Back to School: Ananda’s Education for Life System
Recently, the parent of a first-grader told me how grateful she was for the culture of calm and compassion at our Living Wisdom School. She had just seen her son, on his way to fill his water bottle, turn to a classmate and ask if he can fill her water bottle too.
The mom attributed the servicefulness of her 7 year-old to the teachers, curriculum, and most of all, the spirit of Living Wisdom School. A major aim of the Education for Life curriculum is to help children understand that lasting happiness comes from compassion for others.
Children respond to this approach with enthusiasm, as they relax into becoming themselves. Sophia, a kindergartener who has attended Living Wisdom for pre-school and pre-K, says, “I want to go to this school forever and forever!”
Living Wisdom Schools are part of a network of schools united in their core philosophy, Education for Life. This is a system in which personal development is more important than the memorization of facts; where wisdom is valued over knowledge, and the education is aimed at the whole person, not merely the intellect.
Presently, there are several Living Wisdom Schools in the Education for Life network, located at Ananda Communities in Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Palo Alto, Sacramento, and Nevada City, CA; and Assisi, Italy. There is also an affiliate Seaside Wisdom for Life School in Encinitas, CA.
The first Education for Life School began in the early 1970s at Ananda Village, with the express goal of bringing spirituality into education. Through many years of experience, teachers learned what worked and what didn’t, in helping children develop their deepest natures.
What does not work is being told what to do. Lectures and discussions can be intellectually stimulating, yet not realized in action. What does works is giving children real experiences and the chance to reflect on them.
Skills for Living
For example, a child had trouble sharing her materials and classroom equipment in one of the classes. The teacher put the children in pairs, and had partners share scissors for an art project. In advance, the children role-played, practicing phrases such as, “May I use the scissors now?” and, “I’ll work on coloring while you use the scissors.”
Of course, the teacher paired the student who had difficulty sharing, with a student who was able to be assertive if needed. As a result, the spirit of sharing increased in the entire classroom. This, in turn, helped the student who had trouble cooperating. Cooperation is not a separate class, but a way of doing every activity.
Skills for Living, as we call them, are taught in our schools, because students will be happier if they have them. These skills also contribute to success later in life. A recent poll taken by the International Association of Administrative Professionals found that only 9% of managers said they would hire someone who has strong technical expertise but weak interpersonal skills.
On the other hand, 67% of them said they would hire an applicant with strong “soft” skills, which include organization, verbal communication, teamwork and tact, but whose technical abilities were lacking.
In addition to universal values, Education for Life focuses on helping children gain control of their energy. Children cannot use their will power if they are unwilling or “shut down.” The teacher’s first goal is to awaken their enthusiasm.
Next, the teacher helps to focus the children’s attention. Finally, the child’s energy is ready to be directed to pursue a goal (learn about insects), or have an experience (express themselves through painting).
How a teacher motivates a child or class depends on how much energy is being expressed:
- None or very little
- Enough to get what one wants for one’s self
- Enough to be directed toward selfless goals — the good of everyone, or learning for the joy of it
Directional Relativity is a unique contribution of Education for Life to educational theory. It depends on a holistic view of the student as a being with a body, will, feeling, and intellect.
Keeping a positive flow of energy going in the classroom is an important principle. This stands in stark contrast to the current trend in education, which breaks the learning down into simplistic steps that can be tested, but that often kill the joy of learning.
Joy in learning is a hallmark of all successful schools. In the best schools that nurture the whole child, students also learn how to find the joy within. As second-grader Dolby told his mother, “I wish every day was Monday…so I was going to school!”
Ananda Portland Living Wisdom School Mission Statement:
“To help children develop their unique potential, and give them the tools to make life choices that lead to lasting happiness.”
Susan Usha Dermond is author of Calm and Compassionate Children, A Handbook, and co-director of the Education for Life Foundation. The Foundation offers teacher training, books, including Education for Life by J. Donald Walters, and DVDs for parents and teachers.