I remember practicing the piano assiduously as a child, for hours at a time. I enjoyed it, though I can’t say I came within even hailing distance of the child prodigies around. My mother, however — bless all mothers!—used to tell me, “If you want to, there’s nothing to stop you from becoming a concert pianist.”
What mother wouldn’t like to believe that her little Jimmy might prove a prodigy, or someday become President, another Michelangelo, a famous scientist, or a great saint?
But — well, let’s face it: How likely is it?
Every teacher worthy of the name, too, would like to be able to inspire his students to rise to the heights of fame and success.
But, well, again, let’s face it: How likely is it?
The problem isn’t only that there are few great people born in any age. Much worse: Our educational system actively discourages children from aspiring to greatness.
To begin with, the premise of the system is that the dullest student is entitled to exactly the same education as the brightest. No one, of course, would want to deny that opportunity to anyone. The problem lies in forcing it on children who neither want it nor are capable of responding to it with that recognition which is the essence of successful education.
It takes little to inspire a child of “light specific gravity” to soar. Considerably greater effort is needed to get an “ego-active” child to inch his way upward. And for anyone whose “specific gravity” is really heavy, even massive efforts may hardly budge him at all. To devote all one’s energy toward making those heroic efforts is to exhaust one’s own faith, finally, in the higher potentials of education.
One must do one’s best, of course, for every student. Indeed, even dull students may succeed remarkably, occasionally. For human beings are a mixture of so many traits. A child with the heaviest consciousness may possess some vital, self-expanding trait by which, if emphasized, he might rise high above anyone’s expectations of him. Normally, however, a spiritually heavy child can be helped most by recognizing and accepting, first, that his actual response to situations, however unnatural it may seem to the teacher, is natural for him.
Moreover, we need to ask ourselves: Is teaching a dull child to read the headlines, for example, the lofty success to which we want to point in justification of our entire educational system? Is it to be our only boast that we’ve transformed a few of our dull students into useful members of society? It would be desirable also, surely, to be able to point to the geniuses we’ve produced — especially if, in the process of producing them, we didn’t penalize the dull.
What happens, instead, is that we handicap the bright students, and don’t give even the mediocre ones that kind of education from which they might derive the most benefit.
Brightness suffers, but so also does society as a whole. For the world needs greatness in a few, at least, of its men and women, and is deprived when the system it fosters is prejudicial to the development of greatness.
Schools ought indeed to try to bring out the best in every child. But that “best” should be encouraged also as a quality distinct from its individual expression, and the potential for it recognized in those vehicles which are the most adapted to its fullest expression. I’ve mentioned genius, for example. It would be praiseworthy, no doubt, to encourage the manifestation of genius in a dull student, but where genius itself is concerned it would be more realistic to expect its manifestation in the bright ones. Instead, owing largely to an emphasis on merely discouraging the worst in children, what we often get in fact is the worst side of those children who have the highest potentials. That which is made the focus of one’s concentration is usually what one achieves: not, in this case, discouragement of the worst, but rather affirmation of the worst.
It is never easy for a bright teacher to accept that dull children really are dull. But facts cannot be dealt with constructively so long as they are denied. Moreover, although it is always touching to read of a dull child who has been raised to normal functioning ability, the best way to help even that child is to give him the special focus he needs, without the teacher him- or herself having to feel inwardly divided by responsibility, within the same context, for the brighter pupils. These realities, though not of our choosing, are forced upon us by human nature itself. If we lack the courage to accept them, and to accept others as they are instead of as we wish they were or think they ought to be, we will be unable to help any of them with full effectiveness. It is, perhaps, “politically incorrect” to express such thoughts nowadays, but society cannot but depend to a disproportionate degree on its capable few to develop and flourish. As for the majority who lie between the polar opposites of brilliant and dull, they also thrive far better when their highest potentials are emphasized for them, and not minimized by emphasis on the lowest common denominator in the classroom.
A child who is “heavy” in terms of his specific spiritual gravity is likely to be dull-witted, slow, and more focused on using his body than his mind. How to inspire him to change? He probably isn’t even interested in self-improvement. Try to expand his sympathies and you’ll probably find that he thinks in terms, rather, of what others are or are not doing for him or giving him.
Even one such child in a classroom can drag the over-all level of teaching downward. If the child is ignored, on the other hand, or teased by his fellow students for his slow wit, he may gang up with others of similarly “heavy” consciousness to create trouble for everyone else in the school.
The “heavy-gravity” student may be inspired toward ego-motivated action. Never, however, until he is firmly established on an ego-active level, will he rise, except by sporadic bursts, to the kind of activity that is unselfishly motivated.
The best the teacher may accomplish with such a student is to teach him by means of a rudimentary system of punishment and reward: “Don’t do that if you know what’s good for you”; or, “Do that, and I’ll buy you something good to eat.” In this way, a few good habits may be inculcated into him that will stand him in good stead later in life, even if he isn’t quite sure how or why they’re right.
All this, however, is compromise. The basic problem remains: How to educate everyone without depriving anyone of the best education he can absorb? Is the answer to have separate classrooms — even separate schools? Is it to have separate grading systems, A to D, for each classroom or for each school, with sub-classifications indicating in which division the pupil has studied?
These are possible solutions. For present purposes, however, they seem remote and impracticable.
There is another, and also better, solution. It is suggested by the old country school house, where one teacher had to instruct multiple grades. There was only one way that that system could be made to work: The teacher had to enlist the help of the older students in instructing the younger ones.
The difference, in the present context, is that we are not dealing with one teacher for an entire school. It isn’t a question, then, of older children teaching the younger. Rather, our concern is with students of the same age, but of diverse spiritual “densities.”
My proposal concerns a shift of emphasis, of direction. At present, the view is from below upward, in the sense of bringing the low students up to a level where, it is hoped, all will be able to move onwards together.
Here, then, is the proposal: Instead of working upward from below, why not work downward from above?
How? Quite simply, by enlisting the help of “lighter” students to uplift the “heavier.”
We have already seen that ego-active students may voluntarily mix with those of “heavy” consciousness, and that “light” students, similarly, may mix with ego-active students. The motive in both cases is usually not so much the gratifications of a friendly rapport as it is to help those below them.
“Heavy” students generally show little inclination in any case to listen to their teachers. But they will often listen to, and follow, children of their own age who are more aware, and more magnetic, than themselves. And whereas ego-active students may be more prone than the “heavy” ones to heed the advice of their teachers, they, too, are inclined rather to follow their more magnetic peers.
If the “heavier” member of such an association is even slightly receptive, the magnetic exchange between him and the more positive student may help to draw him up the ladder toward a higher “specific gravity.”
In the context of an Education for Life system, moreover, the student of relatively expansive awareness actually gains by helping others of less expansive awareness than himself. It is not as though teaching the slow learner deprived him in his own studies. The more he shares with others the principles for better living that he has learned, the more he practices and strengthens his own awareness of those principles. In this way no one loses, and everyone gains.
It is ironic that the very students who are the most inclined to learn from their teachers, and the most capable of doing so, are generally those who, under the present system, receive the least from them.
What every teacher ought to do, instead, is assiduously cultivate leadership qualities in any student who shows an inclination to reach down and help others below him on the “ladder” to grow toward true emotional maturity.
There remains, of course, the danger of such students developing into “teachers’ pets,” and thus becoming universally shunned by the other students. But there are ways around this pitfall.
First, and most obviously, the teachers themselves should be trained to be aware of this danger, and to make their selections on an impersonal basis, perhaps also with the help of other teachers. Because human nature is weak, moreover, it won’t suffice merely to admonish teachers to avoid the pitfall of favoritism.
Rather, students selected to help others should form councils of their own. “Light,” or expansive, students should be given one emphasis in their leadership, and “ego-active” students another. Obviously, sensitive issues are raised here which can only be worked out in living situations, since these will change with every class.
The important thing is to realize that human magnetism is a fact of life. High-energy people are magnetic. And low-energy people invariably lack magnetism.
What do I mean by magnetism? Certainly I don’t mean that a compass will veer from true north and point toward people of high energy! Still, magnetism is a fact of which everyone is aware, even if only dimly.
Such human magnetism might be compared to the magnetic field created when electricity flows through a copper wire. The higher the current, the stronger the electro-magnetic field. The higher the energy of a person, similarly, the greater his personal magnetism.
Much might be written on this subject. I myself have treated it at some length in others of my writings, and in a video recording, available through the publisher, titled “The Art of Magnetic Leadership.” The important point here is for the teacher to realize that he will get nowhere at all if he encourages the merely “goody-goody” student to assume a leadership role. The child who is always prompt, willing, and supportive may seem at first the ideal choice. Unfortunately, such a child is often good merely because he wants ego-approval from the teacher, or because he lacks the strength of will to say what he really means. The best choice may well be one who occasionally gets into a little mischief himself. (I’ve always remembered the advice a wise woman saint in India gave to a child: “Be good, but not too good!”)
Energy, then, must be included as a vital criterion. The child of low energy but of eternally good will is sure not to have the magnetism to attract and inspire others. Only in high-energy children can real leadership be developed.
And of course, high-energy students are among those the least likely to develop into teachers’ pets.
Don’t, therefore, seek out the “yes”-children to implement your programs. And don’t be afraid at least to consider those of high energy who are slow to follow your directives. For these less malleable ones, once they’ve thought a proposal through, will often be those most dedicated to any responsibility they accept.
Avoid, like the poison it is, an over-emphasis on personalities. Concentrate always, rather, on principles.
And don’t be afraid to pose challenges. A great weakness exhibited by many teachers is the tendency, in an effort to get the children on their side, to play up to them. If you will look back over your own school years, I think you will find that the teachers who were the most universally admired, even loved, by the students were those who were scrupulously fair, who stuck by their principles, and who never succumbed to the temptation to do something merely in the hope that they would be liked for doing it.
Children, themselves steeped in the immature ego’s craving for acceptance by others, are highly sensitive to this weakness when they perceive it in adults. They quickly discern and despise it, especially so in their teachers, to whom they look for help in their own efforts to climb up the ladder to maturity.