Freedom of religion and its impact on education
Plato is credited with the statement, "God is not responsible for the actions of those having free will". That is an apt quote from a secular mind to strengthen the tenets of the freedom of religious choices allowed by God.
God allows freedom, and that freedom manifests itself in a multiplicity of religious choices around the world and in Jamaica.
While scholars have challenged the veracity of religion through the centuries, it is only since the middle of the 20th century that legal and political minds have banded together to challenge freedom of religion. By such action these scholars have wittingly or unwittingly circumscribed the impact of religion on education. Despite this movement, Jamaica and its schools continue to reflect the impact that religion has had on education.
Consider St George's College, Kingston College, Calabar High School, Kingsway High School, Campion College, Harrison Memorial High School, Willowdene Group of Schools, Cornwall College, Victor Dixon High School, William Knibb High School, Convent of Mercy Academy, Immaculate Conception High School, and Bishop Gibson High School as a meagre sample of religious schools that have formed the educational leadership core of this nation.
It is interesting to note that during this same period, men and women of intellectual stature were fighting for the freedom of thought and action within all civilised societies. Education became the victim of much of the battles fought for the minds of learners. It is therefore prudent to raise the question of the extent to which religious freedom impacts education in general and specifically in Jamaica.
It is a devastating idea to embrace the fight for freedom of thought and action but deny that very thought in the halls of education. But it has been in those very halls where the fight has been most severe, and I often wonder if the lack of religious conviction of teachers may not be the foundation for a world society gone amok in moral and ethical decay. It is in the area of values, moral and ethical, that Jamaica has best been served by the variety of religious beliefs on which our education system is built.
In an age for the protection of rights, the advocacy for gender equity, marches for gay privileges, and race differences, why is it so difficult to respect the impact that religious liberty (freedom) has had on human civilisation. Let me say from the beginning that this liberty is neither liberal nor conservative. It is fundamentally human.
Let me confine my thoughts in this brief space to the impact that religious freedom has had on education in Jamaica. Whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or any other religion, civilisation, as we know it, has benefited from your contribution in the arts, language, literature and the sciences. Jamaica is a recipient of this variegated religious faith.
Speaking about Christianity, Alvin Schmidt says: "No other religion, philosophy, nation, teaching, movement - whatever - has so changed the world for the better as Christianity has done. Its shortcomings are greatly outweighed by its benefits to all mankind."
This statement may be equally said for any of the religions cited above, or for denominations within the Christian faith. Jamaica is a strong democracy because of the multiplicity of religious and denominational beliefs under which our students are educated.
Whether you take the Harvard or the Yale, Oxford or Cambridge, Northern Caribbean University, University of Technology or University of the West Indies, contrary to popular beliefs, Christian influence on values, beliefs and practices constitute the lifeblood of Western civilisation or education. The Jamaica education system was born and bred in the bosom of multiple faiths. This is a reason to celebrate, not remonstrate.
We must understand that the rights that we so rigorously protect today did not emerge out of human benevolence but out of the chronicles of biblical beliefs taught in the synagogues, churches, mosques and temples of Jamaica.
It would seem that the responsibility of education belongs to the Church, or to religion, if you will. The Church is committed as a mother to inculcate in the minds of the children a measure of faith that should anchor them through life. Where the home has done a good job, teachers and schools have an easier time educating the child and, by extension, the nation.
In fulfilling its educational responsibility, the Church, mosque, temples, and synagogues, through the ages, have been the custodians of the sense of values that transcends personal and immediate needs; protect and transfer cultural legacy of past generations and provide the most potent reason for human existence.
Out of the bosom of religion has come the most consistent philosophical, practical and enduring legacy of a moral society. It is in the repository of Jamaican schools and teachers that the greatest grace and kindness are to be found. And it is within our religious diversity that our schools have emerged. The Jamaica education system must teach our future citizens to guard rigorously the variety of faiths that make up this nation.
n Dr Trevor Gardener is the president of Northern Caribbean University. Email feedback to editorial