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Spirituality as Us

an Interview with Michael Dallaire


by Trina Moran

‘Patriotism is identification with others in the ongoing life of a political community. The patriot is someone who looks ahead into a future where she hopes her community will persist and prosper, and also behind into the past of her people, a past which, by virtue of identification with her fellow citizens, becomes integral to her own story as well.’

(Eamonn Callan, “Pluralism and Civic Education” in Studies in Philosophy and Education, Vol. II. 1991, p. 75.)

clip_image004 Inspiring spirituality within communities, Michael Dallaire encourages others to find ‘more’ within themselves and in the community. Originally from Ontario, Michael is currently the C.A.I.S. (Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars) Scholar in Residence at Simon Fraser University researching and writing on spirituality and hope. Michael specializes in engaged spirituality. HE feels that through acts of engaged spirituality a civic community is formed and it is through these acts one feels a part of the community.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts in history from Queen’s University in 1977, Michael entered a religious order. During this time Michael got the opportunity to live, work, and study in various regions all over Canada. In 1983 he received his Bachelor of Theology from St. Paul University at the University of Ottawa and followed this degree with C.P.E. chaplaincy training at Andover Newton Theological School in Boston, MA. In 1984, after one year in a parish ministry, Michael left religious life and decided to focus his energies on learning with those on the margins of society serving as an ecumenical chaplain within two Ottawa public housing projects. He also holds a MA (Th) in Christian Ethics at St. Paul University and a Diploma in Education from McGill and an Ed.D. in Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

Michael has spent twenty-one years as Catholic School chaplain, ministering in six different schools throughout Ontario. It is in these schools, high schools especially, that Michael sees the most value for teaching civic spirituality. Michael told me a story about a field trip to a farm a class of students went on while he was a chaplain. At the farm, the students were volunteering around the farm with various tasks, such as moving firewood. At the end of the trip, Michael was talking with one of the students who helped move firewood that day. She described the experience to him as very rewarding, stating that the fact she was working towards the wellness of others was inspiring for her. Overall, Michael stresses the importance of working towards the wellness of the community or of other communities is what creates the bonds of civic spirituality as well as the spirituality within oneself. This goes on to create what he describes as the ‘soul of the community’.

Michael is also the author of Teaching with the Wind: Spirituality in Canadian Education, published 2011,where he explores the question ‘can education for a Canadian civic spirituality bridge the sometimes incommensurable world views of faith-based schools and secular public schools?’ In the book, Michael offers an answer based on two foundations: 1. A national soul can be identified and serve as the content of spiritual education in Canadian schools. 2. A reconstructed method of contemplation in action can provide an appropriate pedagogy for Canadian spiritual education. With Canada being the multi-cultural canon it has evolved into, civic spirituality is essential for Canada’s national identity as a multicultural nation within a secular democracy.

clip_image006Going back to Teaching With the Wind, Michael is ‘aware that Canadians as a people are on a journey and there is a gracious river of meaning that flows throughout our history helping to provide direction for our collective journey’ (Dallaire 10). What Michael means by this is that ‘if we do not study our history, we do not know our story… If we forget that history, we cannot move towards the future’. By not knowing our history, we lose our sense of identity on a national level which is vital to civic spirituality.

Schools within the Vancouver School Board have already taken part in a program that is similar to the morals and principles of civic spirituality. MindUP is a comprehensive social and emotional learning program and is informed by current research in the fields of cognitive neuroscience, mindful education, social and emotional learning, positive psychology and evidence-based teaching practices. MindUP aspires to: develop students’ skills in focusing their attention, sharpen students’ awareness of their environment and themselves by paying attention to what they sense and feel, strengthen the positive human qualities students possess (including their capacity to understand the perspectives of others and to be empathic, helpful, and kind), increase students’ optimism and well-being, foster a cohesive and caring learning environment. While MindUP has obvious roots in Buddhist meditation techniques, it is decidedly non-religious. For more information on the MindUP program please visit http://www.thehawnfoundation.org./curriculum.

A good portion of Teaching With the Wind: Spirituality in Canadian Education focuses on the role of the teacher. Michael refers to the Platonic understanding of education as ‘a process of turning the soul of the student to the life of the world’ (Dallaire 12).

When asked to define community, Michael defined it as innate. We are born a communal people and we need community in order to live. He also notes that people learn language through community. Overall, we think and learn as a community. ‘You can’t be a human being without community’. clip_image008

In essence, Michael Dallaire is an educator and writer who embraces a multi-cultural identity of being Canadian and his goal is to educate communities about civic spirituality and how it will bring out a new sense of awareness and well-being both to the individual and to the community as a whole. Most importantly, for civic spirituality to be present in the community, ‘we need to see spirituality as us’. Michael Dallaire will be speaking at the Kerrisdale Community Centre and will be featured as a part of the KCC Speaker Series, Crossroa Cafe in March 2013.

More About Michael: www.michaeldallaire.com