The Soul of Education
THE SOUL OF EDUCATION
I read a wonderful book this weekend, The Soul of Education by Rachael Kessler.
She was brought to the work by two concerns: A desire to prevent violence, and a desire to honor the spiritual yearnings of young people. For as she very rightly says “when soul is present in education, attention shifts…The yearning, wonder, wisdom, fear and confusion of the students becomes central to the curriculum.” (p.x).
She also asserts that a lot of the risks that our adolescents take and a lot of their anti social behavior such as gang membership and initiation are driven by developmentally appropriate urges that we don’t successfully address as a culture.
A major thrust of the book is her absolutely elegant discussions of how to include these spiritual themes in public education in a way that preserves the separation of church and state and honors the great range of approaches to spirituality present in our families, from completely secular families to evangelical fundamentalists. With grace, care and deep listening, she shows how to navigate these difficult issues.
Kessler, and her organization, www.passageworks.org, feature 4 practices and 7 gateways.
The four practices are:
1. GROUND RULES that empower students to define and take ownership of safety in their group
2. GAMES AND SYMBOLIC EXPRESSIONS to offer in indirect way to express themselves.
3. MYSTERIES QUESTIONS PROCESS to make sure address what is in the hearts of the students
4. COUNCIL PROCESS enabling students to listen and to speak from their hearts.
These 4 practices are crucial in creating the conditions under which the adolescents can safely explore and express their developmentally appropriate burning issues.
7 GATEWAYS TO THEIR SOULS
These gateways are different paths to soul. A given student doesn’t have to go through all of them at all, nor is there any particular order
Each gateway begins with a yearning. It’s that yearning, I think, that allows the gateway to be a gateway.
1. Yearning for deep connection
2. Longing for silence and solitude
3. Search for meaning and purpose
4. Hunger for joy and delight
5. Creative Drive
6. Urge for transcendence
7. Need for initiation
Her book discusses all seven of these gateways and is filled with a plethora of examples of what she means by the pathways, how she and others work with these pathways in a public school context, and the profound difference it makes for our children.
The book was written in 2000, before No Child Left Behind accelerated a change away from anything not related to cognitive performance in schools. Kessler, may her memory be for a blessing, died in 2010. But her work lives on, and is absolutely inspiring. I urge you to read it.