Education as an atmosphere is one of Mason’s fundamental pillars for education. What are the components of education as an atmosphere? There are two broad categories in my mind: Spiritual and Physical. What do I mean?
Mason used the word spiritual to describe all that is not corporeal or physical. Her definition involved concepts of the mind. In fact she says, “By spiritual I mean that which is not corporeal; and which, for convenience’ sake, we call by various names–the life of thought, the life of feeling, the life of the soul” (Mason, 1953, p. 168). What might be some examples of spiritual atmosphere in the classroom: 1) relationships, 2) respect, 3) attitudes, 4) dispositions, 5) creative ideas, and many others? These are not elements you can put your hands on. These are concepts of the mind and can only be conveyed by persons. In considering these spiritual components of the classroom the question is: Does the classroom have an atmosphere of working together, supporting one another, developing habits, developing relationships and others? These are just a few ideas about Education as an Atmosphere as it relates to the nonphysical world.
The physical world would be that of space and things. Examples might be: 1) furniture, 2) pictures, 3) objects from the natural world, and 4) how these are arranged in the classroom. Let me give some examples. Does the teacher provide a space for items from nature brought in by the students? What does the furniture look like? Is it institutional or is it inviting? Is there a place for gathering as a group? Are the desks for the students comfortable? Nicolle Hutchinson’s (CEO of Gillingham Charter School, a Mason school) rule of thumb is: Would I want this in my home? Does the furniture look as though you would want to own it or does it look like left over trash from previous schools with dents, scratches and other signs of not being cared for? The physical furniture and items in a classroom are important. It isn’t neutral.
But there is a merging of the two. Atmosphere then in a Mason context deals with the attitudes, dispositions, relationships and those things in the room that contribute to making the room a welcoming place (spiritual element) or a place where the children are respected (spiritual element) and valued (again, spiritual element). In this sense the two (spiritual and physical) are merged and cannot be separated. What do I mean? The arrangement of the room makes an impact on attitudes. For example, are the students welcomed to display items they have brought in from nature? Has the teacher thought ahead and provided a place for these nature items? Are there pictures in the room that reflect an appreciation of beauty? Is there space for the class to meet as a community? Community is a spiritual concept but it can only be accomplished when the physical environment makes it possible. Has the teacher created the physical room in a way that calls to mind a sense of calm, beauty, peacefulness, homeliness and caring on the part of all who inhabit the classroom? The physical environment conveys a spiritual message. This is important to think about as we prepare classrooms for our children where they will spend seven to eight hours a day.
In this blog of pictures I want to share with you how Nicolle Hutchinson, the CEO of Gillingham Charter School has created a strong Mason atmosphere in the school. This blog is about the physical room: the furniture and other fixings in the classrooms that help support the spiritual components of the classroom.
What is so significant about this and the reason I wanted to share with the Mason community from both home and school education venues is that Ms. Hutchinson has created a Mason atmosphere on a .10 (dime). What you will see here are pieces of furniture, pictures, and other items purchased for almost nothing at yard sales–yes yard sales. $1.00 for this, $2.00 for that and before you know it a whole building is decorated with a home-like atmosphere that is truly nontraditional and resembles nothing of an institutional setting. It is next to amazing what Ms. Hutchinson has accomplished.
Enjoy the pictures and see for yourself how you can create a wonderful “atmosphere” for educating children without spending a fortune. My thanks and appreciation go to Ms. Nicolle Hutchinson of Gillingham Charter School in Pottsville, PA.
Mason, C. M. (1953). Home and school education (6th ed.). Oxford: The Scrivener Press.
© 2013 Nicolle Hutchinson and Carroll Smith