You seem to emphasize helping children find their own energy and enthusiasm. How important is that for their academic success?
Academic success depends on bringing the whole child into the learning process — their energy, enthusiasm, commitment, and intensity. People might be tempted to categorize us as what we might call a very “precious” school — which might be good through about the fourth grade. But then people wonder what will happen when the students must deal with the “real world.” In fact, there’s an intensity of learning in our school, that’s embedded in everything we do. A visitor might not be aware of it, if they saw all these happy, enthusiastic children going about their business.
Do you give the students an education that will support them with a sense of meaning in later life?
"When we talk about schools, we naturally think about math, science, and writing. But in our school we broaden the meaning of education. We’re not just about A’s, B’s, and C’s. We not only prepare them for high school Algebra 2 and Geometry, we prepare them for social situations and try to give them the strength and wisdom to navigate the negative aspects of life, such as the temptations of drugs and alcohol, etc. We offer them discipline and a natural, nurturing environment — that’ a combination that is extremely helpful in preparing them for life beyond school."
In traditional elementary and junior high schools, most of the day is spent on academics. With so many other activities at Living Wisdom School – field trips, theater, music, art, etc. – how do you find time for academics?
"The world is changing. Even the corporate world has begun to realize that the old assumptions about education no longer work as well — for example, the assumption that if you put a child in the classroom for 10 hours a day, he or she will be brighter than one who sits there for eight hours simply isn’t supported by research or experience.
Education is 95 percent about working with the child’s energy and nurturing them along. At LWS, we start each morning with what we call “Circle Time.” We do energization exercises, we meditate, and then we go right into class."
In LWS, our teaching is very much about energy, and it’s also about consciousness. There’s plenty of hard research that shows effective education isn’t about piling on homework, it’s not about grilling kids, it’s not about making education stressful. It’s about students being in an environment where they are inspired to think and contribute, and to integrate the curriculum. In our school, the academic program is based on the idea that history, language arts, science, and math are not completely separate fields that never touch on each another.
Our approach is about teaching kids to think, to learn how to learn, and to enjoy learning. Our motto, “Where learning and joy come together,” is more than words; it permeates every minute of the day.
Academics are very rigorous at our school. The truth is that Living Wisdom School is as rigorous, I believe, as any of the schools that tout their academics. The difference is that there’s a tremendous amount of support for the students. Our classrooms are not competitive in the negative sense, where the students try to beat down the other students; rather, we encourage each student to face their own challenges and overcome them. In doing so, they find an inner strength that they weren’t aware of.
We strive for excellence in all our subjects. We strive for excellent behavior. We strive for excellent citizenship — for example, how the students relate to their teachers. Do they show proper respect?
Bombarding them with information and facts, cramming their minds full of facts in the name of educating them — there’s just no research that backs it up. It takes a bit of courage on the part of the parents, perhaps, to see how our way might work. A bit of imagination. A bit of thinking outside of the box.
"Our educational philosophy at LWS is based on the ideas in the book, Education for Life. The book begins by asking the question “What are your hopes for your child’s education?”
Of course, you want them to be able to read and write and be successful. And then the question is, how do you best prepare them? And the old model is tempting. Most of the LWS parents had that model in their education. And we’re inviting them to offer their child something different. But once you truly understand what we do, it’s not that different. It’s simply common sense. It’s academics, but it’s also about finding the best way to excel in academics and in life.
What’s revolutionary is that our schedule is not crammed with academics. We do have science and math, and our kids do very well. But we also notice the gifts each child has, and we support them in those gifts, and we give them time to blossom, whether those gifts are in math, sports, the arts, entrepreneurship, etc."
"So we look at the longer rhythms of a child’s development. “What are your gifts? Oh, your talent is art.” It doesn’t mean that it can’t be art and math. But we want these kids to be themselves, and to help them be their best.
There’s a term that’s deeply embedded in modern education research, called “integrated thematic curriculum.” It’s an acknowledgment that children learn best when they have more than one hook on which to grasp a new piece of learning. As the children form new connections in their brains by approaching a subject from different angles and in different contexts, their brains grow more dendrites, than if they were doing rote “workbook learning.”"
"The theater experience is part of a tree with many branches — it’s one part of the landscape of learning that’s offered in the school, where they’re learning many subjects that overlap. They’re learning about art, reading poetry, studying geography, and they’re placing it all in space and time, in abstraction and concreteness. The learning experience is completely vivid, and it allows them to make countless fresh connections. It’s the deepest kind of learning. It isn’t isolated from traditional academic classroom work, but it’s not rote — it’s experiential, and it’s bone-deep.
The attitude that these methods nurture toward writing during the early years becomes very important when the students get to middle school. At that point, there’s a shift from highly personal writing, toward expository writing — essays, reports, and so on. It’s a time when they need to learn the rudiments of a good analytical essay."