We need a 'village mind' to avoid teachers' strike

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 30, 2002

Let's insist our elders of education sit down together and work out their differences.

The threat of a teachers' strike in Alberta has reminded me of a letter I received nearly three years ago. In that letter, coffee companion Linda Kavelin Popov stressed the importance of cultivating a village mind for the sake of our children.

She was responding to school violence in Littleton, Colorado, and Taber, Alberta, that claimed 16 lives.

But her words speak also more generally to the privileges and responsibilities that fall to all of us in any way entrusted with our children's education – parent, neighbour, teacher, or politician.

Linda is the author of The Family Virtues Guide: Simple Ways to Bring Out the Best in Our Children and Ourselves, and co-founder of The Virtues Project, viewed by many as a model global program for families of all cultures.

Here is some of what Linda wrote:

HOW OFTEN WE have heard the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. As never before, we need to cultivate a village mind. There are four gifts a village offers its children: kinship, mentorship, friendship, and worship.

We can respond ably by giving our children a more intimate form of kinship. We need to redesign our time so that our children do not raise themselves. We need to recapture the art of loving companionship – to walk and talk with them, sit around the campfire sharing our family stories. Let them hear stories of family heroism, and stories in which they are the heroes – times they were kind or brave or funny. We can set clear boundaries for them, know where they are, monitor what they watch and what they buy. We can listen to their feelings, to companion them. If we merely become better police, we will lose them. We need to love them better.

Villages have lots of extended family to help with the children. Youth need the wisdom and compassion of elders to mentor them into mastery and listen to their young dreams. Let's become better aunties and grandfathers. Let's make sure that after-school programs like Boys & Girls Club have all the volunteers they need. Let's be mentors.

Kids crave friendship. Schools can and must become caring communities too. Programs in character education such as The Virtues Project awaken the virtues of kindness, honesty, respect, tolerance and justice with dramatic results. As one student said, "Our school doesn't have outcasts. We have cliques, but they mingle. We care about each other." This is no accident. It comes from teachers and administrators cultivating a culture in which virtues are valued.

What about the fourth gift of village life – the gift of worship? Children are natural mystics. Unless we address their spiritual needs for meaning and mystery, they will continue to be technological wizards and moral incompetents. As families, we can create daily routines of reverence, go to a place of worship, expose our kids to natural beauty, if only to watch the leaves change.

Our schools play a major role in the transmission of meaning. Some schools have found a respectful way to address morality and spirituality without offending anyone's beliefs. They focus on the virtues which are universally valued by all faiths and cultures [such as] courage, honour, idealism, and friendship . . . .

The key to providing these gifts is radically simple. If we are to save our children, we need to fill the vacuum of virtue. Every one of us has the power to create virtuous reality by doing something to show that we care. Let's go beyond keeping our children safe in school. Let's be a village.

—Linda Kavelin Popov, Salt Spring Island, B.C.

YES, LET'S BE a village. Let's insist our elders of education sit down together and work out their differences. For our children's sake, let's all get on with our roles in creating and modeling virtuous reality by doing something to show that we really care.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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