By Tina Petrova
Scarboro Missions in Toronto has a long history of promoting the Golden Rule as a universal ethic. The jewel in the crown of their interfaith ministry may be a workshop called “Animating the Golden Rule with World Religions,” offered to hundreds of young people every week. The workshop opens a compelling, appreciative door into religion and spirituality in its full diversity. It introduces teen-agers to an ethic of reciprocity with joy and respect rather than judgment, with creative engagement rather than didacticism.
The achievement is remarkable. In a just world, Scarboro’s facilitators would be teaching teachers throughout Canada and far beyond. The world isn’t just, but it is networked, and with the story below and a few links at the bottom, you can learn much more about teaching and learning world religions through the lens of the Golden Rule. Ed.
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Lesson Plans in the Universal Ethic of Reciprocity
It’s a cold, snowy morning in Toronto Canada. At 9:15 am a group of 45 eleventh grade high school students get out of buses and file into a room. A music video with Bob Marley and Bono from U2 is playing loudly on the full sized screen behind them.
Most of them have fashionable hoodies obscuring their sleepy faces, covering I-pods or cell phone ear buds. A blank stare greets us from most.
During “Animating,” students break into groups and create skits exemplifying what they are learning about different religions.
Suddenly, they perk up. Images of Bob Marley performing a virtual duet with Bono flash life-size across the screen. The hoodies come down to their shoulders, and the ear buds come out. Chairs are pulled up closer to the front of the room, and the atmosphere shifts dramatically from resignation to interest and smiles.
Welcome to Scarboro Missions, an organization of lay and ordained men and women dedicated to spreading the good news, social justice, an ethic of reciprocity, and interfaith/intercultural dialogue.
“Animating the Golden Rule through the World’s Religions” takes students on an energetic six-hour fun, laughter and music filled adventure. They are invited into an experience of the beauty and wisdom of the world’s religions through the use of sacred symbols, stories, music, dress, movement, prayer, and meditation.
The journey these students take is the brainchild of Scarboro’s educational director, Kathy Murtha. She worked for more than 25 years developing curriculum for high school students before giving birth this particular program, working in collaboration with two award-winning Canadian artists, poet Kate Marshall Flaherty and filmmaker Tina Petrova.
“Animating the Golden Rule” draws nearly 5,000 Toronto-area students from high schools each year to Scarboro Missions Centre, mostly aged 16 and 17. It was designed to fulfill the requirements for a reflective, meditative retreat day for the Catholic School Board. Since starting in this format in 2005, though, the workshop has gone much further than the innovators dreamed.
The project has not gone unnoticed. Kathy and her team were invited to participate in a prototype multicultural program funded by Canada’s Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, in what may be Canada’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood, Regent Park. Designed for young people aged 16 to 25, it features six months of weekly sessions studying the arts in all its forms – hip hop, spinning music (as a DJ), fashion design, dance, photography and much more. Kathy and her gifted facilitators were chosen from a broad selection of organizations to provide an interfaith, intercultural experience for young adults from numerous backgrounds, including Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, and Rastafarian.
Both the high-school workshop and the Regent Park curriculum offer imaginative explorations of the Golden Rule. Paul McKenna, interfaith director at Scarboro Missions, is the creator the Golden Rule poster, one of the global interfaith movement’s most powerful and widely circulated resources. Paul has become an international spokesperson for the cause and oversees the translation and distribution of Golden Rule posters in numerous languages which are available at the Golden Rule movie. Video clips of the workshop can be viewed at GoldenRule TV.
Scarboro Missions has created a raft of educational tools, many of them downloadable for free at their website. The essence of the workshop has been captured in a DVD and Teachers Guidebook. For further information visit The Golden Rule Movie.