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Posted October 31, 2003 

Nurturing the Inner Lives of Children and Teachers
Edited by: Linda Lantieri
Boston:Beacon Press:2001

Reviewed by Lon Woodbury

The editor relays her early frustration with teaching in public schools where the Separation of Church and State seemed to prohibit her talking about spiritual matters at all. She knew her spiritual beliefs were very important to her and a significant part of her being, and she felt divided, not providing her best efforts for her students. This book is a collection of essays by several educators who faced the same dilemma, and each found ways to bring “soul” and “spirit” into the classroom in a way that allowed them to teach to the whole child, without violating the principle of the Separation of Church and State. In other words, they are attempting to bring meaning and purpose into the classroom.

In the foreword, Daniel Goleman points out that the concepts presented by the writers featured in Schools with Spirit are consistent with his ground-breaking book, Emotional Intelligence. The Schools with Spirit editor and Goleman both state that they feel it describes approaches that are the next natural step in developing practices that teach to the whole child, especially the aspects Goleman describes in Emotional Intelligence. Each of the Schools with Spirit writers have developed a different solution to the goal of being public school teachers that are “divided-no-more.”

Some describe how they have used art as a tool to help the students nurture their inner life, while others have drawn on a respect for nature and learn from Native American concepts. Another writer describes how learning the philosophy and practice of the martial arts can be a powerful anchor in teaching to a child’s inner life, as well as the more secular goals of public education.

All students have the basic meaningful questions we all ask from time to time, such as “Who am I?” and “Does my life have meaning?” But, since these questions demand a spiritual focus to even discuss them, they were ignored or turned aside until the teacher found a way to address them without bringing religion into the classroom.

The editor points out that her journey to the vision of Schools With Spirit came through her work exploring ways to help students with conflict resolution. She concluded that a root part of the problem of violence in our culture is being fostered by a narrow secular education with no attention to the spiritual side of humans. It was a logical next step to find ways to address spiritual or soul questions. Expressing enthusiastic support for the Constitutional principle of the Separation of School and State, the various writers present approaches they believe address children’s inner lives, while also respecting the wide diversity of religious and spiritual perspectives found in this county.

The book summarizes a movement in public school to teach to the whole child that parallels the work being done by private residential Emotional Growth schools and programs. Many of the approaches described in this book have long histories in some of the better-established residential Emotional Growth schools and programs commonly written about in this newsletter.

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