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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hello Dalai!

Over at the Chalkboard blog at the PI (by parent Denise Gonzalez-Walker), she reports that the district is doing two amazing things. One, on the first day of WASL, on Monday some students (she doesn't report which schools or how many kids) are going the Seeds of Compassion event with the Dalai Lama (I'm assuming after they take the WASL). Two, the bus transportation is free. (Parents can opt to not have their children go.)

Over at the Times today, there's an article by Emily Heffter about parents who are troubled about sending their children to hear a religious leader speak. From the article:

"Melissa Jones is a Christian. Patricia Gorham isn't affiliated with any particular religion. But both women have the same concern about Seattle Public Schools arranging for their children to hear the Dalai Lama speak Monday.

"It's a public school, and we're having a religious leader come and speak to our kids," Gorham said. "While I think he has great ideas about compassion — don't get me wrong — it's a bit of the principle of the thing, I guess."

Their kids, both John Hay Elementary School fifth-graders, could be among 14,500 schoolchildren from around the state to hear the Dalai Lama's message of compassion at KeyArena."

And later in the article;

"The Dalai Lama is "not here as a religious leader, nor is he here as a political leader in terms of the Seeds of Compassion event," said Patti Spencer, a district spokeswoman."

Hmmm. At the heart of it, the district's heart is in the right place. We should be fostering compassion in our children, an empathy will allow them to "get" what is happening to others (and perhaps act on it or, later in life, work towards or vote on an issue). But, I agree with these moms and disagree with Patti Spencer.

Saying he isn't here as a religious leader is just wrong. He is a religious leader and he himself is unlikely to ever shed that moniker and I'll lay odds he's addressed as "his holiness" the whole time he is here. I also agree that if it were the Pope coming, the district would not be jumping to let kids out of school and facilitate bus service (it is unclear how much the district is paying for the bus service). (The Pope is both head of state and head of a religion.)

And the Dalai Lama may not be here for a political event but he is the leader of Tibet. The entire Olympic flame relay is being disrupted because of the clash between China, the host of the Olympics and Tibet. The Olympic Committee is behaving in about the same way as the district in their thinking. The OC wants to say the Olympics isn't political; it's about athletes from around the world striving to do their best. That's all very noble but the flame relay? It was started by the Nazis. The networks and countries? They keep a medal count almost hourly. And now, in 2008, in a global economy with global concerns over the civil wars in Africa, global warming and the worldwide spread of disease like bird flu? And then you bring all these people together for a little friendly competition between countries and say ignore all of this especially the host country and its actions that affect people worldwide (toys anyone?)?

It likely would have been better for the district to acknowledge who the Dalai Lama is and say he is possibly, from his words and deeds, one of the best people to impart knowledge about compassion and how to live it every day. That's the reason to let them out of class but don't try to ask people to look the other way on who he is and what he represents.

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