Research Supports Education for Life

Follow the links below to review research that supports the principles and practices of Living Wisdom School.

Most education research focuses on how teaching methods affect academic performance. But our 40-plus years of helping children have persuaded us that educational practices that enhance a child’s inner development can contribute very powerfully to their academic success.

(If you come across supportive research, please let us know.)


  1. The suprising thing Google learned about its employees – and what it means for today’s students. Google originally based its hiring practices on evaluating applicants’ performance in STEM skills – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. But a recent second look came to a very different conclusion – STEM ranked just seventh as a factor in employee success. This Washington Post article supports a balanced education that includes training in self-management and interpersonal skills.
  2. What does it take to become the nation’s top collegiate soccer team? For the two-time national champion Stanford University men’s soccer team, it means practicing many of the same schools teachers use at LWS to improve their students’ ability to be focused and enthusiastic in the classroom, and be calmly centered while taking tests. Watch this very interesting video by Stanford High Performance Sports Psychologist Dr. Dan Freigang
  3. Active Focused Learning Approach. Quotes: “I’m not really held back anymore, just sitting in class waiting”. “‘There’s not a lot of lecturing, which makes it easier to stay focused,’ ” she said. ‘I really like working with other students.’” Students spend more time working in groups. The strategy is getting more students to achieve better in class.
  4. Longer school day and year failed to improve test scores
  5. Task to Aid Self-Esteem Lifts Grades for Some
  6. Active Focused Learning Approach.
  7. Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play In School (PDF)
  8. 7 Reasons Why Emotional Intelligence is One of the Fastest-Growing Job Skills. A Fast Company article on how HR managers are changing their hiring criteria. Quote: “The awareness that emotional intelligence is an important job skill, in some cases even surpassing technical ability, has been growing in recent years. In a 2011 Career Builder Survey of more than 2,600 hiring managers and human resource professionals, 71% stated they valued emotional intelligence in an employee over IQ; 75% said they were more likely to promote a highly emotionally intelligent worker; and 59% claimed they’d pass up a candidate with a high IQ but low emotional intelligence.”
  9. The Heart in Holistic Education. (PDF) Educational programs based on new scientific discoveries about the heart lead to improved emotional stability, cognitive functioning, and academic performance.
  10. Tutoring Tots. MSNBC News feature.
  11. 10 Ways to Improve Schools Using Coaching Principles. A hugely important article by Tony Holler, a public high school honors chemistry teacher and football/track and field coach (Plainfield North HS, IL). Significantly, Living Wisdom School has followed Tony’s 10 recommendations throughout its 40-plus-year history. And because we’re very clear that they’ve played a large part in our success, the principles are engrained in our school’s philosophy. (By the way, Tony’s freshman football team has won 39 games in a row. Tony is a member of the hall of fame of the U.S. national track and field and cross country coaches’ association.)
  12. We’re destroying our kids — for nothing: Too much homework, too many tests, too much needless pressure. A Salon article argues that we’ve gone overboard on academics, destroying the enthusiasm in kids that’s essential for academic success. The result? “Children are born curious, and it’s pretty easy to facilitate that, to groom it,” says Vassar College neuropsychologist Abigail Baird. “We’re doing the opposite. We’re squishing their desire to learn new things. And I think that’s a crisis.”
  13. Impact of Homework on Academic Achievement (PDF)
  14. Going in circles puts students on path to better choices. Quotes: “The goal is not so much to punish as to get students on paths to make better choices, to understand the impact of what they do, to deal with people better”… “We’ve become more like a family and not just kids who go to school together,” said freshman Leah Brito. “We’ve grown up big time in the last few months.” “One result of the new approach is that kids are giving more thought to the effect what they do and say can have on others,” she said. “In eighth grade, the he said/she said stuff was horrible when many of the students were together at Audubon middle school,” Brito said. “This year, there is much less of that.”
  15. Is Test Prep Educational Malpractice? In many elementary schools there is little or no time for non-tested subjects such as art, music, even science and history.
  16. Preschool Controversy – Academics or Play? Quotes: People who attended play-based preschools were eight times less likely to need treatment for emotional disturbances than those who went to preschools where direct instruction prevailed. Graduates of the play-based preschools were three times less likely to be arrested for committing a felony.
  17. Why I pulled my son out of a school for ‘gifted’ kids. In this Mashable article, a mother tells how her son thrived after she transferred him out of an elite academically oriented elementary school in New York City. “If you are privileged enough to be selective about what schools your children attend, please consider how they are learning and not just what they are learning. School isn’t only about cramming as much as possible as quickly as possible into their little brains.”
  18. Pressure Cooker Kindergarten. Quotes: Kindergarten has changed radically in the last two decades in ways that few Americans are aware of. Children now spend far more time being taught and tested on literacy and math skills than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies, and using their imaginations. Many kindergartens use highly prescriptive curricula geared to new state standards and linked to standardized tests. In an increasing number of kindergartens, teachers must follow scripts from which they may not deviate. These practices, which are not well grounded in research, violate long-established principles of child development and good teaching. It is increasingly clear that they are compromising both children’s health and their long-term prospects for success in school. . Kindergarten has ceased to be a garden of delight and has become a place of stress and distress…. Blindly pursuing educational policies that could well damage the intellectual, social and physical development of an entire generation…. There’s ongoing concern about American children catching up with their counterparts in countries such as Japan and China. Specifically in areas such as science, math and technology, schooling in those countries before second grade is “playful and experiential.” And youngsters in Finland, where teens consistently score high academically, also attend play-based kindergarten and start first grade at age 7 rather than age 6.
  19. School starting age: the evidence. An article on the website of Cambridge University. “In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four. A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being).”
  20. What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success. The Scandinavian country is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence.
  21. One in Five Girls in Upper Secondary School Suffers From School Burnout. Quotes: A sense of optimism during university studies along with high self-esteem tend to predict job engagement ten years later on, while an avoidance strategy tends to predict work-related burnout…. The more encouragement the students got from their teachers, the less likely they were to experience school burnout.
  22. Explaining Math Concepts Improves Learning. “Teaching children the basic concept behind math problems was more useful than teaching children a procedure for solving the problems – these children gave better explanations and learned more,” Rittle-Johnson said. “This adds to a growing body of research illustrating the importance of teaching children concepts as well as having them practice solving problems.”
  23. Social Skills, Extracurricular Activities In High School Pay Off Later In Life. Quotes: High school sophomores who … [had] good social skills and work habits, and who participated in extracurricular activities in high school, made more money and completed higher levels of education 10 years later than their classmates who had similar standardized test scores but were less socially adroit and participated in fewer extracurricular activities…. “Soft skills” such as sociability, punctuality, conscientiousness and an ability to get along well with others, along with participation in extracurricular activities, are better predictors of earnings and higher educational achievement later in life than having good grades and high standardized test scores…. Schools are increasingly cutting…activities that foster soft skills in order to focus almost exclusively on achieving adequate yearly progress on state-mandated standardized tests.
  24. Students Benefit From Depth Rather Than Breadth. Quotes: Teaching fewer topics in greater depth is a better way to prepare students for success in college science. Teachers who “teach to the [standardized] test” may not be optimizing their students’ chances of success in college science.
  25. Task to Aid Self-Esteem Lifts Grades for Some
  26. Teacher Teaming. (Teachers routinely engage in “teaming” at Living Wisdom School, thanks to the integrated curriculum and school environment that encourages teacher collaboration.)
  27. Teaching Resilience With Positive Education
  28. Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement. Quotes: Students who have been shamed or belittled by the teacher or another student will not effectively engage in challenging tasks. To learn and grow, one must take risks, but most people will not take risks in an emotionally unsafe environment.
  29. Creating Positive Classroom Management. (A teacher developed creative ways to encourage positive attitudes and behaviors in younger students. The method and theory are very similar to the “Rocks in the Basket” game used at LWS and described in this video.) Quotes: “I’d spent years offering students rewards (stickers, tickets, tangibles, intangibles) for good behavior and I’d come to realize how they were often self-defeating…. One change I had already made was … I would celebrate “great work” by reading aloud the child’s name and stating what they had done well. Often their classmates would give an actual round of applause – which was lovely.”
  30. Learning and Motivation Strategies Course Increases Odds of College Graduation
  31. Recess Makes for Better Students. Quotes: Study finds getting enough of it [recess] each day helps kids perform better in classroom…. Children learn as much on breaks as they do in the traditional classroom, experimenting with creativity and imagination and learning how to interact socially…. Conflict resolution is solved on the playground, not in the classroom…. The more physical fitness tests children passed, the better they did on academic tests…. Walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration.
  32. Algebra-for-All Policy Found to Raise Rates Of Failure
  33. Lectures Didn’t Work in 1350—and They Still Don’t Work Today. A conversation with David Thornburg about designing a better classroom.

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Joy in Learning

  1. The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland (The Atlantic),  by Tim Walker, a former teacher based in Finland. He now cares for his two young children and writes regularly at Taught by Finland and Papa on the Playground. Research and school experience show that play time is crucial for children’s academic and social development.
  2. How to Parent Like a German. German students excel, yet in German schools academics are balanced by other kinds of learning.
  3. Stay Focused: New research on how to close the achievement gap (The Economist, UK). A review of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by journalist Paul Tough, a former editor at New York Times Magazine.
  4. Psychologist explores how childhood play influences adult creativity. Sandra Russ’s new book, Pretend Play in Childhood: Foundation of Adult Creativity reveals how high-achieving innovative adults use methods learned in childhood play to help them achieve success.
  5. Most 1st Grade Classes Not High Quality. Quotes: Only 23 percent of classrooms could be judged to be of “high quality” in both their instructional practices and social and emotional climate.
  6. Happiness Contagious as the Flu. (At Living Wisdom School, we create a joyful, caring environment among the students. When a new student arrives, he or she immediately feels supported and positively affected. Parents routinely comment that soon after their children enter LWS they seem happier than at their former school.)
  7. The Love Plant: A Ramble on Sports and Good Feelings. Describes a powerful experiment conducted by the children at the original Living Wisdom School, with deep implications for education, sports, and life.

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Meditation, Breathing, Yoga, Affirmations

  1. Meditation Program in the College Curriculum. Quotes: [Meditation] produced significant freshman-senior increases in intelligence and increased social self-confidence, sociability, general psychological health, and social maturity.
  2. Self-Affirmation Can Break Cycle of Negative Thoughts. A report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  3. Meditation in the Treatment of ADHD. Meditation-training showed significant decreases in levels of impulsivity [and significant improvements in] selective deployment of attention and freedom from distractibility in the behavior of the children.
  4. How Meditation Can Give Our Kids an Academic Edge
  5. Meditation seen promising as ADHD therapy. Quotes: “The effect was much greater than we expected.” – lead researcher Sarina J. Grosswald, a cognitive learning specialist in Arlington, Virginia…. The children also showed improvements in attention, working memory, organization, and behavior regulation.
  6. Faith rites boost brains. (Even 10 to 15 minutes of meditation appear to have significant positive effects on cognition, relaxation, and psychological health.)
  7. Schools use mind-body relaxation techniques to help kids fight anxiety. Quotes: Mind-body relaxation, including yoga, can improve self-esteem and boost grades and test scores. Regular exposure to the [relaxation] training boosted students’ work habits, attendance, and academic performance.
  8. Silence is Golden Mindfulness Meditation study)
  9. Smacking Hits Kids’ IQ
  10. Smiles Predict Marriage Success. (Many parents report their children smile more after attending Living Wisdom School.)
  11. Vedic Science based Education and Non-verbal Intelligence. (An increase in student problem-solving ability was found.)
  12. Meditation and Assertive Training in the Treatment of Social Anxiety.
  13. Meditation Effects on Cognitive Function. Meditation practice produced significant positive effects.
  14. Meditation Program in the College Curriculum. Quotes: [Meditation] produced significant freshman-senior increases on intelligence and increased social self-confidence, sociability, general psychological health, and social maturity.
  15. Meditation improves Leadership Behaviors. Quotes: Subjects who learned [meditation]… as a self-development technique improved their leadership behaviors.

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Social Skills

  1. UCLA neuroscientist’s book explains why social connection is as important as food and shelter
  2. Psychosocial stress reversibly disrupts prefrontal processing and attentional control
  3. This is Why You Don’t SUCEED. This 16-minute talk by Simon Sinek has been viewed over 11 million times. The social skills he finds dangerously lacking in the smartphone generation are actively cultivated in children at Living Wisdom School from the first day of kindergarten until their last day in eighth grade.

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  1. Adolescents Involved With Music Do Better In School. Music participation has a positive effect on reading and mathematics achievement for both elementary and high school students.
  2. Adolescents Involved With Music Do Better In School
  3. Music Education Can Help Children Improve Reading Skills. Quotes: Children exposed to a multi-year programme of music … display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.
  4. Music Training Linked To Enhanced Verbal Skills. Quotes: Music training … may be more important for enhancing verbal communication skills than learning phonics…. potential of music to tune our neural response to the world around us…. Music training may have considerable benefits for engendering literacy skills…. (Musicians have enhanced subcortical auditory and audiovisual processing of speech and music.)

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Physical Education

  1. Physically fit students do better on tests. Quotes: Physically fit students … are more likely to do well on … tests and have better attendance…. Fit students are less likely to have disciplinary problems.
  2. Schools use mind-body relaxation techniques to help kids fight anxiety. Quotes: Mind-body relaxation, including yoga, can improve self-esteem and boost grades and test scores…. Regular exposure to the [relaxation] training boosted students’ work habits, attendance, and academic performance.
  3. Physical Activity May Strengthen Children’s Ability To Pay Attention. Quotes: Following the acute bout of walking, children performed better on the flanker task. . Following acute bouts of walking, children had a larger P3 amplitude, suggesting that they are better able to allocate attentional resources…. The increase in reading comprehension following exercise equated to approximately a full grade level.
  4. A Fit Body Means a Fit Mind. Quotes: Cardiovascular exercise was related to higher academic performance…. Regular exercise benefits the brain, improves attention span, memory, and learning … reduces stress and the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder…. Aerobic exercise pumps more blood throughout the body, including to the brain. More blood means more oxygen and, therefore, better-nourished brain tissue. Exercise also spurs the brain to produce more of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which Ratey calls “Miracle-Gro for the brain.” This powerful protein encourages brain cells to grow, interconnect, and communicate in new ways. Studies also suggest exercise plays a big part in the production of new brain cells, particularly in the dentate gyrus, a part of the brain heavily involved in learning and memory skills…. [Many] schools are cutting back on PE and reducing recess hours. It’s a huge challenge with budget restraints and No Child Left Behind.
  5. Fish may be brain food for teenage boys

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Other Articles and Papers

  1. This Is Exactly What’s Wrong With This Generation. A very important 15-minute video about the effects of smartphones and social media on young people’s lives. Living Wisdom School gives children an environment where these kinds of problems simply cannot happen.
  2. It’s Official: To Protect Baby’s Brain, Turn Off TV (from Wired online). Quote: “A decade ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that parents limit TV consumption by children under two years of age. The recommendations were based as much on common sense as science, because studies of media consumption and infant development were themselves in their infancy. The research has finally grown up. And though it’s still ongoing, it’s mature enough for the AAP to release a new, science-heavy policy statement on babies watching television, videos or any other passive media form. Their verdict: It’s not good, and probably bad.”
  3. The Human Brain: Wired for Values? This article was published as a sidebar to an article in Mothering magazine that strongly praised Living Wisdom School.
  4. Lack of Playtime Killing Joy of Learning
  5. Smart and Good High Schools. A “Report to the Nation” from the State University of New York)
  6. The Heart in Holistic Education. (PDF) Quotes: Educational programs based on new scientific discoveries about the heart lead to improved emotional stability, cognitive functioning, and academic performance.
  7. After Abuse, Changes In the Brain. Quotes: Affectionate mothering alters the expression of genes in animals, allowing them to dampen their physiological response to stress. These biological buffers are then passed on to the next generation. [There is] direct evidence that the same system is at work in humans.
  8. Loneliness Spreads Like a Virus. (At Living Wisdom School, feelings of connectedness and joy spread like a virus.)
  9. Positive Action Program. (The program focuses on helping students be aware of which behaviors are positive and will increase their happiness in the long term.)
  10. National education standards can end up hurting students
  11. Self-Control Is Contagious
  12. Nature Makes Us More Caring
  13. College prep math failure full study. (PDF) Quotes: This study indicates that artificially pushing children beyond their current capability is counter-productive.
  14. Studies Reveal Why Kids Get Bullied and Rejected. (The researchers’ recommendations for teaching children social skills uncannily reflect how LWS teachers practice conflict resolution during playground time.
  15. Mothering magazine praises Living Wisdom School.
  16. Education in the Age of Energy. Human awareness is becoming less materialistic and more energy-aware. How will schools adapt? Living Wisdom leads the way.
  17. National education standards can end up hurting students
  18. Nature Makes Us More Caring, Study Says
  19. When Friends Make You Poorer. “Students tend to gravitate to a major chosen by more of their peers. And the students whose choice was driven by their peers were then more likely to end up in lower-paying jobs that they didn’t like.”
  20. Kids Get Worst SAT Scores in a Decade
  21. APA review confirms link between playing violent video games and aggression
  22. Exposure to TV violence related to irregular attention and brain structure
  23. School Starting Age: The Evidence.

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Mothering Magazine Praises Living Wisdom School

School Shooters: The Message They Bring

by George Beinhorn

(This article appeared in Mothering magazine, Nov./Dec. 2001, published as “School Shooters: The Importance of Teaching Values”)

I arrived at San Manuel High School on a spring morning in 1958 to a scene of tragedy. Girls were crying; boys were talking in small groups. A beautiful, quiet Mexican-American girl had just been shot by a student who’d been playing with a rifle in his car when the gun accidentally discharged.

The sadness of the event was beyond measure. The boyfriend’s struggle to hold back tears at the girl’s funeral was heart-rending, as was his face-to-face forgiveness of the boy who’d killed her. For weeks, our stomachs were hollow with “whys?” The girl’s quiet sweetness lingered under an uncertain heaven.

Mothering magazine article title page

As I look back 43 years later, what strikes me is that nothing in our education had even remotely prepared us to deal with the event. Our teachers not only didn’t discuss it with us, but they appeared to be entirely uninterested in the questions it posed regarding the ultimate meaning of life. But for me, these questions seemed vital. Returning to the normal routine of English, math, history, and P.E., I secretly questioned the worth of an education that proved so flimsy when life intruded violently upon our hearts.

Return to 1999. A cartoon shows two worried adults talking outside Columbine High. One says, “Why didn’t God prevent this?” The other says, “Maybe He would have, but they wouldn’t let him into high school.”

Sir Kenneth Clark, the late cultural historian and author of the book and film, Civilisation, pointed out that the source of moral values in all societies has always been religion. Yet nowadays, it seems barely acceptable to talk about values in our public schools, far less spirituality, lest we trample private sensibilities. But if mass murder committed by school children isn’t about values and questions of ultimate meaning–what is?

In the wake of Littleton, no philosopher, no clergyperson, no senator, no academic or talk-show host came even remotely close to offering credible suggestions for “dealing with teenage violence,” much less understanding it. We seem to be no further down the road than we were 40 years ago.

And yet, values play a central role in every choice we make. We choose an ice cream flavor based on our personal scale of values: chocolate is a 10; strawberry perhaps a 4. And if our values are really and truly skewed, we may attempt to resolve our frustrations by picking up a gun and sending bullets ripping through the flesh of our classmates, convinced that human life matters less than the promise of satisfying some blinding, twisted personal need.

Whose Values?

If values are this important, surely we owe it to our children to teach them to make expansive, happy choices, even as “primitive” cultures have always done.

The standard reply–frequently offered in smug, bellicose tones–is: “You’re gonna teach my kid values? First you better tell me whose values you’re gonna teach!” As if there were Black, Hawaiian, Serbian, Gay, Episcopalian, or Lower Slobovian values. There aren’t. Certainly, every culture has its teaching stories and holy scriptures, but the themes of morality are the same everywhere: honesty, love, courage, honor, fortitude, and kindness.

That’s because values are based on the way we’re wired. Whether our skins are black, brown, white or yellow, and whether our temples have crosses, stars, or purple onions on them, we’ve all been given the same five instruments through which we can interact with the world: our body, feelings, will, mind, and soul. These instruments don’t have race, gender, politics, or religion attached to them, and they’re standard equipment worldwide. Whether we experience health or sickness, love or hatred, strength or weakness, wisdom or ignorance, joy or sorrow depends entirely on whether we apply these common, ordinary human tools expansively or contractively.

We are nourished–or poisoned–by the thoughts, feelings, and volitions that we allow to flow through us. This is no longer a debatable point of religious dogma, but hard science. We now know that our feelings and thoughts positively or negatively affect every cell of our bodies, thanks to chemicals known as neuropeptides, which their discoverer, Candace Pert, Ph.D., described in her best-selling book Molecules of Emotion.

Values and Academic Success

Isn’t it a little strange that we don’t bother to teach children how they can reap the fruits of using their bodies, hearts, and wills wisely–fruits of health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy? And that we fill their time at school instead by cramming their heads with facts?

Why have we failed so utterly to pass along the gathered wisdom of our common human heritage, in a manner that inspires children with the joyful possibilities of life and a sense of their intrinsic worth? Why? Because we’d just as soon avoid stepping on each other’s toes. Welcome to the culture of 10,000 special interests. But how does it conceivably contradict the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, or the Bhagavad Gita to teach kids “Thou shalt not kill” in ways that permit the lesson to enter deeply into their hearts, and not merely their minds?

During the 1980s, I interviewed the teachers at a small private school near Nevada City, California, where values were strongly emphasized. Values were particularly stressed at Living Wisdom School during the “feeling years” from age 6 to 12. The teachers told me this was because values are more a question of the heart than of the mind. Even as presumably rational adults, we tend to decide whether something is right or wrong, not by actually thinking through the issues, but by feeling their rightness or wrongness.

Several years ago, PBS aired a series of documentary films on public schools where values were stressed. At one school, the teachers involved the children in model civic government. At another, the kids created their own small businesses, learning that honesty, perseverance, and kindness pay off with financial rewards. The successes were inspiring, but the approaches seemed one-sided. For one thing, no mention was made of the children who weren’t motivated by civic participation or monetary gain. What about the kids whose primary leaning was artistic, athletic, scientific, or mechanical? Surely, they could be taught values, too. (Possibly, a small fraction of them are even now wearing trench coats.)

At Living Wisdom School, the staff taught values without resorting to sectarian dogma or secular gimmickry. Moral lessons were drawn very simply from daily life. For example, a spring storm dropped a foot of snow in the schoolyard, and during recess, the children started a snowball fight in which some of the younger children were hurt and began crying. Later, they got together and built a snowman. On returning to the classroom, the teachers asked them: “How did you enjoy the snowball fight?”

“I didn’t like it. I got hit by a snowball, and I cried.”

“Yeah, and I felt bad watching the little kids cry.”

The teachers then asked how the children had enjoyed building a snowman together.

“Oh, that was fun!”

“Yeah, we worked together and nobody got hurt. We all laughed and had a good time!”

I ask you. How does it contradict Christian, Black, Islamic, or Eskimo values to help children become more acutely aware of the contrast between the way kind and hurtful actions feel? When children harm others, their hearts feel constricted, even as our adult hearts do. And when they perform loving or creative actions, they feel empowered, and their hearts expand with happiness.

I find it effortless to imagine the same lessons being taught in Christian, Black, Buddhist, or Jewish schools. And if the teacher wants to emphasize that Jesus, Buddha, Moses, or the Prophet expressed those same lessons using inspiringly beautiful words a long time ago, so much the better for the child. How much more alive and loving would Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammed become to the children, and how much would it strengthen those lessons–and their faith–to have their own experiences validated in such memorable and uplifting terms.

Is it such a great leap from kindness learned in a snowball fight, to kindness learned through the scriptures?

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

How beautiful, because how true. The scriptures are a priceless catalog of values that work. Which is to say, they simply remind us of what our hearts tell us about the path to true fulfillment.

Why do we labor so hard to fill children’s brains, but seldom bother to educate their hearts? Because, among our other concerns, we fear that if we take time to teach values, we’ll jeopardize their chances of earning a good living later on in life. But surely it’s time we got real. Surely we’ve received a loud and clear wake-up call from Paducah, Jonesboro, Springfield, Littleton, Conyers, Santee, and El Cajon. Shouldn’t we instead consider the risks involved in not teaching values? Will children who are deprived of all sense of life’s joyous possibilities be more likely to want to earn a good living, or will they feel profoundly betrayed and lash out in rebellious anger? The answer, surely, is no longer in doubt.

For 30 years, the children at Living Wisdom Schoolhave scored consistently above the national average on standardized tests of academic achievement. The teachers say this is because of, and not despite, their values-weighted education. “Children who learn to love,” they told me, “love learning.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the school calls its method “Education for Life,” after the title of a book by J. Donald Walters.

A child whose heart has been guided into sensitive awareness of how much better it feels to love than to hate is less likely to mow down his classmates in a doomed attempt to alleviate feelings of alienation, hopelessness, and terminal boredom. Values have the power to change hearts and save lives.

What children don’t need in this fact-mongering age of materialistic heartlessness is our hand-wringing, our political dithering, our finger-pointing, and our talk-show blathering, far less our special pleading based on religion and ethnicity. Children need our love, our wisdom, and our energetic, committed care. It might take generations to swing the weight of the educational establishment around. But with creativity, energy, and cooperation, we can begin to save our children right now–town by town,block by block, home by home.

George Beinhorn is a writer and editor in Mountain View, California. He is the author of the book Fitness Intuition. The complete book, Education for Life, is now available for reading or printing online.

Read the sidebar that accompanied this article as published in Mothering: “The Human Brain: Wired for Values?

Why educating children’s hearts improves their academic results

Does working with children’s feelings improve their academic performance?

Research supports a core tenet of Living Wisdom School – that “children who learn to love, love learning.”

Scientists at the Institute of HeartMath (IHM) in Boulder Creek, California are studying the effects of positive feelings such as love, compassion, and kindness on our bodies and brains. Their findings suggest that mental performance improves in the presence of positive feelings.

Here are some of the IHM findings:

  • Deliberately focusing attention in the heart while cultivating feelings of love, compassion, etc., leads to clearer thinking, calmer emotions, and improved physical performance and health.
  • Positive feelings quiet the mind, generate a sense of “self-security, peace and love,” and increase the frequency of reported feelings of “connectedness to God.”
  • Negative emotions such as anger, fear, and hatred make the heart change speeds erratically. The heartbeat literally speeds up and slows down chaotically between beats, like the random, jerky motion of a car that’s running out of gas. In the figure below, the charts on the left show graphs of heart rate variability during positive, negative, and neutral emotions. The figures on the right show the heart’s electrical power output (PSD: power spectral density). Note that the heart’s power output is approximately 380 percent higher during feelings of appreciation than during simple relaxation.

Chart showing heart rate variability in positive and negative emotions (courtesy of Heartmath Institute)

  • The heart and brain communicate continually through the nervous system; thus, the heart’s powerful positive or negative, harmonizing or disruptive messages are carried instantly to the brain, where they enhance or interfere with our ability to focus and remain cool. (The heart is the body’s most powerful oscillator, emitting electrical signals roughly 60 times stronger than those generated by the brain.)

To summarize: positive, harmonious feelings enhance mental focus, calmness, health, performance, and the frequency of spiritual feelings. They increase relaxation, alpha-wave output in the brain (associated with a calm, meditative state), and synchronize heart-rhythm patterns, respiratory rhythms, and blood pressure oscillations.

Whether our goal is peak performance in the classroom, in sports, or at work, it’s clear that cultivating positive feelings facilitates success.

Feeling and Reason: Opposites No Longer

Additional evidence suggests that feeling and reason work together, and that one without the other isn’t trustworthy.

Roughly 70 years ago, researchers first became aware that the prefrontal cortex of the brain is the area where important human qualities are localized, such as concentration positive attitudes, optimism, and the ability to form goals and persevere in attaining them.

The prefrontal cortex is also the “control center” where raw emotions are restrained and modulated. In a number of spiritual paths, the primary meditative practices include holding attention gently in the prefrontal cortex, at the point between the eyebrows, a technique these traditions claim has a harmonizing effect on the emotions, and calms and focuses the mind.

In his bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence, New York Times science reporter Daniel Goleman writes:

R. Luria, the brilliant Russian neuropsychologist, proposed as long ago as the 1930s that the prefrontal cortex was key for self-control and constraining emotional outbursts; patients who had damage to this area, he noted, were impulsive and prone to flare-ups of fear and anger. And a study of two dozen men and women who had been convicted of impulsive, heat-of-passion murders found, using PET scans for brain imaging, that they had a much lower than usual level of activity in these same sections of the prefrontal cortex. (Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1995. p. 314)

Richard J. Davidson, PhD, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, found that university students who had higher levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex had better grades, a better ability to create and attain goals, and less trouble with depression, drugs, and alcohol.

In 2002, scientists at Duke University used brain scans to verify that raw emotions interfere with concentration. A surprising finding was that mental focus and unrefined emotions exist in a mutually exclusive relationship. That is, not only does raw emotion distort our ability to focus, but deliberately focusing attention is an effective way to calm and “neutralize” disruptive emotions. As the Duke news release stated, “Surprisingly, an increase in one type of function is accompanied by a noticeable decrease in the other.” Athletes know that an effective way to calm the “pre-event jitters” is to focus deliberately on the details of preparation: tying shoelaces, mentally reviewing the race plan, etc.

“We’ve known for a long time that some people are more easily distracted and that emotions can play a big part in this,” said Kevin S. LaBarr, assistant professor at Duke’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and an author of the [above-mentioned] study. “Our study shows that two streams of processing take place in the brain, with attentional tasks and emotions moving in parallel before finally coming together.” The two streams are integrated in a region of the brain called the anterior cingulate, which is located between the right and left halves of the brain’s frontal portion and is involved in a wide range of thought processes and emotional responses.1

People who meditate find that holding attention persistently but with relaxation in the area of the anterior cingulate (at the point between the eyebrows) more or less automatically soothes any troubling emotions they might be feeling, and helps them become more calm, positive, and concentrated.

Raw, reactive emotions have a very different mental and physiological impact than calm, positive feelings. At Living Wisdom School, the children are encouraged to be honest about their feelings, but they are also taught ways to transmute negative feelings into positive ones.

For example, one technique involves deliberately focusing attention as a way to calm upset emotions, which can lead to painful disharmony and poor academic performance. As an aid to concentration, the children learn a simple meditation technique borrowed from yoga, which involves holding attention gently in the prefrontal cortex, as a way to help the mind become relaxed and one-pointed – an asset for children who want to be happy and do well in school.

Reason is Crippled Without Feeling

As noted above, researchers now know that feeling and reason work hand in hand. Contrary to a longstanding prejudice of western culture, which assumes that reason is the superior faculty, researchers have found that reason is deeply compromised unless it is balanced by the feelings of the heart.

Consider…the role of emotions in even the most “rational” decision-making. In work with far-reaching implications for understanding mental life, Dr. Antonio Damasio, a neurologist at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, has made careful studies of just what is impaired in patients with damage to the prefrontal/amygdala circuit [the link between the two most important reasoning and emotional centers in the brain]. Their decision making is terribly flawed – and yet they show no deterioration at all in IQ or any cognitive ability. Despite their intact intelligence, they make disastrous choices in business and their personal lives, and can even obsess endlessly over a decision so simple as when to make an appointment. Dr. Damasio believes their decisions are so bad because they have lost access to their emotional learning…. Cut off from emotional memory in the amygdala, whatever the neocortex mulls over no longer triggers the emotional reactions that have been associated with it in the past – everything takes on a gray neutrality…. Evidence like this leads Dr. Damasio to the counter-intuitive position that feelings are typically indispensable for rational decisions; they point us in the proper direction, where dry logic can then be of best use.2

Positive Feelings and Classroom Success

How closely do positive feelings correlate with academic performance? Public school students who were taught HeartMath methods for harmonizing the heart’s feelings experienced uniform improvement in their academic performance. (These studies are summarized on the HeartMath website [], in an article by Rollin McCraty, PhD, The Scientific Role of the Heart in Learning and Performance.At the conclusion of a study of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders in Miami, Florida, the researchers reported:

Results showed that students who learned and practiced the [heart-harmonizing methods] exhibited significant improvements in nearly all areas of psychosocial functioning assessed, including stress and anger management, self-reliance, risky behavior, work management and focus, and relationships with teachers, family and peers …. Further, a follow-up analysis indicated that many of these improvements were sustained over the following six months.4

In summary, the Heartmath research suggests that teaching students how to cultivate positive feelings increases their nervous system harmony, thereby improving emotional stability, cognitive functioning, and academic performance.

In a New York Times op-ed article, columnist David Brooks remarks:

It’s crazy to have educational policies that, in effect, chop up children’s brains into the rational cortex, which the government ministers to in schools, and the emotional limbic system, which the government ignores. In nature there is no neat division. Emotional engagement is the essence of information processing and learning.5

The results of these studies come as no surprise to the teachers at Living Wisdom School, where students have learned techniques for harmonizing the heart for more than 30 years. Asked whether the emphasis on developing children’s feelings detracts from their academic performance, school director Helen Purcell points to the results: the students score consistently above average on standardized tests of academic achievement.

“Some parents say, ‘I’m going to let my child attend this magical school, and after three years I’ll pull him out and put him in a real school,’” Helen says. “But I tell them, ‘The children who’ve gone all the way through Living Wisdom School have done very well – not just in public high schools but in highly rated college prep schools. And they thrive not only academically, but personally as well.’”

1 Duke University press release, August 19, 2002

2 Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1997. pp. 27-28.


4 McCraty R, Atkinson M, Tomasino D, Goelitz J, Mayrovitz HN. The impact of an emotional self-management skills course on psychosocial functioning and autonomic recovery to stress in middle school children. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science 1999;34(4):246-268.