Most people seem either completely baffled by, or have real problems understanding, the idea of spiritual intelligence. To be self-actualised (see Layer 20) is to be spiritually intelligent. And learning to be spiritually intelligent may not be easy to achieve, but it’s fairly clear what we need to do.
The foremost task of parents and of schools should be to teach pupils how to learn and how to become independent learners – how to ask questions, and how to seek answers. Intelligent schools and homes see learning as something that’s as natural and as desirable as breathing and eating, and something that’s crucial to every individual’s growth and well-being. They try to help all members of their community towards a love of learning, and recognise the truth in the saying, “More than wealth or power, education is the key to human dignity”.
They recognise that individuals learn in different ways, and must ultimately find their own answers, beliefs and truths which will enable them to fulfil themselves as individuals and as members of communities and societies. Lifelong self-directed seeking after knowledge, truth and meaning leads to greater enlightenment, peace and productive living for us all.
So what? you may say. But many schools and homes do exactly the opposite – they expect their children, their students, to be passive and not active learners - they tell them what to think and what to remember. They operate a “transmission” model of teaching and learning, and they teach in a didactic manner, which is traditional in many societies. (Although Socrates, in Ancient Greece, believed that learning should be based on dialogue and not didacticism.) In the 19th Century, at the beginning of the State education system in Britain, Charles Dickens, a truly great writer in the English language, wrote a wonderful book called Hard Times, which is in part a satire on an education system that he believed strangled and stunted children. The book begins with the words, “Facts. Give these children nothing but facts.”
Whose facts? Which facts? In post-modern societies we recognise how problematic it is to believe that there are so-called key facts that should be ‘understood’ and assimilated by everyone. Such beliefs are especially problematic in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-faith societies populated by diverse peoples of different traditions, different beliefs, and different values. What is recognised as factual and true in one section of such a society is nothing of the kind to many other people.
Consider the current struggle in the United States between “creationists” and others – those who consider the words written in the Christian Bible to be literally true, and those who do not. There we see prosecutions of individuals whose only crime or misdemeanour has been to reiterate the tenets of ‘Darwinism’ – the belief that human beings have their origins in and are descended from the family of the apes, and not through creation by a Divine Being. Imagine this situation in reverse – with fundamentalist Christians being persecuted and prosecuted, victimised and demonised by the Darwinists.
Herein lies the key problem for our societies and our schools – how to promote pluralism, tolerance, and respect for others of different backgrounds, beliefs and values.
We must consider the extent to which our schools are truly inclusive places:
Open to pupils of all abilities and backgrounds
Free from the need to promote particular beliefs
Able to help all pupils consider for themselves, and to make decisions about, different sets of values and beliefs
Able to help all pupils become “spiritually intelligent”, to learn proper respect for themselves, and respect for others who adopt different beliefs and values.
So how well does your child’s school perform according to these criteria? Is there a respect for children, and a determination to treat them with kindness, with the same courtesy and consideration we would show to adults?
In such a learning community the quality and quantity of interactions and communications between adults and children alike can of themselves promote many positive things, and in particular emotional intelligence, social intelligence and spiritual intelligence – the keys to successful living and learning. Of course we value high academic achievement and the development of the intellect, but we should not consider these forms of learning and intelligence to be superior or of greater priority – indeed it is difficult to see how children’s academic and intellectual potential can be optimised without the underpinning of a balanced development of all their intelligences, all their potentials, through meeting all of their needs – spiritual, social, emotional, physical, instinctual and intellectual.
In such a community there is the potential for harmony and non-aggression, for cooperation rather then competition, and collaboration rather than isolation and suspicion. In other words there is an atmosphere of peace and trust, of sharing and giving, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Where all of this comes to fruition, in certain high-performing schools, to the average visitor it seems like stepping on to another planet, entering a place where lives are lived according to different rules, different values, different expectations. It seems almost impossible to understand – how children who can be seen acting with aggression and violence and hatred in other contexts – in the streets and estates and parks – can be seen exercising self-discipline, cooperation and respect for others in an inclusive, spiritually intelligent community called a school.
The curriculum for spiritual intelligence consists for the most part of the ‘informal’ learning that goes on from the moment a child enters the school – whether as a 4 year old or as an older child – they discover that “this is the way we do things here, this is how we interact, how we solve problems, how we relate to one another”.
It also consists in what the Japanese call “zest for living” – developing an appreciation of how good it feels to live, learn and work in a community where there is the appreciation and love of other people, where there is an appreciation of beautiful and stimulating surroundings, of freedom from aggression and injustice and fear, appreciation of being accepted and respected for who one is and what one believes, whatever that might be, whatever one’s current level of ability or learning. Such places develop high levels of enthusiasm, and feelings of joy and well-being, as well as greater commitment to learning, and confidence that one can be successful.
Certain key concepts for developing spiritual intelligence can be found in schemes of work with a sharp focus on human values. These are values that are subscribed to by humanists and by people of no particular religion, as well as by members of the many different faith communities throughout the world – values that give meaning to life and help to direct our most positive beliefs and actions. They are values that help to make our families, our communities and our societies better places to live in for all of us. Without such values we descend into strife, conflict, selfishness and aggression.
The following list is a summary of the key words and concepts we need to understand as part of our curriculum for human values and spiritual intelligence.
If your child scores highly in understanding these key ideas, and in living life according to these human values, then he or she is indeed high in emotional, social and spiritual intelligence, which means that your child’s school is almost certainly doing a good job, and that you, as the child’s parent, are doing a superb job too. Well done!
appreciation of others
brotherhood / sisterhood
concern for all life
unwillingness to hurt
service to others
respect for people and property