As we approach the millennium, more and more parents are calling into question an educational system which teaches the mind and not the heart, a system in which producing workers for the job market takes priority over producing balanced individuals.
Today, more information is available to a wider segment of the population than ever in our history; yet we still have a crisis of respect and meaning in the lives of our young people. Many modern cultures confuse knowledge with wisdom. Facts are important, but in themselves they do not give us clarity and wisdom. (If they did, the United States, with its technological know-how would not have one of the highest rates of teenage suicide in the world.)
In the Living Wisdom system of education, facts are not taught in isolation, but in the context of a daily emphasis on universal values, such as respect, kindness, cooperation, and inner peace. These traits provide a sharp contrast to those promoted by the profit-driven media that bombard children: "If you buy more and have the latest toy or CD or coolest clothes, you will be happier." This message of materialism is inherent in modern society, and it takes a strong environment of committed families and teachers to counter it.
Parents and teachers should emphasize the development of calm inner feeling (or intuition) to be able to use knowledge wisely. Of course, the intellect is important, but not more important than the development of the whole person.
If we are living in the thought that our soul-natures are as real as this material world, we are living in a reality of love, expansion, calmness, and joy. It is that reality that we want to teach our children to experience, and giving our children opportunities to express and feel those soul qualities is an important part of a complete education.
Susan Dermond, Director of the Ananda Living Wisdom School, which opened in Beaverton in 1997, says that "Although our teachers do teach about qualities such as kindness, respect, and concentration, the emphasis is on providing situations in which the children will have opportunities to live what they are learning. Later they and the teacher reflect on how these experiences felt: 'Did they produce happiness or pain?' This is what is meant by Living Wisdom."
For example, while we definitely want to explain to our children that sharing is the route to happiness, how much more powerful is a lesson where the child gives and experiences the joy of giving. Children can help bake cookies for an elderly neighbor or make muffins for a convalescent home and deliver them. Later they can draw pictures and talk about how it felt to share. This experience will be remembered far longer than a lesson in which children are taught about giving.
Rather than just teaching children it is wrong to hit others or to wish others injury, we can also help them find actions to take when they are having trouble getting rid of anger or fear. Teaching children the affirmation, "I am strong and brave enough to stay calm when I feel anger or fear," or teaching deep breathing and to count to ten when they feel upset is a start. Then, when an upsetting incident occurs, a teacher or parent can help the upset child calm down, practicing the technique. The child then experiences self-control, a much more powerful lesson than merely being told he should have self-control.
Susan, who spent twelve years teaching and administering in a Living Wisdom school in California before moving to Portland in 1996, says that children in any school or group can fall into negative habits: teasing, bullying, exclusiveness, and mental restlessness caused by over stimulation. However, the teachers should not ignore these behaviors, thinking that teaching content is their only responsibility. Helping children develop the skills and attitudes which result in happiness and harmony are important educational goals.
The Living Wisdom network consists of six schools in California, Oregon, and Washington. The Living Wisdom School in Beaverton, Oregon includes grades K-5 and offers a summer fun program. For more information, call 503.626.3403.