Spiritual Development in Public and Religious Schools: A Case Study

Author(s): Lynn Revell

Source: Revell, Lynn. 2008. “Spiritual Development in Public and Religious Schools: A Case Study.” Religious Education 103: 102-118.

Link: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00344080701807544

Teachers in religious schools commonly consider spirituality as an important part of the educational process, but do public school teachers also recognize the need for spirituality in schools? Although restricted from explicitly bringing religious and spiritual issues into the classroom, a recent study reports that public school teachers also believe that spirituality has a place in education. But are these conceptions of spirituality the same?

About the Study
Revell conducted this qualitative study in four private religious schools and five public schools in two major American cities, Boston and Chicago. Of the private religious schools, two were Catholic, one was Lutheran, and one was a Jewish school. The five public schools were all involved in character education programs. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with principals and teachers and a total of 28 interviews were conducted with questions focusing on the way teachers defined spirituality in education, interpreted the significance of spirituality, and the activities or ethos associated with spirituality in the school.

Themes of Interest
Teachers in the religious schools considered moral and spiritual education as part of the curriculum and noted that spirituality was not the same as religion, but was often promoted through the specific worship and tradition of each religion. For teachers in religious schools, spiritual development was the result of a communal process and something that was developed within the school. Teachers in public schools considered a spiritual element of education as important to their students and believed that spirituality could exist outside of a religious framework within public schools. Some considered moral and character education to fill this need to educate the whole child, with the use of patriotic rituals and symbols in the place of religious rites. Both sectors saw spirituality as a way to develop community and identity within the school.

Some Limitations to Consider
While Revell’s study reveals that some public school educators consider spirituality an important part of education, these findings may not be generalizable to the larger population. As the author chose to interview only public school teachers in schools that were using character education programs, the study may be limited with regard to school environment. More information on the context of these schools and what goes on in these schools would give greater support to the study. Content analysis of communications, courses and lessons, student and teacher interactions, and additional ways in which the environment of the school matches the teachers’ responses would provide additional support for the authors’ findings. We would like to have seen the author draw out more clearly the differences between spirituality understood and integrated in these different contexts. Spirituality can mean a variety of different things, so it would have been helpful to see the questionnaire used in the interviews to ensure that the responses were not an artifact of the methods in this study. 

Keywords: spirituality, teachers, character education, community

Sector: Catholic,  Jewish,  Other Protestant,  Public

Outcomes: Civil and Political,  Religious and Spiritual

Date Posted: 2014-01-06