Nfld. & Labrador·Opinion

How a moment of silence in school can make change for young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians

There is a non-sectarian way that public schools can bring the mindfulness of those lessons into each day's study, writes Rabbi Chanan Chernitsky, it's called a moment of silence.

A moment of silence is simply a time for children to stop and think, says Rabbi Chanan Chernitsky

Now is the time to bring a moment of silence to Newfoundland and Labrador's schools, writes Rabbi Chanan Chernitsky. (Marie Dionne/Submitted)

As a rabbi and resident of St. John's, there is so much for which I am thankful here in Canada. The government here promotes the ideals of freedom of religion and allows and enables people of all faiths to live and worship as they wish.

But there's room for improvement.

After Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada in 1949, five residential schools existed in the province, whose purpose was largely to assimilate Indigenous children, whose backgrounds differed from those of the governing class.

Five years ago, in 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Happy Valley-Goose Bay to apologize for this stain on Canada's history. He apologized for "the misguided belief that Indigenous children could only be properly provided for, cared for, or educated if they were separated from the influence of their families, traditions and cultures."

Trudeau was acknowledging that a key aspect of every child's education must be their family's culture and belief system. He was stating that each faith and culture that makes up the mosaic of Canadian life must be cherished and respected for its role in positively influencing the growth of young people who belong to it.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes residential survivor Toby Obed to the stage after delivering an apology on behalf of the Government of Canada to former students of the Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools in 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Because in truth, education cannot just be reading, writing and arithmetic. It must also teach morality and a sense of right and wrong. This moral education is what each person's traditions and faith inculcate in them, something they learn from their parents, their family and their community.

And there is a non-sectarian way that public schools can bring the mindfulness of those lessons into each day's study. A way to focus the day's lessons through the prism of morality.

It's called a moment of silence.

A new depth of meaning to classes

Each day, at the start of the day, students sit silently for 60 seconds. Their teachers do not tell them what to think during that moment. That's left up to their parents and guardians. In this way, each child is given a time in which to ground themselves in the framework of the culture and morals that is meaningful to them.

With that mindset, the day's classes take on a new depth of meaning.

The moment of silence is common for our neighbour to the south, where it has been shown to be of tremendous benefit to students.

It has been instituted in more than 1,000 schools across the U.S. and the results have been incredible, with principals reporting higher grades and a qualitatively more relaxed environment at the school. Juvenile delinquency rates have dropped considerably as well.

If you see people doing the wrong thing, take a moment of silence and ask yourself, 'Should I join them or walk away?'- Student, PS 191

A growing body of evidence from scholars attests to the concept's positive impact on the student body, although none of it more powerful than testimony from children and principals of those schools where it has had a tangible impact.

"The moment of silence is when you stop what you are doing and think about all the bad things you did and try to change it," wrote a student at PS 191 elementary school in Brooklyn. "The moment of silence is also for a time of silence and for no noise. It's also a time if you see people doing the wrong thing, take a moment of silence and ask yourself, 'should I join them or walk away?'"

"This moment of silence sets the tone for the remainder of the school day.… The school is calmer and focused on instruction," wrote the principal of PS 138 in Brooklyn. "Above all, I support the moment of silence because of its effects, and it allows the school community to gain a stronghold before starting daily routines."

It is inherently non-sectarian and secular: it is simply a time for children to stop and think. But it is a proven way to bring a heightened sense of morality to the classroom and it's a way of demonstrating the validity and importance of each child's background and culture.

And by its very design, the moment of silence fosters the parent-child connection which studies have shown can increase success in school and reduce the likelihood of problematic behaviour, such as drug abuse and violence. Children are encouraged to have meaningful discussions with their parents about the values and morals that their culture holds dear, and in doing so, they deepen that crucial parent-child connection.

Let's bring a moment of silence to Newfoundland and Labrador's schools. A better tomorrow is in our hands, today.

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