As America heads back to school, our education system faces many challenges. The ideal of providing a free, quality education for every child who enters the school doors – regardless of how extreme the need (emotional, physical, academic, linguistic, etc.) – can seem impossible to achieve. “We take ’em all, and do the best we can,” a teacher colleague of mine used to say. But striving to reach that lofty ideal which inspires many to become public school teachers too often leads to frustration.
A recent Monitor feature highlights a dilemma every teacher faces: helping the brightest students reach their potential with “no child [being] left behind.” New technologies promise more possibilities for individualizing instruction, but most teachers still find it daunting to tailor daily instruction to the wide-ranging needs and abilities of every student.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the outset of a new school year, when each new meeting with counselors, specialists, and parents presents another set of needs to be met. So over the 20 years I’ve been teaching middle school, it’s been helpful to shift my perspective to a spiritual view that illuminates what’s really going on – to see not a troubled child struggling with behavior or learning issues, but rather a child of a perfect, loving God, reflecting His spiritual qualities of goodness, intelligence, and harmony. As the Bible states in Genesis, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him...” (1:27).
This was how Jesus saw everyone, and it formed the basis for his teaching and healing. Where the human mind tends to focus on limitation and fear, Jesus’ view liberates and lifts us to recognize our spiritual nature. And he and his students proved the power of this truth over and over in their healing work, which many saw as miracles but were actually the natural results of spiritual laws governing human experience. This Bible verse is a helpful reminder: “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7).
As children of God, all students have unlimited potential to express intelligence, despite psychological or medical theories that might predict otherwise. Children are perceptive about how they are viewed and treated, and tend to respond accordingly. Taking a spiritual view of them, I’ve seen many struggling students flourish in class. And I’ve seen negative effects when I haven’t held to that pure view. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, wrote: “Let the perfect model be present in your thoughts instead of its demoralized opposite. This spiritualization of thought lets in the light, and brings the divine Mind ... into your consciousness” (p. 407).
School reform efforts have put the spotlight on teachers lately; studies show they are the single greatest factor in how much a child learns. Remembering that the Latin verb “to educate” means “to bring out” (not to pour in) knowledge can lessen the burden a teacher may feel. Our seeing students in their spiritual light helps children recognize and draw out their innate, God-given abilities. This perspective brings great promise for the new school year.