Cards on the table
What is spiritual development and how can schools foster it? Many RE and personal and social education teachers who have felt at ease with moral issues may shy away from education in the spiritual realms.
The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority discussion paper of September 1995 points out that spiritual development cannot be measured in linear fashion. It talks of the importance of curiosity, the inclination to question, the ability to value oneself and others, and awareness of when it is important to control emotions and how to learn to use such feelings as a source of personal growth.
Notwithstanding the degree of caution with which teachers may approach any programme for teaching intangible values, several organisations are trying to help with programmes to flesh out spiritual development education.
Joyce Mackley, director of the Templeton project, is optimistic. "If teachers have a method to approach the teaching of values," she says, "something they can use, not a book for assemblies, their scepticism is useful."
The Templeton project, funded by an American foundation and managed by the Christian Education Movement, sets out to provide just that. A teacher's book and resource pack, Looking Inwards, Looking Outwards: exploring life's possibilities, is being trialled in schools and will be launched in June. Aimed at secondary pupils, it offers activities and stories from all the major faith traditions for teachers to use. Author of a paper on "What's meant by spiritual education", Mrs Mackley has a tonic view of the subject which she has applied to devising the Templeton materials. "It's not some course which you start at the beginning and go on until you get a halo," she says.
A typical mind-twister from the project might involve discussing a story from the Jewish Talmud which asks what three people should do if they are in the desert with only enough water for two. Students prefer the egalitarian solution, to share the water. This means that all will die. So what do you do?
As Mrs Mackley says, it is not a question of telling students what to think, but of helping them explore what they do think. The project uses some of the aphorisms from Sir John Templeton's collection of 200 maxims from all over the world. Mrs Mackley has organised some of them under the headings of 13 spiritual values first itemised by Clive Beck, a Canadian educator. They have been arranged into a scheme which can be used to help pupils assess the importance of their own and society's values.
But how does this work in practice? At Cleeve School, near Cheltenham, mixed- ability pupils were enjoying their "life skills" class. Cleeve is a good school, with the best GCSE results for a comprehensive in Gloucestershire and the Year 10 students are at ease with their teacher Teresa Griffiths.
Ms Griffiths has been one of four teachers (the others are in a school in Luton, one in Lancashire and one in Edinburgh) who have been trialling the Templeton materials. Some of the children in Year 10 life skills have worked before on values with Ms Griffiths.
Lee, Beth and Candida are all 14. They and the table behind them, on which sit Camilla and Tim (twins), Ash and David, are fizzing with friendly teasing. "Go on, who's religious then?" chaffs David. Lee agrees that he is a "born-again Christian" and Beth owns up to going to church regularly "though not as much as I used to". Candida shrugs. "It's all right for them but I'm not interested. "
The values game is played with cards and a board with a pyramid of bricks drawn on it. Each card has a value - "Love", "Empathy", and so on. There are tiers on the pyramid and a few spaces. On the top tier is one space for "the ultimate value", below that two spaces for "world-shattering values", and so on down to "not valuable" and "dustbin".
Each player in turn takes a card from the top of the pack and lays it down in what he or she considers the appropriate space, explaining why that card should fit there. The next player can either take a new card or rearrange the cards on the board.
As the game progresses, Love has to go at the top, we all agree on my table, but there is a lot of argy-bargy over Devotion to God. A couple are dispatched to fetch a list of definitions from the teacher ("What IS empathy?" "The ability to feel with others") while the banter intensifies. Can Loyalty be bad in certain cases? What if someone is a murderer? Is Truthfulness important?
Beth is clear, it's only somewhat valuable. "Sometimes you have to lie to make someone feel good." Lee disagrees but relegates Beauty to the valuable tier to wry laughter from the two girls. "We don't agree," they chorus.
With painful candour, as she moves the Honesty card down a slot, Beth says: "I don't think you should always say what you think. It can be hurtful." A lot of life's lessons seem contained in that comment as in her later remark, on Humility, "I think if you're too meek you put yourself down". Lee, who oozes self-confidence, demurs. He quotes the Bible. "You should be humble or you will be humbled." Candida shrugs.
For Candida, tolerance and justice are values that figure highly. "You need to be able to tolerate others without going over to their way of thinking, " she says.
It is apparent to the observer that there is classic male-female split here. The girls home in on values relating to relating, whereas Lee focuses more on self and God, or as he puts it, "You need to progress other people to progress yourself". Thus, where Lee will muse on Peace, Beth will emphasise Freedom.
At the end of 40 minutes, we are still moving Peace around. Ms Griffiths rounds up the discussion with a list on the board. Love is the ultimate value. Justice, Equality, Peace and Freedom are also favourites, but the table behind us has gone for Success. They defend this apparently shallow choice on the grounds that it is what you make of your life that constitutes Success. No one believes them: as someone hisses to me, they are rich, clever, good-looking and popular. They have also classed Beauty as extremely valuable.
Camilla goes on the attack. "Can you tell me," she demands, pointing to a girl on the next table, "that when I meet you in town and you're telling me about your new boyfriend, you don't tell me how good-looking he is? Go on, can you? It's not all about his wonderful personality is it? Don't tell me Beauty isn't important." Beth flashes her eyes. "At least we ugly people can drink Martini, " she quips.
After the lesson, Ms Griffiths is enthusiastic. The students' evaluation sheets point up a few missing values, such as Joy. Some feel that negative values should have been put in to consign Hate, for instance, to the dustbin. "Sixth-form trials," says Ms Griffiths, "suggested that we should leave out the negative values. If you have them in, the exercise becomes too easy and the able children second-guess the game and do what they think the teacher wants them to do."
"We are trying to find methods to raise students' awareness," says Mrs Mackley. "This kind of interactive activity helps them to explore the issues for themselves, not just fill in a worksheet with the 'right' answers." Ms Griffiths adds: "We are trying to lift spiritual development from the fringes of the curriculum, from an under-funded, under-resourced shelf where a dusty book used for assemblies is lying. We don't want to use anything that is not real for young people today, that doesn't connect with the reality of their lives."
To judge by the response of Year 10 at Cleeve, the Templeton project is on the right lines. I asked Ash, 15, why he had given such a low place to Empathy. Wasn't that important? "Naah," he said. "Can't stand Empathy, we have to do it for GCSE history."
Looking Inwards, Looking Outwards: exploring life's possibilities is to be published in June. Contact Joyce Mackley, CEM Royal Buildings, Victoria Street, Derby DE1 1GW