God and Learning: The Science of Faith-based Education


Re-posting of the newsletter article that I wrote for our school newsletter:

In the Fall 2015 issue of Independent School Magazine, Dr. Lisa Miller, director of the Clinical Psychology Program at Teachers College (Columbia University), wrote “Education for the Heart and Mind: The Science of Spirituality Informs a New Developmental Model.” The article extends the conversation she began in her book, The Spiritual Child, and celebrates the difference an education program like ours can make as we emphasize spirituality and inspire development of the “sacred self.”

Dr. Miller begins her writing by recognizing the need among all learners “to seek and perceive transcendence.” The word “transcendence” can lead in various directions; however, we will use the word as it applies to self-discovery and learning the answer to “What does it all mean?” When supported, this need to know the answer to greater questions helps galvanize one’s relationship with God. Spirituality is a necessity in the development of a young person, and our school explores this sacred relationship from the very beginning, facilitating and participating in conversations with students about God’s love, His creation, and the work we are called to do.

This connection to faith impacts the middle school student, in particular. During the “tweenage” years, young men and women desperately seek a way to connect the world that requires so much of them to a reason for all the effort. They pursue gratification while realizing, on some level, that nothing of this world can provide it. Utilizing the supportive network of teachers at school, we aim for students to find the road that leads to a better understanding, one that is connected to their faith. This sacred connection allows middle school students to understand their place in the world; young people discover that they are loved unconditionally as students in our school. Further, they quickly discover that they are expected to treat others with the same respect. Upon recognizing this lesson, a young person has significantly less inclination to grasp at attention or acceptance through bad choices; they are appreciated for the unique traits and talents – no action beyond a return of this trust is required. Faith-based education impacts the brain by building self-confidence, calmness, and focus.

Reid, my 2-year-old son, asks, “Why, Daddy?” more than I can count in a day. I adore his sense of wonder. But Dr. Miller postulates that Reid is in search for more than attention. Even at a very young age, the human mind thirsts for fact or reason; from toddler to adolescence, children ask questions to enhance their understanding of the world around them. These inquiries are immeasurable opportunities for personal and academic development.

In middle school, we invest classroom time in discussion- based learning seminars. These seminars allow for students to voice their opinions and debate those of others. Rather than searching for the “right answer” from a teacher, students explore and discover truth on their own terms, building confidence in their knowledge and trust in one another to support them in the search. This pedagogy serves as a platform for understanding just how vast the world can be within the safe comforts of a classroom conversation. Dr. Miller identifies the “teacher-student relationship, small homerooms, school-wide cultural values, nature as an experiential classroom, and the focus on the natural ‘teleology’ of each student” as necessary components to facilitating the sacred self. Your student has found a place that cherishes all these things by joining our middle school family.

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