Spirituality, Care and Wellbeing in Education

Late 2009, Springer Publishing House released a huge two volume collection of essays on spirituality, care and wellbeing in education. The volume is timely as schools and other institutions increasingly find themselves grappling with issues of mental health and wellbeing. Despite the Australian government’s focus on Naplan and elementary measures of literacy and numeracy, psychological issues and issues of meaning and relationships continue to occupy teachers’ attention.
There is a need in every society to deal with the deeper issues of what life is about and how, as humans, we relate to others, the environment and the divine. The first volume of essays focusses mainly on the psychology of religion and spirituality. The second volume is primarily about educational programs and environments in promoting holistic learning and wellbeing. This review will focus on the second volume.

What is evident from the various essays is the multitude of ways authors are thinking about spirituality. Indeed, some of the authors note that this diversity in thinking is one of the major problems in tackling spirituality in the educational context. Several essays tackle spirituality in an esoteric way. Jennifer Gidley, for example, talks in quasi-Hegelian terms about the evolving of human consciousness in which new modes of thinking emerge. She suggests that four values emerge from the literature as foci for the developing forms of education: love, life, wisdom and voice.

Zehavit Goss sees spirituality primarily as the human search for meaning, which for some can take place in the religious approach of ‘a supreme power or entity situated beyond human control’, but which can also take secular forms (p.564).

In terms of content, Gidley sees great value in the study of inspirational teachings and wisdom literature, in artistic classes in painting, drama, movement and voice exploring imagination, inspiration and group spirit. She wants subject material to be studied in relation to its broad contexts, and children to be led to contemplate it and be inspired by it. She sees great importance in developing ecological awareness by practising the care for plants, small animals and other sentient beings (p.542). She argues that one of the most effective ways of cultivating wisdom in education is through ‘utilising complex thinking and creativity to represent knowledge from multiple perspectives while showing their integral interconnectedness through our creative artfulness’ (p.548).

‘Spiritual education’ can also occur in the context of counselling. One of the chapters in this book explores the issues of ‘self-injury’ among adolescents. It notes the increasing prevalence in many Western societies of self-injury through such methods as cutting or burning the skin and sticking needles or pins into oneself (p.963). It notes that such activities often occur when there is a state of emotional turmoil when the person is overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety and unpleasantness. At other times, young people engage in such activities when they feel an emotional deadness. Some people experience the self-injury as soothing their agitations, or jolting them out of numbness and helping them to feel alive (p.967).

There are many resources for spiritual development within our religious traditions, but they are not the only source. Spirituality can be explored through art and music, through engagement with nature, and through many kinds of literature, for example.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 1, Pages 11-14

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