At a conference yesterday at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, educators and theologians gathered to discuss “The 21st Century Episcopal School.” What is the role of Episcopal schools as our society becomes more and more pluralistic? As more students arrive at our schools with little or no religious tradition?
Episcopal schools today span a wide range of religious practice, and welcome students from all religious traditions, as well as those from no religious tradition. While many of these schools have more traditional rituals than we do at White Mountain, our connection with the Episcopal Church remains alive in our school – through our commitment to service, our belief in the unique worth and beauty of all human beings, and in our invitation to students to explore the biggest, most challenging questions about meaning and purpose in life.
As a common experience before yesterday’s conference, we all read a speech by Paul Tillich from 1956 on the “Theology of Education.” Several of the speakers focused on a particular section of Tillich’s speech where he suggested that Episcopal schools “must try to find the existentially important questions which are alive in the minds and heart of the pupils. It must make the pupil aware of the questions which he already has.” Answers only have meaning to students when the questions are alive in their heart. Therefore, our first task is to help students discover the questions within themselves.
At White Mountain, this is embedded in our culture. We place premium on authentic inquiry – the pursuit of understanding driven by questions the students truly hold. It happens in our classrooms in traditional courses, but it also happens in readings at morning meeting, in our residential curriculum, in our Philosophy and Religious Studies classes. I feel lucky to be serving a school rooted in the Episcopal tradition because that tradition provides a foundation for helping young people wrestle with the deepest questions of being – existential questions such as: Who am I? What do I value? How do I live a life of purpose and meaning?