Ch. 2: Grades Tell the Story

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

Presentation High (San Jose)4.7
Mountain View High4.5
Los Altos High4.5
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 High4.0
Menlo College Prep (Menlo Park)4.0
Mid-Peninsula High (Menlo Park)4.0
Palo Alto High4.0
Harker School (San Jose)3.9
Woodside Priory School, Bowdoin College3.825
Menlo College Prep3.706
San Lorenzo High3.7
Gunn High (Palo Alto)3.6
Gunn High, Cornell University3.5
Summit Prep (Redwood City)3.5
Bay High School (San Francisco)3.23
Mid-Peninsula High (Menlo Park)2.7


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

Dominican University

Dublin University, Ireland

Georgetown University

Humboldt State University

London College, UK

Loyola Marymount University

New York University

Oberlin College

University of Washington (Ross School of Business

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



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


LWS graduates’ college majors:




Computer Science

Culinary Arts






Library Science












Ch. 1: Introduction

For more than forty-five years, the Living Wisdom Schools have pioneered a radical new approach to educating young children—an approach that empowers them to be happy while excelling in school and life.

In education today, there’s a quiet but powerful groundswell—a grassroots rebellion against the government-mandated “No Child Left Behind” and Core Curriculum initiatives that have hamstrung teachers, alienated students, and distorted the true purpose of education by preventing children from receiving the best possible education and experience of school.

The Education for Life philosophy can be simply stated:

At school, the factor that most assuredly
promotes deep, engaged, lasting learning
is happiness.

Many parents who inquire about the Living Wisdom Schools are dumbfounded when they hear the teachers confidently proclaim that a happy, arts-enriched, highly individualized curriculum is more efficient than the STEM-loaded curricula offered by other schools.

They are nonplussed by the suggestion that the LWS curriculum gives children a deeper education, because the teachers are encouraged to teach principles and review the content until each student can grasp the concepts in depth before moving on, instead of skimming the surface of the subject matter in an ill-considered rush to demonstrate good test scores.

Many parents simply don’t believe that what’s offered at LWS can possibly be valid, since everybody else is doing it differently.

And yet, a deeper look at those schools with more “traditional” curricula reveals troubling flaws.

The shortcomings were eloquently outlined by Sir Ken Robinson, an award-winning international educational consultant whose TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” is the most-watched in TED’s history, having been viewed more than 40 million times by 320 million people in 160 countries.

Robinson shares his thoughts on the needed changes in education today:

“In place of curiosity, what we have is a culture of compliance. Our children and teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite the power of imagination and curiosity…. Human life is inherently creative. It’s why we all have different résumés. We create our lives, and we can recreate them as we go through them. It’s the common currency of being a human being. It’s why human culture is so interesting and diverse and dynamic….

“We all create our own lives through this restless process of imagining alternatives and possibilities, and one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop these powers of creativity. Instead, what we have is a culture of standardization.

“Now, it doesn’t have to be that way…. Finland regularly comes out on top in math, science and reading. Now, we only know that’s what they do well at, because that’s all that’s being tested. That’s one of the problems of the test. They don’t look for other things that matter just as much. The thing about [the] work in Finland is this: they don’t obsess about those disciplines. They have a very broad approach to education, which includes humanities, physical education, the arts.

“Second, there is no standardized testing in Finland. I mean, there’s a bit, but it’s not what gets people up in the morning, what keeps them at their desks.

“The third thing—and I was at a meeting recently with some people from Finland, actual Finnish people, and somebody from the American system was saying to the people in Finland, ‘What do you do about the drop-out rate in Finland?’

“And they all looked a bit bemused, and said, ‘Well, we don’t have one. Why would you drop out? If people are in trouble, we get to them quite quickly and we help and support them.’

“Now people always say, ‘Well, you know, you can’t compare Finland to America.’ No. I think there’s a population of around five million in Finland. But you can compare it to a state in America. Many states in America have fewer people in them than that….

“But what all the high-performing systems in the world do is currently what is not evident, sadly, across the systems in America—I mean, as a whole. One is this: they individualize teaching and learning. They recognize that it’s students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity, their individuality, and their creativity. That’s how you get them to learn.

“The second is that they attribute a very high status to the teaching profession. They recognize that you can’t improve education if you don’t pick great people to teach and keep giving them constant support and professional development. Investing in professional development is not a cost. It’s an investment, and every other country that’s succeeding well knows that…. They know that to be the case.

“And the third is, they devolve responsibility to the school level for getting the job done. You see, there’s a big difference here between going into a mode of command and control in education—that’s what happens in some systems. Central or state governments decide they know best and they’re going to tell you what to do. The trouble is that education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops
working. You have to put it back to the people….

“Many of the current policies are based on mechanistic conceptions of education. It’s like education is an industrial process that can be improved just by having better data, and somewhere in the back of the minds of some policy makers is this idea that if we fine-tune it well enough, if we just get it right, it will all hum along perfectly into the future. It won’t, and it never did.

“The point is that education is not a mechanical system. It’s a human system….

“So I think we have to embrace a different metaphor. We have to recognize that it’s a human system, and there are conditions under which people thrive, and conditions under which they don’t. We are after all organic creatures, and the culture of the school is absolutely essential.”

From Sir Ken Robinson’s talk, “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley” (2013), used with permission from TED. To watch the full talk, visit (Alternatively, you can watch three talks by Robinson, including this one, at:

Children who are subjected to a one-sided academically over-loaded curriculum during the extremely important Feeling Years from roughly age 6 to 12 are at risk not only of receiving a relatively superficial education; they end up less well prepared mentally and emotionally to succeed in high school and college. Perhaps most troubling, they are less likely to acquire important personal qualities that are common among successful people.

One prospective parent, during a visit to LWS, protested, “But these kids can’t be learning—they’re too happy!”

Yet groundbreaking research has confirmed beyond any possibility of doubt that happiness and school success are intimately connected.

What are some of the qualities that we, as parents and teachers, should encourage in young children to prepare them for success in high school, college, and life?

Aside from the knowledge and skills required to succeed in a given profession, surely it’s fair to suggest that there also needs to be a deep wanting to do good and wonderful things.

There has to be a confident self-knowledge, a positive expectation, and an ability to work well with others. And these qualities must be deliberately nurtured in the child. They cannot be imposed from without; nor will they magically appear as a side-effect of good grades and test scores.

The time in a child’s life when these qualities become the natural developmental focus, and when they most urgently need to be nurtured and refined, is during the “Feeling Years” from approximately age 6 to 12.

These personal qualities which are highly predictive of success cannot be nurtured by merely trying to motivate the children to get good grades. Any motivation that grades and test scores provide will be superficial, and will not touch their hearts. Worse, it may encourage a dependence on external recognition that can never be fully satisfied—after one test, there will always be another.

Success and happiness, as will become clear in the chapters that follow, come most reliably to those who are focused enthusiastically on the process: who are not postponing their happiness until some vaguely imagined future, but are able to rejoice in the expansion of their powers today.

Three Important TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson

We encourage parents considering Living Wisdom School to watch the following talks by educator Sir Ken Robinson, in which he eloquently and humorously describes the central problems with education today and proposes solutions that have been implemented with stunning success for more than forty years in the Living Wisdom Schools.

Sir Ken Robinson works with governments, education systems, international agencies, global corporations and some of the world’s leading cultural organizations to unlock the creative energy of people and organizations. He has led national and international projects on creative and cultural education in the UK, Europe, Asia and the United States. Sir Ken Robinson is the most watched speaker in TED’s history. His 2006 talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (watch below) has been viewed online over 40 million times and seen by an estimated 350 million people in 160 countries.

He has been named as one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s ‘Principal Voices’. He was acclaimed by Fast Company magazine as one of “the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation” and was ranked in the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top business thinkers.  In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.

His book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (Penguin/Viking, 2009) is a New York Times bestseller. It has been translated into 23 languages and has sold over a million copies worldwide. His latest book, Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education (Viking, 2015), tackles the critical issue of how to transform the world’s troubled educational systems, and is now available in 15 languages.

Sir Ken was born in Liverpool, UK. He is married to Therese (Lady) Robinson. They have two children, James and Kate, and now live in Los Angeles, California.

Do Schools Kill Creativity?


Bring On the Learning Revolution


How to Escape Education’s Death Valley