Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1992

Learning and Spirituality; Ajahn Sucitto
Complementary Education; Medhina Fright
Meditating with Children; Sister Abhassara
Life of a Forest Monk (Pt V); Luang Por Jun
Alone on a Mountain; Venerable Chandako
In the Deathless Land; Sister Rosemary
Questions and Answers; Luang Por Chah

Signs of Change:


Complementary Education

Medhina Fright, who has been involved with the Dhamma School Project since its inception, outlines some of the principles and concerns that have guided the first steps towards a new Dhamma School.

The Dhamma School Project is well under way to establishing a new Buddhist school. Fundraising is progressing in earnest and discussions have explored questions about the kind of school it will be: will religion overshadow academic qualification? Will it be expensive and elitist? Will it remove children from the family to board away from home?

The Dhamma School initiative is neither a result of rejecting the state system nor a plan to separate Buddhist children from the mainstream culture of this country. Rather, it is an attempt to look at the whole picture of educating children to be in harmony with themselves and the society in which they live. It is felt that this could well be achieved through a school which provides a clear foundation in values taught by the Buddha.

All the teachers at the school must be well-practised in the Dhamma so that they can lead by example rather than by just speaking of the teaching. Living and learning in small-scale groups in an atmosphere of patience, kindness, and determination may alleviate some of the confusion faced by growing children and help them to understand themselves and others around them. The natural, spontaneous instinct to learn can then progress less hindered by conflict, distraction or apathy.

The holistic view of the individual, in which mind, body and spirit are all nurtured, creates an opportunity to balance academic excellence with respect for moral and spiritual values.

The children may come from families where the Dhamma practice comes from other Buddhist traditions or even from families where the Dhamma principles are valued but not categorised formally as Buddhism. This openness would be encouraged by keeping the study of such things as chants or suttas separate from the set school day.

The value of the Five Precepts and moments of quiet reflection can be appreciated by children of all faiths and backgrounds, and no child need feel different or separate from their peers. Extra-curricular activities may well include formal meditation practice as an option (to which the whole family and school staff would be invited), but the curriculum content of the working day will vary little from the academic structure of most schools. The monastic Sangha from Chithurst or Amaravati do not intend to teach subject studies but will be available for advice and visits to the school when invited.

Since the economic realities of life are an undeniable pressure on pupils, the appropriate examination syllabus will be followed so that when they complete their education they will have, to the best of their ability, the qualifications to follow the living they choose. Encouragement to practise the qualities of wisdom, energy, truth, generosity and morality (among others!) will develop young members of society who will respect their community and its resources and have a clear picture of the role they play in it. When the value of knowledge and understanding is clearly seen, motivation to learn is further reinforced.

The holistic view of the individual, in which mind, body and spirit are all nurtured, creates an opportunity to balance academic excellence with respect for moral and spiritual values. The holistic view of the school creates a situation in which the pupils, teachers, families, and neighbours of the school all share in the responsibility and benefit from its activity. A geographical location accessible to many Buddhist families has been sought to achieve this end.

Politically-motivated education policies are inevitably coloured by such things as economic structures, national identity and educational theory. It is possible for opposing ideologies to react against each other so that the pendulum swings to left and right in an attempt to redress the balance of preceding systems. Buddha-Dhamma teaches the Middle Way, in which the excesses of each system are avoided. With an open mind it should be possible to use the best of all styles - formal, informal, traditional, progressive, subject-based, or integrated-study - as appropriate.

When the government seeks to develop the moral foundations of education by insisting that RE be compulsory and broadly Christian in nature, they are recognising the need for a clear guide for the young people in our care. In that we all agree, but it is less confusing for youngsters when the culture at home and school are the same, for example when children from Buddhist homes are able to attend a Buddhist school where religious language, symbols and practices have the same frame of reference as their home environment.

Progress through school is more coherent and leads to greater stability and continuity, when all the teachers hold the same values and follow the same path, for themselves as well as the pupils. There are currently four thousand voluntary-aided schools of Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, or Jewish affiliation, and twenty-one private Islamic schools. In this democratic country where independent schools are an established form of education, the expression of diversity and expansion of choice is being revived. Buddhist parents, as well as parents who sympathise with Buddhist ideals, will also be able to choose an appropriate style of education for their children once a Buddhist school exists.

There is still a lot to be done and it will depend on the determination of families in the UK how soon and how widely this opportunity can be made available. We currently aim to start in the very near future with one full-time day school in Brighton for school-age children under thirteen years old.

For further information concerning the Dhamma School project contact:
Medhina Fright, 113 Waytemore Road, Bishops Stortford, Herts. CM23 3RD. Tel. 0279-656412 or
Peter Carey, Trinity College, Oxford OX1 3BH. Tel. 0865 279900 or 57876