Audrey Lingley was a middle school teacher for 15 years. She taught social studies and coached debate. As a mentor teacher and adjunct instructor, Lingley worked with aspiring teachers. After more than a decade in the field, she transitioned into the academy, the doctoral program in PSU’s Graduate School of Education, where she researched topics ranging from LGBTQ issues in teacher education to spirituality as a domain of human development. Lingley received an Ed. D. in the spring of 2013. She is also the recipient of two prestigious awards: the President’s Academic Achievement Award and the President’s University Service Award.
At this spring’s first annual, campus-wide research symposium, Lingley gave a talk highlighting her dissertation: Seeing Crucibles: Legitimizing Spiritual Development Through Critical Historiography. Her discussion focused on methods she employed and conclusions she came to while examining the question: “What is the educational relevance of spiritual development in middle grades education?”
It’s a complicated question for an educator to pose, let alone preform an in-depth study of.
For many the thought of introducing spirituality or spiritual development into the classroom comes too close to merging religion and education.
Lingley admits it’s a difficult subject to broach, but the discoveries she made over the course of researching and writing her dissertation indicate that incorporating spiritual development with other domains of human development: physical, social, emotional, psychological, cognitive, and moral in middle grades education is beneficial to the educational experience in general as well as to long-term success in life.
Lingley hopes her dissertation will provide others with a culturally respectful language to begin discussing the potential benefits of incorporating spiritual development into the education of middle grade school children and encourage further research into the subject.
“In the US,” Lingley said, “we don’t have a cultural consensus or an academic consensus on what the word spiritual signifies. That complicates any discussion or research project examining the relevance of spiritual development in public education. That lack of consensus is what drove me to use a theoretical research method for my dissertation. A theoretical approach gave me the tools to articulate the question in a way that it had not been articulated before.”
According to Lingley spiritual development is a process of “making meaning of one’s life, experiencing connection with someone or something greater than oneself, constructing an interpretive framework or lens through which life experiences are unraveled, cultivating compassion and empathy, strengthening resilience and making commitments to certain values and/or beliefs.”
Lingley argues that teachers equipped with the tools to foster the processes of spiritual development in young adolescents can make students feel a greater sense of belonging in the context of their educational experience. And studies have shown students with a sense of belonging exhibit greater academic achievement and engagement.
“The other thing,” Lingley said, “that appeals to me professionally, as a teacher, about incorporating spiritual development into education is the potential for joy and wonder. That’s what I love about being in education. Young adolescents bring so much joy and wonder. They have an exuberance that is breathtaking to witness and I think spirituality has something to do with that.”
Putting aside for a moment the religious connotations frequently associated with spirituality and spiritual development, one can turn to pillars in science and the arts for opinions reflecting the importance of spirituality as a human development domain. Consider Einstein, for instance, who wrote: “The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the source of all true science and art.” Or poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Believe that with your feelings and your work you are taking part in the greatest; the more strongly you cultivate this belief, the more reality and the world go forth from it.”
Lingley frames spirituality and spiritual development in the context of education theory and the developmental sciences rather than religion. To examine the question concerning the relevance of spiritual development in middle grades education, she turned to academia and the wealth of literature related to her inquiry. The conclusions Lingley draws from her research suggest that it might be possible to incorporate spiritual development into the curriculum provided a culturally responsive and respectful language exists for all parties involved to converse in. Perhaps in the future, researches will build upon Lingley’s work and develop that language, clearing the way for the dialogue to begin.
Lingley’s research establishes a framework from which others might develop the language and methods to nurture and encourage the development of the human spirit.
In his Tractatus, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein worked to identify the limits of what humans could know about nature through language and science. Near the end of that highly-praised and widely influential work, Wittgenstein turns inward, claiming, "There are indeed things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest, they are what is mystical." These 'things' Wittgenstein writes of are perhaps the joy and wonder Lingley spoke of; they are perhaps the source of science and art Einstein alluded to; perhaps they are the affirmation of self the speaker in Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus makes with the claim: "To the rushing water speak: I am."
Having completed her dissertation, earned a Ed.D., presented at the first annual, campus-wide student research symposium, Audrey Lingley has what it takes to plant the seeds of the conversation: what is the relevance of spiritual development in middle grade education and beyond? And now that her dissertation has been selected by Peter Lang Publishing for publication in their 2014 Critical Qualitative Research Series, her work will move beyond the walls of the university where the conversation really can begin.