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.

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

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 recent 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 the last 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) was: 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 at (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

 

 

Ch. 11: Happiness, Success, and Academic Achievement

This chapter is adapted from an article on the website of Education for Life International (edforlife.org).

Mainstream education, with its emphasis on test scores, emphasizes training just one of a student’s developmental tools, the intellect, at the expense of their potential for growth in other areas.

Education for Life (EFL) is based on helping students succeed academically and personally through balanced development of their five “Tools of Maturity” — Body, Feelings, Will, Mind, and Spirit.

Let’s compare the results of these two very different systems.

Education for Life and Testing

While Education for Life doesn’t emphasize academic testing for young children, our older students often express an interest in knowing how they are performing, compared to students their age in other schools.

When the original Living Wisdom High School applied for accreditation, the students were required to take a nationally recognized standardized test. The results were remarkable. The students placed in the top 10 percent of schools nationwide as a group, and over the next 10 years they scored consistently in the top 10 percent, placing in the top 1 percent one year.

Their SAT scores were equally impressive, averaging 1248 compared to the national average of roughly 1060. In recent years, an LWHS student earned a perfect score on the SATs.

Scholastic Aptitude Test Scores
  EFL Averages   National Averages
Language Arts        640        533
Mathematics        608        527
Total      1248      1060

How can EFL schools compete so well against elite academic schools, when the EFL students spend significant time on the arts, outdoor activities, service projects, and adventure travel?

Current research offers some insights.

The Body and the Intellect

Surely it’s obvious that disease, stress, and poor hygiene can erode the energy available for sustained mental performance in academics. This relationship was demonstrated in a 2013 study by the National Academy of Sciences:

State-mandated academic achievement testing has had the unintended consequence of reducing opportunities for children to be physically active during the school day and beyond…. Yet little evidence supports the notion that more time allocated to subject matter will translate into better test scores. Indeed, 11 of 14 correlational studies of physical activity during the school day demonstrate a positive relationship to academic performance. Overall, a rapidly growing body of work suggests that time spent engaged in physical activity is related not only to a healthier body but also to a healthier mind.

Feelings and the Intellect

Similarly, the ability to manage feelings constructively is a tremendous aid for maintaining calm mental focus in challenging circumstances.

The advent of “emotional intelligence” in 1995 stimulated a wave of research that authenticated the importance of social and emotional guidance.

A key survey by J. Payton, et al. examined data from 317 studies involving 324,303 students. The authors concluded:

SEL [Social and Emotional Learning] programming improved students’ academic performance by 11 to 17 percentile points across the three reviews, indicating that they offer students a practical educational benefit…. Although some educators argue against implementing this type of holistic programming because it takes valuable time away from core academic material, our findings suggest that SEL programming not only does not detract from academic performance but actually increases students’ performance on standardized tests and grades.

Will Power and the Intellect

The vital connection between will power and the intellect is evident in qualities such as perseverance, concentration, and personal initiative. In The Willpower Instinct, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD surveyed the results of more than 200 studies in this area and concluded:

People who have strong will power are better off — i.e., [they have] better control of their attention, emotions, and actions. They are happier and healthier. Their relationships are more satisfying and last longer. They make more money and go further in their careers. They are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and overcome adversity. They live longer. Self-control is a better predictor of academic success than IQ. It’s a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma. It’s more important for marital harmony than empathy.

Conclusion — and a Prediction

Widespread change always takes time, but educators are already acknowledging that too much one-sided emphasis on the intellect is counterproductive.

For more than fifty years Education for Life has pioneered an approach that cultivates the intellect without neglecting other important factors that contribute to students’ success in academics; namely, the body, feelings, will, and spirit.

The research tells us that the future of education will favor schools that can implement an integrated approach along the lines of Education for Life and the Living Wisdom Schools.

Ch. 10: Happiness and Success: the Love Plant Approach

By George Beinhorn

In the late 1980s, I wrote an article about an experiment by the children at the original Living Wisdom School. I present the forty-year-old article here with two thoughts in mind: first, as an example of how the Living Wisdom teachers encourage young people’s expansive feelings; and as a reminder that the ultimate key to helping children thrive, personally and at school, is love.

The Love Plant

The children in teacher Kabir MacDow’s classroom at Living Wisdom School, age five through eight, have applied the scientific method to investigate the power of love.

In an experiment suggested by Kabir, the children planted five seeds in each of four pots.

One pot, the “Dark Plant,” received only water and was kept in a closet with no exposure to sunlight.

A second pot, the “Too Bad Plant,” received sunlight and water, but no extra soil nutrients or special attention.

A third pot, the “Everything But Love Plant,” got sunlight, water, and soil nutrients — the normal care a good gardener would give it.

The Love Plant received the same care as the Everything But Plant, plus the added ingredient of love.

It’s 9:30 in the morning. The children are working quietly at their desks, when Kabir asks for their attention and invites them to bring the four plants to an open area on the rug. The children respond eagerly, smiling as they gather in a circle. It’s obvious that this is something they’ve looked forward to.

First the plants are watered, and then the Dark Plant is returned to the closet and the children take the Too Bad Plant back to the window sill. The Everything But Love Plant is fussed over amid a discussion of the nutrients a plant needs to grow.

Kabir: “We’re going to focus our attention on the Love Plant now. This is the one we want to give our attention to. I’d like someone to explain what this experiment is about — someone who’s been centered this morning. Tara, would you explain what the experiment is?”

Tara: “It’s to watch the plants grow and see what they do when you put them in different places, like put them in the sun, and put them in different kinds of soil, and put them in the dark.”

Kabir: None of us can really grow without all of those things — the water and the sun and the air and good soil — and something special is there, too.

(Several children begin talking at once.)

Kabir: “Let’s sit up, please. Sit up nice and straight. Now look at the plants. Look at them closely. You can see how well they’ve done. We’ve started these plants from seeds, and they’ve depended on us to take care of them and help them grow. Now, the plants that we gave a little bit to, they grew a little bit. The plants that we’ve given a lot to, they’ve grown a lot, they’ve grown a lot more than the rest. What we give is what has helped this plant, and we’ve been giving our love, which is one of the most important things that it could have. So we want to give it some more right now.

“We can start by sitting up. Close your eyes. Inside of your mind, try to see the plant. Do this: Try to see the plant inside — it’s green and it’s leafy.

“As we sing, we’re going to try to feel that it’s pulling the plant up, making it great and big. All the leaves are spreading out and branching out and getting big. The blossoms are starting to come out on the plant, and the flowers.”

(The children sing to the plant with obvious enthusiasm while projecting loving feelings toward it.)

“The flowers this plant has are its gift to us. We give it love and it gives us its beauty. Ready? Have the plant in your mind. As we sing, we can feel that we’re bringing it up. We can even bring our hands over it. Here we go, just bringing our energy up as we sing.”

(The children sing again, then Kabir leads them in a prayer. The quality in their voices is startling, as if they are praying with a single voice, vibrant, rich, enthusiastic. No voice wanders or lags; the children’s full attention is on what they’re doing.)

Kabir (followed responsively by the children): “Bless this plant. Fill it with Your love. Help it to grow strong. And beautiful.”

The Love-Plant Model for School Success

The worst mistakes in education generally begin with a subtle thought. Instead of nourishing the Love Plant in children’s hearts, we ignore its needs — we put it in the dark, in a feverish obsession with test scores and grades. We burn its joyful fronds with a deadly-boring lockstep, standardized curriculum. Or we ignore the quiet instinct of our hearts that is separately telling us what each child in the class truly needs in order to thrive.

There is a current that runs through the Living Wisdom Schools, a constant theme: that the right thing, in school and life, is to engage with love, and never limit the classroom instruction to force-feeding young plants with barren ideas. The inborn excitement of math or science, history or English, beautifully revealed by teachers who are free to be creative and independent and strong, infects the kids with a love and enthusiasm for learning that empowers them to blossom.

The Palo Alto Living Wisdom K-8 school’s graduates do extremely well when they enter the San Francisco Bay Area’s academically challenging public and private high schools. Yet parents who inquire about the school are often skeptical.

They worry that the kids will fall behind academically because we spend so much time cultivating their hearts. Or they raise reasonable objections. Surely we’re successful because our students come from smart, successful families. Surely we accept only the top students. Surely our kids do well because of our fabulous nine-to-one student-teacher ratio. Surely our system, which spends so much time on “soft skills,” will fail to help the kids compete when they enter the harsh, dog-eat-dog world of high school.

It’s true that many of our students have highly educated parents. It’s true that our student-teacher ratio is as low as six to one in middle-school math, where the teacher and two adult math aides are present in the classroom. But the truth is, we accept students across a broad spectrum of academic ability.

Our successes aren’t due to those external factors, as some visitors suspect. They are the natural outcome of an approach to working with children that takes account of each child’s individual hopes and dreams.

The high-pressure K-8 academic prep schools in the area don’t evoke our envy. To put it kindly, their results are no better than ours, because our philosophy is rooted in the Love Plant approach. A saying at our school is “Children who are taught to love, love to learn.”

Our philosophy is based on the idea that life has meaning, that life’s meaning is reflected in school, and that the principles that work in life — at Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, and on sports teams, in the military, and at Google and other top companies — are the same principles that help children thrive from kindergarten through college and beyond.

An education that instills these principles gives children two things that all people have craved since the dawn of time: continually increasing happiness, and regular, ongoing experiences of success.

If there is one core truth that has emerged in the fifty-year history of the Living Wisdom Schools, it’s that, at school and in life, expansive attitudes of love, kindness, compassion, and joy improve performance, while negative, contractive attitudes and feelings destroy happiness and impede success.

 

 

 

 

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

By George Beinhorn, Living Wisdom School of Palo Alto, California.

I don’t read the papers much, but I came across an article in the Sacramento Bee some years ago that fairly begged to be disbelieved. Here’s an excerpt:

In a Journal of Medical Ethics article titled “A Proposal to Classify Happiness as a Psychiatric Disorder,” Liverpool University psychologist Richard P. Bentall argues that the so‑called syndrome of happiness is a diagnosable mood disturbance that should be included in standard taxonomies of mental illness such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Happiness, as Bentall states in his abstract, is “statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system.” (In this regard, as Bentall later notes, happiness resembles other psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.)

The author of the Bee article, Maggie Scarf, a New Republic contributing editor, related Dr. Bentall’s suggestion “that the term ‘happiness’ be removed from future editions of the major diagnostic manuals, to be replaced by the formal description ‘major affective disorder, pleasant type.’”

When I read the article aloud to a friend, she promptly doubled over with major affective disorder, pleasant type. “That’s such amazing cock‑a‑doo!” she howled. “It’s so carefully reasoned — yet it’s completely incredible!”

The Practice of Happiness

It is nutty-cakes. And yet, is there anything actually wrong with using scientific methods to study happiness? After all, it’s what the spiritual explorers of all ages have done — they’ve studied happiness in the laboratory of human bodies, hearts, and minds and kept tidy notes on what worked and didn’t. (See Chapter 4, “Ancient Secrets of Happiness & Success.”)

For most of us, happiness isn’t a “mood disturbance” – it’s the prize we’re seeking. And if we can get a little more with the help of scientific order and method, all the better.

The spiritual researchers realized that the single underlying desire that drives our actions is a longing to experience greater happiness, and to escape from suffering.

Albert Einstein, ever a keen observer of the human scene, stated it this way:

Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their development. Feeling and longing are the motive force behind all human endeavor and human creation, in however exalted a guise the latter may present themselves. (From an essay, “Cosmic Religious Feeling.”)

Because the world’s spiritual traditions have made the longest recorded scientific study of happiness, what they say may be worth hearing, in these times of pandemic discontent.

After all, their approach is practical. They tell us, for example, about the five instruments through which we can experience greater happiness: body, heart, will, mind, soul. Our happiness, they say, increases as we learn to use each tool “expansively.” (More on “expansion” in a moment.) Thus, the most important time in our lives for learning to be happy is when we’re growing up, as each tool in turn becomes the main focus of our development.

To review: from birth to age six, an infant’s primary developmental taks is to become familiar with its body and senses. From six to twelve, feelings come to the fore — this is a time when children are especially receptive to learning through the arts — through stories, music, theater, art, and dance – the “media of feeling.”

From twelve to eighteen, teenagers welcome challenges to their will power in preparation for independent adult life. And at around eighteen, young people become fascinated with the life of the mind, engaging in late-night discussions of science, philosophy, politics, and the arts.

Finally, at about twenty-four, many people experience life events that may precede a spiritual awakening.

As each tool takes center stage, the others don’t simply fade away. Thus, while a toddler is primarily concerned with its body and senses, it won’t hesitate to express its feelings — with the volume turned up! Nor do the stages begin and end exactly on our sixth, twelfth, eighteenth, and twenty-fourth birthdays; the transitions are gradual.

Why did nature settle upon this particular scheme? In his insightful book, Education for Life, J. Donald Walters explains how each stage prepares the child for the ones that follow. Thus, feeling comes before will power because feeling is the faculty that enables us to tell right from wrong. Before we can use our will power intelligently, with awareness of others, we need to develop the ability to feel their realities. Walters laments the ruinous consequences of cramming young children’s minds with facts, at the expense of developing their capacity to feel sensitively.

Similarly, each stage fulfills the one that came before. Thus, feeling motivates us to act, and will power provides the energy to act on our feelings. Unless we want something strongly enough, we won’t muster the energy to achieve it.

Will power, in turn, finds its fulfillment in wisdom, which tells us which actions will make us happy, and which will not. And wisdom is fulfilled in Spirit. In Self-realization, we realize that true wisdom and joy come from a higher Source within.

The history of education reveals that in ancient Greece and Rome, and throughout the Middle Ages and Enlightenment, the six-year stages were recognized as natural phases of a child’s growth. Thus appropriate teaching methods were devised for each stage, and schools were roughly divided into the equivalents of our modern elementary school (six to twelve), junior and senior high (twelve to eighteen), and college (eighteen to twenty-four).

Expanding Awareness Equals Joy

The spiritual teachings of the ages tell us that our happiness increases as we learn to use our five human instruments “expansively.” Like most abstractions, “expansion” is most easily understood through examples.

Let’s look at what happens when we begin a fitness program.

After the first two or three weeks, we find that we are feeling happier and more alive. Why? Because the exercising body has begun to generate energy that spills over to nourish our feelings, will, and mind, expanding their range and force. Expanding our awareness through one “tool,” the body, has influenced the others. Good actions spread their effects — as do “bad” ones. It’s now well-known that negative, contractive attitudes have adverse mental, emotional, and physical consequences.

People tend to specialize in one, or perhaps two, of the “tools of expansion.” Thus, some people go more by feeling, while others tend to “lead” with their will power or mind. The spiritual teachings encourage us to go with our strengths, while working to correct any imbalances.

In many natural processes, the “tools of happiness” tend to appear in the same sequence as in a child’s development. When we fall in love, for example, the first attraction is often, though not invariably, physical. We see a person across the room whose appearance attracts us, and our feelings become aroused. We form a volition to act on our feelings, and we walk over and strike up a conversation. The mind probes for information: What interests do we share? Does he like children? And if we’re wise, we’ll consult a higher guidance before entering this important new life venture. We’ve passed through the five tools in order: body, feeling, will, mind, soul.

When I ran ultramarathons, I noticed that the tools tended to show up in the same natural order. The first hour or two were for the body, as my heart, legs, and lungs found a rhythm and began to generate a flow of energy. The next hour was for the heart — cheerful conversations would spring up among the runners. As the body tired, will power came to the fore — it was time to focus attention and not waste energy on distractions.

Farther along, it became important to apply the mind to questions of logistics: How can I pace myself to make it to the next aid station? How can I deal with this blister? Finally, if I succeeded in using the tools wisely, I would enjoy a wonderful inner freedom. I became a very simple person, free from distractions, worries, and restless thoughts, living wholly in the present moment.

Talking with other runners, I realized that many experienced a similar sequence in the longer rhythms of their careers.

At the start, the major issues tended to be about the body — how to train, which shoes to wear, how to treat an injury, what to eat and drink, etc.

Then, as the body grew fit, feelings took center stage. The feeling phase is rich with the romance of running, as we explore longer distances, seek interesting courses, and absorb the inspiration of sports role models.

Later, we begin to crave challenges to our will. We may take up speedwork, compete with ourselves to run faster times, and enter more difficult races. As we pass through the five phases, we find that the tools we need for the next stage tend to show up in uncanny ways.

After the will power phase, runners often become intrigued by the life of the mind. They learn to plan their training wisely, perhaps using a heart monitor.

Finally, there may be a period where the overriding concerns are spiritual, where all of the tools are merged in a quest for inner harmony. We seek a fulfillment that comes by “running in beauty,” our activities balanced in a careful synchrony.

It helps to be aware of the five stages of a run, and the natural sequence of a runner’s career.

As with running, so too with educating a young child. To help each child in the best possible way, we must first understand the child’s unique gifts and apply the most appropriate methods at each stage to prepare them for the stage that follows.

More than we may realize, each tool is a world unto itself, with its own wonderful strengths and rewards. In my life, I’ve had the good fortune to enter two of these worlds as a relative newcomer: first, when I started an exercise program, and later when I spent several years working to open my heart.

In the first case, I was overjoyed to discover the world of the fit body. I had never been in good physical condition, and now at age twenty-six I could run for miles barefoot on the beach, probing with fingers of consciousness into the rich inner world of a body that glowed with health and energy. How fulfilling and expansive it was, to enter this spacious new world for the first time!

Later, as my heart began to open, I was delighted to discover a vast inner world of feeling. I became aware that there were issues in my life for which the heart held answers that were hidden from the rational mind. I gained a renewed respect for the world of feeling in which women spend much of their lives. Standing in line at the bank or supermarket, I could quietly enjoy watching women working together, appreciating their communion of feeling.

The System Is Rigged

It all sounds so straightforward — simply use the tools expansively, and happiness is sure to follow, rather like remembering to brush our teeth in the morning. But, in real life, cultivating expansive attitudes turns out to be a challenge. That’s because the opposite urge, contraction, is a temptation for us also.

Life places essentially the same choice continually before us: will we use our bodies wisely, or abuse them? Our hearts, to love or to hate? Our minds, to be wise, or merely clever? Our spiritual yearnings, to aspire to the heights, or to dabble in psychic trivialities? History — ours and the world’s — is the story of the eternal struggle between these opposing forces in human nature.

Also, the theory is simple, but the details seldom are. We’ve been given all of the tools we need to achieve happiness and success — or so it seems. The trouble is, if we rely too exclusively on our purely human resources, we sooner or later find ourselves coming up against their limitations.

The five tools of expansion embody wonderful expertise, yet their specialization can trip us. When this happens, we can still find answers by looking beyond those merely human instruments. Happily, we can use the tools to tap into an awareness that is fathomlessly wise and loving, and that has our best interests always at heart.

This is what an expansive Education for Life is about: harmonizing the children’s environment and guiding their activities in ways that will bring each of them individually the greatest success and joy at each step of their journey.

George Beinhorn received his B.A. and M.A. at Stanford University at a time when dinosaurs still roamed the Quad.

Ch. 8: Happiness and Success in the History of Education

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

It was only in the 19th century, during the Industrial Revolution, that government officials and factory owners decided that schools should be focused on training children to become good laborers and managers. Thus math and science and other “objective” subjects were to be given highest priority in all grades. Other matters, such as children’s emotional, moral, and spiritual development, were to be eliminated from the classroom as impediments to the “practical” curriculum. It was assumed that these areas would be sufficiently addressed in church and at home.

The result of this system is the public school system of today, with its government-mandated curriculum and its heavy emphasis on academics to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

The mission of the Living Wisdom Schools is to rescue children from this system, whose weaknesses have become abundantly clear in recent years, in the form of an alarming number of student suicides and significant numbers of children acting out their frustration through drugs and violence. The Living Wisdom Schools have shown that educating the whole child — body, mind, heart, and spirit — doesn’t leave the children’s intellectual potential neglected; rather, the opposite is true: by engaging the whole child in the learning process, vast reserves of energy and enthusiasm are released to fuel the highest accomplishment, leading to first-class test scores and exceptional grades.