Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms by Aline D. Wolf [Book Review]
The mankind has been interested in spirituality since the dawn of time. People all over the world believe in God of their own, even in remote villages that have not been in contact with the rest of the world. This proves that the spirituality is a deeply rooted characteristic of all of us, something that Carl Jung taught to be a part of collective unconsciousness of all humankind.
Being born as a spiritual being, puts a great accent on nurturing this spirituality in the earliest age. Unfortunately, schools and parents have always been more interested in children learning their letters and numbers and many of them believe that religion has no place in schools. However, being religious is different than being spiritual. As the book explains, the main difference is that religions give answers, while spirituality raises questions. Having a curious and inquisitive mind is something all teachers should strive to develop in their students. In order to achieve it, the teacher herself/himself must be in their own way spiritual, having done a lot of work on herself/himself and continuing this introspection throughout their whole professional life.
If we think of young children, we immediately think of chaos, running, screaming and any other possible restlessness we can imagine. But deep down inside, all children express this inborn need for spirituality in an opposite way; they seek calm, relaxation, periods of quiet and solitude. In the Montessori environment we try to respond to those needs by incorporating various calming techniques into our curriculum and daily routine. We have peace tables and quiet corners where children go to when they need to run away from the noise or to resolve a problem with their friends. We practice quietness through Silence Game and Meditation and align our bodies and mind through Yoga. We take these practices seriously as we believe that “each child […] has special spiritual gifts that may gradually diminish if they are not adequately nourished.” (pg. 29) The chaos we see in most of the classrooms is the result of teachers focusing on academics and failing to nurture the spirits of their students.
Besides Maria Montessori, many other educational philosophers, being influenced by her or not, preached about the importance of spiritual development, such as Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Fröbel. They all believed that the education of the child should be approached in a holistic way, taking into consideration intellectual, physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. Some educators went a step further and practiced what they preached, such as Rudolf Steiner and George Fox, whose philosophies are spreading in schools across the planet.
By being spiritual we are deeply connected to our root which is our planet and taking care of our Mother Earth becomes our main mission in life. Montessori developed a whole curriculum area dedicated to what she called “Cosmic Education”, taking the name from the Greek word “cosmos”, which is more than just “universe”. According to Webster’s dictionary it is “the universe conceived as an orderly and harmonious system, contrasted with chaos”. (pg. 90) She put a lot of accent on having order deeply embroidered into every aspect of the curriculum, as she believed that children, at one point of their development, become very sensitive to order. This high sensitivity represents the best time to nurture this orderly spirit as it will create a life-lasting impression, or a habit.
Us teachers, must follow this and other sensitive periods, if we want to guide our students “to follow their bliss”. (pg. 96) We must prepare our environment, so it reflects the deep care for our planet and encourages the spirit of community service. Everything in it must entice calmness and peace. The book provides so many valuable and practical ideas that can be incorporated, some of them briefly mentioned in this review. It is a great read for everyone involved in upbringing of young children, as only together we can make a difference. The world we know is moving opposite from these goals in full speed, as the book sadly and beautifully concludes: “How can we as spiritually aware teachers, a relatively small group of adults, work effectively in a culture that seems to be rushing headlong away from the values of stillness, wonder, simplicity, peace, compassion and care of the earth?” (pg. 167) This should not discourage us, as the goal is not unattainable. If every teacher works on her/his classroom as a microcosmos, these microcosmoses will surely make a positive impact on the wider community.