Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, wrote that the universe was transformation and that life was "a succession of views". It's hard to say which is more lamentable - the fact that most people have never heard of him or that many wouldn't be able to translate into their own words the gist of the above very matter-of-fact sentiment.
Isn't it ironic to be living in the so-called 'age of information' while at the same time the pursuit of knowledge is being abandoned, negated or even disdained? Why is that, for the most part, a person's education ends when he/she finishes or drops out of school?
I remember walking into a colleague's living room once and after staring at the television screen for a few minutes I voiced - Why are we watching this? "I know", my friend replied, "but there's nothing else on".
Why are so many of us hypnotized by those images in front of us? And when we do decide to pick up some reading material why is it fluff, tabloid grist or the sports page instead of some classic novel or an essay on a relevant theme. How many of us have ever walked out of a bookstore with a primer on a subject which heretofore we have never been interested in - whether philosophy, art, astronomy, archaeology or psychology? And not because we had a homework assignment but out of sheer curiosity?
I have as little patience as anyone with those individuals who seek knowledge for selfish reasons and who make an ostentatious display of their scholarship - who, whether you're in the mood or not, will bend your ear for half an hour explaining the contributions made to the Impressionist movement by Monet and Manet, who will publicly correct someone's syntax or chastise them for not knowing the difference between a synonym and an antonym (let alone the proper spelling for either word), and who love to bellow for all to hear some version of - No, you moron, when I referred to Solzhenitsyn's Gulag I was not talking about a Russian stew recipe!
Our system of formal education has to take some responsibility for the fact that most teens leave school with the impression that you are supposed to learn not for personal edification or the sheer joy of it all but because it is a means to an end. The standard parental gospel and formula for success has been - get a 'good' education so you can get a good job (and then you'll be able to afford the house, the BMW and the Gucci bloomers). And so the mission of the schools and universities seems to have become not so much the development of broadminded free thinkers but the churning out of computer operators, doctors, lawyers, public servants, managers et cetera to grease the cogs of the humming societal engine.
Education should be an everlasting pilgrimage and not a harbor or safe haven. Questions lead to answers and these in turn lead to further queries and we slowly come to recognize the accuracy of that oft mentioned paradoxical aphorism - that the more we learn the less we really seem to know.
Schools should incorporate a certain amount of structure into the curriculum but their main emphasis should be threefold:
Every time you watch a talk show on television it seems that the people most eager to get to the microphone are the ones who are the most inarticulate or who know the least about the matter being discussed. These individuals seem to think that opinion, knowledge and wisdom are synonymous. As one wit once stated - opinions are like butt holes; everyone's got one. Knowledge is superior to opinion but even it changes from century to century depending on the latest breakthrough. Only bona fide wisdom passes the test of time.
Wisdom is our ultimate destination and the wise individual realizes that truth is relative to time (the sun no longer revolves around the earth), relative to situation (an Australian aborigine's concept of 'success' or 'spirituality' may be different from that of a North American CEO), and relative to one's mental ability / discernment (a chauvinist may believe that women were created to cater and submit to his every whim - until life circumstances precipitate fresh insights leading him towards a distinctly different point of view).
Whatever gets us through the night seems to be our present truth. In the New Age we will all have to realize that when a principle is refuted (in our minds) or no longer works for us then it is our obligation to evolve to a 'higher' verity.
Our society is suffused with people who hold on to their opinions for a lifetime, who are convinced of the absolute nature of their views on God (and abortion, capital punishment, government) and who only read literature or listen to people who validate their beliefs. One of the most damaging personal transgressions we can ever commit is to keep on feeling what we've always felt, to keep on perceiving what we've always perceived, and to keep on believing what we've always believed.
The genuine New Age seeker of truth will certainly be tolerant of the convictions of others but he/she will not place much stock in opinion or belief. The seeker does not accept simply on the basis of faith. The seeker insists on personal verification. You either 'know' something or you do not!
A major theme of this book is that all of our experience is education for us as souls or divine creators. Within that broad context, education has manifold purposes. Humans are the only animal which has become completely dependent on education for survival in the world. Other creatures can survive by their instincts, but each generation of human beings needs to learn how to cooperate with other people. Because our development has shifted from instinctual patterns to conscious education, we are much freer to expand our awareness into greater and subtler skills of adaptation and creativity.
The most basic purpose of education is for survival in learning how to eat, walk, take care of our health, and avoid danger. As we mature, the needs of health and safety expand into economic concerns and education for making a living. Social adjustment is a need which is all-pervasive. Social education also merges into moral and character education, which in turn leads to spiritual development. Another important aspect of social adjustment is the cultural transmission of passing along to new generations the knowledge, skills, technology, science, art, and literature of our human culture. All of these aspects are interwoven into human experience and occur in the family life, schools, peer groups, and independent activities of adults in the community. Education on earth is both formal and informal. Thus every chapter in this book has implications for our process of learning. This chapter will focus specifically on how we learn and teach, the principles of formal schooling and curriculum, and finally the informal education we gain simply by living full and whole lives.
For the eternal soul, gaining experience and learning are continual activities. During the period between earthly incarnations when the soul resides on one of the inner planes, the consciousness has opportunities to attend mystery schools. Even while incarnate in bodies on the earth, souls may participate in these schools through the subconscious, particularly during sleep. In relation to life on earth, learning begins when the soul starts making plans to incarnate originally or to reincarnate. Heavenly counselors advise the soul as to what circumstances would be best for its learning at its present stage of evolution. Eventually the soul chooses the parents, and the body is conceived.
The soul helps to develop the fetus in the womb but rarely incarnates into the body until the time of birth. Nevertheless the soul is aware of what is occurring and responsible for the development along with the mother. The soul can also be aware of the consciousness of the mother and father, and may even attempt to influence their attitudes psychically. Thus on a deep subconscious level, the soul is already beginning to learn about its new parents. Naturally the health habits, physiological processes, and psychological attitudes of the mother are going to affect the unborn child in the womb. Although the genetic pattern has already been determined at conception, the little body of the fetus is beginning to learn to adapt to what it is given by the mother.
Birth, however, is the major starting point for conscious education. Without recognizing the awareness of the soul, people usually do not realize how sensitive the consciousness of the child really is. Alienation from the world often begins with the birth trauma and the rough treatment by a doctor in a cold hospital room as the child is pulled out of the womb, the umbilical cord cut, the body held up by the legs and slapped in the rear end. Fortunately more sensitive methods of delivery and early care are now being used more often. The subconscious of the child is aware of the mother's feelings during these processes, as has been discovered by psychical research. The soul can still go in and out of the body. However, now that the child is an independent being, the soul must begin the education of the conscious self and basic self with the help of the parents and the environment. If we recognize that an intelligent soul is present, we are better able to communicate with the child and also express our love for the divine being that he or she really is. From the soul's point of view, it is in a new body that the consciousness has not yet learned how to operate. Yet the senses of touch, seeing, hearing, taste, and smell are already functioning. Thus the potential for communicating and learning is present; the child can feel our touch, see us, and hear us.
In these early stages the soul is learning to adjust to being in the body, which is a rather confining experience. The child simply wants to feel secure, safe, protected, warm, loved, etc. How well the child is cared for in these respects will affect how that individual will feel about life in this world. If the child feels that she is well taken care of, then she will learn and believe that the world is a safe and secure place. If the child were to be neglected, mistreated, or alienated, then she would feel that the world is dangerous and untrustworthy. Basically in the first two months the child is learning to be calm and peaceful while learning how to adjust to the bodily processes. Being rather helpless to provide for her own needs, the baby will communicate, usually by crying, when something is wrong and needs attending by the parents or care-giver. The child learns how much crying and fussing is needed by how quickly and how well these needs are met.
In addition to sensory awareness, the child is learning how to operate its motor system by moving its body. For example, the child cannot be toilet trained until she has learned how to control the muscles needed for that task. Touch and movement are important early stimuli for the young child, but most important is the love that is conveyed by holding, caring, eye contact, and emotional sensitivity. Facial expressions can communicate much to the child. Music, particularly soft lullabies, can provide wonderful early experience for young children. Love and music are languages that the soul can immediately comprehend without having to learn a new earthly system. As the child crawls and begins to explore the environment, parents must be careful to make sure that the situation is "baby-proof" so that the child will not encounter anything dangerous or harmful. This is usually better than taking things away from the child or expecting the child to know what to do.
Benefits can occur from talking to the child often even though she is not ready to understand words yet. The more words and tonal inflection that the child hears, the sooner will she be able to begin to comprehend some of it. Close interaction between parents or caregivers and the child enhance the learning process. Children generally love stimuli as long as it is not harsh or too overwhelming. The child will be able to self-regulate experiences if we are sensitive to the needs and desires that are subtly expressed. If we watch carefully, then we will know when something is too much or not appreciated. I believe that learning is always best when it comes from within the motivation of the learner. Humans are naturally curious and interested in things. By nurturing and responding to those interests, learning can occur spontaneously without negative emotional effects. If parents try to push learning in a particular direction against the inclinations of the child, the results are likely to be disappointing in addition to producing a psychological complex, which will tend to resist other education. The spirit of the child will naturally want to grow and expand in awareness; we need only be supportive of that natural process and provide opportunities for those interests to develop and grow.
One of the first cognitive distinctions that the child is able to make is to notice that her body is different from the rest of the environment in that it is within her control and can be moved by her efforts directly. This awareness is the beginning of individuality and the conscious use of personal freedom. The young child also learns that other human beings, particularly the mother and father, are living, moving, and caring beings. These early relationships will greatly color the "innate" trust the child will develop toward other people and the world in general. Good tender loving care will help the child to want to learn more about the world rather than withdraw into fear and isolation. If the efforts the child makes to do things are warmly received and appreciated by the care-givers, then the child will be encouraged to try other things.
Training is the most basic form of education and is what behaviorist theory usually describes. We are trained by imitation and repetitive practice. Certain behaviors may be reinforced by giving rewards, and other behaviors may be deterred by inflicting punishment. Rewards and punishments work primarily through the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Positive rewards are the giving of something pleasurable, and negative rewards are the removing of something painful. Positive punishments are the instilling of pain, and negative punishments are the removing of pleasurable experiences. Some behaviorists try to be humane by only recommending reinforcement through rewards. However, both are manipulative in the sense that the person is treated as an object or as an animal who can be controlled or trained according to the master's wishes. Such a philosophy of education is extremely dehumanizing, if it is intended to be the only theory of learning. Training has its place; but if we are to live in freedom and human dignity, then we must go far beyond such simplistic and animalistic notions.
Training can be effective, and much of our early and physical learning occurs in this way. However, as we grow and mature, our conscious self develops into greater mastery. Eventually the conscious self learns how to become sovereign over the consciousness and can then use training in order to master and command the basic self, instead of being manipulated by other people. Through self-discipline the conscious self can train the basic self to cooperate in serving its higher aims while rewarding it with the basic pleasures of living in return for following the higher direction. Thus the conscious self is able to exercise its freedom by making rational and intuitive decisions rather than be manipulated by other people and the environment. Such a person is free and independent, yet self-controlled and responsible.
The training of children requires intelligent care and restraint so that they are not molded into slaves of their desires and fears. Yet no training at all would delay the child's natural development through the stages of awareness leading toward self-control. Thus early training must be sensitive and soon accompanied by rational explanations so that the child can begin to learn how to be responsible. Also by allowing children freedom to express themselves and then giving them lessons in regard to the results of their actions, they can through experience learn the consequences of their actions. Of utmost importance is that the love given to the child be consistent and unconditional. Even if the parent chooses to administer mild corporal or psychological punishment, it must be given with love and understanding so that the child knows that she is not being rejected, only that her action was inappropriate. Similarly, if all rewards are conditioned upon some specific behavior, the child will always want to please others rather than truly discover what is best in and of itself. If love is given bountifully, then the child will feel an abundance of joy; but if love is parceled out in a stingy manner, then the child will feel deprived and alienated. As the child matures and is able to make more decisions, rewards and punishments from outside are less needed, because the child is learning that the consequences of actions bring their intrinsic rewards and punishments. Parents and teachers can contribute to this process by communicating with the child about those natural consequences. As the child becomes more self-reliant, the need for the parents to be responsible lessens.
Play is one of the most joyful ways of learning and is spontaneous and natural for children. Parents and teachers can promote this activity by being playful themselves and providing appropriate opportunities, toys, and games. Children who play together learn many social behaviors and attitudes, such as justice and reciprocity, adaptability, patience, empathy, rules and principles, problem-solving, how to accept success and failure, etc. Toys and games that are humane and educational are obviously to be preferred to those that encourage fighting and war. The attitude of playfulness when combined with inner psychological security can lead to a happy and calm disposition. Life becomes a joyful challenge rather than drudgery if work is emphasized, or fearful if punishment is used, or greedy if rewards and incentives dominate. From the simplest uncovering of one's face at the crib in a game of peekaboo to society's most complex scientific, artistic, and political games, playing can offer holistic and integrated experiences of learning that are motivating because of their interest and excitement.
The learning of language greatly stimulates the mind and develops cognitive abilities of conceptualization. At first the child is merely imitating the sounds that are heard; but as the other speakers respond to the sounds the child makes, she begins to learn the general meaning of those sounds. Naming people and things are usually the first words; the naming of an activity, such as walk or drink, can lead to an understanding of verbs. Soon the child is putting together simple sentences. Only an intelligent soul that has the use of a well-developed brain for the storage and integration of information could learn such a complex task so easily. The soul being infinite has no limits on what it can learn, except the limitations of the created worlds. The child's learning of language can be greatly enhanced by communication and patient explanations. The child's mind has a natural tendency to perceive rules and patterns, such as adding the sound "ed" for the past tense, and therefore exceptions must be explained. Perhaps someday we will be using a universal language that eliminates these inconsistencies of usage and spelling.
Language as a system of conscious conceptualization enables us to transcend and get a perspective on the world. However, this freedom is dualistic, because as a symbolic system it can be true or false to the actual experiences that are being symbolized. Thus language poses the danger of becoming alienated or separated in consciousness from real experience into a subjective illusion. Therefore I believe that it is important for language to be learned in close relation to our experience. When children learn new words, it is best if they really understand through their own experience what that word stands for. Otherwise the word becomes a kind of plaything that has little or no meaning, or even worse a wrong meaning. This can lead to misunderstanding with others and the illusion of thinking one knows something when one does not. As Socrates pointed out so well, this "double ignorance" often leads people to act on the basis of their ignorance, because they think they know, leading to mistakes; whereas the people who realize that they do not know something do not act on it. To me, the best education teaches people to know what they know very well, rather than trying to teach too much knowledge superficially. Of course, it is helpful to explain to children the meanings of words they hear and to answer their questions as fully as possible, as well as correcting them if they seem to have a misconception about something. The best explanations are those that relate to the direct experience of the child, even if it has to be through a metaphor or logical relation. Intellectual ability is developed through practice in understanding these various relationships.
Learning is a process of awareness that occurs within the consciousness of the learner. Because learning is psychological, metaphors of pouring in knowledge through a funnel or pumping out innate knowing are rather inadequate in explaining the process. Learning begins with attention, which results from a combination of will and cognitive interest. Consciousness will learn only what we attend to, but interest is likely to increase that attention and is the natural source of motivation for learning. If we promote, encourage, and increase interest, then students will be more curious and eager to learn.
How do we increase interest? First, by relating things to the personal experience of the students as it has thus far developed, they will be familiar with some aspect of the subject and likely to have an affinity to it. Second, a connection can be made to show how this new material is important to the life of the student. Third, the ideas, facts, or concepts can be presented in a manner that appeals to curiosity, holistic experience, and emotional expression as well as cognitive interest. Fourth, an opportunity can be provided which allows the student to engage in some activity with the new material which will stimulate further thought and expression; we learn best by actively participating.
Once the student has become attentive and interested, the opportunity can be provided which allows the student to engage in some activity with the new material which will stimulate further thought and expression; we learn best by actively participating.
Further learning can be encouraged by allowing the student's own interest to lead the way to additional studies that will then be naturally motivated. Boredom is a temporary state of psychological satiation with a given experience; thus even the self-motivated student is unlikely to get stuck in too narrow a sphere without spontaneously wanting to move beyond it. Since the soul has such complex and varied past experiences, I believe that such self-motivation can lead the person to what needs to be worked on until that is satisfied and a new challenge appears.
Another common form of learning is indoctrination, memorization, or programming. Such learning teaches students to remember certain facts and ideas by accepting them without question. Because there are so many things to know, this is the most prevalent form of learning. However, it needs to be supplemented by critical and original thinking if students are to exercise truly their freedom. Students can be encouraged to ask questions and to think for themselves how all these things fit in with the rest of their experiences and inner values. Practice in problem solving and creative activities stimulates students to find their own ways of doing things by applying their knowledge and adapting to situations that require analytic and synthetic thought.
In regard to issues of values, such as in politics or religion, students can be exposed to varying views, examine historical experiences of those views, and then discuss their own ideas and interpretations. Too often social conflicts are caused by groups that are indoctrinated to a certain set of beliefs in a rigid way that does not openly examine the views of others, resulting in prejudices, biases, and discrimination against other groups. Good education teaches us to be broad-minded and tolerant of different ideas and able to accept cognitive dissonance. Modern physics has had to learn how to live with such seeming contradictions. We ought to make things as simple as we can, but no simpler than they really are. The purpose of education is for everyone to be able to make up their own minds about things, because they have the tools to examine situations and then apply their own values. Some people just want to get people to follow their lead and take things on authority. To me, this tendency is inimical to freedom and leads to authoritarianism and eventually to totalitarianism. Liberal education is based on the premise that we can trust future generations to make intelligent decisions if we provide them with the proper tools to use, rather than just a traditional program to follow. Such education promotes social evolution and progressive changes when needed. In a nuclear age when civilization, as Arnold Toynbee put it, is in a race between education and catastrophe, education that leads to enlightened spiritual awareness is essential to the continued survival of the human race.
I recommend mastery learning so that every individual can learn how to master her or his destiny. Research has shown that if given the proper opportunities and enough time, at least 90% of all students can master the basic material required of high school graduates. Under the traditional grading system, many students just slide by doing average or C work. In mastery learning each student is expected to master each lesson at an A or B+ level before going on to the next lesson. Those students who have excessive difficulty in achieving this are given remedial work and special attention. Testing is done, not on the selective model to select out the better students from the average and the failures, but rather as a diagnostic tool to find out what the students have learned and what they have not yet understood. Then they are taught those subjects and lessons where they are weak and need more help. Students do not move on to the next lesson until they are able to show that they are doing at least B+ work. Grading becomes unnecessary, because a student's grade is determined simply by where she is in her studies. Basic subjects are to be mastered by everyone, and then students may be allowed to explore elective studies and projects.
The psychological attitude of the teachers and students is very important in enabling students to achieve this mastery. Students who believe that they are B- or C or D students usually stop trying to do any better, while students who believe that they are capable of doing A work often just keep on working until they have accomplished it. Also both bright and slow students can benefit from the experience of allowing the students who have mastered the material to assist or tutor those who are having more difficulty. In this way a cooperative team approach replaces competition, as they learn how to celebrate each other's success; and brighter students begin to learn social responsibility. Mastery learning would eliminate the sad plight of students who are passed along from grade to grade for the sake of social adjustment until they are finally released from high school as semi-illiterates. Not only does mastery learning enable students to master all the necessary subjects, but it teaches them the basic technique of learning anything until it is mastered. Such students will have the self-confidence to be able to lead their own lives with intelligence and independence.
If learning to be responsible creators is the ultimate purpose for our consciousness here on earth, then the soul will guide us to those experiences and lessons that we need and want. Because of our freedom, we always have the choice to pay attention to those lessons or ignore them, to work on becoming more enlightened or remain at our present level of ignorance. Nonetheless since we cannot help but have experience and can never lose the experience we gain, we must inevitably learn something as we proceed. However, by focusing our attention on our inner guidance and following that spiritual direction we can accelerate our learning and evolution.
Teaching is to learning as feeding is to eating. Eating is what nourishes us and enables us to grow, but feeding may assist some in the process of eating. Teaching only has value in what is learned by the student. In a large sense, we are all learners, and everyone can be our teacher. Teaching provides opportunities and stimulation so that learning can take place, but ultimately the student is responsible for learning and deserves the credit for what is learned. Actually the best teachers are the best learners who share what they have learned. Since learning is a free process of conscious attention and understanding, no teacher can make someone learn something. Yet we can assist each other in our learning processes so that we all can learn more and correct our errors. Thus those who are more advanced in their education may be able to help others who want to learn and grow in their awareness.
What can teachers do? They can diligently learn so that they will have more to share. They can make themselves available to students as a resource of knowledge, skill, and counsel. They can organize material so that it is more easily assimilated and integrated by students. They can present the material in ways that are interesting, clear, and comprehensible. They can be open to the particular needs and interests of the students and be flexible in meeting them. They can allow the students space to use their own abilities and express themselves so that they can grow. Most important, they can love the students unconditionally by always devoting themselves to what is best for the students and by being friendly and kind. They can point out errors and misbehavior of students with courage and firmness. They can encourage students to learn and progress in their awareness by appreciating the good things that they do. They can help to create situations of interaction so that students can learn from each other through natural and social processes. They can set a good example of living and learning. They can inspire students to seek ideals and live according to them. They can recommend other teachers and opportunities to students who are ready to move on to new experiences.
Like doctors and lawyers, teachers are there to serve their clients as experts in their field. Yet usually doctors and lawyers are needed as correctives if efforts toward prevention have not been successful, while teachers can provide experience as preparation so that people can live full and interesting lives. Everyone is deserving of a teacher's love and special care, and everyone who is really a teacher is deserving of respect. The relationship between a teacher and a student is mentally intimate and one of the most spiritual of all relationships. Teachers have great responsibility, and any abuses, particularly of children, must be carefully monitored and prevented. Teachers help to shape young minds and personalities which will have tremendous influence on the future of society. Therefore I believe that teachers ought to be our society's most respected professionals. Yet too often teachers are underpaid, and we as a society do not provide for nearly as many teachers as are needed to improve the quality of life. Because there are no limits to how much education we can have, teaching offers tremendous potential for expanded employment as we become more efficient at providing for our material needs, which are limited.
Teachers need to know their subject well enough to be confident of their knowledge. However, arrogant teachers can "turn off" students. Teachers must be careful not to dominate and manipulate their students. The best teachers do not do it for the students but facilitate learning by encouraging and inspiring and guiding the students so that they can do it themselves. This often requires self-restraint and caution, as the students are allowed to find their own answers. Then the teacher can respond to what they have done, suggesting corrections and perhaps new directions. Although the teacher is in a superior social position and probably has more knowledge than the students, nevertheless an attitude of equality and respect for the students is helpful to student growth and self-esteem. As with a good leader, a good teacher lets the students find their own way and supports them with guidance when needed. Teaching is an altruistic activity in which a person can transcend personal problems and direct love and concern to others who can benefit from the attention. Teaching allows us to expand our love and compassion in a selfless way for the good of the students and ultimately for the good of the whole society.
We do learn individually, and students can benefit from the personal attention of private tutors. Nevertheless as we are social beings, education lends itself to school settings. In the twentieth century public education has become a universal right and is provided by virtually every society to some extent. Yet many countries only offer a few years of rather limited schooling. There is much need for improvement, but we are moving toward a society with such universal education that all people will have the opportunity to find their niche in the social structure, based on their abilities and efforts. In a world that is spending more than two billion dollars per day on military activities, no greater good could come to our society than converting these resources into education and health care.
Most public schools begin at age five or six and provide up to twelve years of schooling with the added opportunity for a few to attend colleges or universities. Many people still choose to send their children to private schools, and certainly parents ought to have the right to choose the school they want for their children. With the separation of church and state in many countries, some people believe that a religious education is important. Schools controlled by governments can result in political and ideological indoctrination; yet parochial schools also tend to indoctrinate their creeds. I am in favor of secular and humanistic education for several reasons. I believe that education ought to be universal and unprejudiced toward any particular belief system so that the new generations can decide for themselves without this manipulation what they think is best. I am just as much opposed to the inculcation of "patriotic values" as I am of religious dogma, because both tend to create prejudice and lead to social conflict. When an entire society is brought up to believe that their way of life is morally superior to others' and when the communications media reinforce these prejudices, then biased views can become so all-pervasive that the entire society can become neurotic or even psychotic, resulting in the insanity of war against other societies. Nevertheless I am in favor of education that is spiritual but non-sectarian.
What is spiritual and non-sectarian education? Schools can be open to all philosophical and religious ideas without pushing any one particular system or institutional organization. Some people often complain that the public schools do not allow prayer. This is not true. No one can ever prevent a person from praying in one's heart, which is where prayer really occurs. People can pray whenever they want. What is not allowed is public prayers that are recited out loud, because these tend to impose certain beliefs onto others. Only the hypocrites demand that they be able to pray out loud in a public place so that they can advertise their piety. I do recommend that time be made available for silent meditation so that students can pray or meditate or contemplate or daydream. This does not impose beliefs and allows opportunity for whatever type of spiritual reflection students want to do.
To me, spiritual education is also universal and global rather than nationalistic. Schools can promote the unity of the earth and the human race and the interdependence of all societies in the world as universal realities, rather than attitudes that one group of people is better than others. Let us learn to respect everyone and be tolerant and understanding of those people and societies that may be different from ours. Spiritual education also teaches values, but again in universal ways rather than provincially or parochially. We can strongly emphasize values such as love, truth, justice, courage, etc. without necessarily tying them to particular institutions. When the facts of history are presented, then students can evaluate for themselves how these different institutions live up to the values they espouse.
Thus far schooling before the age of five is usually private. However, with more mothers working and with the advances in educational methods and techniques for young children, nursery schools are becoming ever more popular and valued. The soul has infinite capacity to learn, and generally younger people are more open to learning. Although young children have much to learn, I believe they can use all the help they can get. In an era when broadcast television not only leaves much to be desired but when much of it may be harmful to children, there is a great need for more educational settings for the very young of our society. Little neighborhood nursery schools, which may be in people's homes, can offer much opportunity for children aged two to five to gain experience with other children their same age and begin being exposed to a broader range of interests. Art and music as well as simple nature study and games can be very stimulating at this stage of development. I don't believe that it is necessary to try to push children into reading prematurely; but if a child shows an interest in wanting to read herself, she can begin to be taught. As public concern for all the members of our society increases, funds will be provided to pay for this education also, so that children in poorer families will not have to start out in life with an early disadvantage.
How primary and secondary school systems are structured and organized is best left up to the democratic processes that govern the people involved in those schools. Modern schools are becoming much more rich in their educational environment as shops, athletic equipment, art and musical instruments, audio-visual aids, computers, and many other technologies have been added to the traditional desks, books, papers, and pencils. The achievements of progressive education have been assimilated into most classrooms so that students can have "hands-on" experiences. Field trips have also become more common. Most schools have student government so that students can learn political skills. Work-study programs allow students to gain experience in the "real world" with real financial remuneration. The more schools are like life itself the better preparation for life they will offer.
Most states have laws requiring students to attend school up to a certain age such as 15, 16, 17, or 18. Although these requirements may be needed for the good of the children, it causes problems with the young people's sense of freedom, such that for some, school becomes a kind of prison. These students may tend to be disruptive in class and set a bad example for others who do want to learn. If school systems can offer high school students various options of what type of classes to attend, then this problem can be avoided. Often young people in a prosperous society, which seems to provide everything for them whether they want it or not, tend to become "spoiled" and fail to appreciate the gifts they receive. Education is a right, but it is also a great privilege. The best classes in the schools ought to be for the students who behave well and appreciate the education they are being given. Students who misbehave can be transferred to other classes until their behavior and attitudes improve. After all, character education is an important function of schools. All students must learn to be responsible, and in this way they can realize that the type of education they receive will be determined by the choices they make. Problem students can be given the special attention they apparently need by skilled professionals who know how to handle their condition.
In a prosperous society every person who has the interest ought to be able to attend college classes, whether they choose academic, technical, or vocational development. The time for educational elitism has passed. The more people who strive to improve themselves through education the better off the entire society will be. Certainly every individual ought to have the right to choose what direction they want to pursue in life and the needed education for that. Of course many in the society must be doing productive work. Therefore it may be necessary for some people to work at least part-time while they are continuing their education. However, societies may find it worthwhile to provide a few years of full-time education for students after they graduate from high school because of the long-term benefit to society. Also as work hours decrease and people develop more interest in educational and cultural pursuits, many more people will be attending college part-time throughout their lives.
In addition to academic courses in universities, we also need professional schools, vocational training courses, technical education, and apprenticeship programs where students can learn directly from professionals while being trained on the job. The philosophy of this book is that every experience we have in life is part of our education as divine beings. Thus ultimately we come to realize that the earth itself is our school for learning creation and responsibility.
The many purposes of education can be summarized into four categories. First is the education of character through ethics, morality, and spiritual awareness. Second is the preparation for a career in the world so that the person can earn an economic living. Third is the transmission of culture and its values through literature, art, music, science, and technology. Fourth is cultural, scientific, technological, and artistic innovation so that the culture can continue to develop and improve.
Parents naturally place the most emphasis on the first goal of ethical awareness as they teach their children fundamental social values and the difference between right and wrong. Schools can also support this process by encouraging ethical behavior and by teaching values and self-awareness. Sadly, most traditional education, often even religious education, does not promote or allow time for the subjective side of education involving knowing oneself as a unique individual. The Delphic temple in ancient Greece displayed the motto, "Know yourself." Self-knowledge is probably the most practical knowledge we can have, because it affects everything we do. What good does it do to know all about the world if we are not able to act skillfully because of lack of personal knowledge about ourselves? Every level of education can promote and support self-awareness by encouraging students to be introspective and examine themselves. Sensitivity training can enable students to be more aware of the feelings of others. Too often education fails to acknowledge the importance of the emotions in living.
Another aspect of self-awareness education is the fostering of creativity so that each person can develop her full potential as a unique human being. Again, this is part of the subjective side of education which can naturally complement objective knowledge about the world. Encouraging creativity also helps to promote the fourth goal of education by increasing the innovative contributions of individuals to our society. Too often teachers and school situations, as well as work situations, stifle creativity by lack of imagination and psychological insecurity. Such teachers often demand or expect that students do and learn the same things they did, instead of allowing the students to explore their own ideas. Of course too much subjectivity without the needed objective knowledge can also isolate an individual into a fantasy world. We need a balance between objective knowledge of the world and subjective awareness of oneself. Since the trend of western civilization has been toward the former, the latter needs to be encouraged.
Education for a career includes all the needed skills for adapting to society and getting along in the world, such as reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. These have always been considered the fundamentals of education and will remain so. Literacy is a basic skill required by human civilization for communication and understanding. Societies that increase the literacy of their people inevitably advance culturally. The few native societies left without a written culture do have their own charm and adaptability; but as we move into the third millennium, they could only be preserved by turning them into isolated cultures or museum pieces, which hardly seems fair to the individuals in those societies. Perhaps some people might choose to live that way, but for everyone else literacy enables one to participate fully in society.
Reading and writing are extensions of oral language, which is an extension of thought that can be transferred from one mind to another. Since language is a symbolic system and can be true or false to actual experiences referred to, students need to learn to read critically so that they can analyze and synthesize ideas and relate them to their actual experience. Writing helps students to express their own ideas and to learn to put their language skills into practice in an active way. In the future when a universal language is developed and agreed upon, students can be taught this language in addition to their native tongue. Then everyone in the world who knows the universal language will be able to communicate directly with each other.
Quantitative skills are necessary for handling money and other practical matters and are a basis for science and engineering. Mathematical subjects, such as algebra and geometry, also help students to develop their thinking and logical skills. The study of statistics and probabilities can also be very useful for understanding many social and practical issues.
Many other subjects, which are also a part of cultural transmission, are needed for living in society. These are all a part of general or liberal arts education. Yet each person needs to be able to make some practical contribution to our society. Many people are able to take a broad education and then easily adapt to a job that can be learned from working it. Yet as our society becomes more sophisticated and technically advanced, there are greater needs for more specialized education and training. Thus schools and universities that can provide this preparation are essential. Students wanting to learn these skills to make these opportunities available to themselves can attend such classes or programs. However, I don't believe it is necessary for everyone to pursue such specialized training. A well-organized society will be able to offer everyone who wants or needs it some form of appropriate employment or the training necessary to attain such employment. As the complexity of some specializations increases, we will find that some students will want to have much general education before they begin to specialize into narrower subjects. Medical, legal, and scientific professions are examples of this. Yet other fields, such as the arts and even business, can be enhanced through a long development and continued education, although actual experience during the process of learning is usually recommended. Because of rapid advances, people will find that continued specialized education at various points in one's career can help a person to keep up and forge ahead in the field.
Liberal arts education is based on the premise that we are free individuals and that by having a broad range of knowledge about our culture we can therefore make more enlightened use of our freedom. Children begin to learn about their culture from birth. The theory of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny can be applied to education also. If the pre-hominid stages of evolution are recapitulated by the embryo in the womb, and the birth of the child corresponds to the entrance of souls into the bodies of human beings, then childhood may in some respects correspond to the early history of mankind at a very accelerated pace. Of course the main difference is that the child is being taken care of by the parents, while early man was learning how to adapt without assistance. Nevertheless oral language predates writing by a considerable time period. During that time stories are told, and music and art are important. Thus at this stage children are open to myths and fairy tales. Their imagination is rich, and they may even be clairvoyant and see spirits (imaginary playmates) or fairies or angels. During this phase of innocence and naivetΘ, children can learn to develop their creative abilities and experience spiritual truths vicariously. Stories with a moral can help them to understand social relationships.
As children become youths and begin to read and write, they still may be amoral in many respects, needing to learn honesty and consideration of others. Like early civilizations, they still need the authority of hierarchy to "govern" them by rules so that they will not hurt and take advantage of each other. They need to learn that might does not make right and that it is not always the fault of the one who "started it." As they learn the principles of justice and responsibility, they can advance toward independence, equality, and democracy.
The curriculum of schools can take into account these various stages and the growing expansion of the students' minds. Let science begin with an exploration of their local environment and simple experiments. They can be told fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and stories appropriate to the experience and imaginations of children. History might begin with the local area and gradually expand to the nation and the world. One of the problems with too much nationalistic emphasis is that students get tired of their own history being repeated so often, while not being given much knowledge of world history. Certainly students need and want to know more about their own country, but the lessons must be interesting and scaled to the proper academic achievement level. The use of drama can give children the experience of different cultures as well as personal expression. Since every citizen ought to know about their nation's history and government, these courses should be required for graduation from high school. Similarly students should be skilled in reading, writing, and mathematics, and have a general knowledge of science, health, world history, literature, social relations, and economics.
For those students who attend college, I recommend breadth courses that are a holistic survey of the subject. Self-awareness courses could include self-knowledge, ethics, and human relationships. Communications courses might be writing, speaking, and creative expression. Natural science breadth courses are mathematics (including statistics), physics and chemistry, biology, and physiology. Social science courses are psychology, sociology, political science, and economics. In the humanities I recommend combining history, literature, philosophy, religion, and the other aspects of culture in the study of civilization from a holistic perspective. If there were six such humanities courses, they might be organized as follows: Eastern civilization to 1756 (India, China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia), Western civilization to 30 BC (including western Asia), Western civilization 30 BC to 1453, Western civilization 1453 to 1756, world civilization 1756 to 1914, and world civilization since 1914. These twenty breadth courses would take up no more than half of the courses required for a bachelor's degree. They would enable students to have a broad and holistic understanding of life so that they could make intelligent decisions regardless of what field they choose for their major work.
The final goal of education is usually achieved by specialists. Thus higher education requires a major field of study where the individual can learn enough to be able to make a contribution to the field. However, as fields grow more complex, they require more education so that a master's degree or doctorate is often needed. Nevertheless along with the many specialists, I think we also need some people who can do interdisciplinary work to interrelate different fields of study. Thus accommodations can be made for students who wish to pursue a double major so as to integrate the two subjects. Also generalists with a broad knowledge of many fields can be very useful because of their versatility and adaptability. Therefore majors can also be made available in the liberal arts or social sciences or natural sciences in general.
Again, innovation will depend on how much our educational and social institutions will allow and promote creativity. In a world where more than half of all money spent on research and development is related to military purposes, we might wonder if our civilization is progressing toward a better life or self-destruction. The progress in science, technology, and the arts which will be made when our priorities are improved could be phenomenal, stimulating a renaissance beyond most people's wildest imaginings.
In our zeal for learning it is possible to forget that the purpose of learning is to have a good life. Although we learn from all the experiences of living, schooling is usually thought of as a preparation for living in the "real world." Yet in the wider sense the real world may include the mind as well as the physical objects of sensory perception. Is being in communication with minds of other times and places any less real than encountering objects in space? Subjective reality is what we think it is. A rich imagination may add considerable interest and excitement to our living experiences, whether through reading, art, or our own creativity. Let us not forget our dreams and the importance of experiences we may be able to have in other realms of consciousness.
In our earthly experience living eventually leads to dying, which many fear or doubt may be the termination of their awareness. When we realize that we are eternal beings always existing in the here and now, whether we are in a physical body or not, then death of the physical organism is not feared or denied but rather accepted as a necessary transition in the phases of our eternal lives. This calmness and inner peace can greatly aid that transition process so that we can move easily and with more awareness into the next realms of experience. Many people who have temporarily "died" and left their bodies have experienced a being of Light and love in a transcendental state of consciousness. Only because they were brought back to "life" were they able to tell about their experiences. Removing the fear of death enables us to live more fully with courage and faith and inner peace. Naturally the body consciousness will have some fear of injury and death, because that is part of its function in preserving our organism here. Yet in our inner awareness we can know that we are divine beings transcendent of all physical limitations. By being true to our divinity and the principles of its expression, we will be able to rise in consciousness to the highest plane of awareness that we are capable of experiencing at this stage of our spiritual evolution. Spiritual beings that are more evolved may assist us if we are devoted to them and the divine reality of God. Many have come this way and gone before who know what these earthly experiences are like. We are not alone, and in Spirit we are one with everyone and everything.
This entire philosophy of living may summarized in one word: LOVE.SANDERSON BECK, Ph.D., is a prolific writer and peace activist. In 1982 he formulated World Peace Movement Principles, Purposes and Methods and traveled to 47 states and met with 600 peace groups to promote disarmament. He lives and teaches Philosophy (and other subjects) in Ojai, California.
Visit his comprehensive and eclectic website at www.san.beck.org