As a child, I was mesmerized by the story of the Garden of Eden. I would close my eyes. Imagine a rich garden tapestry — lush green vines, aromatic flowers, a crystal-blue pool of water, rustling leaves in the wind. I would see Adam and Eve. Two lone inhabitants, symbols of Humanity, responsible for tending the garden and caring for Creation. The story is so rich with imagery: the trees, the serpent, the forbidden apple. It is the story of our lost innocence. It’s symbols, the history of Earth’s broken state.
I now understand that their biting of the apple was the first act of deviance in our world – one that set in motion, the brokenness of our world today. Thrown from the garden, Adam and Eve were cast into a harsher, less gentle world. A world in which they observed and experienced human suffering. With human suffering, however, came opportunity to learn and understand human compassion.
Inequality, poverty, leaky boats filled with refugees navigating the darkness, small children chained and bonded into labour, hidden behind factory walls. Our world is far from the idyllic garden Adam and Eve inhabited at the dawn of time. Greed, hatred, jealousy, corruption, and injustice oscillate in our world. Our world is no longer innocent, nor are we.
In this world, it takes great courage to remain idealists, believing that we, as educators can influence positive change in our world. To believe, despite what we read and hear in the news, that this young generation, our students, will help to restore our planet.
The pathway back to a kinder, simpler world involves creating more compassionate and empathetic individuals. Ones that understand the importance of living in Solidarity with others and in the basic Dignity of the Human Person.
As teachers, we are guides. Helping our students navigate a path of Mercy. Reminding them of our responsibility, as the sole inhabitants, to care for the Earth and its abundance. That in order to care for our planet, we must care for each other. Sowing the seeds of compassion and empathy is our mission. Fulfilling it includes preventing the weeds of bitterness and hurt from taking root.
In our world, as with any garden, we can only reap what we have sown. The clearest path to a more idyllic world is to simply love one another. Unfortunately, there is no textbook, or resource manual that can adequately equip us to teach students how to love – to be truly compassionate and empathetic.
Instead, the greatest guide on how to love comes from the apostle Paul in Corinthians 1:13. His message conveys a need for a love that surpasses the love for spouse, family, and friends. He calls for a higher love – the love for our neighbours, those we do not know, may never meet, but whom share in our Humanity. Paul writes:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Our calling is to love ALL and to do so with patience, courage and endurance. Realizing that none of us, alone, can fix our broken world. But each of us can move those we encounter towards a better vision of the world as it is meant to be.
Saint Teresa adds clarity to our calling: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” In that spirit, we need not strive for perfection, rather strive to contribute to the common good in small ways.
As teachers, we can model what we expect. Open our students’ eyes to the world around them. Help them consider the hardships and injustices faced by others. By so doing, our students gain empathy, a sense of self-awareness and the ability to distinguish their feelings from the feelings of others. Teach them to take another person’s perspective and learn to regulate their own emotional responses accordingly. Develop an internal moral compass, and internalize the principles of right and wrong. Help them become more compassionate human beings.
How do we do this? How do we educate the heart?
Long ago, our global neighbours were distant. Today, given the pervasiveness of media and the internet, we are very intertwined as global citizens. To develop empathy, there is a need for students to see their interconnectedness with others. Global connections help to facilitate an understanding of the commonalities and differences amongst people. Connecting with others helps build tolerance towards those who are different. Students need to see themselves as living in solidarity with others, and that our primary needs and wants are the same. Connect with other students around the world through Twitter, correspond via email or snail mail, or interact with others via Skype. Connect with other classes in your own city, across the country or across the world. Post a map and pinpoint global connections on it. Students are fascinated by the world map. Global connections build a real understanding of distant places and people in our world.
Explore Global Issues
Examine issues at home and abroad. Participate in the World’s Largest Lesson. My students have learned about the United Nations, the Global Goals, the Rights of the Child and the influence of child activists, such as Craig Kielburger. We have discussed justice and inequality issues. In doing so, students have developed an appreciation for what they have, and understand the needs of others. They have also learned that children can lend their voice to help lead our world in a positive direction. Use mentor texts which examine global issues. The Global Oneness Project features many stories and lesson plans about humanity.
Here is the collaborative project my Grade 6 students created last school year: The World’s Largest Lesson 2015 -Grade 6
The circle, itself, is a powerful symbol of connectedness and unity. Restorative Circles develop listening and speaking skills, and help students learn to consider other points of view. The circle allows students to step into another person’s “pair of shoes” and walk around for a bit. The discussion can be honest, open and powerful when used to resolve conflicts or to develop a sense of team. In a circle, all are included; all voices are heard and valued. Restorative circles teach students to slow down and to truly listen in a calm, gentle approach. Circles also provide a venue for more passive students to lend their voice and air-out issues they may have hidden.
Acts of Mercy
Get involved through action projects within your school, local community or within the larger global community. Small acts of kindness, shout-out walls to praise kindness, collecting food for a shelter or gathering warm hats and mittens for the homeless. The list of possibilities is endless.
Our Holy Family School Social Justice Club, God Squad, is supporting the OK Clean Water Project and the Shepherds of Good Hope this year. The students are also planning school-wide activities to spread positivity and hope.
In the end, the greatest gift we can give another human, is the gift of our compassion – in thoughts, words and deeds.
To educate the heart, means to tend the garden, plant the seeds and remove threats to the abiding beauty and sustenance in our surroundings. In our world, as in our classrooms, to nourish this garden, means to fulfill the words of Paul in our own small ways. By following his words as our guide, we shall truly live as though, we are “Sent to be the Good News.”
But most of all-