstein once said,

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality that you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy, this is physics.”

No matter how these genetic changes are passed on to future generations doesn’t matter. What matters is that science is showing that trauma affects us humans genetically and so therefore can be passed on to future generations. Now that we are aware of this, it is imperative that we take preventative measures to prevent traumas such as violence, racism, or anything that creates stress. I know that is a tall order, but for the sake of future generations, it is imperative that we do so!

Could Meditation be the Answer?

A commentary on the use of mindfulness programs in schools.

If you have  been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a retired teacher who taught for 35 years. I still substitute teach from time to time, so I stay in touch with the teaching world. I’ve spent my career wondering what the best way to deal with disruptive, reluctant learners is. I often debated whether to kick a disruptive kid out of class, keep them in at breaks, send him or her to the office or just tolerate them. When I began my teaching career, the school I was at practiced corporal punishment in the form of strapping students. Physical abuse is not the answer either.  In 35 years I have never found an ideal method.

I recently came across an article on a blog called: The Way of Meditation. The article was titled: School Replaced Detention with Meditation. Now this intrigued me. I meditate regularly and it certainly has made a difference in my life. The article quotes the Dalai Lama who said, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Wow!  That would be amazing. Just watching the news occasionally tells me there is an enormous need. Not only that, could this be the answer to a school’s discipline problems?

The article tells of Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, a city located in the state of Maryland in the United States. This school starts its day with a breathing exercise over the PA system and ends it with an after-school program of yoga and meditation in addition to the usual sports activities. The school’s staff guide students through breathing and other centering exercises in the Mindful Moment room, which is a calming space with cozy cushions and beanbags, lit by glowing pink Himalayan salt lamps. When one of the students become a discipline problem, he or she is sent to the Mindful Moment room. In the room, unruly students are guided to sit, breathe and meditate in order to calm down and re-center. They are also counselled to talk about what happened.

Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama

Now what a fantastic idea! A Mindful Moment room—meditation room—instead of a detention room. I wish I had thought of that. In another article, Meditation is Imperative: Schools Replacing Detention…, it tells of a dialogue with the Dalai Lama after the Paris Attacks in November 2015. The Tibetan spiritual leader claimed that humanity bears part of the responsibility for the emergence of global terrorism. He said praying to God for a solution and using the hashtag of the likes of #PrayforParis won’t do much to help. I agree! His most impactful statement was, “Let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.”  He’s right! Praying to God or wanting governments to fix things hasn’t worked so far. As the Buddha says, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”  

The Guardian’s article: One of San Francisco’s toughest schools transformed by the power of meditation, tells of Visitacion Valley middle school in San Francisco, California, which is a school surrounded by drugs and gang violence.  Students at this school were often stressed out and agitated as on one occasion three dead bodies were dumped in the schoolyard. In 2007, a meditation program called Quiet Time was brought in to deal with worried students. A month after the meditation program began, teachers noticed changes in behaviour. Students appeared happier, worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of conflicts fell dramatically.

Now, I began to wonder if there are schools in Canada that practice mindfulness. In case you are not familiar with this word, the Mindfulness Institute of Canada defines mindfulness as “a state of being fully present in the present moment, with acceptance and without judgement.”  This is really the same thing as meditation as the Free Dictionary defines meditation as “a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.” It seems there are schools in Canada that have instituted this practice.

Young girl meditating

According to Macleans.ca, in the city of Toronto, Ontario,  the District School Board introduced lessons in mindfulness to all of its 200 Grade 9 students. In six workshops over a two-month period, led by the school’s teachers, students practiced breathing, “body scans” (a meditation exercise that draws attention to different parts of the body), and learned to “surf the wave” of difficult emotions, like anger and anxiety. The article reports that the “response was overwhelmingly positive.” Another place in Canada that has adopted mindfulness is in Vancouver, British Columbia,  where Renfrew Community Elementary School is located. In this school students begin their day by heading outside to do tai chi.  The school’s assemblies always start with a mindful breathing exercise.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that mindfulness is the answer. Change.org has an online petition to remove Mindfulness Programs from Canadian Public Schools. The petition’s authors argue that legislated meditation in Canadian public classrooms is unlawful, and are alarmed that mindfulness stems from Buddhist meditation. They argue that if mindfulness meditation is permitted, then what is to stop decision makers from forcing students to engage in mandatory Transcendental Meditation? Or mandatory hypnosis? Or require all students to eat bacon three times per day, regardless of their vegetarian or vegan standing. This seems to me to be somewhat of a paranoid reaction, none-the-less, everyone is entitled to their point of view.

Forbes.com published an article titled, Science Shows Meditation Benefits Children’s Brains and Behavior, which lists the following benefits of meditation:

  1. Increased attention: A study in 2013 showed that in boys with ADHD, with an eight-week training in mindfulness, significantly reduced hyperactive behaviours and improved concentration.
  2. Increased attendance and grades in school: One school district in California prolonged its school day in some of its “high-risk” schools in order to add meditation into the day. These schools have reported better attendance and grades, fewer suspensions, and happier, less aggressive kids.
  3. A reprieve from outside trauma: Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to help kids who are dealing with stressors such as neglect at home.
  4. Better mental health: One study found that an afterschool program consisting of yoga and meditation helped kids feel happier and more relaxed.
  5. Self-awareness and self-regulation: A study found that a mindful yoga treatment helped kids improve their ability to self-regulate, or control themselves, over the longer-term in a one-year study.
  6. Social-emotional development: One study found that a social-emotional learning program coupled with mindfulness was more effective than a classic “social responsibility” program as kids using mindfulness in their treatment had greater empathy, perspective-taking, and emotional control, compared to the control group.

The Harvard Gazette reports an eight-week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, a study which involved taking magnetic resonance images (MRI) from 16 study participants two weeks prior to the study, determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s grey matter in just eight weeks.

If you are not familiar with the nervous system’s grey and white matter, here is a quick biology lesson. Grey and white matter are found in the brain and spinal cord. Grey matter is found in brain areas that control an individual’s perception, such as how things are seen or heard, the formation of memories and the influencing speech and emotions. White matter connects one region of the brain or spinal cord to another transferring nerve impulses in and out of the grey matter.  Medical science has always told us that grey matter cannot rebuild, but Harvard’s research seems to suggest otherwise.

There is no doubt in my mind that meditation, or mindfulness, reduces stress, promotes relaxation, improves personal happiness and induces feelings of peacefulness. I have personally experienced it. As a retired teacher, I would have welcomed anything that curbed undesirable student behaviours, improved student work habits and grades, and made the classroom a better learning environment. If mediation–mindfulness programs–does that, then I say bring it on.

Did the Pope Really Refuse to Apologize?

A commentary on whether the Pope should apologize to Canada’s Indigenous people.

Back in May of 2017, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Pope Francis and asked him to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system where abuse of indigenous children occurred (see Newsweek).  When I first heard about this, I was confused as I thought the Pope had already apologized. I  wondered why the Catholic leader was being asked to apologize again.  Newsweek’s article explains that in 2009 the previous pontiff, Pope Benedict, met with survivor of the system Phil Fontaine, then national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The article asserts that the pope did not formally apologize. Instead, he simply shared his ‘sorrow’ and ‘sympathy.’

Pope Francis

In March, the headline, Pope’s decision to not issue apology , appeared on the CBC News website. The article says Pope Francis claimed he could not personally apologize for residential school abuses. This month, Global News reported that the Canadian Parliament held a “historic” debate on whether to ask Pope Francis to formally apologize for the substantial role the Catholic church played in the residential school system. This week The National Post reports that Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) passed a motion to invite the Pope to Canada to apologize for residential schools. The vote was passed by a margin of 269-10 .  One of the advocates of the motion was residential school survivor and MP, Romeo Saganash. The article says that an apology is one of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; a Commission that recommended an apology be delivered in Canada by the pontiff, for the church’s role in the residential school abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children.

All this talk about another apology from a pope piqued my curiosity. If the previous pope, Pope Benedict, already issued an apology, what is this all about? I set out to find out.

The National Observer’s article, Bishops try to clarify Pope’s refusal to apologize for residential schools, says the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a background paper to MPs and senators. The paper says the church has “on a number of occasions expressed regret and remorse at the involvement by various Catholics” in the schools. It also reminds us that Pope Benedict met with a delegation of Indigenous leaders in 2009 “and expressed sorrow and regret for the abuses suffered” in the schools. The Bishop’s paper said Phil Fontaine declared that the meeting with Pope Benedict “closes the circle of reconciliation.” It also said

  “To suggest that the Catholic community has not accepted responsibility for its involvement in residential schools is simply inaccurate. The Catholic Church has apologized in the way it is structured.”

The New York Times article, A Pope Given to Apologies Has Nothing for Indigenous Canada, says that Phil Fontaine has since stated, “It was right for the moment,” about Pope Benedict’s expression of sorrow. “But there’s a lot we didn’t know about in 2009: We didn’t know the number of deaths, the numbers of those abused. So much has been exposed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it’s really so different now.”

 I have to agree with Mr. Fontaine. Since 2009 we’ve learned a lot more about the horrors that occurred in those schools. In fact, I was shocked to learn doing this post that CBC News reported that Ontario Provincial Police files reveal that an Ontario residential school, St. Anne’s, had built its own electric chair. In my last post, Hockey is Part of Canada, I talked about how residential school students lived in substandard conditions, endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse by brothers, priests and nuns who claimed they represented God.

This begs the question: Was the 2009 apology a true, sincere apology, and what constitutes an accurate apology anyways?  Mindtools.com in its article, How to Apologize: Asking for Forgiveness Gracefully, says to apologize correctly, an apology must:

  1. start with two magic words: “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize.”
  2. admit responsibility for actions or behaviour and acknowledge what an offender did.
  3. take action to make the situation right.
  4. explain that the offender will never repeat the action or behaviour again.

Psychology Today’s article, The Five Ingredients of an Effective Apology, says in order for an apology to be effective, it must have the following ingredients:

  1. A clear ‘I’m sorry’ statement.
  2. An expression of regret for what happened.
  3. An acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated.
  4. An empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of the offender’s actions on the victim(s). In other words, to truly forgive, a victim needs to feel that the offender completely understands the full impact their actions had on them.
  5. A request for forgiveness.

So, do the Canadian Conference of Bishops have a valid argument? Has the Catholic Church given a proper apology? Using the above criteria, l shall analyze Pope Benedict’s 2009 apology.

CTV News in 2009 reported, that the pontiff expressed his sorrow and emphasized that “acts of abuse cannot be tolerated”.  Pope Benedict went on to say,

“Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity.”

Both Mindtools.com and Psychology Today say the words “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize” need to be used. They were not used by the pontiff in 2009. This is the primary argument for why it was  not a real apology. Pope Benedict’s apology definitely fails on this point.

Psychology Today says there needs to be an expression of regret for what happened. The Pontiff expressed his sorrow at the anguish. I’d say that shows regret, so it’s a pass on this one.

Mindtools.com says an apology needs to take responsibility for actions or behaviour as well as acknowledge what occurred. The Holy Father did acknowledge what happened, i.e. “the deplorable conduct of some members of the church”.  It’s debatable whether he’s taken responsibility. Another word for responsibility is accountability, which means being answerable for one’s actions.  Expressing “sorrow” and “regret” is not being accountable . I’d give a fail for this one.

Psychology Todays says an empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of an offender’s actions on the other person, needs to be given.  Benedict talked about “the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church” but that is hardly acknowledging the full impact of the actions. I would give a fail on this one.

Mindtools.com says the offender must take action to make the situation right and promise to never repeat the action or behavior. The pope’s apology fails on these points. Psychology Today says there needs to be a request for forgiveness. This did not happen, so a fail on this one as well.

Canada’s Parliament Buildings

Is our Prime Minister and Canada’s Members of Parliament justified in asking Pope Francis to apologize? After my analysis, I would say a resounding YES. Furthermore, aboard the Papal plane back in 2016, Pope Francis told reporters that gays — and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited — deserve an apology (see CBC).  It would seem to me that the indigenous people were marginalized, meaning they were seen as less important by members of the church, as late as 1996 when the last federally operated residential school closed. Actions speak louder than words. The pope needs to put his own words into action and deliver a sincere, acceptable apology to the indigenous people of Canada on behalf of the church he represents. It’s the Christian thing to do!

Hockey is Part of Canada

A commentary on two tragedies that affected all Canadians

Since my last post, two events have occurred that deeply impacted me on an emotional level.  I’ll start with the first; a horrific event. On April 6th,  the bus taking a hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game, collided with a tractor-trailer in rural Saskatchewan.  Sixteen people were killed with the youngest victim being a 16-year-old Broncos player. Even though I am not part of the hockey world and never have been, I was still shaken and saddened. For me, it is more about family members of the victims. I thought about my own children and the many times they were on buses going to basketball or some other sport.

A memorial at the stairs that lead to Elgar Petersen Arena is shown in Humboldt, Sask.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards ORG

What struck me most about this event, was the reaction of Canadians and even the world. According to CTV News Saskatchewan, Humboldt’s only florist received hundreds of orders from as far away as Australia to send flowers to anyone and everyone affected by the crash. The Canalta Hotel offered free rooms to family members travelling to the Humboldt after the crash, plus provided food and support. Restaurants handed out free food. In one instance, an individual driving through a Tim Hortons bought coffee for the next 50 people in line. The food manager for the City of Humboldt said he has watched semi-trailers full of water, soda and edibles come into the Humboldt Uniplex every day. Flags were flown at half-mast across the nation to show compassion for Humboldt.

What is even more astonishing is people across Canada and from around the world contributed to a GoFundMe campaign for the victims and their families, which has exceeded fourteen million dollars, one of the largest drives in Canada’s history. As Maclean’s magazine put it, Humboldt’s GoFundMe account expresses a nation’s grief in dollars and cents.

An initiative #JerseysforHumboldt was first proposed on Facebook by a group of hockey parents in British Columbia as a way to honour the Saskatchewan junior hockey team. The movement snowballed resulting in Canadians across the country putting on jerseys as a massive show of support for the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. (see Jersey Day)

One person started a phenomenon by tweeting a picture that showed a lonely hockey stick left out on the front step of a home with the message, “Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it … wherever they are.”  Numerous people have tweeted their pictures under the hashtag #PutYourStickOut to show their support to the team and their friends and families. (see Hockey Sticks)

It was Al Gore who said (paraphrased) in his latest movie, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’, “It’s our suffering that unites us”. That is what seems to be happening in my country because of this awful event. Perhaps the late Nelson Mandela said it better with his words, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Whatever is happening, I can honestly say that I felt proud to be a Canadian.

The second event was also a horrific event that also involves hockey, but in a different way. It was an experience that affected me just as deeply as the one I described above. On the weekend I went to the Canadian movie, Indian Horse, a movie released on April 13.  This is a movie I would encourage every Canadian, and even people of other nationalities to see if they can. It tells a story that needs to be told and Canadians need to hear, even though it is a story that will likely make you uncomfortable.

What is so special about this film is it connects hockey with Indigenous issues. The story is adapted from a novel by Richard Wagamese, and is executive produced by Clint Eastwood. It explores the career of an exceptionally talented young Indigenous hockey player and  a NHL hopeful who endures Indian Residential school and struggles against racism-even from his own team-when he is recruited to a farm team for the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

The Star says, “Indigenous elders were on hand, as they had been throughout production of the movie…guiding the cast and crew through some of the darker moments they experienced.” The movie disturbingly shows the horror that indigenous children endured in Canadian Residential Schools as well as the relentless racism directed towards them outside the schools.

Here is a video telling a bit about the movie.

The story centers around the main character, Saul, who is forcibly taken from his family and placed in a Catholic governed Residential School. Saul’s only way to cope with his school hell is to turn to hockey.

Here is a quick lesson on the schools. In the 19th century, the Canadian government developed a policy called “aggressive assimilation” to be carried out at church-run, government-funded industrial schools, later to be called residential schools. It thought indigenous people’s best chance for success was to learn English, adopt Christianity and the Euro-Canadian culture.

To truly understand the mindset of Canadian government at that time in history, we just need to comprehend the mindset of Duncan Campbell Scott, who was head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, a department he had served since joining the federal civil service in 1879. Mr. Scott said:

 “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

It is clear that the Canadian government saw the indigenous people as a problem that needed to be dealt with. In fact, Duncan Campbell Scott once said, the “policy of this Department [Indian Affairs]…is geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

The movie boldly showed how students of the Residential schools lived in substandard conditions, endured physical and emotional abuse as well as sexual abuse by people who claimed to be God’s representatives.  Essentially, the Government of Canada initiated a cultural genocide, a genocide carried out by various denominations of church missionaries.

I left that movie feeling sickened that my country has this dark history. I felt compassion for indigenous Canadians. I felt annoyed that it is only in the 21st century that I am now learning about this dark history regarding Canada’s treatment of its indigenous people. And most of all, I left that movie feeling ashamed to be a Canadian and ashamed of my Catholic roots.