The system of education suggested in this book is more than a proposal: It is also a report on an actual development in our times. Many of the ideas contained in these pages have been refined in practice over several decades, including nearly thirty years of experience in a group of schools, from pre-school to high school, called the Ananda Schools.
The Ananda school system is out of its infancy, but it is still small. Its growth has been kept organic, for which reason the Ananda schools have never been widely publicized. Still, it has received steadily increasing recognition in educational circles.
Not long ago, a couple in Illinois inquired of several organizations in the eastern states of America whether they knew of a school that taught the art of living along with the standard curriculum. More than one organization replied that, for this purpose, the best school was Ananda School, near Nevada City, California.
Another couple in Florida made a similar inquiry, and received the same reply.
At Ananda schools, in other words, many of the principles suggested in this book have been practiced for years and are becoming increasingly understood. Their effectiveness has to a great extent been tested and proved.
A number of the ideas suggested in this book, however, in keeping with the principle of organic growth, are still being worked toward at Ananda schools also. What I have sought to do in these pages is re-evaluate what we are trying to accomplish, and to see whether our directions might be crystallized into a clear and coherent system called for the first time with the publication of this book, “Education for Life.”
This book addresses also the broader issue of education in America, with a view to exploring ways in which the presently established system in this country might be improved.
I mentioned earlier that it has fallen to my lot to found a community. This community was begun in 1968, nearly thirty years ago. It is the larger entity of which Ananda School is a part. The community and the school both bear the same name: Ananda.
Ananda, a Sanskrit word, means Joy. Miraculously, the Ananda community has actually managed to live up to its name, and is known far and wide — internationally as well as domestically — as a joyful community. Ananda Village, with its various subsidiaries, numbers at present some eight hundred members, all of whom are dedicated to exploring and living by the principles that are implicit in an education for life.
Ananda communities are far-flung. In California there are three: near Nevada City, in Sacramento, and in Palo Alto and Mountain View. There is a thriving community near Portland, Oregon, and a fifth in Washington, near Seattle. There is also a very active community and retreat center near Assisi, Italy. Ananda schools flourish in several of these Ananda communities, notably near Nevada City and in Palo Alto, California. The original and largest of these communities, Ananda Village, near Nevada City, is situated on 700 acres in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains of northern California.
Ananda Village is in fact, as its name implies, a village, not a commune. Its members live for the most part separately, in their own homes. Some own their own businesses and employ other members. Others work in businesses that are owned by the community.
Ananda School is an integral part of the community’s life. It is attended not only by the community’s over one hundred children, but also by day and boarding students from the outside.
The goal of Ananda School is to teach children the art of living, while giving them, in addition, the knowledge imparted by a conventional education. The principles taught here have been worked out by trial and error on the part of the teachers as well as of the children.
Existing, as Ananda Village does, outside the mainstream of city and suburban life (this is not the case with most of our branch communities), in no way implies a rejection of the society of which we are a part. Spatial removal has, however, enabled us to approach many contemporary problems in society with a fresh and creative outlook — even as the early pilgrim fathers did when they emigrated to the New World. What we have sought, and continue to seek, are answers that will be relevant to society as whole, and not only to ourselves.
Our approach, then, has been positive, not negatively reactive. While we have withdrawn to some extent from the bustle of what people may define as modern life, we have never alienated ourselves from the modern quest for growth and self-discovery. We believe in the underlying goodness of man, as we believe in our own underlying goodness. And we began from the outset with confidence that it would be possible, by devoting ourselves creatively to the art of living, to find new and useful solutions to many of society’s ills. Nor has our confidence been misplaced. What we have found are, we believe, ways by which people everywhere can learn to live together constructively and harmoniously, in happiness.
Ananda School was founded soon after our beginnings in response to the needs of the children in our growing community. We were fortunate from the start to have a few state-accredited teachers.
Accreditation in many professions, in fact, has long been one of Ananda’s strengths. Community members presently include a considerable number of professional people with high standing in their own fields. Our problem, at first, was not so much how to create a school, but how to approach education afresh, from a standpoint of the art of living. None of us was satisfied with the presently accepted standards of education.
Studies were made by Ananda teachers of various progressive systems of education. We weren’t committed to any dogma of education, but only to finding what would work best. Much of the groundwork for our efforts, however, was done in Ranchi, India, early in this century by the great spiritual teacher, Paramhansa Yogananda. Inspired by his efforts, we committed ourselves, with him, to the premise that a growing child needs to learn how to live in this world, and not merely how to find and hold a job. He or she needs to know how to live wisely, happily, and successfully according to his own deep inner needs, and not to meet life with the expectation that money and a nice home will give him all that he really wants in life.
We were also eager to learn from anyone who could teach us. All the systems we studied, however, apart from the seminal ideas presented by Yogananda, struck us as incomplete. Gradually, direct experience provided us with a clarity of our own. Life itself superseded books as our teacher.
It was important to validate our evolving “Education for Life” system on level of standard academics as well. Our children needed to be able to compete adequately with children elsewhere in the country.
In fact, in nationwide exams Ananda children have tested on an average two years ahead of their own age levels. Their main qualification, however, has always been their maturity compared to children elsewhere, even compared to children considerably older than themselves. When Ananda children graduate from our schools and enter the public high school system, they are perceived by their peers as outstanding human beings.
Recently, during the graduation award ceremonies at a local high school, the award for the Most Inspiring Athlete was withheld to the end.
The coach, before giving this award, made an unusual speech, of which the following is a paraphrase: “When Michael first entered this school as a freshman, I have to admit I didn’t really like him. Nor did I want to work with him.
“Then he went away for a year to study in a private school. When he came back for his junior and senior years, the change in him was tremendous — so much so that, of all our athletes, he quickly stood out as the most inspiring. Four years ago, it wouldn’t have entered my mind that, someday, I’d be giving Michael this Most Inspiring Athlete award. Now I feel honored to bestow it on him.”
Michael’s grades, also, had shown a dramatic improvement after his return to the high school.
Well over a thousand adults in the United States and in Canada have taken courses in what was originally called our “How-to-Live” system of education. One of the teachers for this course was Michael Deranja, who helped to develop Ananda’s system of education from its beginnings.
In Deranja’s experience with the Ananda children, his salient characteristics from the start were the humility to learn from them also in return, and the compassion to help them each according to their individual needs. Without this unusual blend of humility, compassion, and, of course, competence, it is doubtful whether the “Education for Life” system presented here could ever have come into being.
An example of compassion in our schools may be seen in the case of Sandy, a girl who studied at Ananda from the fourth through the eighth grades. When she arrived, her dislike for arithmetic was so strong that any effort to interest her in it would set her sobbing.
Instead of forcing her, Deranja tried to win her gently, by slow degrees. By the time she left Ananda School, arithmetic — of all subjects!—had become her favorite. It remained so throughout her high school years. At the time of high school graduation, when Deranja last saw her, she told him that her dream was to become an accountant.
Compassion has helped to evolve a system that is not dogmatic, and not theoretical, but soundly practical.
The remaining question, in considering the living expression of this “Education for Life” system at Ananda, is whether such a system could be made to work in schools everywhere. And the answer needs to be as down-to-earth in its practicality as the system itself. For though most people, perhaps, would like to see at least some of these principles included in the normal school curriculum, we mustn’t blind ourselves to certain realities: the vastness of the system, and, to be accepted into it, the necessity for compromise.
An elephant is harder to push than a mouse. Exxon, the largest company in the world, had to spend fifty million dollars merely to change its American name from Esso to Exxon. “The establishment,” whether in business, politics, or education, is called that precisely because it is established — entrenched, in fact, in a habit structure perhaps too massive for even a revolution to alter it drastically. Even minor changes would require disproportionately vast outputs of energy.
I think we must resign ourselves to seeing these “Education for Life” principles accepted only gradually, if at all, into the already-established system, and very probably not during my, or even your, lifetime. Delayed acceptance, however, need not cause discouragement. Such, simply, are life’s realities. If even a few children are helped, moreover, the contribution of this system will have been substantial.
I am reminded here of something Buckminster Fuller once said. He was in his eighties, and almost at the end of his life. A radio interviewer asked him, “Don’t you get discouraged sometimes, talking and writing so much to promote your ideas, but finding so few people willing to accept them?”
“Not at all,” Fuller replied with perfect equanimity. “New ideas always require at least one generation to become accepted. I know I won’t live to see my ideas fulfilled. But I’m confident that they will be accepted, by future generations.”
Probably, the proposals in this book will only gain acceptance, at first, in private schools, and in relatively small ones at that. Perhaps, indeed, it will be years before they are fully accepted beyond the Ananda school system itself. No doubt it will be better this way, too. It will assure the system of a clear and unimpeded head start. From these beginnings, the system may then reach out gradually to other schools, and enter the public system only after decades, if at all. The impact of these ideas, however, will, I think, be much more immediate. It is in this way that new ideas often enter the main stream — as though from underground, hardly noticed except perhaps as a new freshness in the feel of the water.
The great German physicist Max Planck (as I wrote earlier) commented wryly that a new scientific concept gains acceptance not so much because of its logical persuasiveness as because the old generation of scientists dies out, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with the idea.
The important thing to realize is that problems encountered in the initial acceptance of these concepts in education will very likely not lie in any lack of readiness in the American psyche. Americans generally are desperately aware of the need for a change in their educational system. Rather, the problems will lie in the fact that the mechanics of the system are too cumbersome to permit easy alteration, or the rapid assimilation of new ideas.