We encourage parents considering Living Wisdom School to watch the following talks by educator Sir Ken Robinson, in which he eloquently and humorously describes the central problems with education today and proposes solutions that have been implemented with stunning success for more than forty years in the Living Wisdom Schools.
Sir Ken Robinson works with governments, education systems, international agencies, global corporations and some of the world’s leading cultural organizations to unlock the creative energy of people and organizations. He has led national and international projects on creative and cultural education in the UK, Europe, Asia and the United States. Sir Ken Robinson is the most watched speaker in TED’s history. His 2006 talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (watch below) has been viewed online over 40 million times and seen by an estimated 350 million people in 160 countries.
He has been named as one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s ‘Principal Voices’. He was acclaimed by Fast Company magazine as one of “the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation” and was ranked in the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top business thinkers. In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.
His book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (Penguin/Viking, 2009) is a New York Times bestseller. It has been translated into 23 languages and has sold over a million copies worldwide. His latest book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education (Viking, 2015), tackles the critical issue of how to transform the world’s troubled educational systems, and is now available in 15 languages.
Sir Ken was born in Liverpool, UK. He is married to Therese (Lady) Robinson. They have two children, James and Kate, and now live in Los Angeles, California.
We encourage parents who are considering enrolling their children in Living Wisdom School to watch the film Race to Nowhere, as we feel it makes the best possible argument in favor of the Education for Life approach.
NOTE: The film is available on Netflix, and on YouTube for a rental fee of $3.99. You can watch the trailer on YouTube here, and follow the link in the right column at the start of the trailer (it also appears at the end of the trailer) to rent the film.
Race to Nowhere describes, through segments with parents, educators, and counselors, the terrible toll that the current obsession with grades, test results, and acceptance by prestigious colleges is taking on children and their families. The filmmakers suggest solutions that have been in place in the Living Wisdom Schools for more than 40 years, and that have more than proved their worth.
Our educational approach addresses and effectively resolves all of the issues addressed in the film: the pressures that drive students to cheating and even suicide; the false definitions of success; the myth that an exclusive focus on academics is the fastest path to academic results; the equally false belief that results on standardized tests and volume of homework reflect academic progress; the severe impact of the current obsession with college acceptance on family life and children’s mental, emotional, and physical health.
“When I decided to cut our homework in half, our AP scores went up!” — High school Advanced Placement biology teacher in Race to Nowhere.
The educational philosophy that we follow at Living Wisdom School is called Education for Life (EFL). It’s based on helping children achieve academic and personal success by a balanced development of their personal “Tools of Maturity”: body, feelings, will, and mind.
Mainstream education, with its emphasis on test scores, emphasizes training only one of these childhood developmental tools – the intellect – at the expense of the child’s growth in other areas.
Let’s compare the results of these two very different approaches.
Education for Life and Testing
While Education for Life doesn’t emphasize academic testing for young children, our older students often express an interest in knowing how they are doing academically compared to other students their age.
When the EFL high school applied for accreditation in 2005, the process required the students to take a nationally recognized standardized test, administered annually.
The results have been nothing short of remarkable. Every year the students as a group have placed in the top 10 percent of schools nationwide on average, reaching the top 1 percent on one occasion.
Their SAT scores have been equally impressive, with the average EFL student scoring 1691, compared to the national average of about 1500.
How can EFL students compete so well against students in elite academic schools, when our focus includes significant time spent on the arts, outdoor activities, service projects, and travel?
Current research offers some insights.
The Body and the Intellect
It would seem obvious that a healthy body provides a sound foundation for a healthy mind. Disease, stress, and a lack of hygiene can erode the energy required for focusing the mind and working hard in academics. This relationship was clearly demonstrated by a study from the National Academy of Sciences in 2013:
State-mandated academic achievement testing has had the unintended consequence of reducing opportunities for children to be physically active during the school day and beyond…. Yet little evidence supports the notion that more time allocated to subject matter will translate into better test scores. Indeed, 11 of 14 correlational studies of physical activity during the school day demonstrate a positive relationship to academic performance. Overall, a rapidly growing body of work suggests that time spent engaged in physical activity is related not only to a healthier body but also to a healthier mind.
Feelings and the Intellect
Similarly, the ability to manage one’s feelings constructively can be a tremendous aid for maintaining mental focus in the face of interpersonal tensions or inner turmoil.
The advent of the term “emotional intelligence” in 1995 evoked a wave of research authenticating the importance of social and emotional growth.
A key report by J. Payton et al. surveyed data from 317 studies involving 324,303 students. The authors concluded:
SEL [Social and Emotional Learning] programming improved students’ academic performance by 11 to 17 percentile points across the three reviews, indicating that they offer students a practical educational benefit…. Although some educators argue against implementing this type of holistic programming because it takes valuable time away from core academic material, our findings suggest that SEL programming not only does not detract from academic performance but actually increases students’ performance on standardized tests and grades.
Will Power and Intellect
The connection between will power and the intellect is evident in qualities such as perseverance, concentration, and initiative. In The Willpower Instinct, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D surveyed the results of over 200 studies.
People who have strong will power are better off – i.e., [they have] better control of their attention, emotions, and actions. They are happier and healthier. Their relationships are more satisfying and last longer. They make more money and go further in their careers. They are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and overcome adversity. They live longer. Self-control is a better predictor of academic success than IQ. It’s a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma. It’s more important for marital harmony than empathy.
Conclusion and Prediction
It may take a while, but educators are acknowledging that too much one-sided emphasis on the intellect is counterproductive.
Even the “winners” with this approach are adversely affected. In a nationally televised interview in November 2011, an NBC reporter talked with an administrator at Peking University High School in Shanghai, the top school worldwide as measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where the students put in 12 hours of study per day, including weekends. The school administrator lamented:
Test taking is damaging to students’ creativity, critical thinking skills and, in general, China’s ability to compete in the world. It can make students very narrow-minded. In the 21st century, China needs the creative types its education system isn’t producing.
For over 40 years, Education for Life has pioneered an approach that cultivates the child’s intellect without neglecting other important contributors to the student’s academic success, namely the body, feelings, and will.
Modern research shows that the future of education will favor schools that can implement an integrated, holistic approach, along the lines of Education for Life and the Living Wisdom Schools.
Most people assume that if they strive very hard to achieve success in school and at work, and if they succeed in making a lot of money, and having a prestigious job, and marrying and raising a family, they’ll be happy.
At Living Wisdom School, we practice a completely different approach. Since our first school opened in the early 1970s, we’ve realized that children do better in school when we teach them how to be happy at the start. It’s one reason our school rules begin with “Choose Happiness!”
Shawn Achor’s book is based on his research with hundreds of Harvard students and successful business leaders.
Naturally, this approach raises questions for parents, even though our students do very well in standardized testing, and in high school and college.
In fact, there’s scientific evidence that putting happiness first works very well on the job and in school.
If we’ve aroused your curiosity, we invite you to watch the following fascinating 12-minute TED Talk with Shawn Achor, author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Advantage. (You can also read the transcript.)
And here’s a bombshell article, Be More Successful: New Harvard Research Reveals a Fun Way to Do It, that was posted on the popular Barking Up the Wrong Tree website (120,000 subscribers). It’s based on an interview with Shawn Achor who summarizes his research that kids who learn to be happy do a lot better in school than those who burn themselves out with fact-cramming and studying to the test.
(For your interest, we present Shawn’s bio below.)
In this talk, given at the Dalai Lama Center, Shawn shares his findings on The Happiness Advantage for Children. (7 minutes)
Shawn Achor Bio
Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard.
Shawn has become one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success. His research on happiness made the cover of Harvard Business Review. His TED talk is one of the most popular all time, with over 4 million views, and his lecture on PBS has been seen by millions.
Shawn teaches in the Advanced Management Program at Wharton Business School and collaborates on research with Yale and Columbia University.
Shawn graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and earned a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School in Christian and Buddhist ethics. For seven years, he served as an Officer of Harvard, living in Harvard Yard and counseling students through the stresses of their first year. Though he now travels extensively, Shawn continues to conduct original research on happiness and organizational achievement in collaboration with Yale University and the Institute for Applied Positive Research.
In 2007, Shawn founded Good Think to share his findings with the world. Shawn has since lectured or researched in 51 countries, talking to CEOs in China, school children in South Africa, doctors in Dubai, and farmers in Zimbabwe.
He has spoken to the Royal Family in Abu Dhabi, doctors at St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and worked with the U.S. Department of Health to promote happiness. In 2012, Shawn helped lead the Everyday Matters campaign with the National MS Society and Genzyme, to show how happiness remains a choice for those struggling with chronic illness.
Q: How well do the children make the adjustment from a school with fewer than 100 children, to a high school that may have 2000 students?
Helen: We received a striking testimonial that speaks to this. One of our graduates is now in high school, and he wrote us an unsolicited email expressing how astounded he was by what he termed the lack of awareness among his friends, of their impact on other people. He said, “They banter back and forth, and I can tell when somebody’s feelings are getting hurt, but when I bring it up to them, they haven’t even noticed.”
He said, “This is something you taught me.” What he meant by “you” is the culture of the school, because we are seamless in our commitment to nurturing these kinds of awareness.
One of our students told us she went to freshman orientation at Menlo, and the teachers spent a great deal of time and energy reassuring the freshmen that they didn’t have to be afraid of them. And she was sitting there thinking, “Why would any student be afraid of a teacher?” Because we nurture a culture of tremendous respect and affection for one another. We have a very healthy environment.
Our students thrive in high schools large and small – they make the honor role, succeed in sports, and enjoy friendships with like-minded friends. Character development and life skills are tools that work anywhere.
The first public service that Paramhansa Yogananda undertook after he became a swami was to found a school for young boys. Starting in 1916 in the village of Dihika, Bengal with only seven students, he was “determined to found a school where young boys could develop to the full stature of manhood.” A year later he moved the school to Ranchi and founded the Yogoda Satsanga Brahmacharya Vidyalaya which is still in existence today. Almost sixty years later, in 1972, at Ananda Village, the first Ananda school was founded, based on the ideals and directions that Yogananda laid out about education. Starting also with only seven students, the original Ananda School now has a campus of seven classrooms with ninety students, plus branch schools in Palo Alto, Portland, and Seattle. The following article is from a talk that Swami Kriyananda gave in which he discusses the Education for Life systemused in the Ananda Schools.
What I’ve tried to do in my life is to take Yogananda’s central teachings and apply them to many fields of life – business, the arts, relationships, raising families, schools, communities, and so on. The education of children was very dear to Yogananda’s heart, but what he actually said about it was very little. Through the years, we have taken what he has given us, meditated on it, and applied our understanding in the Ananda School classrooms in order to deepen our insights and attunement to Yogananda’s vision for spiritual education.
At Ananda we are trying to develop a system called Education for Life, something which is very much needed in society today. The reason for so many of the problems in our world is that we’re giving children what Yogananda called an essentially atheistic view of life. When we rigorously exclude all spiritual teachings and higher values, our children end up getting the message that there aren’t any higher values, and that there isn’t even a God. Children have a natural longing for values and ideals, but our society gives them a universe and a life in which they have no faith. The cynical teachings of modern education are so ego-oriented, and so money and job-oriented that when children grow up cynical and angry at the universe, it’s hardly something to be surprised at. It’s the fault of our society that allows that kind of thing to happen.
The purpose of spiritual education is to fulfill the divine potential of children, and to prepare them for life by giving them the tools they need to keep on learning throughout the many experiences that will come to them.
When we speak of spiritual education, we don’t mean a church kind of education. What we mean is to help children understand that they’re going to be a lot happier if they are kind to others, and if they work for high ideals. The child who has a little bag of dates and eats them all himself isn’t nearly so happy as the child who shares those dates with others. In all cases, we can see that people who are selfish just aren’t happy, and people who are selfless are happy. They can apply this understanding not only at school, but also at home and everywhere in life. If we can bring this kind of teaching to children, this then is spiritual education.
Another purpose of spiritual education is to build the person on all levels. We are triune beings composed of body, mind, and soul, and if any part of us is starved at the expense of the others, then we aren’t complete. It’s an interesting fact that people who write, as an example of a mental activity, will very often also do something physical to keep themselves grounded. When Yogananda first had an experience of cosmic consciousness, his guru, Sri Yukteswar, handed him a broom, saying, “Let us sweep the porch.” We have to learn to keep these worlds in harmony with one another. If we let one go in favor of the other, in some way we become unbalanced.
In the education of our children, we need to help them develop their characters and their minds, but we must also help them prepare for living successfully in this world. We don’t want them to go out into society and find themselves incapable of relating to what’s going on. They have to have the facts that are a part of our modern upbringing. But they don’t need to have those facts taught to them in such a way as to leave them believing that there’s no value in anything. There is a great deal of emphasis on the wrong things today. The basis of spiritual education is to prepare them for society in a way that will help them to remain idealistic.
Suppose you have children who have learned how to love everyone, who have learned the goodness of life. When they go out into the world they may face hatred, criminal activity, and many other negative things. Will they be able to handle it? This is probably the primary concern that people have with spiritual education. The answer is to be seen in those who live with love. It isn’t as if they become stupid or lose the ability to relate to the world as it is. In fact, the broadest understanding comes from that which is centered in love; the narrowest understanding is that which is centered in hatred. If you’re on the lowest level, you can relate only to the lowest level; if you’re on the highest level, you can relate to all levels. To see that this is true, we can point to examples of people who live that way and who are able to handle life’s many challenges far, far better. I have observed that people who are complete as human beings are generally more successful. A spiritual education can actually guarantee greater success even in the way worldly people define it.
A good example is Yogananda’s most advanced disciple, Rajarsi Janakananda. He was the chairman of several large companies and owned several others. He had the clarity, calmness, and centeredness to be able to pull back from all the stress and excitement and see the way to resolve difficult issues. The secret of his success was the fact that his consciousness was rooted in God, and in the desire for right action.
Children are born with different inclinations, with different strengths, weaknesses, and educational needs. One of the unfortunate aspects of modern education is the assembly-line approach to teaching where the same information is more or less dumped out to everyone. There isn’t any philosophy; it is just information. Small classes, where the teacher can get to know each child personally, are essential for giving individual attention and for discovering what the natural level of understanding is for each child.
By teaching children kindness, concentration, will power, strength of character, truthfulness, and other higher qualities, life is made richer. These are deeply important to the development of the human being, but such things are not taught today in public education. The ultimate purpose of life is not simply to get a job. So many people live this way and then die, not of old age but of deep disappointment with the life they have led. If you don’t know how to be truly happy, money won’t buy it for you.
Spiritual education is training people for life. How many people get married, and then get divorced because they don’t know how to get along with their spouse? They’re not educated for that. nor for life.
Education, rightly understood, is expansion of awareness. It is preparation for that process of real learning which takes place after we leave school, when we are in the constant struggle, the battlefield of life. By giving children the tools and understanding to make the right choices in life, we can lead them to lasting happiness. Then they will be able to achieve the kind of spiritual victories that are the true meaning of success.