In the News…Sept 20, 2011

Santiago: The youth of Chile are in uproar. Their leader is a 23 year old named Camila Valeijo who is shaking the country, organizing protests and demanding corrupt and/or inept political leaders to step down. She is only the second woman ever to lead the University of Chile’s student union in 105 years (!).

Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo sits among a peace sign created from empty teargas canisters used by police against protesters.

(Photograph: Roberto Candia/AP)

The protesters’ top target is the unpopular President of Chile, Sebastien Pinera. Students are calling for broad education reforms, more healthcare spending, and the need to address unemployment. These initiatives are amazing when you consider that Chile’s military dictatorship was toppled only 21 years ago, in 1990. Here’s a look at the protests in photos.

When I feel let down with the general apathy of America’s youth, I am rejuvenated to discover that the youth around the world are taking their future into their own hands. Rather than identifying with a generation on a national level, we should consider ourselves members of this global generation.  I am relieved to know that this fire still exists, burning deep within to rebel against the institutions that kept us seemingly safeguarded when we were small, and then we slowly realize that these same structures are often a mess of greed and shortsightedness.

You have as much power as you take. Strangely, the more you push, the louder you squawk, the more people take your demands seriously. The youth have the energy, the hope, and the unabashed courage to push national leaders to do better. It only takes a few that are crazy enough to go for it.

I can only smile sardonically at the perpetual paradox of student protests. Do we not learn in kindergarten to share with others, to have patience and a loving heart? Why do we demand more from six-year-olds than we do from our chief ministers? When we reach secondary school, we take history, science, philosophy and literature classes that feature the works of the few people who questioned the status quo. Then why are students who are taking the initiative of change rewarded with tear gas and arrest? I can only hope that history will remember these bold youth more fondly than will their scars and scratches from the streets.



In the News… August 8, 2011

NY: From Virginia Heffernan, an Education update for the digital age. Why do students write better researched and more thoughtful web content than schoolwork for their teachers?

We need curriculum that is full of collaborative work rather than requiring isolating and uninspiring essays.  Amen to that, and I’m an English major. Reading this op-ed made me really excited, as it means that education reform is slowly creeping into social consciousness. Let’s get out of the 19th century for goodness’ sake.

Not the jobs we want

Russia: Putin called the US out, saying that we are living beyond our means. You think?  I was however somewhat shocked to read this kind of blatant bashing. Then I realized that yes, this is our new normal.  Many people in the world think this. You can bet that you definitely won’t hear about this speech on CNN.

“They are living beyond their means and shifting…their problems to the world economy,” Putin told the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi…”They are living like parasites off the global economy and their monopoly of the dollar.” 

For a good time: watch Vladimir sing “Blueberry Hill” to rich celebrities.

Good Vibrations

As we have discussed, values cannot be taught, only nurtured. Children need teachers who are strong, loving, and patient. Children are sponges. They will absorb not just our language and physical attributes but our emotional vibrations that we send out to them. Our inner insight speaks to inner insight of the child. Every thought and emotion creates a vibration, either negative or positive.  Emotional vibrations are very powerful. Positive vibrations have the power to cure cancer. Nothing is impossible.

Here is a famous Indian illustration of this idea:

A mother approaches an Indian spiritual master, in need of help. “My son eats sweets indiscriminately. Can you advise him to not eat so many sweets?” The spiritual master said, “Come back in a week and I will help you.” The mother came back a week later, but the spiritual master said, “please, come back in a week and I will help you.” The mother huffed but went away. A week later the mother came back, and the spiritual master again told her to come back in a week. Very frustrated by this point, a week later the mother brought her son to the spiritual master. The spiritual master talked gently to the boy, telling him that he should eat sweets moderately, only every few days.  The mother asked angrily, “Why did you wait so long to tell him?” The spiritual master replied, “I myself like sweets very much. I set out to conquer the desire in me.  Children do not communicate by words alone.”

So you can see that teachers who teach with angry or frustrated hearts make their classrooms angry and frustrated too. Hopefully we have all experienced the being in a classroom that is filled with joy because the teacher is joyful and loving. At the Society’s school, if a teacher is emotionally unwell then they do not come to school that day.  Mental health days, institutionalized. Neato!

Dan, who is a professor in special education, brought up the idea of not just negative and positive vibrations but neutral vibrations too. Neutral vibrations come from things like computers, instruments, TV, and pets.  Autistic children are often drawn to machines. Autistic children like spending time with neutral vibrations because they are patient and comfortingly predictable to the child. Machines do not try and tell the child to go to bed, to eat or to perform certain social behaviors differently. Although they love their child, parents can get caught in a vicious cycle of sending the child negative vibrations, out of frustration, sadness, impatience, etc. How do we get autistic children to see both machines and humans positively? Integrative education would say that the parent and child, through very different techniques, need to develop their emotional body.  In the US, a 2009 study put the rate of autism in children at 1 in 100 children. Practices like this are critical to refining and reforming our curriculum and training in special education.

Our goal should be to send out positive vibrations to all with whom we interact. This of course extends to not just children but every living thing we come into contact with.

Leave No Body Behind

Integral Education

Integral education is the philosophy and practice of teaching children holistically. It was pioneered by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The Mother took Sri Aurobindo’s philosophies and brilliantly turned them into an educational structure and curriculum. This curriculum is what is used at the Sri Aurobindo Society International Center of Education.

 We received a presentation about integral education from Shivakumar, the society’s master logistician and society director Vijaybai’s right hand person.

Shivakumar pointing The Way

This post is a long one, but please read it, as these ideas have deeply inspired me. This philosophy would revolutionize the way we teach our children, and thus the way we develop our citizens who will shape our collective future. There has to be a way to incorporate some of these ideas into the mainstream in a cost-effective way…But in my excitement I’m getting ahead of myself.

Integral education is the idea that children should be taught more than how to read and write, add and subtract. They should be taught to develop their character and their physical selves in conjunction with their intellectual growth.

What follows are the basic principles of integral education.

There are four life stages: birth, growth, decay, and death/return.*  We cannot control when or where we are born or when we die, but we can influence the stages of growth and decay. The moment we stop growing, we begin the stage of decay. All education should be focused on supporting growth.

*Return is included in death because when we are born we have come from somewhere, and we do not leave when we die, only go onto something else.

All beings have an innate knowledge of how to grow and decay. How does a plant know when to sprout? They do not go to school to grow leaves and roots. Plants have an inbuilt knowledge. All a plant needs is a little protection in the early stages of its life. Who taught a fish to swim? Or a peacock to dance when it rains? Don’t you think that the same inbuilt knowledge lies in more developed beings like humans?

Shivakumar’s sketches, with the Mother watching over us in the background

Three Bodies

Now integral education says that we all have not one but three bodies. First, there is the physical body, which needs proper food and exercise to grow. Second, we have a mental body, which needs intellectual stimulation, new facts, skills, ideas, and puzzles to be developed. And thirdly, we have the emotional, or vital, body. What type of food does the emotional body need to grow healthily? A child needs love, security, and to feel valued to have a healthy emotional being. Everything we teach our children st not just be stimulating intellectually, but it must be taught with a loving heart.

The emotional body has certain qualities, or values. These are values like courage, truthfulness, sincerity, love, compassion, etc.  Just like physical exercises, these qualities need to be developed and exercised. By growing the positive qualities in oneself, the negative ones automatically decay. If we foster compassion in a child, aggression naturally fades away. But how do we put emotional education into practice? Emotions cannot be taught, right? Students must be prompted to look within themselves and learn to analyze their emotions through experiences.

For example, two boys who are friends get in a fight on the playground. The teacher is nearby but does not stop them. One of the boys runs up to the teacher crying and complaining. Instead of reprimanding the boy about how it is bad to punch people, the teacher asked,

“How do you feel?”

“Terrible!” he said.

The teacher asked, “Well what do you want to do?”

“He is my best friend, I don’t want to fight! I want to be friends again!”

The teacher pulled two candies out of her pocket and said,

“Here, then go and do it.”

With the teacher’s words of encouragement, that is what the boy did. Reprimand and timeouts only promote the recognition of negative emotions and behavior.  This mentality teaches a child how to listen to his heart.

The emotional body is so important because it has a major influence on the physical and the mental body. We can clearly see that we have three bodies when we have to make tough decisions, and our three bodies compete against each other. Has your physical body ever kept you up late at night because your heart and your logical mind are split in two different places? This is a negative phenomenon to avoid. Ideally, integral education teaches how to develop and control each body will integrating them together as one.

In the West, we value the mind and the physical body, but we do not nurture the emotional body. We do not think about what food it needs beyond some surface pleasures of art, beauty, and music. The emotional body is what should guide us and will push us to treat each other with love and respect. It is called the vital emotional body for a reason, without it we would not be human. In India the mind is considered imperfect, as it has many limitations. It can incorrectly interpret what comes out of the soul, trying to squeeze a vibration through the lens of logic. A complete person is one who has a brilliant mind, a strong body, and a giant heart. This is the aim of integral education.

Practical Implementation

But how do we put these theories into practice? How does a teacher write a curriculum based on this model?

Schools need to be clean and beautiful. Teachers should be strong and loving. Surround students with positive and beautiful sights, sounds, and vibrations, and the child will be nurtured properly. When the child goes into the outside world and encounters negative vibrations, pollution, alcoholism, or racism, the child will recognize these things as negative.

The curriculum is modeled after the stages of a child’s development. This first stage is physical development, years 0-5. When a child is born, the ears are the first thing to open up, then the eyes. Thus, sensory training is done to develop each sense, one by one. The physiology of eating, sleeping and going to the toilet also must be taught. Some aspects of the emotional body are taught, but they are still growing.  Children at this stage are filled with positive vibrations; they love to laugh, be loud, and they can respond very well emotionally to stories.

The second stage takes place typically between the ages of 7 and 14, and is focused on emotional development. Children must continue to be fed with positive emotions. Logic does not work, nor rational thoughts. Children at this age period are rebellious. If you tell them not to do something they will do it. Thus, teaching should be done through an emotional lens. Bullying is wrong because it makes one feel bad. Lying is bad because it hurts oneself. Teachers should ask students “how do you feel?” Values cannot be taught, only nurtured and modeled.

Onwards, more priority can be given to the the intellectual body, in balance with physical activity and emotional development. Students should be given the knowledge that they can handle. Teaching about WWII or the current slave trade should be done only if the child can handle it emotionally. You would not give a child a 1,000 kilogram to lift on her shoulders, but a kilogram or half a kilogram, she can do it.

So there you have it folks. Phew. The idea of integral education can also be used for management and other leadership.

For further reading check out:

Integral Education: A Foundation for Our Future (by Partho)

Integral Management (Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Integral Management)

Integral Education: in practice at the ashram