Head & Heart Ch. 2: The Philosophy of Living Wisdom School

What are your hopes and dreams for your child? Not just for kindergarten, but for the whole of his or her life?

Financial security? A good job? A nice home?

Material goals are necessary and worthwhile. But many intangibles are surely also worth considering, such as happiness, character, and peace of mind.

We all want our children to acquire positive values and ideals, as well as a deep understanding of the meaning of life.

What role will your child’s school play in helping him or her to become an inwardly strong and secure person?

Education Reflects Parents’ Goals

No influence outside the home has a greater impact than the child’s school. Yet schools today pay little attention to developing children’s values. But values are the road map that helps children understand where true happiness lies.

And what if your dreams for your child extend beyond material fulfillment? Will educating your child for a good job be enough?

Erica works with her second-graders.
Erica works with her second-graders.

Intellectual training is essential; it’s difficult to succeed in our culture without it. But life teaches us that success and happiness depend to a great extent on human skills such as knowing how to get along with others, how to persevere in achieving goals, how to focus our attention, how to cooperate, and how to be a loyal friend.

At Living Wisdom School, we feel that children should benefit from the storehouse of wisdom that humanity has gathered through the ages concerning the best ways to achieve a happy, fulfilled life. We feel it is our God-given duty to teach children these essential life skills, starting at a young age. An education that gives children the tools they need to achieve both internal and external success is a useful education, indeed!

For more than forty years, we have seen that children who are taught how to be happy are more likely to achieve academic success as well.

At LWS, children learn the life skills they need to be balanced, mature, effective, happy, and harmonious human beings. We call this art “Education for Life,” because we continually relate the children’s classroom lessons to life as a whole. At LWS, we study not only the great things that people have done, but the human qualities that enabled them to attain those achievements.

Secrets of Success

Before we can be happy and inwardly secure, we must know a great deal about the world around us. We need to learn to interact appropriately with the people and circumstances in our lives, because life doesn’t always mold itself to our personal expectations.

We must be ready to adjust to realities outside our own. We must learn practical skills, and we must master academic knowledge. Education for Life helps children prepare for maturity on every level: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

More Than Natural Talent

At Living Wisdom School, we guide children in developing the five “tools of maturity”: body, feelings, will, mind, and soul. With health and high energy, expansive feelings, dynamic will, and mental clarity, each child can experience a gradual increase of awareness that provides them with a solid inner sense of meaning and joy.

We gauge our students’ success not only by their academic results but by the quality of each child’s attitudes, effort, and interactions with others. In an Education for Life, the children practice dealing successfully with whatever their lives may bring them.

True Teaching is Individual

Children reveal a broader range of individual traits than adults, who may have learned to mask their individuality in order to fit in. Rather than force the child to conform to strictly standardized learning methods, we feel it makes better sense to discover the child’s essential strengths and encourage them. When children’s individual strengths are continually and consistently encouraged and reinforced, they develop self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning.

Our classes are kept small, so that the teachers can work closely with each child. The teachers are trained to assess each child’s physical, mental, and emotional development and guide the child accordingly. The teachers relate to the children much as their parents do, from the perspective of the child’s ever-changing needs. We respect and encourage individuality.

Joy in the Classroom

If teachers can awaken a student’s sense of wonder, it adds tremendously to their potential for academic success.
When teachers can awaken a sense of wonder, it adds tremendously to the student’s potential for academic success.

We feel that we have a responsibility to help the early years of each child’s life be a joyful experience, while laying the foundation for a happy adulthood.

In a Living Wisdom classroom, the atmosphere is relaxed and family-like, while at the same time there is order, discipline, and a clear sense that the teacher is in charge. Living Wisdom School teachers win the children’s respect by skillfully guiding their enthusiasm and energy into the tasks at hand. The children learn that they are expected to behave with consideration and respect, and that they can approach the teacher for individual guidance.

Creating a positive learning environment isn’t, by itself, sufficient to transform the children into angels. At LWS, the same issues, interactions, and challenging transitions occur that we would expect to see in any classroom. What’s different is that the children are given opportunities to learn effective, enlightened ways of dealing with situations as they arise.

The Inner Life

At Living Wisdom School, the children’s natural spirituality is acknowledged and encouraged. Each classroom has a universal altar, with symbols from the world’s religions. The classroom may be decorated with objects that the children consider personally sacred and spiritually meaningful.

image005At Living Wisdom School, spirituality isn’t defined as a particular dogma or creed. Thus, it isn’t “religious instruction” in the traditional sense. Rather, the focus is on the child’s personal, direct experience of universal spiritual truths such as kindness, compassion, empathy, loyalty, honesty, and courage. The key is Self-realization – the individual realization that our happiness increases as we expand our awareness to embrace ever-broader realities.

Every morning, and occasionally during the day, we set aside time for chanting, singing, quiet meditation, affirmations, prayer, yoga postures, and other uplifting activities. Through these forms of worship, the children experience for themselves what it feels like to be in harmony with a higher level of consciousness.

When it’s appropriate, we hold discussions and answer the children’s questions about spiritual truths. The children discover that expansive feelings, thoughts, and actions increase their own sense of well-being, whereas contractive feelings and actions take that happiness away. “Right and wrong” thus become first-hand experiences of the consequences of personal behaviors, rather than a fixed set of abstract rules.

The children become deeply interested in changing their behavior when they realize that it is an effective way to increase their own inner level of joy. At LWS, the children talk as readily and naturally about God, angels, saints, and the spiritual side of life as other children talk about sports or TV.

The Importance of Good Teachers

“Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying!” This adage is especially true when it comes to selecting teachers. Living examples can inspire children much more effectively than rules. A teacher who deeply understands his or her subject is better able to awaken a similar love and commitment in the children. Our school is built around our teachers’ open-hearted sensitivity to the children in their charge. It is essential, therefore, that in their person lives, the teachers express the positive attitudes, spiritual and moral values, and maturity that we seek to impart to the children.

Our teachers participate in Education for Life as a lifelong process. Each teacher is deeply involved in personal development, and the teachers receive ongoing support and training to stay fresh, enthusiastic, and expansive.

An education that ignores individual differences and tries to run children through an assembly line is bound to produce shoddy results. An education that is deep, enduring, and effective must be highly individualized.

image006In the education of our children, we need to help them develop their characters and their minds, but we must also help them prepare for living successfully in this world. We don’t want them to go out into society and find themselves incapable of relating to what’s going on. They need to have the facts that are a part of our modern upbringing. But they don’t need to have those facts taught to them in such a way as to leave them believing that there’s no value in anything.

There is a great deal of emphasis on the wrong things today. The basis of spiritual education is to prepare them for society in a way that will help them remain idealistic.

Suppose you have children who have learned how to love everyone, who have learned the goodness of life. When they go out into the world they may face hatred, criminal activity, and many other negative things. Will they be prepared?

This is one of the primary concerns people have with spiritual education. But the answer is seen in those who live with love. It isn’t as if they become stupid or lose the ability to relate to the world as it is. In fact, the broadest understanding is centered in love; the narrowest understanding is centered in hatred.

If you’re on the lowest level, you can relate only to the lowest level; if you’re on the highest level, you can relate to all levels. To see that this is true, we can study examples of people who live that way and who are able to handle life’s many challenges far, far better. We’ve all observed that people who are complete as human beings are generally more successful. A spiritual education can actually guarantee greater success, even in the way worldly people define it.

A good example was Paramhansa Yogananda’s most advanced disciple, Rajarsi Janakananda (James J. Lynn). He was the chairman of several large companies and owned several others. He had the clarity, calmness, and centeredness to be able to pull back from the stress and excitement of his outward role and see the way to resolve difficult issues. The secret of his success was the fact that his consciousness was rooted in God, and in the desire for right action.

Children are born with different inclinations, with different strengths, weaknesses, and educational needs. One of the unfortunate aspects of modern education is the assembly-line approach to teaching, where the same information is more or less dumped out to everyone. There isn’t any philosophy; it is just information. Small classes, where the teacher can get to know each child personally, are essential for giving individual attention and for discovering what the natural level of understanding is for each child.

Math teaching aide Richard Fouquet, a retired publisher and tech-industry executive, helps middle-school students.
Math teaching aide Richard Fouquet, a retired publisher and tech-industry executive, helps middle-school students.

By teaching children kindness, concentration, will power, strength of character, truthfulness, and other higher qualities, life is made richer. These are deeply important to the development of the human being, but such things are not taught today in public education. The ultimate purpose of life is not simply to get a job. So many people live this way and then die, not of old age but of deep disappointment with the life they have led. If you don’t know how to be truly happy, money won’t buy it for you.

Spiritual education is training people for life. How many people get married, and then get divorced because they don’t know how to get along with their spouse? They’re not educated for that role, nor for an awareness of the practical values that enable us to be successful in every aspect of our lives.

Education, rightly understood, is expansion of awareness. It is preparation for that process of real learning which takes place after we leave school, when we are in the constant struggle, the battlefield of life. By giving children the tools and understanding to make the right choices in life, we can lead them to lasting happiness. Then they will be able to achieve the kind of spiritual victories that are the true meaning of success.