Letters & Opinion

Man was Born Tabula Rasa: A Philosophy of Education in Relation to Violence and Crime in St. Lucia — Part 6

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By Sylvestre Phillip

VIOLENCE and crime continue in our land. Already one homicide has been recorded for the year. I have reasons to believe that plans are afoot to deal with the matter. My hope is that the situation does not get worse before it gets better.

In my last article, I looked at the teaching of Religious Education in government-assisted schools. In the penultimate paragraph, I asked the fundamental question: whether Religious Education is taught in schools as required by law.

In this article, I will continue to deal with the issue of Religious Education in schools and show its importance as it relates to violence and crime in St. Lucia.

I have already stated in a previous article that Man was born Tabula Rasa and that as he or she gains knowledge of the real world that the human behaviours evolve. In that article, I stated very clearly that government-assisted schools are required by law to teach Religious Education. But what exactly do we mean by a government-assisted school?

Most of the schools in St. Lucia are owned by religious denominations, with the Roman Catholic Church having the majority of schools. The government assists by paying the salaries of the teachers, providing the schools with instructional materials and other areas which it deems necessary. Now in private schools, the management has the option to teach or not to teach Religious Education. But the Education Act of 1977 is very clear on the matter: that government- assisted schools must teach Religious Education to students who subscribe to the religious beliefs of the denomination.

But why does the law insist on such a course of action, or why is it necessary to provide religious instruction in schools? Well, Man was made in the image and likeness of God. He made Man and saw that it was good. He made Man with a body and a soul or spirit. Indeed, there is no body without a soul. The physical body is fed with physical food regularly. Many people watch what they eat because they desire to have their physical body in tip-top shape. In like manner, the soul requires spiritual food to get into and remain in tip-top shape.

But where does the spiritual food come from? The denomination is required to provide a Religious Education curriculum similar to the English Language, Mathematics, Science, etc. that are provided to schools. In essence, the curriculum should contain the dogma or teachings of the church, the faith in which the children are being brought up. The Roman Catholic Church teaches the doctrine of the Trinity: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three in one person. That there is a Supreme Being, an Almighty God, who sent His only son, to redeem sinful man. And we Catholics know that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the triune God manifested as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Further, that it is the Supreme Being that directs our human existence.

We Catholics know and love Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who knows the heart of all her children. We also believe in the Corporal Works of Mercy, which concern the material needs of others; and the Spiritual Works of Mercy, which concerns itself with the spiritual needs of others.

I have provided all of that information not just to show the understanding of my faith, but also to show that all children of the Catholic faith must, of necessity, be brought to that knowledge and understanding. These students are placed in the trust of teachers by parents so that their spirits may be fed.

But that does not happen as smoothly as we would like. It is not uncommon to see weeks, terms and years go by without students being provided with religious instruction. There are several reasons for that situation, and I wish to mention a couple.

Several years ago, the laws were changed to allow children of any denomination to be registered in government-assisted schools. It also allowed teachers of any faith to teach in Catholic schools, for example. Now a curriculum provided by the Roman Catholic denomination would be made available to Catholic teachers to teach Catholic students. What happens normally is that the non-Catholic students may remain unattended. If the principal so desires or so organizes, he or she may group the other students who may be Seventh-Day Adventists and allow a teacher who may be of the same faith to instruct them.

There is also the case of non-Catholic principals being appointed to Catholic schools. But that could become very problematic. I know of at least one principal who has handled the principalship in that regard very well indeed. But the same might not be true for all cases.

Before the laws were changed, the Rev. Managers of Catholic schools recommended a Catholic principal to head its schools. Now hundreds of our children in schools in St. Lucia do not receive Religious Instruction as required by law for the reasons I have just mentioned.

In some cases, the Catholic teachers themselves are in default. Many teachers give the academic curriculum greater prominence and the time given to subjects which they perceive will improve school performance. So many children are denied the opportunity to development a relationship with God their creator. Many go astray! The “poor souls” are not ready to confront the harsh realities of the communities in which they live. They thirst for spiritual food! The parents themselves may not be able to help and depend, to a very large extent, on the schools.

As a Catholic Principal myself for many years, I ensured that Religious Instruction was taught in my school every school day. I made it a point to get the Rev. Manager of the school to offer a mass at the beginning and end of every school term, since many of the children do not attend church services in their parish communities. And so, our society now suffers from violent and criminal behaviours.

In my next article, we will go on a journey with Youth and Sports.

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