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At the end of Education at The Principia resides the Purpose and Policies of Principia. The purpose, we assume, is one we all know. It states, “The primary purpose of The Principia is to serve the Cause of Christian Science.” What follows are 23 policies which, along with the purpose, act as Principia’s “basic foundation for progress and usefulness” (227).
Throughout The Principia’s history, the degree of emphasis put on certain policies, as well as the interpretations of them, have been in constant fluctuation. As we have seen recently, these policies have even been subject to change in wording.
The fifth policy states, “The Principia clearly recognizes that Christian Science shall not be taught except in the Sunday School classes provided for in the Manual of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, by Mary Baker Eddy” (229).
To elaborate, “In obedience to the Church Manual, Christian Science shall not be taught in the classrooms or elsewhere. Each member of the faculty and staff shall strive to demonstrate ‘the beauty of the music he teaches in order to show the learner the way by practice as well as precept’ (Science and Health, p. 26:19–21).”
So, how is this policy practiced in the Principia community today? In our research for this article, a few sources told us that the standing orders for teachers were that “teaching,” in this sense, was a reference to Recapitulation. (This is the chapter in Science and Health used by Christian Science Teachers to instruct Primary Class.) This means that everything else in Christian Science is on the table.
To theater and dance department chair Hilary Harper-Wilcoxen, this didn’t seem quite right, though she doesn’t shy away from discussing Christian Science in the classroom. She assumes that students attending a Christian Science school have “a certain amount of knowledge and interest,” and will try to read the mood of a class to see if introducing Christian Science is appropriate. When she does introduce the subject, Harper-Wilcoxen, who was voted best professor by the student body in the spring of 2014, said she tries to approach it “in ways that will actually inspire and encourage, and enlighten, rather than discourage or alienate a certain population of the students.”
Some students, however, do find that Christian Science used in classrooms can be discouraging. Ann Brown, resident counselor of Anderson House, said, “I have heard how some students are totally offended, and how some students really like it. So I think it’s a real split.” She said that one of the reasons students don’t like Christian Science being taught or referenced in the classroom is that “they feel as though if they don’t agree with the teacher’s thought about a certain quote or element of Christian Science, they feel as though their grade will be subjected to perhaps a lower grade level.” Brown continued to say that sometimes it is not just those that are unenthused about Christian Science who are offended by its use in the classrooms; often, those with a deep interest in Christian Science find it unsettling too.
It is interesting to note that in As the Sowing, by Edwin S. Leonard, Jr. (which is seen as a secondary guidebook for many Principia faculty after EAP), it is stated very early on, “It must be said at the outset that Christian Science is not taught, and could never be taught, in the The Principia. Work in the classroom is conducted without reference to Christian Science and without interpretation of the subject matter in the light of Christian Science” (7). Maybe Leonard foresaw the issues with teaching Christian Science along with academic study, from the place of authority of a teacher in a classroom.
Brown suggested the solution was to understand that teachers in the classroom were supposed to be “prompting thought” rather than doing anything that could be perceived as preaching or teaching Christian Science. One example she gave was when she audited a class by Brad Stock. She said, “He’s very careful not to cross the line to become a Sunday School teacher, and he’ll say that outright in his class many times… However, he’s a great prompter of thought, because the discussions that happen in his class go into discussions that you would easily see or hear in a Sunday School room, but it’s all student-driven. So they’re discussing those topics and among that group they enjoy it.”
Lauren Hinchman, chair of the education department, offered how she uses Christian Science in the classrooms: “I prefer to bring it up when I feel like we’re talking about a subject where I know that we could be correcting our thought or seeing something from a more elevated viewpoint. I like to point these opportunities out when I’m in class, but I don’t usually go much beyond pointing it out or sharing a supportive and alternative view point.”
Harper-Wilcoxen also said that she doesn’t try to push it in the classroom. She said, “Faculty have a position of authority and respect…[as well as] influence. That needs to be used very, very, carefully. You can’t allow personal sense to come in.” She said, “I’m not trying to convert people who aren’t convinced of this, I’m just assuming a certain baseline of interest at least, and then speaking to that – actually bringing that into the conversation occasionally. When it’s appropriate, I’ll mention it.”
Some students don’t have an issue with teaching Christian Science in the classrooms at all. Ian Tennison insisted, “Nobody has actually preached to me Christian Science in the classroom.” When we mentioned Policy Five to him, he said, “So what?.” Grant Lee had similar ideas, saying, “It is what is is,” and, “If you want to talk about Christian Science, talk about it.”
Ultimately, this is a school for Christian Scientists, and the fact that Christian Science seeps into the classroom atmosphere shouldn’t be surprising. Lee said that Principia is a “school for Christian Scientists, not a Christian Science school.” Christian Science should not be taught at Principia, but it is natural that it be mentioned once in a while. Harper-Wilcoxen stated, “We are not a church organization – that must be continually referenced and thought about – but we are here to serve the cause of Christian Science.” She said that the fact that this is a school where conversation about Christian Science can arise in the classroom is “frankly the only reason I’m teaching at Principia.”