Enlarging the Tent, Strengthening the Stakes

This communication from Principia’s Board of Trustees is to announce a new pilot admissions program for exploring how we can effectively “enlarge the tent” of Principia to better fulfill our mission in today’s world. We wanted to share with the Principia community the context and rationale of our decision.

PRINCIPIA’S GUIDING PURPOSE

Principia’s purpose continues to be “to serve the Cause of Christian Science through appropriate channels open to it as an educational institution” (Education at The Principia, Policy 1, p. 228). It can do that most fundamentally, most appropriately, most authentically, and most powerfully by sustaining a community culture that both inspires and supports the spiritual growth of its students as they pursue their education. Mary Kimball Morgan, Principia’s founder, said, “A real Principia product is a well-balanced individual whose whole nature is expanding under the guidance of Principle” (Education at The Principia, p. 195). 

The Board of Trustees and Principia’s leadership are united in our commitment to our purpose moving forward.

CHANGES IN PRINCIPIA’S POOL OF POTENTIAL STUDENTS

Principia’s purpose always places it within the context of the Christian Science movement. That movement is inclusive of the full family of people who share a common respect and love for Christian Science, and as the demographics within the movement have evolved, so have the characteristics of the students Principia educates. 

For example, today, half of the students at Principia are from families in which only one parent identifies as a Christian Scientist. A greater share of our students today come to Principia with a glancing knowledge of Christian Science and its practice. There is more experience with medical care than we have seen in previous decades. Our student bodies also somewhat reflect a generational shift of strong interest in spirituality but less interest in organized religion.

Principia recently conducted studies on the Christian Science experience for students at the School and the College in an effort to better understand and then improve their experience. These studies revealed that while there is a wide range of how Christian Science is practiced today by our students, there is a common belief in God and appreciation for the atmosphere at Principia. While this range may have long been the case at Principia, the institution wants to more fully and lovingly embrace everyone wherever they are in their current interest, understanding, and demonstration of Christian Science. While Principia is very clear that its role is not to teach Christian Science, the goal of this effort is to provide better inspiration and support for the individual spiritual growth of both the novice and the deeply committed—and everyone in between. We are leading with Love, and not the casting of judgment, in this important work.

The overall reduced numbers of Christian Scientists in churches around the world has also meant fewer Christian Science families and students taking advantage of a Principia education. While we are confident that our students continue to have remarkable educational experiences at the School and the College, we also believe that those educational experiences would be enhanced by having more students participating than we have today. 

NEW INTEREST, NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Families and students beyond the Christian Science community who are attracted to Principia have approached us to explore the possibility of their children’s access to a Principia education. Ongoing discussions have revealed what appears to be a genuine compatibility with, support of, and interest in the values and conduct of the Christian Science-based educational experiences offered by Principia. 

There have been cases through the years where students without a Christian Science background enrolled under the sponsorship of a Christian Scientist relative or a family friend and then flourished at Principia in ways that exceeded some of our students from more traditional Christian Science backgrounds. A number of them became dedicated Christian Scientists.

As the Board of Trustees has listened for and looked at new opportunities for Principia to fulfill its mission in today’s world, we have prayerfully considered how to expand the reach of our efforts while reinforcing and strengthening our service to the Christian Science movement. We have been guided by this verse from Isaiah: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” (54:2).  

We believe there may be mutually beneficial results from including a wider range of students with the right interests who are ready to take “sufficient advantage” (Policy 18) of the Principia opportunity, and who align with our Christian Science-based community standards. With this approach, we would be seeking quality, not quantity, as it relates to applicants. 

NEW PILOT PROGRAM AUTHORIZED BY BOARD OF TRUSTEES 

With these considerations in mind, Principia’s Board of Trustees has authorized Principia’s leadership to conduct a limited pilot program enrolling a small number of students—no more than 15 on each campus—who fall outside our regular admissions guidelines. We will be looking for students who desire a Principia education and wish to further their own moral and spiritual growth by joining an educational community that models and encourages viewing and living life through the lens of Christian Science. This can include students and families who are new to learning about Christian Science, are receptive to its principles and values, will respect Christian Science healing, and are attracted to our community for the right reasons.

This small-scale, closely monitored program will enable us to test and iteratively learn whether offering a wider admissions embrace results in successful mission-based outcomes, without putting our current educational programming or the unique culture of our Christian Science-based community at risk. 

There will be ongoing, intentional reviews that enable our professionals to make necessary course corrections to get things right, to ensure that those actively engaged in the study and practice of Christian Science continue to feel supported and respected by all, and to ensure that all activities at the School and the College are “consistent with the purpose and policies of The Principia” (Policy 22). The reviews will also help us understand the needs of the students enrolled through the pilot program and how to meet them.

STRENGTHENING OUR STAKES

Simultaneously, both the Board and Principia’s leadership recognize the importance of ensuring and strengthening the palpable presence of the spiritual “stakes” that support all of our students. The “stakes” include an unwavering and confident sense of who we are—a vital, active Christian Science-based community first and foremost. The “stakes” include the open and dedicated practice of Christian Science in daily life by our administration and faculty in every aspect of their work with students. And the “stakes” also include the ongoing education of Christly character in all aspects of life, as well as prompting students to individually turn to God in prayer.

We will continue to be, unabashedly, an institution that exists to serve the Cause of Christian Science and the Christian Scientists who are a part of that Cause, and if it appeals to some to join us in that experience for the right reasons, we are going to consider their requests with love and thoughtfulness. 

CONTINUING TO LISTEN FOR MIND’S DIRECTION

In conclusion, we seek to let our light shine by serving those who are attracted to Christian Science through Principia, have glimpsed its value, and are in search of an educational experience that will help accelerate their own moral and spiritual progress. This is not a time of waning relevance for Principia’s mission but rather one of renewing its vitality by exploring new ways we can fulfill that mission in today’s world. We are intent on this being a truly progressive step for Principia, and we will continue to listen for Mind’s direction to ensure that Principia’s mission and purpose continue to be fulfilled.

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As the Trustees have been listening and praying, our confidence in the importance of Principia and the invaluable contributions it has made to the Christian Science community and the world has been reaffirmed. We believe this precious spiritual idea has much more to give and is poised for sharing greater blessings ahead. We invite all members of the Principia family to join our prayers for a better understanding of God’s continuing revelation of the form Principia is to take as we move forward to improve its service to the Cause of Christian Science.

Principia Board of Trustees
August 2, 2019

Some questions and answers about this program follow:

Q1: What is the motive behind introducing this pilot program?

The primary purpose of The Principia is to “serve the Cause of Christian Science,” and we believe this pilot program has the potential to expand how we can serve the Cause in today’s world and at this point in the history of our movement (Policy 1).

Principia was founded to provide an educational experience for the children of Christian Scientists that is always striving “to conform its ideals and its practices to the teachings of Christian Science” (Policy 2). We provide the opportunity, every day, for students, faculty, and staff to explore the practical application of Christian Science in every aspect of their lives, and Principia is tasked with conducting its activities to turn everyone in that direction. (See Policy 5.)

Principia strives to embody the Christ-idea in education, and with this pilot program we seek to share that experience with additional receptive hearts who can benefit from this approach to education as well as be contributing members of our spiritually based community. Principia offers an environment where Christian Science is lived openly, and seeking to share this experience with more students who want to be here for the right reasons is in line with our purpose. 

Our mission is primary in our thinking with moving ahead with this pilot program. Other potential benefits, such as increased enrollment or revenue, are limited for now by the initial small size of this pilot program.

Q2: What kinds of students will now be eligible to enroll at Principia under this pilot program?

To guide the wider admissions policy for this pilot program, and to ensure that it supports and furthers Principia’s purpose, admissions officers will be considering these questions:

  • Does the applicant sincerely desire to further their own moral and spiritual growth as understood in Christian Science?
  • Will the applicant abide by Principia’s community standards? (School Community CommitmentCollege Standards)
  • What would the applicant bring to the Principia community?
  • Prior to admission, does the applicant have enough knowledge of Christian Science in order to understand and appreciate why Principia would be a good fit for them and their educational goals and aspirations?
  • Does the applicant respect Christian Science healing?
  • Is the applicant open to learning about the practice of Christian Science during their Principia experience?
  • Is the applicant an active member of, or practicing adherent of, any other religious denomination?

It is possible that student applicants to the pilot program may come from families with no Christian Science background or with other faith traditions. Here the Board recognizes the importance of spiritual discernment in the consideration of applicants and their potential for a successful fit at Principia. We expect that Principia will continue to extend educational opportunities “only to those students who are prepared to take sufficient advantage of the experience to make it clear that The Principia is their rightful place” (Policy 18). 

We anticipate that all of the students admitted through this pilot program will be open to a deeper engagement with Christian Science. Some of them may become active Christian Scientists, some may not, but that has always been true about Principia students throughout our history.

Q3: Why are only a small number of students initially being enrolled through this program?

Limiting this program to no more than 15 students on either campus at the start is, for Principia, a learning number. As explained in the Trustees’ statement, it will enable us “to test and iteratively learn whether offering a wider admissions embrace results in successful mission-based outcomes, without putting our current educational programming or the unique culture of our Christian Science-based community at risk.” 

What we learn from this pilot program will determine whether we ramp it up, scale back, or change direction. We will be seeking appropriate input on a wide basis in that process. There are many benefits both to Principia and its students and—we believe—to the world in exposing more students to a Principia experience. But maintaining and improving the mission-true quality of that experience comes first. 

Again from the Trustees’ statement: 

“There will be ongoing, intentional reviews that enable our professionals to make necessary course corrections to get things right, to ensure that those actively engaged in the study and practice of Christian Science continue to feel supported and respected by all, and to ensure that all activities at the School and the College are ‘consistent with the purpose and policies of The Principia’ (Policy 22). The reviews will also help us understand the needs of the students enrolled through the pilot program and how to meet them.”

Q4: Will this program jeopardize Principia’s basis as a school grounded in Christian Science?

No. Principia will continue to be a Christian Science-based institution and identified as such in all that it does. The impact of a community of individuals living lives guided by the teachings of Christian Science will continue to be felt and seen, as well as actively promoted, supported, and nurtured by the institution. This is something the Trustees and Principia’s leaders will be watching closely during this pilot program.

All the good at Principia is rooted in the Christian Science view that every student “as the child of God reflects the intelligence and strength of his Maker, and that all men have equal opportunity and equal ability in the sight of God” (Policy 3). Principia’s educational experience intends to dissolve limitations for every student, foster love for each member of the community and for humankind more expansively, and inspire and support the moral and spiritual growth of its students.  

The institution will continue to visibly embody the demonstration of Christian Science, and “in its educational methods and business practices, The Principia shall [continue to] make constant efforts to lift its standards to the highest point that the wisdom and experience of the administration, faculty, and staff, and the financial resources of the institution will permit” (Policy 11).

Q5: How are we strengthening our “stakes” while also “enlarging the tent”?

The faculty and staff are our primary “stakes” for accomplishing Principia’s purpose.  

Because, as Mrs. Morgan says, “the teacher himself must be that which he would teach his pupils,” (Education at The Principia, p. 9) it’s the faculty and staff who must be the Christian Scientists on campus. Their love of and commitment to Christian Science must be secure, always growing, respected, and appreciated. They are the ones capable of and responsible for giving the treatments that are the genius and defense of the work of Principia. They are asked to go about their professional work with prayer and be guided to demonstrate ever more effective methods and improved policies. They have proved for over 120 years that when they do their Christian Science work, it produces wonderful, creative outcomes for themselves and their students. 

The Trustees hold to Mrs. Morgan’s conviction that Principia’s Christian Science administrators, faculty, and staff are first and foremost character educators and secondarily—as a natural outcome—solid professionals in their respective positions. The aim is to teach students to reason not just from the highest of moral values but from divine Principle itself, the source of those values. 

The administration will follow Mrs. Morgan’s example and continue to provide professional development for faculty and staff to deepen their understanding of Principia character education, methods for accomplishing it, and gracious ways to do it undogmatically. This important work will take on even greater significance with the wider embrace of this pilot program.

The experience of Christian Science that Principia provides is its most distinctive asset, and improving that experience for all students is fundamental to Principia’s service to the Cause. It is especially important for those students and families who have primarily chosen a Principia education over their other options in order to enhance the growth of their practice of Christian Science.

Principia has been at work on both campuses to improve the student experience of Christian Science. We have studied in some depth the perceptions and experiences of both College students and students and parents at the School. That research supports what are already the guiding initiatives on both campuses:

  • To meet students where they genuinely are and address candidly the issues and the choices they are really confronting
  • To put Love first, be inclusive, and avoid judgmentalism
  • To create the environment and the occasions for spiritual growth rather than trying to mandate it
  • To encourage an atmosphere where the sharing and discussion of metaphysical ideas are open, natural, and common among individual members of the community in every sort of situation

Principia’s leaders on both campuses will continue to very intentionally and continuously pursue further ways to strengthen and improve the experience of Christian Science at Principia, as well as reinforce Christian Science practice, both within long-existing activities as well as newer ones. 

Q6: Will Principia be hiring medical nurses and administering medication on campus?

No. Principia will not be hiring medical nurses or other medical or psychiatric personnel, or taking an active role in providing professional medical services that are inconsistent with Christian Science treatment. As always, our trained, compassionate Christian Science nurses will remain available to all community members through Cox Cottage at the College and Campus House at the School. We have long made every effort to compassionately aid anyone in need to get the kind of care they seek, and we will continue to do so.

In September 2018, Principia Chief Executive Marshall Ingwerson shared with the community the treatment choice approach that emerged from the community conversations on both campuses on that subject. (See the Board of Trustees’ treatment choice statement from February 2019 that explains the motives and spirit of this policy.) The Trustees continue to support this approach to treatment choice in our community.

Q7: Will faculty and staff continue to be practicing Christian Scientists?

Yes. All faculty and staff will continue to be practicing Christian Scientists. Their foremost work is in bringing their practice of Christian Science to their job. 

The only temporary exception to this will be when there is not a qualified Christian Scientist available for a critically essential post to teach a specific part of the curriculum in a given year. Temporary visiting professionals hold one-year contracts subject to renewal in the event Principia cannot find a qualified student of Christian Science from ongoing recruiting efforts for the following year. Visiting professionals are chosen whose values align with Principia’s and who respect spiritual healing. They receive both oversight and support to ensure what they teach is consistent with the teachings of Christian Science.

Of course, both campuses have had visiting professionals for guest lectures in classrooms and speeches on campus for decades, among them well-known scholars and even former U.S. presidents.

Q8: Does this pilot program change any of Principia’s 23 Policies?

Should the pilot program in its current proposed format be adopted for the long term, it is possible that one or more of the 23 Policies could be affected. The pilot program results will be monitored and reviewed, and if it proves to be successful to and reinforcing of our mission, the Board of Trustees will consider appropriately nuanced revisions to any affected Policies.

Q9: What will be the outcomes of a successful pilot program, and how will we measure these?

A: We will develop a formal assessment plan for this pilot in coming months, but these are some of the points we will be seeking to assess—none of which should be unique to this group of students:

  • Do students have a sense of social and spiritual belonging in the Principia community?
  • How engaged are students in a well-rounded, whole man experience?
  • Is this program having a positive impact on the moral and spiritual climate of the campuses? 
  • Are students respectful and supportive of the practice of Christian Science by other community members?
  • Has being at Principia increased their desire to explore Christian Science further?

Q10: What will we do if the pilot program is unsuccessful?

A:  As previously indicated, we will respond to what we learn in this pilot program. That includes discontinuing the program if it is determined to be unsuccessful. If so, that would mean ceasing to enroll more students under the program, but it would not mean disenrolling students already enrolled unless for specific cause.