- a book all
of us who work with children ought to read carefully and"visit"
Here is one
of these priceless, quiet books that we hold up and declare
,"Every parent, every teacher, every lawmaker, should know this
Joseph Chilton Pearce.
like an Angel came I down!
bright are all things here!
first among his Works I did appear
how their Glory did me crown!
World resembled his ETERNITIE,
which my Soul did walk;
ev'ry thing that I did see
with me talk.
Skies in their Magnificence,
lively lovely Air,
how divine, how soft, how sweet, how fair!
Stars did entertain my Sense;
all the Works of God so bright and pure,
rich and great, did seem,
if they ever must endure In my Esteem.
Nativ Health and Innocence
my Bones did grow,
while my God did all his Glories show
felt a vigour in my Sense
was all SPIRIT: I within did flow
Seas of Life like Wine;
nothing in the World did know
Well, I must
confess: this review is being composed and written in a state of
exultation which is probably not very conducive to objectivity.
Even worse, I don't care! I'm in love with this book and I wish
everybody would buy a copy, because it proclaims a truth about
children that our society, let alone our school system, would
leave entirely out of the equation if they could, because it's not
an objectively provable equation! If we who work with children did
so on the basis of this truth, our institutions would have to
change drastically, and institutions don't operate that way - at
least, not in America!
God, Robert Coles and Joe Pearce agree with me! I guess, in the
world I wish were our shared reality, nobody would worry overmuch
about being objective, because it wouldn't be necessary. Instead,
we'd have common sense to fall back on. Mark Twain is once said to
have said, "Common sense is very uncommon." William James talks
about the difference between genuinely being "in sync" with one's
will - and making resolutions to do or stop doing something by
"willing" to do it. The latter doesn't really work. Making real
changes in one's way of doing things comes from a very different
place, and more than not, works in the dark, only bursting forth
full-blown, often to one's total surprise or even consternation!
In other words, change is alchemical - it works on what Thomas
Moore (or the Dalai Lama) would call the soul
with the Thomas Traherne poem (above) from which it detrives its
title, this marvelous book is about the nature of life at the soul
level, as seen through the eyes of children from the ages of five
through eleven gathered in a small Boston school with two teachers
in it which operated between the years 1835 and 1837. It's not
really a book to be read straight through - at least, not for me.
Like Coles, I receive it as a "place" I love to visit. Let me tell
you about that "place."
was housed in the upper floor of a large stone building owned by
the Masonic Order located in downtown Boston on a street named
"Temple Street" - and so, the school was given the name, "The
Temple School." A Miss Elizabeth Peabody, unmarried member of a
distinguished Boston family, who had just opened a small school of
her own, had become deeply impressed by Alcott as a teacher and
offered to join forces with him in this new school, in which she
would function as his assistant and later, recorder of his
conversations with the children.
milieu for the school was the period in New England called by Van
Wyck Brooks, "The Flowering of New England" - the 1830's; a time
when such Transcendentalist luminaries as Margaret Fuller,
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau,
William Ellery Channing and Herman Melville were New England's
leading writers and thinkers.
by people in England like the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge,
these people were deeply imbued by a shared sense of the spiritual
nature of human life. Brooks tells a lovely story about Margaret
Fuller, one of their more flamboyant members, giving a lecture in
England attended by the great Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. She
flings her arms wide, crying out in ecstasy, "I accept the
universe!" "Gad, she'd better!'' mutters crusty old Thomas
Alcott was another such person, a man deeply in love with and
totally dedicated to the spiritual throughout his life, despite
being dogged by great poverty from the beginning to the end of it!
Louisa May Alcott's story, Little Women, is his daughter's
unalloyed tribute to her father's influence on her own values!
Poor as they always were, his wife and four daughters never once
reproached or resented his saintly but totally impractical
School survived for less than three years, but its short span was
an educationally brilliant one. A gentle man who genuinely loved
children - and perhaps even more tellingly, respected them! - in
addition to offering his pupils their ordinary school subjects, he
conducted conversations with them twice a week based on a reading
and then discussion of the Gospels, during which occasions he
would ask them questions which enabled them to look deeply into
their own psyches and bring out answers which represented their
most earnest and heart-felt beliefs. These sessions were
faithfully recorded by Miss Peabody.
creative idyll came to an end largely as a result of the bad
publicity engendered by the publication of Elizabeth Peabody's
Record of a School, and Alcott's Conversations with
Children on the Gospels. These verbatim accounts of what
Alcott had been doing with his children were denounced from
Boston's pulpits as obscene corruption of the "purity" of children
- particularly of female children in "mixed" company - and focused
on Alcott's (very delicate) discussion of the nature of birth on
one occasion, and a comment made by young (five years old) Josiah
Quincy on the body's coming into incarnation "through the
naughtiness of other people."
was forcibly closed in a storm of bitter controversy and
condemnation by these Puritannical Bostonians over the willingness
of Alcott and Peabody to encourage freedom of thought and
expression to children in a period when children were taught
entirely by rote in other schools, who were supposed to be "seen
but not heard" - and for the unorthodoxy of the views expressed by
the children themselves.
the copies of these volumes that had not been destroyed ended up
being sold by the publisher as paper to line trunks with! We are
fortunate that a few copies survived.
Howell's editorial commentary at the end of the book on the nature
of true teaching is of equal value here. I reproduce a little of
(educere) means drawing forth what is already within. This Alcott
did supremely well. He listened. And by judicious questioning, he
provided what I have called in my other books "occasions for
attacks of insight" - those "Aha! I get it!" outbursts which are
the teacher's delight.
aside a few minutes in every class for a mini-conversation pays
off. It establishes trust and mutual respect. Like the eye of a
camera, the lens of the psyche opens wider, so that more
information can subsequently flow in. Having attended so many
schools in several different countries in my own childhood, I
learned quickly to "psych" out my teachers and noticed what made
some of them good and some even bad at teaching. You can also slam
the door in a child's mind. I learned that fear closes the lens of
learning. Fear of punishment, fear of mistakes, fear of ridicule,
fear of criticism and rejection. There was no fear in Mr. Alcott's
schoolroom, and I hope there was none in mine.
teachers, and I had three, all had two things in common: they
loved what they were doing, and they made learning exciting. Over
the years I have been privileged to observe several colleagues who
had the same gifts, and I have read of many others. It is evident
from Miss Peabody's records that the children greatly enjoyed the
these conversations interesting? said Mr. Alcott. Because they
give us new ideas, said a boy. Many others said they liked them
for the same reason. Mr. Alcott then said, conversations are the
most perfect transcript of the mind. Could all the conversations
of great minds be recorded, it would give us a better idea of them
than the history of their lives. Why is the New Testament so
interesting? Because it is full of the conversations of Jesus.
Conversations of Socrates make the next most interesting book.
Conversation is full of life. The spirit's workings come out in
conversations, fresh and vivid. Why, if I thought I only gave you
knowledge and could not lead you to use it to make yourselves
better, I would never enter this schoolroom again
Two of Miss
Peabody's recorded remarks by children, as quoted by Alice Howell,
are especially delightful to me. One of them is an outburst by a
five-year old, "Oh, Mr. Alcott, I never even knew I had a mind
until I came to this school!" The other is an answer given by
Charles Morgan, whose father was a whale oil merchant, to the
question of what he thinks his mission in incarnating in this life
might be, "I think the mission of my soul is to sell
I would like to reproduce Wordsworth's poem (also cited by Mrs.
Howell) on birth and early childhood which has long been a
favorite of mine, containing as it does a level of truth about the
birth of children which we seem to have forgotten in our modern
world. Like Alcott, like Alice Howell, I have found great innate
spiritual beauty and profound wisdom within the beings of the
children I have taught, and have always considered it my task to
nurture that inner beauty.
INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY
RECOLLECTIONS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD
birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
Soul that rises with us, our life's Star
had elsewhere its setting,
cometh from afar:
in entire forgetfulness,
not in utter nakedness,
trailing clouds of glory do we come
God, who is our home:
lies about us in our infancy!
of the prison-house begin to close
the growing Boy,
he beholds the light, and whence it
sees it in his Joy;
Youth, who daily farther from the east
travel, still is Nature's priest,
by the vision splendid
on his way attended;
length the Man perceives it die away,
fade into the light of common day.
to read an excerpt from Alice Howell's Dove in the