The #1 Question Parents Ask About Living Wisdom School

Kindergarten teacher Suryani Nelson talks with her students before the End of Year Ceremony in Spring 2023 at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, CA
Kindergarten teacher Suryani Nelson talks with her students before the End of Year Ceremony in Spring 2023 at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, CA.

By Helen Purcell, Director
Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto

Living Wisdom School director Helen purcell
Helen Purcell

Confronted with the whole-child curriculum at Living Wisdom School, parents often wonder if getting to know each child individually and helping them develop their unique strengths may waste time that could be better spent on academics.

The short answer is that in the fifty years since the first Living Wisdom School opened its doors, we have found that the exact opposite is true: that learning becomes far more efficient when we bring the whole child into the process.

Here are some of the reasons this is so.

  1. Many schools today operate under a mandate to “teach to the test.” But a one-size-fits-all, rigidly scheduled curriculum leaves perhaps a third of the students challenged appropriately, while a third find themselves struggling, and another third are under-challenged and bored. Large, impersonal classes and a rigid curriculum leave a significant portion of the students frustrated or idle, creating a breeding ground for discipline problems and disengagement, both of which interfere with learning.
  2. When we teach the children individually, each at his or her own level of ability and pace, school becomes a place where the children can enjoy success experiences every day. As they realize that they are understood and that they are able to succeed, they begin to enjoy their schoolwork and become enthusiastically engaged. A happy fringe benefit is that discipline problems virtually disappear.
  3. In a Living Wisdom classroom, the teacher’s first priority is to gain a deep understanding of the individual child, so that they will be able to guide the child appropriately, according to their unique learning styles, interests, and abilities.

A classroom where each child experiences the joy of overcoming challenges and succeeding every day becomes an engaging learning environment for all. It is why visitors to our school are amazed to see children of every age, from kindergarten to eighth grade, enjoyably absorbed in their schoolwork. They see students of all ages working together in small groups, not bored or inciting each other to mischief, but happily engaged in what they are doing, because they find joy in accepting challenges that they stand a good chance of mastering.

  1. There is no bullying at Living Wisdom School. From the first day of kindergarten until they graduate, the teachers are continuously monitoring the children’s interactions. When they observe contractive behaviors, they immediately step in. The teachers are experienced in helping children resolve their conflicts realistically and harmoniously. A school and classroom environment where each child feels safe, acknowledged, and loved is a wholesome incubator for learning.
  2. We approach learning in a spirit of joyous adventure and discovery. We hold high values and are eager to expose the children to academics in ways that they can individually relate to, and that will inspire and engage them for all their lives. We approach books and media by carefully unpacking the positive, uplifting messages behind whatever human suffering is described. We avoid those that offer a cynical response to life.

 An All-Round Education Engages the Whole Child

Parents sometimes ask: “While it seems wonderful to address all sides of a child’s nature at school, doesn’t it place their future success at risk?”

There seems to be a widespread assumption today that school should be only for the brain, and that everything else should be set aside during school hours and addressed elsewhere. This assumption holds that if we focus on training the children’s brains, we can assume that they will be happy and successful at some future point in their lives, after they have acquired financial security, material goods, and social status. But a strong and growing body of evidence, which we will discuss shortly, has clearly shown that the opposite is true – that happy people are much more likely to be successful in whatever they attempt.

The Five Dimensions of a Child

We humans have been gifted with five instruments through which we can perceive and interact with the world: body, feelings, will, mind, and soul. Science today is increasingly discovering how these five instruments are inextricably linked, and how a deficiency or malfunction in one is bound to compromise the healthy functioning of the others. For example, researchers have found that the brain and heart function more efficiently in the presence of calm, harmonious, expansive feelings such as love, kindness, and compassion. When the Institute of Heartmath taught heart-harmonizing methods to students in a Washington, DC public school, their test scores improved significantly. Many similar findings are described in our book Happiness & Success at School: A Magnificent Synergy.

Let us consider some simple examples.

Body

When the body is unwell, we feel less able and eager to attack our challenges, because the supply of energy to our brain, willpower, and feelings is diminished. Conversely, when the body is healthy, we feel wonderful, and we have abundant energy and enthusiasm to greet our life’s tests.

Feeling

Similarly, if our feelings are compromised – if we are sad, depressed, resentful, or feel unrecognized and unloved – we will be less able to bring our full energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to meet our challenges.

Will Power

If our will power is compromised, due to a lack of strong desire, confidence, or proper training, we will be unable to bring our full energy and volition to our activities.

Mind and Soul

In fifty-plus years in the Living Wisdom Schools, we have seen that children who are healthy, happy, cheerful, enthusiastic, confident, focused, and strong-minded are best equipped to learn at the peak of their individual ability.

Each Child Is Unique: We Must Teach to the Individual

Our philosophy of education is based on an understanding that every child is unique. Each child brings an individual blend of strengths to school that demand appropriate consideration – as the following stories illustrate.

There was a boy in the original Living Wisdom School who had an uncanny, almost intuitive gift for understanding how tools and machinery worked. Unfortunately, he was little interested in the standard school curriculum. Instead of forcing him to learn in a way that was alien and unpalatable to him, the teachers worked with his strengths. They created learning challenges that engaged his mechanical skills and his interest in learning how things worked. As a result, he began to have a happier experience of school.

When he realized that the teachers understood him, and that they were on his side, he was open and receptive when they introduced him to math problems and other lessons that were related to his interests. The boy grew up to be a highly paid, in-demand metalworker and welder.

Middle school teacher Gary McSweeney helps a student with math.
The keys to learning and academic engagement at Living Wisdom School are individual instruction, and challenging each student daily at his/her own level. In math class, the teachers and math aides review every problem with the students to ensure that they understand fundamental concepts and are not simply “studying to the test.”

A young girl in our school dreaded math class, because she associated it with many past failures. Year after year at her former school she had fallen hopelessly behind in math.

When she came to LWS, the teachers worked with her at her own level. Very carefully, they gave her math lessons and assignments that she stood a good chance of “winning.” In this way, math gradually became associated with positive experiences. In the compassionate, loving school environment, her classmates celebrated her successes. She spent so much time working on math with her teacher and the math aides that her book became frayed at the edges and looked very “lived-in.”

Her story has a happy ending – while she didn’t become a world-class mathematician, she was successful in a college major where math was a strong prerequisite: genetics. Best of all, she gained tremendous self-confidence from having defeated the math bogeyman and conquering her fears in a way that was fun, engaging, and personally rewarding.

How Do Our Graduates Perform After They Leave Our School?

A strong proof of our methods is how our students fare in high school, college, and career. Before we look at some broad trends, here are two recent anecdotal examples.

<em>Living Wisdom School graduate Hadley Sheppard earned a PhD in Genetics and works for a major scientific database firm in London, UK.</em>
Living Wisdom School graduate Hadley Sheppard earned a PhD in Genetics and works for an international genetics database firm in London, UK.

One of our graduates, Krishav Gandhi, is now a senior in our Living Wisdom High School. We recently learned that Krishav qualified as a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Just 1% of high school seniors achieve National Merit semifinalist status. Of this group, 95% will attain finalist standing, and half will receive a National Merit Scholarship.

In spring 2023, another graduating senior in our high school scored a perfect 1600 on her college boards. To understand what this says about the quality of instruction and guidance at the school, of the 7 million college-bound high school seniors who take the SATs annually, just one in every 7,000 (0.1%) scores a perfect 1600.

Are these rare exceptions? Of course. Perhaps a better measure of our approach is our graduates’ average high school GPA, which hovers around 3.85. Also worth noting are our graduates’ successes in college and beyond. (See the links below.)

But first, an explanation is in order. Unlike many schools today, we are not focused on training our students to “test and forget” what they learn. We are intent on giving them a solid foundation in the knowledge and problem-solving strengths to find solutions and be competent and successful in high school, college, career, and life. We discover and nurture their unique talents and enthusiasms, and we show them how to bring their best to everything they do. The result is that they do very well when they leave us.

The “Disaster Factor” in Schools Today

In most schools today, the total lack of instruction in life skills has resulted in an epidemic of disconnection, alienation, estrangement, sadness, loneliness, and bitterness – with the unfortunate result that many young people feel deeply betrayed and lash out in rebellion through drugs, violence, cynicism, and self-harm.

The problem is too serious to be lightly dismissed – “Oh well, young people have always managed to land on their feet – life will be their teacher!” Even if our children are not inclined to rebel – how will it help them to keep daily company with those who are?

Rather than toss the dice with our children’s future, it is our strong conviction that we should do everything in our power to offer them a better way.

When we started our schools a little more than 50 years ago, we realized that the solution to the deficiencies of modern “deaducation” was actually close at hand. The question we needed to address was not “How can we force our children to get good grades so that they will be happy and successful in some misty distant future, after they have achieved wealth and status?”

Instead, the questions we asked – and answered – were:

  • “How can we work with our students, by understanding their unique skills and what motivates them individually?”
  • “Once we have gotten to know them, how can we give them the wisdom, maturity, and life skills to be happy and highly successful now, so that they will stand an excellent chance of succeeding at every stage of their lives?”

Education Reform – Baby Steps at the University Level

At America’s elite universities, a new movement has begun to acknowledge the problems in education, and to take tentative steps toward finding solutions.

  • At Yale, students can now take a course called Life Worth Living.
  • Notre Dame offers students a course called God and the Good Life.
  • Harvard offers an online course called Managing Happiness. The in-person version of the course has been astonishingly successful.

Harvard’s Positive Psychology 1504, taught by Professor Tal Ben-Shahar Ph.D., will enter the books as the most popular course in the history of Harvard University.

In the spring of 2006, over 1400 Harvard students enrolled in both Positive Psychology 1504 and Ben-Shahar’s Psychology of Leadership course.

Positive Psychology 1504 consists of 22 lectures lasting around 75 minutes each, with a guest lecture on humor by Harvard graduate and professor Shawn Achor [author of the bestselling book The Happiness Advantage]. The course’s focus is on the psychological aspects of life fulfillment and examines empathy, friendship, love, achievement, creativity, spirituality, happiness, and humor. (From positivepsychology.com.)

  • At Stanford, Fred Luskin and Carole Pertofsky teach a happiness course that they created in response to a number of student suicides.

It’s gratifying to see that neuroscientists, social scientists, psychologists, and educators have begun to understand how vitally important happiness is to success in school, career, and life.

But when we view these developments against the backdrop of history, we find that the principles have been known for a very long time.

Ancient Principles for Success & Happiness

Wise people in all ages have given us the keys to a happy, successful life. The first principle is that happiness increases when we live “expansively” – that is, when we use our five human instruments of body, heart, will, mind, and soul in ways that bring us greater health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy, instead of their opposites.

This is our goal for the children at Living Wisdom School – to create an environment where they can thrive in each of the five dimensions of their being.

While academics are an extremely important part of a child’s life arsenal, researchers at America’s great universities are finding that people who are happy, healthy, emotionally stable, mentally focused, and strong-willed are most likely to succeed at school.

Former second grade teacher Kshama Kellogg helps a boy understand a math problem.
Happiness and academics go hand in hand at Living Wisdom School. Former second grade teacher Kshama Kellogg helps Milan understand a math problem. (Kshama is now the director of Living Wisdom High School of Palo Alto.)

A pioneer in the field is Shawn Achor, mentioned earlier as a guest lecturer in Harvard’s Positive Psychology 1504 course. Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, forever changed how we understand the link between happiness and success.

As a graduate student at Harvard, Achor served as a proctor, a role that required him to have hundreds of conversations with incoming freshmen over cups of Starbucks coffee.

Achor soon noticed a surprising difference between the students who thrived and those who struggled. The most successful Harvard freshmen were not, as he had expected, the ones who buried themselves in the library stacks, determined to grind out good grades. They were the students who were happiest and who were most socially engaged. They were enthusiastic. They formed study groups, asked questions, and approached their studies in a spirit of joyous discovery.

Achor’s research revolutionized how he understood the relationship between success and happiness. It seems that our traditional assumptions are wrong. Happiness is not something we can expect to enjoy after we have gained a measure of financial security and status. Instead, the people who are most likely to succeed in life are those who know how to be happily engaged in the present moments of their lives. Achor now consults with corporations to help them create happy success cultures at work.

What Stanford and Harvard Can Learn from Living Wisdom School

While these findings are promising, it is worth noting that the first Living Wisdom School predated the present faint stirrings by a century.

On March 22, 1917, a young monk in India named Swami Yogananda started a school for boys. In his book, Autobiography of a Yogi, published in 1946, he wrote:

“The ideal of an all-sided education for youth had always been close to my heart. I saw clearly the arid results of ordinary instruction, aimed only at the development of body and intellect. Moral and spiritual values, without whose appreciation no man can approach happiness, were yet lacking in the formal curriculum. I determined to found a school where young boys could develop to the full stature of manhood. My first step in that direction was made with seven children at Dihika, a small country site in Bengal.

A generous land grant from a private donor enabled Yogananda to transfer the school to Ranchi, Bihar, where it flourished beyond expectations.

At the end of the first year at Ranchi, applications for admission reached two thousand. But the school, which at that time was solely residential, could accommodate only about one hundred. Instruction for day students was soon added.

Yogananda called his institution a “How to Live School.” Central to the curriculum were skills that enabled the students to be happy and successful. He taught them to meditate and to cultivate positive, inclusive attitudes – life skills that, a century later, are exerting a powerful appeal for unprecedented numbers of Harvard students.

When Yogananda came to America in 1920, he started a second How to Live School, but it failed – not because the children were unhappy, but as he put it, because parents in the 1920s weren’t prepared for his ideas. India had offered more fertile soil, in a culture where instruction in the art of happiness is considered an indispensable part of a well-rounded education.

Fifty-four years later, in 1971, an American disciple of Yogananda’s, Swami Kriyananda, started a How to Live School in Nevada City, California. The school flourished, because the time was right. The first school has since spawned other schools in America, Europe, and India, under a new name, Living Wisdom Schools, and a new philosophical banner, Education for Life.

Education for Life in Action

A shining example of the way we incorporate an Education for Life in the curriculum is our annual all-school Theater Magic performance, where each student plays a role in producing a professional-quality theater event based on the life of a great soul who has blessed the earth by his or her presence.

Subjects of past Theater Magic productions have included the Dalai Lama, Joan of Arc, the goddess Quan Yin, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, Rabiah (a famous Indian woman saint), Martin Luther King, Jr., St. Francis, George Washington Carver, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, and botanist Luther Burbank.

Students act in a play about the life of renowned botanist Luther Burbank at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto.
Theater participation teaches priceless lessons in self-confidence, projection, concentration, and cooperation, among many other important life skills. A scene from the Spring 2023 Theater Magic production, on the life of the renowned American botanist Luther Burbank.

In twenty-two years of plays, we have found theater to be a powerful medium for bringing history to life in a personally engaging way that stays with the students.

It has been inspiring to witness how the students benefit personally. Theater not only teaches them vivid lessons in history, geography, political science, literature, music, and dance – it offers them opportunities to develop high-value life skills. The children learn to take responsibility and use good judgment, and they develop skills in self-confidence, leadership, cooperation, self-control, and perseverance.

They learn to project their presence through their voice and bearing, and to speak clearly while being respectful of their listeners – for example, waiting for the laughter or applause to fade before resuming their spoken lines.

Teacher Suryani Nelson's kindergarten students take a bow after the 2023 Theater Magic production at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, CA.
Teacher Suryani Nelson’s kindergarten students take a bow after the 2023 Theater Magic production at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, CA.

They learn breathing and self-regulation methods to calm feelings of fear or over-excitement. They experience the fulfillment of supporting each other through the challenges of preparing and performing. Finally, they experience the rich satisfaction and pride of pulling together a project of profound beauty, meaning, and inspiration. The plays draw rave reviews from parents and guests.

We should not forget to mention the many lessons they learn about the joys of cooperation and social engagement.

This is Character Development at its finest. By portraying exemplary lives, history becomes both real and inspiring. Many of our graduates have told us how the skills they developed through Theater Magic helped them be successful in high school, college, and career.

The experience of mounting an event of deep significance every year from kindergarten to graduation is unique in education today. It is a perfect example of how life skills and the academic curriculum can, and should, be melded together.

“What kind of education enables people to be happy and successful throughout their lives, and not just in some far-off, imagined better future?”

The research is clear, and it is growing: people who know how to be happy and successful in the present are more likely to be successful in every moment of their lives.

Love & Success in the Classroom

Science teacher Lana Steuck’s highly engaged third-graders created a popular exhibit for the 2023 LWS Science Fair. Click photo to enlarge.

by George Beinhorn

Recently, I visited the Palo Alto Living Wisdom School in my role as the school’s web manager, to video a pair of talks by the school’s principal, Helen Purcell, and longtime middle school teacher and present school administrator Gary McSweeney.

There’s a strong, growing interest in Living Wisdom School among parents, which is wonderful and reason for rejoicing. Yet Helen and Gary lamented that, too often, parents lose sight of the benefits of an Education for Life and choose a school that feels comfortably traditional and familiar instead.

The sad irony is that traditions are evolving wholesale today in every major field of human endeavor, and most schools are only beginning to catch on.

Since approximately 1900, every significant invention has been based on a growing awareness that the fundamental reality of creation is energy. Think of the marvels of modern technology, and the vast array of devices that aid us in our work and at home. To claim that these changes have taken us backward would label us as unrepentant Luddites.

In education, too, there is a new understanding that each student’s success in school depends to a very large extent on how wisely and sensitively the teachers are able to work with the unique energetic qualities of the individual child.

Happiness & Success at School –
What Did “Traditional” Education Actually Look Like?

In ancient Greece and Rome and throughout the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Enlightenment, and in Asia since ancient times, schools have been divided into the approximate equivalents of our modern elementary school, middle and high school, and college, corresponding to ages 6-12, 12-18, and 18-24.

Educational methods were adapted to the needs of children during each stage of their development, as the primary focus naturally shifted from the body (Pre-K and K), to the feelings (grades 1-6), will power (grades 7-12), and mind (college). Because class sizes were smaller and the grades were often mixed, the teachers were able to get to know the students and work with them individually, often over many years.

It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century that government officials and manufacturers decided that schools should be run like assembly lines to train children to be good laborers and factory managers. Thus, math, science and practical subjects such as wood shop, metal shop, and auto mechanics were to be given highest priority, and other matters, such as the child’s emotional, moral, and spiritual development, were to be eliminated from the classroom, as it was assumed these areas would be adequately addressed at home.

The result of this system is the public school system of today, with its large class sizes, government-mandated, one-size-fits-all curriculum, and heavy emphasis on academics to the exclusion of almost everything else.

The mission of the Living Wisdom Schools is to rescue children from this system, whose weaknesses have become abundantly clear, in the form of pandemic bullying, an alarming number of student suicides, and children rebelling and acting out their frustrations with drugs and violence. Programs such as the disastrous “No Child Left Behind,” which force every child into the same rigid curriculum, have left one-third of the students struggling, one-third more or less keeping up, and another third bored out of their minds.

The Highly Efficient Classroom

Over their 50-year history, the Living Wisdom Schools have demonstrated that educating the whole child – body, heart, mind, and spirit – far from neglecting the children’s intellectual development, actually achieves the opposite effect. By engaging the whole child in the learning process, vast reserves of energy and enthusiasm are released to fuel the highest accomplishment, leading to exceptional test scores and high school and college grades. (See the Addendum below.) Because the children are happy and fulfilled, distracting discipline problems are few, bullying is nonexistent, and learning is more efficient than in “traditional” classrooms.

The changes brought by the new awareness of energy are not confined to the Living Wisdom Schools. As hinted earlier, they are sweeping the globe. Education for Life very deliberately prepares children to live effectively in this rapidly changing new energy-aware world.

Happiness & Success in Academia

At Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and other elite schools today, admissions officers are no longer looking only at applicants’ high school grades and SAT scores; they are also weighing individual qualities of emotional balance, enthusiasm, engagement, happiness, and an expansive ability to empathize, communicate, and cooperate – all of which are important predictors of school and life success.

Happiness, Success, & the Science of Positive Feelings

Science is confirming what the Living Wisdom Schools long ago discovered about the intimate links between happiness and success.

Scientists at the Institute of HeartMath™ Research Center (IHM) in Boulder Creek, California have studied the effects of positive feelings such as love, cooperation, compassion, and kindness on our bodies and brains. Their research supports the notion that it’s important for children’s school success that they learn to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and don’t mess with Mister In-Between.” The IHM research is described in The HeartMath Solution by Doc Childre and Howard Martin (HarperSanFrancisco 1999), as well as in research papers on the organization’s website, www.heartmath.org.

Here are some of the IHM findings:

  1. The heart and brain communicate continually through the nervous system, thus the heart’s powerful positive or negative, harmonizing or disruptive messages are carried instantly to the brain, where they either enhance or interfere with our ability to remain cool and concentrate. (The heart is the body’s most powerful oscillator, sending out electrical signals roughly 60 times as strong as those emitted by the brain.)
  2. Harmonious feelings enhance mental focus, calmness, health, performance, intuition, and the frequency of spiritual feelings. They increase relaxation and alpha-wave output in the brain associated with a calm, meditative state, and synchronize heart-rhythm patterns, respiratory rhythms, and blood pressure oscillations.
Chart showing heart rate variability in positive and negative emotions (courtesy of Heartmath Institute)
Heart rate variability in positive and negative emotions (courtesy of IHM). Click to enlarge.

When scientists from the Institute of HeartMath taught simple methods for harmonizing the heart’s feelings to school children in the greater Washington, DC area, the children’s test scores rose dramatically.

In the Living Wisdom Schools, the teachers lead the students in practicing heart-harmonizing methods daily. In the classroom and on the playground, the teachers pay constant, close attention to the quality of the children’s interactions. The teachers are trained to nurture a harmonious, safe, expansive school environment that is optimized for happiness, learning, and success.

Happiness and Success at Harvard

During Shawn Achor’s time as a Harvard graduate student, he served as a proctor, a role that required him to have hundreds of conversations with Harvard freshmen over Starbucks coffee.

Achor, a psychology major, soon noticed a trait that set the most successful students apart. It was an insight that, in time, would completely overturn his previous assumptions about success.

He realized that the Harvard freshmen who were most likely to excel were not those who buried themselves in the library stacks, grimly determined to grind out good grades. The most successful students were the happiest and most socially engaged. They interacted with their peers, formed study groups, continually asked questions, and approached their studies in a spirit of joyous adventure. They were connected, engaged with their work, and were skilled communicators.

Achor is the author of an influential book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.

Shawn Achor ended up teaching the most popular course at Harvard, on the principles of positive psychology. Today, he applies his findings about the link between happiness and success to help corporate executives advance their careers and transform their companies’ cultures.

Achor realized that when it comes to success and happiness, our traditional assumptions are backwards. Most people assume that they will be happy after they’ve achieved material success. Yet Achor found that the opposite is true – that people who are happy, here and now, are the most likely to succeed.

Happiness and the Brain

Shawn Achor’s findings confirm a discovery by neuroscientists that people with high levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex of their brains – the brain area where happy attitudes, positive expectations, will power, and the ability to form and persevere in achieving long-term goals are localized – are more successful in their lives than those with weaker prefrontal cortex activation.

Neurophysiologist Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, is one of the world’s foremost experts on the prefrontal cortex. When Davidson studied the brain patterns of college students, he found that those with higher levels of prefrontal cortex activation were uniformly better at setting and achieving goals and had fewer problems with drugs and alcohol, compared to students with lower prefrontal activity.

To put it differently, our brains are wired so that happiness and success go together. The qualities that are essential for success – will power, planning, and perseverance – are localized in the same brain area where upbeat, happy attitudes reside. The very structure of our brains tells us that happiness and success are inseparable.

When Davidson and his team studied Tibetan monks living in India, they tested one elderly monk, a lifelong meditator, whose scores on left-prefrontal-cortex activation were the highest they had ever seen, reflecting the tremendous positive energy and joy his practices had brought him. At Living Wisdom School, the children are led in brief daily periods of meditation, using ancient meditation techniques that are designed to relax the body, uplift the feelings, calmly focus attention, and direct energy to the prefrontal cortex. The children find these practices extremely helpful to keep their outlook positive and cheerful while meeting daily challenges and while preparing for tests.

Shawn Achor would confirm that the happiness principle is not only valid for Harvard students but for successful people in all fields. The traditional expectation that happiness is a reward that we can expect to enjoy after we’ve achieved success, defined as a good job, a beautiful home, an impressive income, a trophy spouse, and a shiny car, was simply wrong. The most successful people are those who are happy from the outset – thus the title of Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage.

If you were to ask school administrators to name the most important factor for school success, many would probably say, “Good study habits.” But a mounting body of evidence suggests that this is only one part of the school success equation, albeit an important one.

The Living Wisdom Schools have shown that the best determinants of school success more closely resemble Shawn Achor’s findings: a happy learning environment, permeated by a spirit of joyful exploration, where each child can be challenged at his or her own pace.

Happiness & Success at Google

When Google decided, 15 years after its founding, to re-examine its practice of hiring only job candidates with outstanding grades from top-tier universities, they were surprised to find that technical knowledge was eighth among the factors that predicted success in a high-tech business environment. The first seven were all “soft skills,” such as the ability to empathize, cooperate, and contribute harmoniously. A follow-up study found that Google’s most successful research teams were composed of people who shared qualities of inclusion, respect, and caring.

Happiness & Success in Sports

In the former age of matter-awareness, which ended at approximately the time Albert Einstein announced that the underlying reality of matter is energy, rigid forms and solid matter were thought to be the ultimate reality of creation.

Thus, in sports training, the needs of the individual were subordinated to rigid, one-size-fits-all methods. Today, in the dawning age of energy-awareness, young coaches and athletes are achieving unprecedented success with methods that put individual happiness and success first.

This should not be surprising, since we perform best when we’re doing something we love. And we all love experiencing success at our own level – as happens daily for each child at Living Wisdom School.

Example: Tony Holler was an honors chemistry teacher and track and football coach for thirty years at Plainfield North High School in the greater Chicago area. When Tony transitioned his teams from old-style coaching methods to practices that emphasized the efficient use of energy and were short, fast, and fun, his teams won the state 4×100 event, the prestige event in track and field, four of the next six years. In the same period, his football teams, similarly coached with short, efficient practices in a spirit of fun, won 44 games and lost 3.

Happiness & Success in the Military

Click to enlarge.

Consider the U.S.S. Benfold, a destroyer that scored bottom-scraping performance ratings under a succession of captains who ruled with a rigid, top-down, micromanaging style in which the crew members were viewed as soulless drones whose purpose was to advance the officers’ careers, and deviations from the Navy’s rules and norms were considered anathema.

Then a miracle occurred, when a forward thinking young captain, D. Michael Abrashoff, took over Benfold and put energy-based principles in place. Abrashoff was convinced that the key to turning the ship around would be the happiness and success of each crew member. He talked with each of Benfold’s 300 sailors and gave them freedom to do whatever it would take to improve their departments, even if it meant bending the Navy’s rules. The result: within months, Benfold was beating the Navy’s best ships in at-sea trials. Abrashoff recorded his experiences in a deeply inspiring bestselling book, It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.

At Living Wisdom School the teachers have long experience helping each child succeed daily at his or her own level. The result is a very happy school “ship” where the children are enthusiastically engrossed in meeting their academic and personal challenges. After Captain Abashoff transformed Benfold, other ships‘ officers and crews were soon seeking any excuse to visit the ship for the pleasure of spending time in its positive, dynamic, happy atmosphere.

If you are seeking a school for your child, why not arrange a visit to Living Wisdom School? We’re sure you’ll love your time here, as so many other parents have in the thirty-three years of our school’s existence. You can use the Contact form, or give us a call at 650-462-8150. We look forward to welcoming you to our school and giving you a tour of the campus.

Captain Abrashoff’s Operating Principles

1. See the culture through the eyes of the individual.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

3. Discipline and motivation skyrocket when people believe they are doing something important, and they’re given the freedom to do it well.

4. Listen aggressively.

School Choice

In today’s fast-paced, energy-driven world, it’s clear that children’s prospects for a happy, successful life depend far more on their present, daily experiences of happiness and success at school, than on rigid adherence to a set of impersonal, assembly-line educational practices from the past.

 


About the Author: George Beinhorn graduated from Stanford University (BA 1964, MA 1966). He has published seven books in the last decade, including the following titles which are based on the 50-year experience of the Living Wisdom Schools (the links are to web pages where you can read the chapters or download a PDF).

Head & Heart: How a Balanced Education Nurtures Happy Children Who Excel in School & Life. Based on the experience of the Living Wisdom Schools.

Happiness & Success at School – A Magnificent Synergy: Answering parents’ questions about the surprising links between happiness and high performance in the classroom.

Happiness & Success in High School: Educating Teenagers for Life: Answering parents’ questions about the surprising links between happiness and high performance in the classroom. How positive feelings and individual attention nurture success in high school, college, and for all of life. Based on the experience of Living Wisdom High School in Palo Alto, California.

 


Addendum: Does Individual Attention Support Academic Excellence? High School Grades Tell the Story

Parents often question whether devoting time to individual attention doesn’t somehow steal energy from the academic subjects. But the EFL teachers have found the opposite to be true.

Grades

We present these academic results by graduates of the K-8 Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, California as evidence of the validity of the Education for Life approach to learning.

We invited Palo Alto LWS graduates (2011-2014) to share their high school and college grade-point averages. The Palo Alto school has 70-75 students in nine grades, K-8. On average, 4-8 students graduate per year; thus these 20 responses over four years are representative.

Presentation High (San Jose) 4.7
Mountain View High 4.5
Los Altos High 4.5
Harker School (San Jose) 4.18
Carlmont High (Belmont) 4.1
Summit Prep (Redwood City) 4.1
Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles) 4.1
Los Altos High 4.0
Menlo College Prep (Menlo Park) 4.0
Mid-Peninsula High (Menlo Park) 4.0
Palo Alto High 4.0
Harker School (San Jose) 3.9
Woodside Priory School, Bowdoin College 3.825
Menlo College Prep 3.706
San Lorenzo High 3.7
Gunn High (Palo Alto) 3.6
Gunn High, Cornell University 3.5
Summit Prep (Redwood City) 3.5
Bay High School (San Francisco) 3.23
Mid-Peninsula High (Menlo Park) 2.7

 

LWS graduates’ average high school GPA (2011-18): 3.85

 

LWS alumni have graduated from these high schools:

Bay School in San Francisco Carlmont High School
Everest High School Gunn High School
Harker School Los Altos High School
Menlo College Prep Menlo-Atherton High School
Mid-Peninsula High School Mountain View High School
Palo Alto High School Pinewood School
Presentation High School San Lorenzo High School
Summit Prep High School Woodside Priory

LWS alumni have graduated from these colleges:

Bowdoin College Brooks Institute of Photography
Cal Poly Columbia University
Cornell University Dominican University
Dublin University, Ireland Georgetown University
Humboldt State University London College, UK
Loyola Marymount University New York University
Oberlin College Portland State University
San Francisco Art Institute San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Santa Clara University School of Visual Arts, New York
Stanford University UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara
University of Bremen, Germany University of Michigan
University of San Francisco University of Washington (Ross School of Business)

 

LWS graduates’ college majors:

Anthropology Art
Computer Science Culinary Arts
Economics Education
Engineering Film
Genetics Library Science
Marketing Mathematics
Medicine Music
Photography

Recent Living Wisdom High School Graduates Received Their Degrees:

Cal Poly (Psychology)

Chapman University (Computer Science, Cyber-Security)

San Jose State University (Marine Biology)

Santa Clara University (Political Science; Pre-Law)

UC San Diego (Psychology)

Graduates of Living Wisdom High School in Palo Alto have been accepted (2018-2021):

Bard College at Simon’s Rock Boston College
Cal Poly Chapman University
Lewis & Clark College Muhlenberg College
New York University Redlands University
Saint Mary’s College San Jose State University
Santa Clara University Sarah Lawrence College
Simon Fraser University UC Davis
UC San Diego University of Puget Sound
University of San Francisco University of the Pacific
Whittier College Willamette University

Test Scores

Living Wisdom High School (Nevada City, California) Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Score Averages 2004-2021

LWHS Average National Average Above National Average
Language Arts 640 533 +20%
Mathematics 608 527 +15%
Total 1248 1060 +18%

We also assess our high school students’ progress using the Iowa Test of Educational Development. Over the past two years, our students have shown an average gain of 14 percentile points in comparison to other students their age.

 

Happiness & Success at School

Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto is overjoyed to announce the publication of a new book: Happiness & Success at School.

Our director, Helen Purcell, says, “It’s a wonderful book and fun to read. I hope that all parents who are seeking an education for their children that includes a balance of academic excellence and the development of indispensable personal qualities that will help to ensure their success in school and for all their lives will read this book.”

How to Read Happiness & Success. You can read the chapters online (see table of contents below), download the book as a PDF (2nd Edition, July 2022; 6mb), or purchase a copy on Amazon.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. What Do You Want for Your Child?

Happiness & Success in the Real World

3. Happiness and Success at Google

4. Ancient Secrets of Happiness & Success

5. Happiness and Success at Harvard

6. Happiness and Success at Stanford and MIT

7. Happiness and Success in Math Class

8. Happiness and Success in the History of Education

9. Happiness, Success, and the 5 Stages of a Child’s Development

10. Happiness and Success: the Love Plant Approach

11. Happiness, Success, and Academic Achievement

12. Happiness, Success, and Education for Life: Grades Tell the Story

13. Bill Aris’s Truth: Happiness and Success in Sports & the Military

14. How to Improve Schools Using Coaching Principles

15. Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity at School

16. Happiness, Success, and Feelings: A Brief Photo Essay

The Science of Happiness & Success

17. Happiness, Success, and the Science of Positive Feelings

18. Happiness, Success, and the “Social Brain”

19. Two Kinds of Feelings

20. How Raw Feelings Interfere with Learning

21. It’s Time We Started Raising Organic Children

22. The Super-Efficient Classroom

Meet the Teachers

23. A Conversation with Former LWS Second Grade Teacher Kshama Kellogg

24. A Conversation with LWS Kindergarten Teacher Lilavati Aguilar

25. Rose Atwell: LWS Alumna, Teacher, Actor, Chef

26. Can the Arts Help Children Excel Academically?

27. Happiness, Success, and the Curriculum in Grades TK-8

Meet the Parents

28. Meet the Parents: Esther Peralez-Dieckmann

29. Meet the Parents: Jack Dieckmann

Testimonials for Living Wisdom School

30. Living Wisdom Graduates Enjoy Varied and Exciting Careers

31. More Testimonials for the Living Wisdom Schools

32. Final Thoughts: On Choosing Your Child’s School

Appendices

Appendix 1: Education for Life Resources

Appendix 2: Education for Life and the Living Wisdom Schools

Appendix 3: Research that Supports Education for Life

About the Author. George Beinhorn serves as our school’s web content manager. A graduate of Stanford University (BA ‘63, MA ‘66) he has been associated with the Living Wisdom Schools since 1976. George has enjoyed a long and fruitful career as a writer and editor with clients in technology, publishing, and academia. (Among his more interesting projects, he edited the “Best doctoral dissertation in computer science in 2008 at Stanford University.”) He is the author of The Joyful Athlete: The Wisdom of the Heart in Exercise & Sports Training.

Appendix 3: Research that Supports Education for Life

To obtain a PDF copy of this book with clickable hyperlinks, visit the website of the Palo Alto Living Wisdom School: www.livingwisdomschool.org. Follow the links to articles that support the principles and practices of Education for Life.

Most education research focuses on how teaching methods affect academic performance. But forty-five years of experience have shown us that practices that enhance a child’s inner development can powerfully contribute to their academic success.

(If you come across supportive research, please let us know. You can send us a message through the contact form on the website of the Palo Alto Living Wisdom School: www.livingwisdomschool.org.)

 

Teaching/Academics

Education for Life online teacher development: http://edforlife.org/courses/. For teachers-in-training, and for continuing teacher education.

Active Focused Learning Approach. Quotes: “I’m not really held back anymore, just sitting in class waiting.” “There’s not a lot of lecturing, which makes it easier to stay focused.” “I really like working with other students.” Students spend more time working in groups. The strategy is getting more students to achieve better in class.

Longer school day and year failed to improve test scores.

Task to Aid Self-Esteem Lifts Grades for Some.

Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play In School (PDF)

The Heart in Holistic Education. (PDF) Educational programs based on new scientific discoveries about the heart lead to improved emotional stability, cognitive functioning, and academic performance.

Tutoring Tots. MSNBC News feature.

10 Ways to Improve Schools Using Coaching Principles. An important article by Tony Holler, a public high school honors chemistry teacher and football and track and field coach (Plainfield North HS, IL). Living Wisdom School has followed Tony’s 10 recommendations throughout its 40-plus-year history. And because we’re very clear that they’ve played a large part in our success, the principles are engrained in our school’s philosophy.

We’re destroying our kids — for nothing: Too much homework, too many tests, too much needless pressure. A Salon article argues that we’ve gone overboard on academics, destroying the enthusiasm in kids that’s essential for academic success. The result? “Children are born curious, and it’s pretty easy to facilitate that, to groom it,” says Vassar College neuropsychologist Abigail Baird. “We’re doing the opposite. We’re squishing their desire to learn new things. And I think that’s a crisis.”

Impact of Homework on Academic Achievement (PDF).

Going in circles puts students on path to better choices. Quotes: “The goal is not so much to punish as to get students on paths to make better choices, to understand the impact of what they do, to deal with people better”… “We’ve become more like a family and not just kids who go to school together,” said freshman Leah Brito. “We’ve grown up big time in the last few months.” “One result of the new approach is that kids are giving more thought to the effect what they do and say can have on others,” she said. “In eighth grade, the he said/she said stuff was horrible when many of the students were together at Audubon middle school,” Brito said. “This year, there is much less of that.”

Is Test Prep Educational Malpractice? In many elementary schools there is little or no time for non-tested subjects such as art, music, even science and history.

Preschool Controversy – Academics or Play? Quotes: “People who attended play-based preschools were eight times less likely to need treatment for emotional disturbances than those who went to preschools where direct instruction prevailed. Graduates of the play-based preschools were three times less likely to be arrested for committing a felony.”

Why I pulled my son out of a school for ‘gifted’ kids. In this Mashable article, a mother tells how her son thrived after she transferred him out of an elite academically oriented elementary school in New York City. “If you are privileged enough to be selective about what schools your children attend, please consider how they are learning and not just what they are learning. School isn’t only about cramming as much as possible as quickly as possible into their little brains.”

Pressure Cooker Kindergarten. Quotes: “Kindergarten has changed radically in the last two decades in ways that few Americans are aware of. Children now spend far more time being taught and tested on literacy and math skills than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies, and using their imaginations. Many kindergartens use highly prescriptive curricula geared to new state standards and linked to standardized tests. In an increasing number of kindergartens, teachers must follow scripts from which they may not deviate. These practices, which are not well grounded in research, violate long-established principles of child development and good teaching. It is increasingly clear that they are compromising both children’s health and their long-term prospects for success in school…. Kindergarten has ceased to be a garden of delight and has become a place of stress and distress…. Blindly pursuing educational policies that could well damage the intellectual, social and physical development of an entire generation…. There’s ongoing concern about American children catching up with their counterparts in countries such as Japan and China. Specifically in areas such as science, math and technology, schooling in those countries before second grade is “playful and experiential.” And youngsters in Finland, where teens consistently score high academically, also attend play-based kindergarten and start first grade at age 7 rather than age 6.”

School starting age: the evidence. An article on the website of Cambridge University. “In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four. A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being).”

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success. The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.

One in Five Girls in Upper Secondary School Suffers From School Burnout. Quotes: “A sense of optimism during university studies along with high self-esteem tend to predict job engagement ten years later on, while an avoidance strategy tends to predict work-related burnout…. The more encouragement the students got from their teachers, the less likely they were to experience school burnout.”

Explaining Math Concepts Improves Learning. Quotes: “Teaching children the basic concept behind math problems was more useful than teaching children a procedure for solving the problems – these children gave better explanations and learned more,” Rittle-Johnson said. “This adds to a growing body of research illustrating the importance of teaching children concepts as well as having them practice solving problems.”

Social Skills, Extracurricular Activities In High School Pay Off Later In Life. Quotes: “High school sophomores who … [had] good social skills and work habits, and who participated in extracurricular activities in high school, made more money and completed higher levels of education 10 years later than their classmates who had similar standardized test scores but were less socially adroit and participated in fewer extracurricular activities…. “Soft skills” such as sociability, punctuality, conscientiousness and an ability to get along well with others, along with participation in extracurricular activities, are better predictors of earnings and higher educational achievement later in life than having good grades and high standardized test scores…. Schools are increasingly cutting…activities that foster soft skills in order to focus almost exclusively on achieving adequate yearly progress on state-mandated standardized tests.”

Students Benefit From Depth Rather Than Breadth. Quotes: Teaching fewer topics in greater depth is a better way to prepare students for success in college science. Teachers who “teach to the [standardized] test” may not be optimizing their students’ chances of success in college science.

Task to Aid Self-Esteem Lifts Grades for Some.

Teacher Teaming. (Teachers routinely engage in “teaming” at Living Wisdom School, thanks to the integrated curriculum and school environment that encourages teacher collaboration.)

Teaching Resilience With Positive Education.

Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement. Quotes: Students who have been shamed or belittled by the teacher or another student will not effectively engage in challenging tasks. To learn and grow, one must take risks, but most people will not take risks in an emotionally unsafe environment.

Creating Positive Classroom Management. (A teacher developed creative ways to encourage positive attitudes and behaviors in younger students. The method and theory are very similar to the “Rocks in the Basket” game used at LWS and described in this video.) Quotes: “I’d spent years offering students rewards (stickers, tickets, tangibles, intangibles) for good behavior and I’d come to realize how they were often self-defeating…. One change I had already made was … I would celebrate ‘great work’ by reading aloud the child’s name and stating what they had done well. Often their classmates would give an actual round of applause – which was lovely.”

Learning and Motivation Strategies Course Increases Odds of College Graduation.

Recess Makes for Better Students. Quotes: Study finds getting enough of it [recess] each day helps kids perform better in classroom…. Children learn as much on breaks as they do in the traditional classroom, experimenting with creativity and imagination and learning how to interact socially…. Conflict resolution is solved on the playground, not in the classroom…. The more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests…. Walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration.

Algebra-for-All Policy Found to Raise Rates Of Failure.

Lectures Didn’t Work in 1350—and They Still Don’t Work Today. A conversation with David Thornburg about designing a better classroom.

 

Physical Education

Physically fit students do better on tests. Quotes: “Physically fit students … are more likely to do well on … tests and have better attendance…. Fit students are less likely to have disciplinary problems.”

Schools use mind-body relaxation techniques to help kids fight anxiety. Quotes: “Mind-body relaxation, including yoga, can improve self-esteem and boost grades and test scores…. Regular exposure to the [relaxation] training boosted students’ work habits, attendance, and academic performance.”

Physical Activity May Strengthen Children’s Ability To Pay Attention. Quotes: “Following the acute bout of walking, children performed better on the flanker task…. Following acute bouts of walking, children had a larger P3 amplitude, suggesting that they are better able to allocate attentional resources…. The increase in reading comprehension following exercise equated to approximately a full grade level.”

A Fit Body Means a Fit Mind. Quotes: “Cardiovascular exercise was related to higher academic performance…. Regular exercise benefits the brain, improves attention span, memory, and learning … reduces stress and the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder…. Aerobic exercise pumps more blood throughout the body, including to the brain. More blood means more oxygen and, therefore, better-nourished brain tissue. Exercise also spurs the brain to produce more of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which Ratey calls ‘Miracle-Gro for the brain.’ This powerful protein encourages brain cells to grow, interconnect, and communicate in new ways. Studies also suggest exercise plays a big part in the production of new brain cells, particularly in the dentate gyrus, a part of the brain heavily involved in learning and memory skills…. [Many] schools are cutting back on PE and reducing recess hours. It’s a huge challenge with budget restraints and No Child Left Behind.”

 

Joy in Learning

The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland (The Atlantic),  by Tim Walker, a former teacher based in Finland. He now cares for his two young children and writes regularly at Taught by Finland and Papa on the Playground. Research and school experience show that play time is crucial for children’s academic and social development.

How Positive Psychology Can Improve Student Success. An Illinois school district uses a program that encourages a positive outlook to improve academic performance.

How to Parent Like a German. German students excel, yet in German schools academics are balanced by other kinds of learning.

Stay Focused: New research on how to close the achievement gap (The Economist, UK). A review of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by journalist Paul Tough, a former editor at New York Times Magazine.

Psychologist explores how childhood play influences adult creativity. Sandra Russ’s new book, Pretend Play in Childhood: Foundation of Adult Creativity reveals how high-achieving innovative adults use methods learned in childhood play to help them achieve success.

Most 1st Grade Classes Not High Quality. Quotes: “Only 23 percent of classrooms could be judged to be of ‘high quality’ in both their instructional practices and social and emotional climate.”

Happiness Contagious as the Flu. Posted on the LiveScience website. At Living Wisdom School, we create a joyful, caring environment among the students. When a new student arrives, he or she immediately feels supported and positively affected. Parents routinely comment that soon after their children enter LWS they seem happier than at their former school.

 

Meditation, Breathing, Yoga, Affirmations

Meditation Program in the College Curriculum. Quotes: “[Meditation] produced significant freshman-senior increases in intelligence and increased social self-confidence, sociability, general psychological health, and social maturity.”

Self-Affirmation Can Break Cycle of Negative Thoughts. A report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Meditation in the Treatment of ADHD. Meditation-training showed significant decreases in levels of impulsivity [and significant improvements in] selective deployment of attention and freedom from distractibility in the behavior of the children.

How Meditation Can Give Our Kids an Academic Edge

Meditation seen promising as ADHD therapy. Quotes: “The effect was much greater than we expected.” – lead researcher Sarina J. Grosswald, a cognitive learning specialist in Arlington, Virginia…. The children also showed improvements in attention, working memory, organization, and behavior regulation.

Faith rites boost brains. Even 10 to 15 minutes of meditation appear to have significant positive effects on cognition, relaxation, and psychological health.

Schools use mind-body relaxation techniques to help kids fight anxiety. Quotes: “Mind-body relaxation, including yoga, can improve self-esteem and boost grades and test scores. Regular exposure to the [relaxation] training boosted students’ work habits, attendance, and academic performance.”

Silence is Golden Mindfulness Meditation study).

Smacking Hits Kids’ IQ.

Smiles Predict Marriage Success. (Many parents report their children smile more after attending Living Wisdom School.)

Vedic Science based Education and Non-verbal Intelligence. (An increase in student problem-solving ability was found.)

Meditation and Assertive Training in the Treatment of Social Anxiety.

Meditation Effects on Cognitive Function. Meditation practice produced significant positive effects.

Meditation Program in the College Curriculum. Quotes: “[Meditation] produced significant freshman-senior increases on intelligence and increased social self-confidence, sociability, general psychological health, and social maturity.”

Meditation Improves Leadership Behaviors. Quotes: “Subjects who learned [meditation]… as a self-development technique improved their leadership behaviors.”

 

Social Skills

UCLA neuroscientist’s book explains why social connection is as important as food and shelter.

Psychosocial stress reversibly disrupts prefrontal processing and attentional control.

 

Music

Adolescents Involved With Music Do Better In School. Music participation has a positive effect on reading and mathematics achievement for both elementary and high school students.

Adolescents Involved With Music Do Better In School.

Music Education Can Help Children Improve Reading Skills. Quotes: “Children exposed to a multi-year programme of music … display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.”

Music Training Linked To Enhanced Verbal Skills. Quotes: “Music training … may be more important for enhancing verbal communication skills than learning phonics…. potential of music to tune our neural response to the world around us…. Music training may have considerable benefits for engendering literacy skills…. (Musicians have enhanced subcortical auditory and audiovisual processing of speech and music.)”

 

Other Articles and Papers

It’s Official: To Protect Baby’s Brain, Turn Off TV (from Wired online). Quote: “A decade ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that parents limit TV consumption by children under two years of age. The recommendations were based as much on common sense as science, because studies of media consumption and infant development were themselves in their infancy. The research has finally grown up. And though it’s still ongoing, it’s mature enough for the AAP to release a new, science-heavy policy statement on babies watching television, videos or any other passive media form. Their verdict: It’s not good, and probably bad.”

The Human Brain: Wired for Values? This article was published as a sidebar to an article in Mothering magazine that strongly praised Living Wisdom School.

Lack of Playtime Killing Joy of Learning.

Smart and Good High Schools. A “Report to the Nation” from the State University of New York)

The Heart in Holistic Education. (PDF) Quotes: “Educational programs based on new scientific discoveries about the heart lead to improved emotional stability, cognitive functioning, and academic performance.”

After Abuse, Changes In the Brain. Quotes: “Affectionate mothering alters the expression of genes in animals, allowing them to dampen their physiological response to stress. These biological buffers are then passed on to the next generation. [There is] direct evidence that the same system is at work in humans.”

Loneliness Spreads Like a Virus. (At Living Wisdom School, feelings of connectedness and joy spread like a virus.)

Positive Action Program. (The program focuses on helping students be aware of which behaviors are positive and will increase their happiness in the long term.)

National education standards can end up hurting students.

Self-Control Is Contagious.

Nature Makes Us More Caring.

College prep math failure full study. (PDF) Quotes: “This study indicates that artificially pushing children beyond their current capability is counter-productive.”

Studies Reveal Why Kids Get Bullied and Rejected. The researchers’ recommendations for teaching children social skills uncannily reflect how LWS teachers practice conflict resolution during playground time.

Mothering magazine praises Living Wisdom School.

Education in the Age of Energy. Human awareness is becoming less materialistic and more energy-aware. How will schools adapt? Living Wisdom leads the way.

National education standards can end up hurting students.

Nature Makes Us More Caring, Study Says.

When Friends Make You Poorer. Quotes: “Students tend to gravitate to a major chosen by more of their peers. And the students whose choice was driven by their peers were then more likely to end up in lower-paying jobs that they didn’t like.”

Kids Get Worst SAT Scores in a Decade.

APA review confirms link between playing violent video games and aggression.

Exposure to TV violence related to irregular attention and brain structure.

School Starting Age: The Evidence.

 

 

20. How Raw Emotions Interfere with Learning

In his bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence, New York Times science reporter Daniel Goleman related how the pioneering Russian neuropsychologist A. R. Luria first suggested in the 1930s that the prefrontal cortex was a key brain center for self-control and restraining emotional impulses.

Luria found that patients with damage to this area “were impulsive and prone to flare-ups of fear and anger.”

A study of two dozen men and women convicted of heat-of-passion murders “found that they had a much lower than usual level of activity in these same sections of the prefrontal cortex.”[1]

In 2002, scientists at Duke University used brain scans to verify that raw emotions interfere with concentration, and that mental focus and raw emotions exist in a mutually exclusive relationship. That is, not only does emotion distort our ability to focus, but deliberately focusing attention is an effective way to calm and “neutralize” emotions. As the Duke news release put it, “Surprisingly, an increase in one type of function is accompanied by a noticeable decrease in the other.”

This is interesting news for educators, and for students preparing to take tests, since it confirms the age-old wisdom that deliberately focusing attention tends to calm the pre-test jitters, while uncontrolled emotions are dangerous because they can interfere with concentration and good decision-making. At Living Wisdom School, the students are taught simple meditation techniques that help them focus energy and attention in the prefrontal cortex while studying, preparing to take tests, and dealing with turbulent emotions.

“We’ve known for a long time that some people are more easily distracted and that emotions can play a big part in this,” said Kevin S. LaBarr, assistant professor at Duke’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and an author of the study described above.

“Our study shows that two streams of processing take place in the brain, with attentional tasks and emotions moving in parallel before finally coming together.” The two streams are integrated in a region of the brain called the anterior cingulate, located between the right and left halves of the brain’s frontal portion, which is involved in a wide range of thought processes and emotional responses.[2]

It’s easy to test this finding by holding our attention with relaxation in the area of the anterior cingulate, just behind the point between the eyebrows, a practice that tends to soothe troubling emotions and help us feel more calm, positive, focused, and in control of our feelings.

Researchers now suspect that calm feeling (as distinct from raw emotions) and reason work hand in hand. Contrary to a longstanding prejudice of our western culture which assumes that reason is the superior faculty, the researchers are finding that reason is deeply compromised unless it is balanced by the feelings of the heart.

Neurologist Dr. Antonio Damasio studied patients with damage to the connection between the brain’s prefrontal cortex and amygdala — the two most important centers of reason and emotion in the brain. He found that when these patients lost their ability to feel, they made terrible decisions in their business and personal lives and became incapable of making even the simplest decisions, such as when to schedule an appointment, even though their reasoning powers were intact.

“Dr. Damasio believes their decisions are so bad because they have lost access to their emotional learning…. Cut off from emotional memory in the amygdala, whatever the neocortex mulls over no longer triggers the emotional reactions that have been associated with it in the past — everything takes on a gray neutrality….

“Evidence like this leads Dr. Damasio to the counter-intuitive position that feelings are typically indispensable for rational decisions; they point us in the proper direction, where dry logic can then be of best use.[3]

Clearly, there are risks in trying to make decisions based on feeling alone. Our decisions may be subtly compromised by personal desires and raw emotions — our hearts may not be sufficiently detached to be trusted.

Our feelings are more reliable when we check them against our reason, common sense, and experience. Are our heart’s feelings truly calm and dispassionate, or are we just telling ourselves what we want to hear? Cool, clear reason can help us decide. Our sense of the right decision will more often be correct when we hold ourselves in a state of “reasonable feeling.” It may help to imagine that our awareness is centered in an axis of energy between the forehead and the heart.

In the Living Wisdom Schools, students learn to consult their calm feelings while listening to the voice of calm reason. Learning to access and use these human tools gives them an advantage when it comes to mastering the academic curriculum.

Researchers at the Institute of HeartMath have found that it’s surprisingly easy to prove that intuition exists, and that its accuracy increases when we deliberately calm and harmonize our feelings.

In a study of intuitive ability, the subjects were shown images of soothing subjects, interspersed randomly with emotionally disturbing images. Monitoring the subjects’ EEG (brain waves), ECG (electrocardiogram), and heart rate variability showed that they reacted emotionally to the images five to seven seconds before an image appeared. Confirming the folk wisdom that women are more intuitive than men, female subjects reacted with greater accuracy and sensitivity.[4]

Surely the message for students and educators is clear: expansive thoughts, actions, and feelings have been scientifically shown to boost brain efficiency and happiness.

At Google, at Harvard, in ancient Indian ashrams, and in the classrooms at Living Wisdom School, happiness and success go hand in hand.

[1]Emotional Intelligence. (New York: Bantam Books, 1995) 314.

[2] Duke University press release, August 19, 2002.

[3] Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (New York: Bantam Books, 1997) 27–28.

[4] “The Sixth Sense—More and More, Science Supports It,” Gabriella Boehmer, Institute of HeartMath; the study referenced is: “Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1. The Surprising Role of the Heart,” McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., Bradley, R. T., Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Feb 2004, Vol. 10, No. 1: 133–43; “Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 2. A System-Wide Process?” McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., Bradley, R. T., Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Apr 2004, Vol. 10, No. 2: 325–36.

19. Two Kinds of Feelings

By J. Donald Walters, author of Education for Life and co‑founder of the Living Wisdom Schools

How many adults, what to speak of children, recognize the difference between emotion and feeling? Very few. And how many children, consequently, are taught that calm, sensitive feeling is an invaluable tool for the complete understanding of most subjects? Or that turbulent feelings — that is to say, the emotions — and not feeling per se prevent clear, objective understanding? Again, very few.

Few children, again, are taught the extent to which reason is guided by calm feeling, but distorted by the emotions. And few are taught that by developing calm feeling they will improve their understanding of objective reality on every level.

Feeling, when it is calm and refined, is essential both to truly objective and to mature insight. There are ways of clarifying feeling, just as there are principles of logic (already taught in the schools) for learning to reason correctly. Feeling can be clarified, for instance, by learning how to distance feeling from one’s personal likes and dislikes, withdrawing one’s awareness to a calm center in the heart. Feeling can be clarified by directing the heart’s energies upward to the brain, and thence to a point between the eyebrows that was anciently identified as the seat of concentration in the body. Clarity of feeling can be assisted by calming the flow of energy in the spine, by means of certain breathing exercises. These exercises are a priceless contribution of the science of yoga to the general knowledge of the human race. It would be a grave error to ignore them on the grounds of one’s unfamiliarity with them.

Only by calm inner feeling can a person know definitely the right course to take in any action. Those who direct their lives from this deeper level of feeling achieve levels of success that are never reached by people who limit their quest for answers to the exercise of reason. Reason, indeed, if unsupported by feeling, may point in hundreds of plausible directions without offering certainty as to the rightness of any of them.

Children need to learn how to react appropriately. This they can never do if their reaction springs out of their subjective emotions. Considerable training is needed to learn how to harness feeling and make it a useful ally. What children are taught, instead, as they grow older, is that feelings are inevitably obstacles to correct insight. The scientific method is offered as a model. “If you want to see things objectively,” they are told, “you must view everything in terms of cold logic.” I remember a professor when I was in college who boasted, jokingly, that X-rays had shown his heart to be smaller than normal. This, to him, was a sign of intellectual objectivity, which he prized.

Ignored is the fact that, usually, the greater the scientist, the more deeply he feels his subject. Or that, as Einstein put it, the essence of true scientific discovery is a sense of mystical awe.

Feeling can never in any case be suppressed. Shove it out of sight at one point — where you can at least see it and try to deal with it — and it will only pop up at another, often a place where you least expect it. Many times, when long-suppressed feelings have at last burst upon people’s consciousness, those feelings have assumed terrible and unrecognizable shapes. Sometimes they have actually incited to riot.

Right feeling is an important tool for achieving maturity. It must be cultivated, and not merely ignored, suppressed, or treated as something about which nothing “reasonable” can be done.