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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 2000 Issue #70 

Heart and Soul in Education
Jodi Tuttle
, Head of School
Academy at Cedar Mountain
Cedar City, Utah

The 20th century is one that has totally amazed us with scientific and technological wonders. We have created technology that would be beyond the belief of anyone who was living at the beginning of the century. However, the downside of this technology is that we have also watered down our own humanity by turning wisdom into information, community into consumerism, politics into manipulation and destiny into DNA. We are struggling to find nourishment for the hungers of the heart and soul.

I’m in agreement with Linda Houghton from King George School who relates how we modeled our education system after the early 20th century factory-model for workers. We took the ancient exchange between student and teacher in a world where human beings together explored the depths of the soul, and we’ve turned that process into one of amassing data and technique. No wonder our youth of today are struggling as they hunger for meaning in life.

When discussing soul in education, I am not talking about religion, I am calling attention to a student’s inner life. I am focusing on the depth dimension of human experience, the student’s longings for something more than an ordinary, material, and fragmented existence. When soul is a part of the classroom, masks drop away. Students dare to share the joy and talents that they were afraid to share for fear of provoking jealousy in other students. They begin to risk exposing the pain or shame that peers might judge as weakness. By seeing deeply into the perspective of others, accepting what has felt unworthy in themselves, students discover compassion and begin to understand forgiveness.

We need to understand that adolescence is a time when longings awaken with an intensity that many have misunderstood and described as only “hormones.” This is a time in life when larger questions about meaning, identity, responsibility, and purpose begin to press with an urgency and loneliness. If we ignore and suppress these questions, the spiritual forces inside our young people turn toxic and explosive. By providing students with opportunities to channel their energy constructively and to explore their mysteries with peers and supportive elders, young people can find balance, integrity, meaning, and connection in life. Rachael Kessler in her book, The Soul of Education, describes a multitude of methods that can assist school personnel in creating heart and soul in education. She relates seven gateways that help students find connection, compassion, and character in their lives. These gateways offer both a language and a framework for developing practical teaching strategies to invite soul into the classroom. These ordinary activities can have an extraordinary effect in meeting needs long neglected for so many teenagers.

These seven gateways include: the yearning for deep connection, the longing for silence and solitude, the search for meaning and purpose, the hunger for joy and delight, the creative drive, the urge for transcendence, and the need for initiation. Each of these gateways can be a path for nourishing the heart and soul of students. She describes these as not a developmental sequence, nor stages that each student goes through in a particular order. Kessler maintains that some students will be engaged and satisfied through certain gateways and not through others. Many times the gateways are not distinct, but overlap and interact for each student, individually.

We at the Academy at Cedar Mountain believe that it is important to seek ways to encourage the development of heart, spirit, and community. We think is important for adults and students alike to engage in the powerful dialogues and meaningful experiences for which we all yearn. We respect the religious beliefs of students and still give them a glimpse of the rich array of experiences that feed the soul. We provide a forum that recognizes and celebrates the ways individual students nourish their spirits, and offer activities that allow students and elders to feel deeply connected—to themselves, to their family, community, and to the larger world. Through these activities, young people discover what is essential in their own lives and in life itself and they learn how to bring their gifts to the world.

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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