How Like An Angel Came I Down

How Like An Angel Came I Down: Conversations with Children on the Gospels by A. Bronson Alcott

How Like An Angel Came I Down

Conversations with Children on the Gospels

A. Bronson Alcott
Introduced and Edited by Alice O. Howell

“To be good parents and teachers we must as well be curators of souls.”

Student:
“Mr. Alcott, did Plato live before Jesus?”
Alcott:
“Yes; a great while.”
Student:
“How could he know then about spirit?”
Alcott:
“Christians who seek depth to their knowledge read Plato, and learn from him as well as from the Bible, the nature of spirit. Before Jesus came, Plato revealed spiritual things; and all spiritually minded people loved him.”

This is the type of conversation that took place in Bronson Alcott’s Temple School in 1830’s Boston and was recorded verbatim in How Like An Angel Came I Down – now a living testament to one of the most forward-thinking educational experiments in American life.

Imagine an elementary school in Puritan New England, when children were expected to be whipped into submission and to learn their bible verses and multiplication tables, where instead they were taught to think for themselves, to question and converse with their teachers, to explore the deepest subjects on the minds of the most intelligent, thinking adults. This was the kind of school Bronson Alcott created.

Bronson Alcott was a close friend of both Emerson and Thoreau. Some would say he was one of the engines behind these two literary geniuses, because this is the way Emerson and Thoreau felt about him, the man with whom they could share their deepest thoughts, their highest ideals. Among the New England Transcendentalists Alcott was perhaps the highest idealist of all. He was also the one who most put transcendental ideas into action, who tested them in a real-life setting – a progressive school for young boys and girls.

Alcott believed that children are far more capable of deep philosophical insight than the adults in their lives begin to recognize. He believed our greatest failing in education is that we do not concentrate on the genius that is present in every child and help to bring it forward in them, encouraging their natural development not just as productive members of society but also as spiritually-centered human beings. He believed this was achieved by appealing to children with respect, trust, sincere affection, and the highest regard for their deepest instincts. Above all, he gave his students the opportunity to freely and fully express themselves.

The students of Temple School came to school every day excited about learning. They were passionate about Mr. Alcott’s approach to education. Unfortunately, much of Boston was passionate about it too, but not in the same way. Alcott was hooted at in the streets and threatened with mob action. Such heresy! Such blasphemy! A teacher who loved Socrates and Plato as much as he loved Jesus! Who engaged girls and boys together in open discussion! Who admitted a black child, the daughter of an escaped slave, and refused to dismiss her! Who treated every child with the reverence given to a minister of the gospels!

This treasure of a book, the documented Conversations of the Temple School, was lost in obscurity for a century and a half until it was discovered again as a neglected volume in the Redwood Library of Newport, RI. Alice O. Howell, a Jungian therapist and educator revived this “American heirloom,” which she felt was important reading for every parent and teacher. As she emphasizes, it should not be mistaken for a book about the gospels or even for Christians exclusively. It is about the spiritual wisdom and insight and inquisitiveness inherent in every child that begs to be nurtured by the adults in their lives.

The Gleam of Light Team

How Like An Angel Came I Down
A. Bronson Alcott
Edited by Alice O. Howell
1991, Lindisfarne Press

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