The Virtues Project is a wonderful program to teach values and virtues to kids, but its tree poster
puts my teeth on edge. The tree doesn’t have any roots.
The Virtues Project was founded in Canada in 1991 by Linda Kavelin Popov, Dan Popov and John Kavelin. It was honoured by the United Nations during the International Year of the Family in 1994 as a “model global program for families of all cultures.” It’s accepted by people from a variety of faiths and those claiming no faith. Thousands of schools in Canada and around the world hang the posters in the hallways and use the teachings.
But the lofty deciduous tree on the poster is reaching for the sky with its roots sheared off. What does the image teach?
I know that teachers and other adults can explain, extrapolate and lecture, but even a preschooler can read pictures, and we all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. Roots feed and nurture. They support us so we don’t topple or blow away.
I agree that the Virtues Project is good. It fills the void left when teaching religion in public schools was banned. When I went to school, no one thought much about the fact that the local United Church minister came into the class and talked about the parables or the golden rule (although I do remember that the three Catholic students left the room). So to introduce a project that emphasizes co-operation, moderation, self-discipline, compassion and so on is wonderful. But why are the roots of the tree missing? And why does it bother me so much?
It has to do with my general concern about the next generation knowing the roots of our own traditional, spiritual and national values. These values haven’t materialized out of thin air; they were given to us by earlier generations and shaped by story and experience. They are inside us, just as calcium, iron and oxygen are inside us. They make us who we are.
American author Alex Haley taught us about roots in his stunning book by that name in 1976. More recently, The Book of Negroes by Canadian Lawrence Hill
gave us a new way to see back in time so we can live in the present more fully. You may have to get on a library waiting list to reread these beautiful books, but it would be an excellent way to celebrate Black History month.
For Christians, the season of Lent is a good time to explore our spiritual roots. The season is rich with values, meaning, tradition and stories. We need our roots: family, national and spiritual. Otherwise, how can we fly? Carolyn McDade says it beautifully in her hymn Spirit of Life: “Roots hold me close; wings set me free; Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.”
I wish you well in your Lenten journey. I wish you strong roots.
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