Three centuries ago there were people in England who wanted the freedom to worship as they chose. They came to the New World as pilgrims and founded what was to become, a century later, the United States of America.
Their reason for leaving England was that the burden of tradition there made it difficult for them to establish themselves in a new identity. Probably, their difficulty sprang not only from the persecution they endured there, but also from the fact that it is never easy to begin a new life so long as a person remains surrounded by old ways of living and thinking.
Jesus remarked that a prophet has no honor in his own country. It says much for his own greatness that it didn’t occur to him to add that a prophet has a hard time being a prophet in his own country.
Young people with new dreams usually must leave home to realize their ambitions. Fritz Kreisler, the famous violinist, left Austria to pursue his mission of music in America. His mother tried to prevent him from going so far away from home. Years later he remarked, “If I had listened to my mother, I would never have become Fritz Kreisler.”
Change is seldom easy, even under the most favorable of circumstances. A century after the arrival of the pilgrim fathers in America, the colonies were prospering, but it became increasingly evident that the freedom which the pilgrims had sought, and which remained the dream of subsequent immigrants, required a clearer definition still. For a new spirit was growing here, one that could not flourish so long as the New World remained merely a colony.
It is not surprising that England felt threatened by this new spirit, and tried to suppress it. By its long-established standards, much of what was going on in the colonies amounted to treachery. But the simple fact was that America needed a self-identity. Only after those old traditions had been repudiated by means of the American Revolution (labeled in England, of course, the American Rebellion), and new traditions established by the American Constitution, could the new spirit attain its real place in history. New ideas demanded an entirely new context in which to flourish. In the old context, the sheer weight of tradition was suffocating them.
Obviously, where the ideas contained in this book are concerned, no major revolution is anticipated. Nevertheless, some thought must be given to placing them in a new context. It may be that they will take root only in an altogether new system of schooling.
One such school, or rather group of schools, is already in existence. It will be described in the next chapter.
It would of course be a happy denouement if these ideas were to win acceptance directly into the present school system. In such a case, however, the ground would need to be prepared for receiving them. One step in this process would be the adoption of a new curriculum of studies.
The Problem with Transplants
The present school curriculum in American schools might be adapted to the ideas in this book. Unfortunately, it is more likely that any such adaptation would resemble a heart transplant that the body’s cells treat as alien, and therefore reject. Traditional categories would tend almost inevitably to reassume old definitions, in time. The Sciences, Mathematics, Social Science, Languages, and the Humanities would slowly close their gates against this brash upstart, the “Education for Life” system. It would be easier, certainly, to adapt the “Education for Life” system to the usual curriculum than to impose a radical transformation on the old system. Perhaps all that is needed is a redefinition of already-accepted categories, and not a total restructuring of them.
Indeed, any education worthy of the name must teach children the basics of modern knowledge. These basics include all of the above categories of the curriculum. Perhaps the changes I’ve proposed can be incorporated into that curriculum, with only a new designation for each category. There is, in fact, no need to abandon the curriculum itself, nor even to change it drastically.
America, similarly, needed only to be redefined as a country instead of as “the American colonies”—and carefully so defined, too, through its Constitution — for it fully to assume its destined role.
Here, then, are suggestions for a new curriculum — workable, I think, even within the present system. Be it noted that this proposed curriculum includes all of the standard academic subjects. The main difference is that it defines them in such a way as to invite, rather than merely to tolerate, the inclusion of creative “Education for Life” principles.
“Our Earth — Our Universe”
“The Sciences”—one of the standard categories of study — is a lifeless designation, surely. It is words without poetry, music without melody. It conjures up images of test tubes in a laboratory rather than the wonders of nature.
What about creating a new definition of this category, naming it: “Our Earth — Our Universe”? This name would cover everything that is now being taught under the arid name “The Sciences,” but it would include also a suggestion of the orderliness of the universe; an appreciation for the ecological balance of planetary life; a sense of awe before the universal mysteries which, as Einstein said, is the essence of great scientific discovery.
This designation would invite the students to relate harmoniously to the universe — to feel themselves a part of everything, instead of being merely intellectual observers of whatever goes on around them.
“Our Earth — Our Universe” would suggest a progressively expansive view of reality. It would encourage students to think of the universe as a wholeness — to see the particular and the universal in relation to one another. It might even suggest a comparison between physical laws and higher principles. Newton’s law of motion, for example, might suggest laws of action and reaction on other levels of reality. Gravity and electro-magnetism might be examined for their possible connection to subtler kinds of magnetism — even, if the teacher dares take the step, to such high principles as divine love. In one way or another, in any case, this subject might suggest a view of the universe itself not as something inert, but as pulsating with life. Thus, from a mere catalogue of facts, “Our Earth — Our Universe” could make of the sciences themselves, customarily the most intellectual of studies, something heartfelt and inspiring. For those interested in pursuing further my ideas on this subject — too detailed for inclusion in this volume — I suggest reading my book, Crises in Modern Thought.
The separate sciences, too, might be taught not only as compartmentalized disciplines, but as a totality revealed in its different aspects. Thus, nature would assume for the student an over-all coherence that would conduce toward the basic goal of education itself: maturity. It is easier, after all, to relate to diverse realities if they are seen in meaningful relationship to one another, and finally to the student himself.
“Our Earth — Our Universe” as a general heading would include the specific subjects: physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, general science, botany, geology, and anatomy.
The subjects under the heading “Personal Development” would cover a wide range, from physical development to mental and spiritual development.
Physical development would include hygiene, diet, sex education, sports, and general physical education.
Mental development would include lessons and exercises in concentration, problem solving, how to develop the memory, secrets of balanced living, how to achieve and maintain inner centeredness, self-control, and joyful self-discipline.
Spiritual development would include secrets of happiness, and instruction in such attitudes as openness of heart and mind, truthfulness, non-attachment, calmness of feeling, willingness, servicefulness, and humility. It would also include such spiritual practices as affirmation, visualization, and meditation.
“Self-Expression and Communication”
This third category would include teachings such as mathematics and grammar, which could each be shown as a means of helping one to achieve mental clarity.
Included here would also be such subjects as how to develop creativity, and how to be differently creative in a variety of fields. Subjects might include the arts, interpretive dancing, music composition, music interpretation, and creative writing, and also instruction in how to develop more mundane, but perennially useful, skills such as carpentry, computer technology, public speaking, and salesmanship (to suggest merely a broad sampling of studies).
Students of self-expression should be taught the laws of success, and the difference between true success and the “flash-in-the-pan” popularity which so often leads to disappointment.
They should be taught the importance of the human voice as a medium of self-expression; how to use the voice to maximum effectiveness when speaking or singing; how to develop its tones, and its emotional overtones; how to project the voice as a vehicle for one’s thoughts and feelings, and how to project it outward to a large audience.
Above all, the children should be taught self-expression as a means of communication, that they not think of it merely as a means of imposing their own views on others.
The category “Understanding People” would include history, geography, psychology, a study of the customs and beliefs of different cultures, and an evaluation of the mores of those cultures in relation to what human beings themselves, everywhere, most deeply want from life.
History taught in this way would be automatically expanded beyond the usual naming and memorizing of dates and abstract events, enumerated as though the story of mankind were only a matter of statistics.
Geography taught in this way would emphasize the influence on cultural development of such things as climate, history, language, challenges met and overcome, the prosperity or poverty of a people, religion, geographical location (whether insular or continental, mountainous or plain, fertile or arid). By placing these subjects in the context of “Understanding People,” teachers would find it easier to hold their students’ interest, since, to use an analogy, the first thing most people will look for in a photograph in which they figure is — themselves!
Psychology has too long been taught with a clinical emphasis on abnormal psychology. It is time to stand back and ask ourselves more practical and immediate questions: What do normal people want from life? How effectively do they pursue the search for fulfillment and happiness? What works best for them? What doesn’t work at all? This subject has endless ramifications; the main point to suggest is that the approach be immediate and practical in terms of the students’ own interests and desires.
Sociology could be taught with less emphasis on statistical findings, and more — as in my proposal for psychology — on human interest: on what movements and developments have worked best for people, and why; on a discussion of the relative effectiveness of leadership to spontaneous mass awakening; on the fact that revolutionary changes usually arise out of small, dedicated groups, and the effectiveness of small minorities, therefore, in bringing about great changes in society.
The fifth general category is named “Cooperation” in order to give a positive emphasis to subjects that are normally studied with insufficient reference to their human realities: languages, political science, economics, business.
Included here might be courses in such immediately helpful subjects as how to win friends and influence people (the title of Dale Carnegie’s book); how to get along with others; how to find a suitable mate; secrets of a happy marriage; how to raise children; how to find a job; the importance of working with others rather than against them; the art of supportive leadership; and how to develop personal magnetism.
Languages taught under the heading of Cooperation would introduce children to the important concept of learning language as a means of communication — of talking with people rather than approaching language as an abstract intellectual exercise; of listening to and absorbing the nuances of language, that it become a sharing of more than ideas. Language might be placed equally well under the category, “Self-Expression and Communication.” I have suggested including it under “Cooperation” only to emphasize the sharing aspect of this form of communication. I’ve put the remaining subjects under this heading for the same reason.
Political Science, for example. This subject can be, and has been, studied from a Machiavellian standpoint by those who equate politics with power, manipulation, and control over others. Students of the Education for Life system should be helped to see that using anybody for one’s own ends inevitably leads to one’s own downfall, eventually. Nor is giving people what they want — or think they want — sufficient for successful governance. There must also, and above all, be cooperation with truth, with higher law. Political science, bereft of emphasis on cooperation, can easily degenerate into a study in cynicism. The same is true also for the remaining subjects in this category.
Economics may seem the least promising topic for inclusion under the heading “Cooperation.” I place it here to help give it a new emphasis, minimizing those aspects that have won it notoriety as “the dismal science,” and highlighting the opportunity for economics to be serviceful to human needs, and creative also, if only in the sense of facilitating creativity and not obstructing it.
The same point may be made with regard to business. Business should be conducted, as Paramhansa Yogananda often said, as a service to others. Only thus can it have an expansive, not a contractive, influence on the ego.
Thus, we have five subjects, four of them (Personal Development, Self-Expression and Communication, Understanding People, and Cooperation) specifically directed toward Education for Life principles, and the fifth (Our Earth — Our Universe) named in such a way as to be compatible with these principles.
There remains the need for one over-all subject with which to tie the other five together and give coherence to the entire system.
The above subjects might be compared to the spokes of a wheel, radiating outward from a central hub in humanity itself. Whatever one thinks of the saying that the most suitable study for mankind is man himself, it must be admitted universally that human nature is a focus from which no human being can escape, no matter how expansive his intentions. From our very ability to understand springs our every perception of the universe. The most distant galaxy manifests itself to our awareness only because man himself has first looked, and tried to understand what he sees. His understanding of everything defines him as he himself is. Another species, or another civilization, might behold in that very galaxy realities that have not yet so far occurred to any astronomer.
The relevance of every subject should be seen in the context of human needs and of our own ability to understand. Every subject studied in school should be studied also for its relevance to other subjects.
Science, for example, has evolved a method that can provide a new tool for understanding in all the branches of knowledge. For these other studies, the scientific method — hypothesis tested by experiment — needs only be restated as belief tested by experience. In essence, the two formulae are the same.
Whereas recognition might be given in all the fields to the relevance of any particular study to other studies, such recognition would have to be more or less superficial. In history class, for example, the teacher might strive to point out the relation between history and the development of artistic expression, but the central focus even so would be on history, not on art. In biology class, there might be an attempt to show the relationship between biology and the political slogan of “survival of the fittest,” but the focus would have to be primarily on biology.
The benefit of Wholeness as a subject in itself, then, would be that all the other disciplines could be viewed from a standpoint of their focus in the central hub of humanity.
Under “Wholeness” would come such general topics as art and music appreciation, literature, philosophy, and religion. Spiritual development itself would come under Personal Development, but the study of religion could include a broader and more objective slant on how religion ties in with human and social needs, generally.
In teaching these subjects, constant reference should be made to the subjects studied under other headings. Thus, instruction in them will become instantly real and practical, and not merely, as is so often the case in traditional schools, abstract.
Art, music, and literature could be shown in their relation to humanity’s search for perfection, and not given only an esthetic connotation. The question of good vs. bad esthetics could be expanded beyond such questions as beauty or realism to ask: What does all this mean in terms of what you and I hope for from life? is what these artists express meaningful to our own deepest needs? and if so, in what way?
Philosophy could be taught from two points of view: first, as a love for wisdom (from the Greek philos, meaning love, and sophia, wisdom), and therefore a teaching that is more theoretical and abstract; and second, as inviting the actual attainment of wisdom, and what it means, in practical human terms, to be wise.
Religion could be taught on many different levels. Suffice it here to say that the teaching of this subject should expand the student’s mind beyond mere differences of belief to include the effect of religion on humanity. Similarities in the great religions should be stressed, rather than the differences. The social, historic, and human needs addressed by the founders of those religions should be emphasized, as well as the eternal need of all souls to realize themselves in their relationship to high realities. It could be pointed out that, in every religion, the usually unspoken goals are not very different, one from another.
“Wholeness” could emphasize the interrelationship between body and mind, and the importance of developing both in the quest for maturity.
“Wholeness,” finally, could teach students how to achieve perfect self-integration, and the relationship between inner integration and the individual’s ability to act and interact effectively with others.