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The most important thing we can teach our kids

There are plenty of things we should be teaching our kids in order to ensure their happiness, health and success, but by far the most important is how to love. It’s unlikely, however, that you’ll find any mention of this in most school’s core curriculum. At least not directly.

“My job is not to get [my students] into Stanford,” said Palo Alto, California, schools chief Glenn McGee in a 2015 New York Times article. “It’s to teach them to learn how to learn, to think, to work together – learn how to explore, collaborate, learn to be curious and creative.”

A step in the right direction, to be sure. But it leaves out the key component.

Love is not just window dressing for an otherwise (and hopefully) exemplary school career. It’s the window itself, the portal through which we see the world and the world sees us. Without it our lives have a tendency to fall into the mental darkness that can cause kids to either give up or, worse, check out, evidenced in the recent and repeated outbreaks of teen suicide. This needn’t be the case.

“In an era in which so many people slip off the rails during adolescence, we don’t have the luxury of ignoring a resource that, if cultivated, could see them through,” says columnist David Brooks. “Ignoring spiritual development in the public square is like ignoring intellectual, physical or social development. It is to amputate people in a fundamental way, leading to more depression, drug abuse, alienation and misery.”

Conventional wisdom would say it’s not the schools but the child’s parents that are responsible for this development. But as Brooks points out, with so much disruption in families, this remains open for discussion. Even in communities where stable families are still the norm, schools have an important role to play in nurturing every child’s spiritual capacities.

The good news is that our ability to love is not only innate but, as Mary Baker Eddy describes it, divinely impelled, completely free of any genetic or environmental constraints. “Love [God] is reflected in love,” she writes in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” Even a glimpse of this fact helps to make the job of encouraging children in this direction – not to mention being examples of love ourselves – all the easier.

The fear, of course, is that anything having to do with spirituality crosses the line between church and state. Not necessarily. Learning to love isn’t about learning religious creeds or rituals, but gaining a deeper understanding of what it takes to flourish.

“If I speak with the eloquence of men and of angels, but have no love, I become no more than blaring brass or crashing cymbal,” warns the apostle Paul. “If I have the gift of foretelling the future and hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but the very secrets of God, and if I also have that absolute faith which can move mountains, but have no love, I amount to nothing at all. If I dispose of all that I possess, yes, even if I give my own body to be burned, but have no love, I achieve precisely nothing.”

In other words, even a stellar transcript, a passel of trophies and a perfect SAT score can only take you so far.

The problem is, not everyone agrees on what love looks like, how to teach it, or how it should be exemplified. But this shouldn’t keep us from trying or looking to sources outside ourselves for guidance.

“This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience,” explains Paul. “It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.”

Obviously the various facets of love described by Paul – patience, unselfishness, humility, courtesy, and so on – aren’t restricted to a particular religious practice but can and should be utilized in every avenue of life, including academics, athletics, social situations, even in the business world. And if they can be taught in one context, there’s no reason they can’t be taught – and learned – in all of them.

“It is not so much academic education, as a moral and spiritual culture, which lifts one higher,” writes Eddy, an educator herself. “The pure and uplifting thoughts of the teacher, constantly imparted to pupils, will reach higher than the heavens of astronomy; while the debased and unscrupulous mind, though adorned with gems of scholarly attainment, will degrade the characters it should inform and elevate.”

Ultimately, it’s not just teachers or even parents that have a role to play in imparting the how and why of love to children, but society as a whole. And it’s society as a whole that stands to benefit.

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