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.

LWS Theater Director Rose Atwell Helps Young Actors Grow Personally and Academically

Rose Atwell, Living Wisdom School Theater Director

Rose Atwell is tasked with preparing the seventy-plus students of Living Wisdom School for the annual all-school Theater Magic Production in mid-March. Her long experience in theater, and her genius for knowing exactly what each child needs, make her a perfect choice for this very important role.

Q: How did you come to direct the Theater Magic program at Living Wisdom School?

Rose: I was a full-time teacher at the original Living Wisdom K-8 school in Nevada City, California from 2007 to 2015, and I served as the high school drama teacher for part of that time.

I remember when I met with the teenagers to discuss our first performance. They said, “Can we do Lord of the Rings?”

I said, “Oh, no – it’s too big!”

But they weren’t fazed. “What if we write the script?”

I asked them some questions to determine how serious they were. They were very enthusiastic, so I said, “All right, if you write a script, we’ll do it.”

They spent lots of after-school hours writing the script and building the sets, and they put their hearts and souls into rehearsing and performing the play. It really stretched them, so there was lots of personal growth. We had a wonderful time together, and since then theater has become a focus of my work in the Living Wisdom Schools.

One of the great joys of theater is the sense of community that it creates. Working on a play together creates wonderful connections for the actors and the audience, and it gives the children a very valuable experience of being part of something larger than themselves.

When I came to the Palo Alto Living Wisdom School, I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to direct the Theater Magic program. The school puts its whole energy into the plays, and the staff and teachers give the children tremendous support so that they will have a profound experience with lots of learning and personal growth.

All of the students, from the youngest to the oldest, TK-8th grade, take part in the play, and they take it very, very seriously. They bring their best to the rehearsals, so there’s tremendous learning for them.

For example, if a very shy child is being challenged to project their voice and fill the room with their energy, we offer them endless support to grow into their role and discover what they’re capable of.

I love the months we spend together creating the plays, because they give the children so much, including the opportunity to experience the joys of cooperation and community. We have five-year-olds working alongside the eighth graders to perfect a scene. They’ll be working together to perfect a scene, and it’s beautiful to see how they’re helping each other. The middle schoolers are learning to help the younger children, and the little ones are having mature behaviors modeled for them by the older kids. We’re constantly witnessing how those connections inspire tremendous growth.

Rose helps young children prepare for a scene.

In all my years in theater, I’ve seen that the process is more important than the product. During the months of build-up to the performances, we’re focusing on the elements of joy, enthusiasm, courage, and community, because we know that if we can create a happy, safe, expansive environment, the children will thrive and the results will be beautiful as well. The adult audiences love the plays, and the four performances are always standing-room only.

It has become increasingly clear to me that my role is to be fully present with each child, and to help them have the happiest, most rewarding experience possible. I’ve come to a point where I can quickly sense if something is too big a stretch for a particular child  – if it’s too scary at this point in their life.

We do ask a lot of them; for example, we ask them to fill a huge room with their voice and their presence in front of their peers. The plays are very professional, so there’s lots of memorization and lots to learn about polishing their craft as actors.

We spend lots of time helping them go deep in their roles, but if we see that a child is at a point that isn’t comfortable for them, we’ll immediately stop and let them go and be supported and relaxed, and take the pressure off.

In my role as an adult who’s guiding kids from age five to fourteen, I’ve learned that it’s really all about finding those points of personal growth, without ever crossing the line into a situation that would overwhelm them.

We’re always teaching to the individual child, tuning into their special needs and finding out if they are ready to move forward into a little more growth, or if what they need, for now, is more support and comfort.

Both are very valid needs, and we’ve learned to be very good at identifying the edge of what will be fun for the child and a good and appropriate next step, not only for the sake of the play, but for their personal growth and their next step in confidence, creativity, and expansion.

Those are the most important things we’re always watching for. I believe our ability to understand what the children are going through evolves through years of watching how they deal with being challenged at the near edge of their ability. We’re always focused on keeping it doable for them, so that they can feel happy and excited by the experience of discovery, but never swamped.

Q: Do you spend most of your time working with the youngest children?

Rose: No, I actually spend more time with the older ones, because the very young ones can only go for so long. (laughs)

For the kindergarteners, for example, our first priority is for them to be happy, to be having fun, and to feel good about what they’re doing. So we’ll give them something they can accomplish every day, something we know they can succeed at and feel really good about.

If you try to push them too far, the happiness won’t happen. So we’ll give the kindergarteners a little dance, a poem, or a song, and then they can come to rehearsals and be part of the larger process and become inspired by the older kids.

It’s extremely sweet to see the kindergarten kids at recess, acting out everything they’ve seen, including the big kids’ roles. But when we’re working with them at rehearsals, we’re careful to keep it very doable and happy and enjoyable.

As the kids get older, they can take on more acting and dialogue. In the early middle grades, they might have a handful of lines, and they might also be in lots of scenes without saying very much. But they’re getting a feel for it. Then in fourth to eighth grade they can start taking on larger roles, so that they’ll be stretched more with memorization and projection, and holding the play together.

Q: Does the theater experience teach them life skills?

Rose: Yes, very much so. We are helping them learn to relate to people, to speak well and clearly in order to be understood, and to take the other person’s point of view.

Also, the theme of each play is the life of an inspiring individual who has demonstrated positive, expansive values. Beginning at a very early age, the children are living a story that is uplifting, hopeful, and inspiring.

“What we practice, we become,” and the attitudes and values we dwell on, we can expand into. The children are dwelling on stories that offer them beautiful personal traits and positivity. And what could be more important for children than to be absorbing and acting out uplifting values?

Acting-out positive qualities is a very powerful path to personal and academic growth. For each child, it’s an affirmation of positive, beautiful ways of behaving and being. We, as adults, talk about the power of our thoughts, and the children are memorizing lines that are infused with wonderful life lessons. And each year they add to the pantheon of heroes from various cultures.

Back in the classroom, they also get to dwell deeply on the themes of the play and the lives of these inspiring people. Of course, they will bring their own unique values and beliefs to the discussion. We aren’t trying to feed them a narrow belief system. We’re offering them universal, inspirational values of courage, kindness, compassion, and the like.

Q: With every student in the school participating in the play, it must be a lot of young people to relate to!

Rose: We work on one scene at a time. For example, we’ll rehearse Scene 1 from 10:30 to 1130 a.m. on Monday, and everyone who’s in the scene will be on stage. Then the kids in the next scene will come, so it’s always a small group and a mix of ages.

There may be five, ten, or twenty kids in the room, all amazingly well-behaved. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve honed the art of crowd control (laughs), but I will lay out the ground rules. “Okay, this is what you need to do. This is what I expect.” And they do it. The kids are amazing, and I think it’s a tribute to what the teachers are giving them in the classroom.

Individual attention is the key to helping each child achieve the greatest growth personally and academically.

Q: Some years ago, when I filmed video in the kindergarten classroom, I found it amazing to see how the teacher could go off to help another group, and the kids at the first table would be completely engrossed in their work and very polite and considerate. So I’m guessing that you’re blessed to be working with kids who have a certain degree of maturity. How does it compare with the other theater groups you’ve been involved with, in college and community theater?

Rose: (laughs) Well, if you’re majoring in theater in college, you’ve probably going to have some creative energy, but you won’t necessarily be calm. There are wonderful, talented people in theater, but I think that if you’re going to do theater well and be successful, you have to be very solid and mature and aware of other people’s realities. If somebody isn’t respectful and aware, they aren’t going to go very far in a theater production community. It truly is the reality that you have to work with others in a mature way.

Also, to portray a character correctly, you must have empathy. In other words, you have to be able to relate to a reality that isn’t your own, and then share it with the audience. Learning to relate to realities outside of your own is an important element of an Education for Life.

The theater experience gives the children fantastic practice in not taking themselves too seriously; it challenges them to be aware of and examine the habits and thoughts by which they define themselves, and it teaches them that they can choose to change for the better.

Q: Do you work with the other teachers during the theater process?

Rose: Not until the final stages. A teacher will send three or four students for Scene 4, and the other students will remain in the classroom. The teachers are wonderfully supportive, but I don’t spend much time working directly with them until Tech Week, when we’re setting up the sound, the lights, and the sets, and organizing the scripts, and so on. Then everyone is pitching in together, but for a large portion of the rehearsal time, it’s just me and the students.

Q: Did you have special training in child psychology, teaching theater, or anything like that?

Rose: No, it’s all been hands-on. After I graduated with a theater degree from UC Santa Cruz, I spent a year working with Narani Moorehouse, a wonderful teacher at the original Living Wisdom School who has more than forty years of teaching experience, and I learned a tremendous amount from her.

Also, when I was a young person I was a student in the Living Wisdom Schools, and I’m sure I absorbed a great deal from the wonderful attitudes and practices of the teachers. Teaching has felt very natural for me, and perhaps I was born with a certain aptitude for it.

Q: It’s a blessing for the children to be exposed to inspiring people and ideas from an early age, and to have so many valuable learning experiences. Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts with us.

How Did LWS Weather the Year of COVID?

Filming the annual school Theater Magic production.

A conversation with LWS Board President and middle school teacher Gary McSweeney.

Q: How has Living Wisdom School weathered the COVID pandemic? What has the experience been like for the students and teachers at Living Wisdom School?

Gary: COVID came upon us exactly a year ago. We’d barely finished the first dress rehearsal for our enormous annual school play, when the Palo Alto schools announced they would be closing because of COVID.

Gary McSweeney

So, instead of a huge theater production with five packed performances, we had to shut down after our first dress rehearsal, and it seemed it would be all we would have to show for hundreds of hours of preparation, including designing and sewing costumes, countless hours of rehearsals, classroom discussions, memorizing lines, and much more.

Over spring break our faculty learned about Zoom, and when we came back to school we were a hundred-percent online. And, to be honest, we felt hardly any impact at all, because the transition was remarkably seamless and our families were tremendously supportive, and none of them left.

In early June we had a wonderful End of Year Celebration on Zoom. And then during the summer we decided to apply for a California state waiver so we could reopen in the fall.

The application process was a lot more complicated than we’d expected, with many delays. Meanwhile, parents were asking what would happen in September. Would we reopen? Would we be hybrid? And because of the delays in our application, we could only tell them that we didn’t know.

Just two days before school was scheduled to begin, we still hadn’t heard from the state, so our principal, Helen Purcell, called them and said, “We know you received our application, because you acknowledged it.” And they said, “Oh – we never received it.”

To make a long story short, they put the application on the fast track, and we received permission to open.

The first day of school fell during the very worst of the California wildfires, with an atmospheric inversion that turned the sky an ominous dark orange, and horrendous air quality – it was like a day on an alien planet.

We had permission for student from kindergarten through the first six grades to be on campus, for which we were very grateful. And of course we offered our parents the option of instruction on Zoom. But because of the foul-up with our application, compounded by people’s increasing worries over COVID and the ominous wildfires, we lost several families at the start of the year.

But we rallied, and our faculty did an amazing job. We’re now in Spring 2021, and we’re offering hybrid instruction, with about 90 percent of our students physically present on the campus, and just four of my middle school students staying home.

Fridays are entirely online for the whole school. First thing in the morning, we have our all-school circle on Zoom, in which we do yoga and sing uplifting songs, then the children split into various music, singing, and math classes.

We’ve enjoyed a very good year, despite the challenges. Families have been enrolling for next fall, and a number of the families that left are wanting to bring their children back right now.

To sum up, I would describe the year as miraculous, and I’m confident to report that the school is a very happy place.

Q: At the start of COVID, was there a concern that the school might lose some of its culture, which is such a key part of its success?

Gary: The culture is a huge part of the education we offer the children¸ with our strong emphasis on the quality of their interactions, a safe environment, and the unique learning opportunities offered by the theater program and field trips.

The personal interaction with other children is extremely valuable, even with masks, social distancing, and cohorts.

These new practices did change the dynamic somewhat, but once the kids who’re new to the culture understand it, they absolutely love it, and they want to preserve it, whether they’re physically together or interacting online.

As an example of how the culture is still very much in place, a new boy came into my class this year. He’s been attending in person, and he quickly picked up on the culture of respect and acceptance, and he has adapted beautifully.

It’s been wonderful to have the children in a classroom setting, learning in person, and interacting with each other. For the kids who are at home, I’ll go around every few weeks, and we’ll stay connected that way as well as on Zoom.

Q: In speaking with the principal of the Living Wisdom High School, she observed that in some other schools the kids have been afraid to participate online because they feel they might be put down or mocked, whereas in our high school that hasn’t been a problem at all.

Gary: Because our culture of acceptance and respect is so firmly in place, there really isn’t any of that kind of opportunistic bullying.

We’ve noticed that there are a small percentage of students who actually do better on Zoom – perhaps they’re more comfortable at home, I’m not sure. But despite some technical obstacles, with bandwidth delays and so on, we’ve had a great time this year, and the parents have been amazingly supportive.

More than 90 percent of our students are on campus now, and some of them are online intermittently. For the students who do really well with Zoom, I’ll ask a question and I’ll immediately see a digital thumbs-up indicating that they’re ready with the answer.

Otherwise, I’ve left chat on all year to provide an unbroken connection, because I think the kids at home, especially the middle schoolers, need an outlet where they can communicate with the kids who are here.

They can hear the conversations that are going on in the classroom, and we’ve made some adaptations to the tech, for example by always having a live mic so they can stay in touch with what’s happening.

Q: The all-school Theater Magic play has always been the major event of the year. It involves the children in so many ways, including the academic curriculum, and it gives them priceless guidance for developing confidence and poise. How has COVID affected that process?

Gary: We knew we wouldn’t be able to produce a play where the children would be rehearsing together onstage, so we came up with the idea of creating a film instead. We had last year’s script and costumes, so we decided that we would make a movie, and that it would be filmed entirely outdoors.

Filming continues, rain or shine.

Our Theater Magic director, Rose Atwell, was very knowledgeable in helping us understand how we needed to proceed with making a film. And, also thanks to Rose, the process quickly became clear – we would make the film entirely on campus, where the children could get into costume in small groups, with separation, and come over and perform their scenes, then go back to class, and it would be a hundred-percent safe.

There’s a lot of downtime when you’re making a movie, and because we’re filming within a few steps of the classrooms, the kids can go in for a while, which helps make it a safe environment. There’s a lot of data on how it’s safe to have children in school if you’re carefully following the protocols, and we’ve done a very good job with our safety procedures.

Rose chose a number of locations on the campus where we could film without having modern buildings in the background, or FedEx trucks passing by. Of course, audio was a constant issue, with traffic noise and horns.

There’s been a wonderfully lighthearted feeling throughout, and today was a good example. One of the children had a part in all of the scenes, and she couldn’t come to school today. Another student immediately said, “I can play her part.” So we filmed her in the prologue, and when the other girl arrived, Rose was able to adjust. And through it all the kids were very flexible, very adaptable and good-humored and willing.

And, that’s life, you know, where you show up at work and you find that things aren’t ready, or they’ve changed. I think it’s been a valuable opportunity for the students to learn some important life skills.

“We’re ready for you. Oh, no, we’re not quite ready. Now we’re ready, let’s go.”

“Oh, did you hear the truck drive by in the middle of the scene? Let’s shoot it again.”

Meanwhile, the kids are being themselves, sitting patiently, and when Rose is ready, she’ll say, “Action!” and the kids will pull it together and deliver their lines. Then Rose will say, “Cut!” and they’ll relax and go back to being seven or eight or nine.

In some ways I’m enjoying it more than the normal process of putting on the play. It’s very different, for sure, because the children won’t see the finished product right away, as they would if they were acting on stage. But in the end it will be a polished movie with special effects and an excellent soundtrack.

They love the experience of putting on the play, especially before a live audience. Of course, you can’t touch that experience, but COVID isn’t asking what we want. It’s all about understanding what’s needed, and they’ve adapted beautifully.

I’m sure that if they had their choice they would prefer to do a live performance, because of the way the excitement builds. Today would have been our first full dress rehearsal, and then we’d be exhausted, and on Friday we’d have the second full dress rehearsal with hair and makeup.

There are lots of wonderful traditions and markers along the way, and tomorrow would have been a day to relax before the first morning matinee for school groups, where there would be 100 to 150 people in the audience, mostly children.

Thursday would be another day to relax, and Friday night would be the first big evening performance for a packed house of adults, followed by the huge performance on Saturday night where we would be filming. At the end of it all, there would be a big celebration in the courtyard with parents and relatives and kids enjoying conversation and snacks.

There are lots of wonderful traditions that we’ve developed over the last twenty-eight years. But this year it needed to be a movie, so we can’t enjoy the big build-up as we’re getting near to the end. With a movie, you say, “That’s a wrap!” and then it goes into post-production. And, of course, they’re all asking how long it will take. But it will be a big project to edit the film and make something truly worthwhile.

Gary films while costume designer and LWS board member Asha looks on.

Because of our tradition of very high production values, and because of the wonderful settings and costumes, we felt the footage deserved the utmost care, and, as always, we had lots of adults with very exacting standards working on the production, including Tandava who’s done a marvelous job rehearsing the music with the children on Zoom, and Asha, who’s extremely gifted at designing and sewing the costumes.

So it’s been every bit as much work as a live production, just with different problems. But film is a large part of what the kids will grow up needing to understand, for remote work and YouTube instruction and presentations, and so on.

One of my students is surprisingly good at editing film, and he’s doing a blooper reel, because we’re often laughing so hard on the set – when something strange happens or the kids mess up. And with film you can just shoot it again and do a re-take.

It’s been a valuable experience for the kids. They’re learning how work gets done in adult professional settings, where mistakes are an expected part of the process. They’ve learned to accept that the first take will usually be a throwaway, and the second will be a little better, and seventy percent of the third takes will be keepers. The spirit has been very high, and the students have been all-in with adapting to the changes – I think they’ll will look back on this year as a formative experience.

Naturally, they’ve complained about masks and being isolated from their friends. It wasn’t what any of us wanted, but the kids have grown as they’ve been challenged.

Psychologists say that it’s hugely important for middle schoolers to be able to reach out to their peer group, and we’ve been fortunate to provide them an environment where they can be with their friends and share memorable experiences like making the film.

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.

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

In a Living Wisdom classroom, feelings are noticed and dealt with without delay. Negative feelings, ignored or suppressed, can create an underlying current of discontent that can disturb the harmony in the classroom, disrupting concentration and motivation.

The following photos show how Living Wisdom School second-grade teacher Kshama Kellogg helped a young student accept and transcend sad feelings at the start of the school day. The photos were not posed — they are real.

Second-grade teacher Kshama greets a student at the start of the school day. Noting the student’s sad expression, she immediately makes a connection and inquires what’s going on.

 

Sometimes a hug can heal – the student feels acknowledged,
connected, and supported.

 

Ava notices that her friend is having trouble and offers a supportive smile.

 


The other students become aware that the student is having difficulty and gather around in silent support.

 

Ava offers a helpful funny face!

 


When Kshama and her students sense that their classmate is feeling better and warmly included, she begins Circle Time with a song that lifts everyone’s spirits, before starting math class.

 

 

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

In school, sports, and the Navy,
respect for the uniqueness of the individual
opens portals for breathtaking success.[1]

 

By George Beinhorn, Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto

 

Nobody believes Bill Aris.

People ask Bill, over and over, how his Fayetteville-Manlius High School (NY) girls’ cross country teams have managed to win the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) an amazing ten times.

(NXN, where the nation’s forty best teams compete, is the de facto national high school cross country championship.)

Bill graciously shares his methods. He patiently explains how he trains his runners. And other coaches suspect he’s signifyin’, as they say in the Ozarks. Surely he’s pulling their legs. At the very least, he’s got to be holding something back.

Coaches fall off their chairs when Bill explains that he spends relatively little time designing his runners’ training:

“I spend 80 percent of my time on psychological and emotional considerations of each kid,” Aris says. “I put 20 percent of my time into designing the training. I spend most of my time thinking about and trying to get to the heart and soul of each kid, to both inspire them and to understand them. I’m always trying to figure out what keys unlock what doors to get them to maximize their potential.”[2]

Other coaches believe there’s no way Aris can produce national champions, year after year, without huge numbers of kids trying out for the team, and without recruiting. Fayetteville-Manlius High School has 1,500-2,000 students, yet just 25 runners turn out each fall for cross country. And Aris doesn’t need to recruit, because his methods turn talented kids into champions.

Bill Aris. His methods are simple and profound.

Aris’s boys’ teams won NXN in 2014 and 2017. They’ve placed second several times, plus a third and fourth. To put this in perspective, it’s a tremendous achievement to be among the forty teams invited to race at NXN. Scoring consistently in the top five puts the F-M boys in the absolute stratosphere of high school cross country.

At the library recently, I picked up a wonderful book. At first glance, It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy would seem to have little to do with training high school runners. Yet Bill Aris and the book’s author, former U.S. Navy Captain D. Michael Abrashoff, have a lot in common. They’re both renegade thinkers, in professions where the safest path to career advancement is to keep one’s head down and do things the way they’ve always been done.

Abrashoff describes what happened when the Navy gave him command of a deeply troubled ship with bottom-scraping efficiency ratings.

In the Navy, officers are expected either to get ahead or get out. If they aren’t being promoted regularly, they risk being seen as damaged goods, losers, and shunted off to posts where they can’t hurt other officers’ careers.

It’s a system that breeds a paranoid management style with a high priority on not looking bad — it encourages officers to micromanage their subordinates to get results that will look good on their resumes, and it ultimately produces mediocre results, and it has a terrible effect on a ship’s morale. When Abrashoff took over Benfold, most of the crew told him they couldn’t wait to leave the ship and get out of the Navy.

What Abrashoff did was amazing. As I read the book, I laughed, smiled, and occasionally wiped a tear. Abrashoff decided to apply the lessons he’d learned during a two-year stint as an aide to Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. He would put the individual crew members’ welfare first — just as Bill Aris does with his cross-country runners.

Abrashoff spoke personally with every one of Benfold’s 310 sailors, asking them about their backgrounds, their goals, what they hoped to get out of their time in the Navy, and what they felt was wrong with the Navy’s way of doing things.

Above all, he invited their suggestions for improving procedures in their own departments, and he implemented them, even if it meant bending the Navy’s rules. Within six months, Benfold was winning at-sea exercises against ships with much stronger ratings.

How did Abrashoff turn Benfold around? By adopting a simple guiding principle.

“I decided that on just about everything I did, my standard should be simply whether or not it felt right. You can never go wrong if you do ‘the right thing.’….

“If it feels right, smells right, tastes right, it’s almost surely the right thing — and you will be on the right track.

“If that doesn’t sound very profound or sophisticated, in the Navy, in business, and in life, it really is as simple as that.”

Let’s add: “In sports training, and in the classroom.”

We know when we’re doing the right thing in sports, and when we’re truly reaching students in the classroom and helping each one improve at their own level — because it feels right. And we know just as surely when we’re screwing up — when we’re ignoring the child’s reality in a headlong pursuit of test scores — because it feels ever so subtly wrong.

It’s simple. Do the right thing as an athlete, and your training will go well and you’ll enjoy it. Do the right thing for every child at school — get to know each student and work with their individual strengths — and you’ll quickly find them becoming amazingly enthusiastic and engaged and loving school, because they feel respected.

Few believed that Captain Abrashoff’s expansive leadership style would work, until Benfold began garnering a reputation as “the best damn ship in the Navy.”

Assigned to the Persian Gulf during the second Gulf War, Benfold  became the go-to ship whenever commanders needed things done fast and correctly. When other captains wanted to improve their ships’ performance, they visited Benfold and talked with Abrashoff and his crew.

It’s an incredibly inspiring story, and the principles behind Benfold’s success are exactly the same as those that have brought the girls’ teams at Fayetteville-Manlius ten national championships.

In my working life, I occasionally help Donovan R. Greene, PhD, a highly regarded industrial psychologist. Companies hire Don to identify executive candidates who can strengthen their cultures and amplify their success. A habit shared by many of the best candidates is “managing by walking around” (MBWA).

That’s what Mike Abrashoff did, and what Bill Aris does. Abrashoff spent countless hours visiting each of Benfold’s departments, learning its functions and where they fit within the ship’s overall operations. He met with each crew member and invited their thoughts on how they could do their jobs better, and he empowered them to make changes. He respected them and tapped their creativity, knowledge, and enthusiasm. Morale soared, and success came quickly.

It was uncannily similar to how Bill Aris guides his high school cross country teams.

Coaches don’t believe Bill because he doesn’t tell them what they expect to hear. They want to hear: “I get results by hard-nosed methods. I work my kids’ tails off, and I’m not above recruiting so long as I don’t get caught. We do huge mileage in summer, and I won’t tell you about our speedwork, because that would be revealing too much. But it’s all in the numbers.”

Bill with his Manlius girls after winning Nike Cross Nations. Bill’s genius is that he creates happy, tightly bonded teams.

Does that sound like schools today? The obsession with numbers. The “studying to the test.” The government-imposed standard curriculum that leaves one-third of the kids bored out of their minds, another third unable to keep up, and only one-third challenged at their level.

When sports scientists from America and Europe travel to Africa to study the world-leading Kenyan elite runners, they bring along their little measuring sticks. They measure the Kenyans’ leg lengths, muscle elasticity, and calf and thigh dimensions. They weigh and analyze what they eat — how much carbohydrate, fat, and protein. They study how many miles they run, and how hard. And they write it all down in a little notebook filled with numbers.

Few of them ask the Kenyans about their hopes and dreams. Yet if you invite the Kenyans to talk about what sets them apart from their American and European counterparts, they never mention numbers. Instead, they talk about qualities of the heart — not heart volume and such-like science, but the heart’s feelings.

They explain that they run based on inner feeling — they take joy in running together, and if their bodies don’t feel up to running hard on a given day, they’re perfectly willing to pack it up and go home, whereas an American runner would be more likely to force himself through the workout, haunted by a need to “make the numbers.”

The Kenyans know that their bodies will tell them when it’s okay to run hard and when it’s best to knock off. They’ve long since learned to do the right thing.

They talk about how the U.S. runners are so serious about their training, how obsessed they are with numbers and technology, and how it’s all geared toward some feverishly imagined far-off future result. Meanwhile, the Kenyans are intent on maximizing the joys of today.

Captain Abrashoff did a very simple thing on Benfold — he created a happy ship. He gave his crew the freedom to enjoy doing their jobs well, and other ships’ officers and crew members were soon seeking any excuse to visit Benfold for the experience of being infected and inspired by its upbeat mood.

That’s the secret of Bill Aris’s success, and it isn’t complicated. Aris creates happy teams. How? By getting to know his runners and helping them realize their dreams. That kind of caring creates loyalty, enthusiasm, and success — on a Navy missile destroyer, a cross country course, and in the classroom.

School administrators and politicians could take a valuable lesson from Aris and Abrashoff. Instead of cramming students into a lockstep curriculum, thereby demotivating all but the average few, they could empower teachers to institute an individualized curriculum that would take the measure of each one’s hopes and dreams.

When Abrashoff left Benfold, he studied surveys conducted by the Navy to discover why people weren’t re-enlisting. Surprisingly, low pay was far down the scale, in fifth place.

“The top reason was not being treated with respect or dignity; second was being prevented from making an impact on the organization; third, not being listened to; and fourth, not being rewarded with more responsibility.”

Abrashoff worked tirelessly to reverse these trends. He wouldn’t tolerate attitudes in his officers that would risk creating a bossy, feudal culture that would spread poisonous feelings of resentment throughout the ship.

Every crew member’s contributions were to be considered important, and they were to be made aware of their value to the ship.

By treating his crew as if they mattered, and giving them freedom to shine, Abrashoff built the best damn ship in the Navy — just as Aris has built the nation’s best high school cross country program.

Six months after Abrashoff’s departure, Benfold earned the highest grade in the history of the Pacific Fleet on the Navy’s Combat Systems Readiness Review.

Abrashoff tells story after story of how he transformed the culture of his ship, one detail at a time. It’s a deeply moving account, and ultimately the “method” can be boiled down to a simple principle: the best approach to organizational change and excellence is the one that creates the greatest fulfillment and happiness for the individual.

 “Every year, I look at every kid in our group,” Aris says of his approach to training high school runners. “Number one, I try to find out what’s in their mind and in their hearts. How high is up, in other words. From there I build a training program around that.”

Speaking of the unique culture that Aris built, award-winning running journalist Marc Bloom said:

“In all my 40-plus years (of being involved with high school cross country), I don’t think I’ve seen anything this extraordinary, at least on the high school level…. If you look at professionals it’s like looking at the Kenyans and the Ethiopians. On the high school level, F-M is so far better than anyone else.

“You say how do they do it?” Bloom added. “You can look at the physiological aspect and the running, but there is also a cultural foundation to it. It’s a different society. It’s a different attitude.”[3]

It’s a culture that engenders good feelings within each runner and within the team. Aris persuades his runners to tap the joy of training for something larger than themselves. And it all sounds remarkably like the culture at Living Wisdom School.

“When our kids train or race, they do so for each other rather than competing against each other. When one releases themselves from the limiting constraints of individual achievement alone, new worlds open up in terms of group AND individual potential and its fulfillment…. Each is capable of standing on their own, but when working together so much more is accomplished both for the group and individual. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts basically, nothing new here.”[4]

Why aren’t people more receptive to these radical but exhaustively proven ideas? Why are so few listening — in school, in sports, and in business and the military?

Mark Allen, six-time winner of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, may know the answer. Before he began entering triathlons, Allen was a hard-charging All-American swimmer at UC San Diego. Swimmers do intensive interval workouts, and when Allen became a triathlete he trained full-out all the time, whether running, riding, or swimming. Yet year after year he fell just short of winning the Ironman.

Then Allen met coach Phil Maffetone, who had him do several months of easy aerobic training at the start of the season, followed by six weeks of very hard work. Maffetone understood Allen’s needs and adapted his training accordingly. That’s when the string of Ironman victories began.

In an interview with Allen, Tim Noakes, MD, author of the authoritative Lore of Running, asked him for his thoughts on why more triathletes hadn’t adopted the methods that had brought him so much success.

“Allen answered that many athletes are too ego-driven. They can’t wait to perform well and will not accept anyone else’s ideas.”[5]

Why are our academically obsessed public and private schools not adopting the principles that work so well in sports and in the Navy, and that have created happiness and success for so many students for fifty years in the Living Wisdom Schools, because they help each child learn more efficiently than the failed, lockstep Core Curriculum and the equally disastrous No Child Left Behind?

The answer is that politicians and school administrators are too heavily invested in their own ideas and obsessed with numbers — even when the numbers lie.

Bill Aris’s methods aren’t what the politicians and administrators want to hear. And that’s too bad, because there’s solid evidence that the heart and brain can work harder, with less strain, in the presence of happy feelings. In the classroom, research shows that the brain becomes a more efficient learning machine in the presence of harmonious, expansive feelings — as opposed to the stress and emotional toll of a needlessly competitive, test-focused atmosphere.

Teachers and coaches who support the individual child,  intent on helping them become happy members of a happy team, aren’t just wasting the students’ time. They’re amplifying their ability to learn by tapping the power of positive feelings to make each child’s brain a champion.

Imagine that you’re a teacher and there’s a child in your classroom who clearly needs special attention and loving help — would you blithely ignore the their needs, prioritizing test preparation and grades? As parents, and as a society, would we set up our entire school system so that teachers were forced to ignore that child’s unique circumstances?

Mass education is “dead-ucation.” Teachers who can skillfully elicit the individual child’s enthusiasm for learning by giving them daily experiences of success, each at their own level, are able to educate them far more effectively than teachers who are required by government decree to cram a barely digestible load of facts into the students’ overworked and resisting brains.

(Adapted from The Joyful Athlete: The Wisdom of the Heart in Exercise & Sports Training, by Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto content manager George Beinhorn: www.joyfulathlete.com)

[1]Adapted from The Joyful Athlete: the Wisdom of the Heart in Exercise & Sports Training, by George Beinhorn.

 

[2] “The Secret to F-M’s Success: There Is No Secret,” Tom Leo and Donnie Webb, Syracuse.com, December 10, 2010. http://bit.ly/2JT3vnn.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Stotan: The Secret of Fayetteville Manlius,” XCNation/RunnerSpace, September 23, 2013. http://www.runnerspace.com/news.php?news_id=180217

[5] Lore of Running, op. cit.