Charter schools are independent public schools designed and operated by educators, community leaders, education entrepreneurs, and others and are open to all students. Each charter school has a distinct mission and vision and, therefore, has the opportunity to focus on aspects of education that they believe are essential to educating children. Increasingly more charter schools are beginning to incorporate a focus on spiritual development into their missions, interactions with children, staff, and families, and curricula.
KEY FEATURES AND STRATEGIES IN MORAL AND SPIRITUAL EDUCATION
While each school that intentionally incorporates spirituality into its school environment likely has its own unique approach and philosophy, common features and strategies found in moral and spiritual education include the following:
Pluralism. Pluralism is seen in the school as a gift or strength that helps the student appreciate his own or her own tradition, ethnicity, race and appreciate the same in others.
Inclusiveness. Starting with common ground, likeness-" She's my friend, she's like me"-the strategy is to build from this bond toward appreciating difference as something that stirs delight and wonder, and not as a threat.
Awareness. Students are aware of the spiritual core within themselves, and the above elements are designed to make this core more clearly present in their emerging self-understanding.
Respect. This is a process that includes, in order, (1) self-respect, without it one is not ready to engage the other; from this (2) respect for others becomes a possibility. Building on this respect in the classroom there follows (3) respect for the environment (which includes the classroom and school buildings, the surrounding natural environment). Finally, once these local features have been understood, there enters the inculcation of (4) respect for society. This is the issue of citizenship.
These features and strategies imply that there is an experiential logic to the way we grow habits and virtues and that this can be practiced in school life if there is sufficient training to facilitate it. One begins with the immediate and local and then extends outward.
The East Bay Conservation Corps (EBCC) Charter School in Oakland, California, serves as a case study of schools that effectively put these features and strategies into practice. The EBCC Charter School was created out of the belief that public schools in the United States must prepare children for the challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities of life in a democratic, pluralistic society. Through service learning, the curriculum and culture of the school integrates spiritual development, creative expression, and service across a full range of academic subjects.
ABOUT THE EBCC CHARTER SCHOOL
In September 2001, the EBCC Charter School opened its doors to equip young students with academic, artistic, and civic literacy in a learning environment that fosters their intellectual, physical, and spiritual development. Students at the EBCC Charter School learn through serving their school and neighborhoods and then by extending this service to stewardship of the broader San Francisco Bay Area community and environment.
As a public school, the EBCC Charter School cannot narrowly advocate any particular religious tradition but endeavors to help each student find a personal spiritual center that can be carried over to lifelong practices in a culturally diverse world. As the school was planned, the key founders recognized that we live in a world where too often information and data overshadow the place of wisdom and virtue. The goal and challenge in planning for the school was, therefore, to create opportunities for silence and reflection, along with learning and acting, in order to realize a more complete understanding of what it means to educate children.