Education for Life (EFL) is based on a balanced development of the four Tools of Maturity: the body, feelings, will, and intellect. In contrast, mainstream education with its one-pointed focus on obtaining higher test scores has increasingly emphasized the training of intellect at the expense of activities that promote growth in the other areas. It is interesting then to compare the results of these two very different approaches.

Education for Life and Testing

While we do not advocate the testing of young children, older students often express a healthy interest in knowing how they are doing academically in relation to others their age. When the EFL high school near Nevada City, California applied for accreditation in 2005, a part of the process entailed giving the students a nationally recognized, standardized test. The results have been remarkable, though not unexpected for those who are familiar with recent educational studies. In every year the students as a group have averaged in the top 10% of schools nationwide, even reaching the top 1% on one occasion. SAT scores have been equally impressive with the average EFL student scoring 1691 as compared to a national average of around 1500. How can EFL students compare so well with elite academic schools when our focus includes large amounts of time directed toward drama and music, games and outdoor activities, service projects and travel? Current educational research provides some valuable insights.

The Body and the Intellect

It seems obvious that a healthy body provides the foundation for a healthy intellect. Disease, low energy, stress, and a lack of cleanliness and order can all seriously undermine the ability to focus mentally. This relationship is clearly demonstrated in a study done in 2013 by The National Academy of Sciences.

State-mandated academic achievement testing has had the unintended consequence of reducing opportunities for children to be physically active during the school day and beyond…. Yet little evidence supports the notion that more time allocated to subject matter will translate into better test scores. Indeed, 11 of 14 correlational studies of physical activity during the school day demonstrate a positive relationship to academic performance. Overall, a rapidly growing body of work suggests that time spent engaged in physical activity is related not only to a healthier body but also to a healthier mind.

Feelings and the Intellect
Similarly, the ability to work constructively with one’s feelings can be a tremendous help when trying to maintain mental focus in the face of interpersonal tensions or inner turmoil. The advent of the term “Emotional Intelligence” in 1995, produced a wave of research authenticating the importance of social and emotional growth. A key report by J. Payton et al looked at an array of data taken from 317 studies involving 324,303 students. Their conclusion follows.

SEL [Social and Emotional Learning] programming improved students’ academic performance by 11 to 17 percentile points across the three reviews, indicating that they offer students a practical educational benefit…. Although some educators argue against implementing this type of holistic programming because it takes valuable time away from core academic material, our findings suggest that SEL programming not only does not detract from academic performance but actually increases students’ performance on standardized tests and grades”.

Will and the Intellect
The connection between the will and intellect is evident in the value of such qualities as perseverance, concentration, and initiative. In her book “The Willpower Instinct”, Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal Ph.D surveyed the results of over 200 studies in this area.

People who have strong willpower are better off – i.e. better control of their attention, emotions, and actions. They are happier and healthier. Their relationships are more satisfying and last longer. They make more money and go further in their careers. They are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and overcome adversity. They live longer. Self-control is a better predictor of academic success than IQ. It’s a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma. It’s more important for marital harmony than empathy.

Conclusion and Prediction
It may be taking awhile, but educators are gradually acknowledging that a one-sided emphasis on the intellect is counterproductive. Even the “winners” of this approach are adversely affected. In November of 2011, NBC interviewed an administrator at Peking University High School in Shanghai, the top school worldwide as measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but also a school where students put in 12 hours of study per day including weekends. “Test taking is damaging to students’ creativity, critical thinking skills and, in general, China’s ability to compete in the world. It can make students very narrow-minded. In the 21st century, China needs the creative types its education system isn’t producing.”

For over 40 years, Education for Life has pioneered an approach that emphasizes cultivating the intellect in conjunction with the body, feelings, and will. Modern research shows that the future of education around the world lies with schools that can successfully implement this kind of integrated, holistic approach.

Test Scores
A question that often comes up in discussing Education for Life with newcomers is, “How does this approach affect academic achievement, especially as measured by standardized tests”. The answer often surprises people.

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is the principle tool for judging high school achievement in the United States. The following table shows the average scores of our graduating students compared to average national scores.

National Averages EFL School Averages
Critical Reading 497 565
Mathematics 514 579
Writing 489 547
Total 1500 1691

The SAT has withstood the misguided notion current in many educational circles that student achievement can be measured by the number of facts and formulas that have been retained. As an example high scores on the current STAR test in California depend on a student’s knowledge of the Schlieffen Plan, the Tennis Court Oath, and other obscure data that require a fixed curriculum and massive amounts of spirit-deadening memorization to assimilate. Students in an EFL school with an expansive, student-centered curriculum would not do well on these tests.

Other tests, like the SAT however, approach achievement from the more plausible perspective that student progress is better measured in such areas as reading comprehension, mathematical reasoning, and writing skills. We utilized one of these tests, The Iowa Test of Educational Development (ITED), with our students. The results are listed below in percentile ranks that show how our students compared with other schools. A ranking in the 90th percentile means they scored in the top 10% nationally.

Subject 2005 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Vocabulary 99 87 89 96 97 99 99 81  95
Reading Comprehension 93 93 96 95 93 99 99 86  91
Language 94 85 92 79 91 96 99 94  94
Math Concepts & Problems 97 91 95 96 85 97 99 96  91
Computation 88 82 61 80 84 71 96 92  85
Total Percentile Score 96 90 94 93 93 98 99 94  91

These scores demonstrate the effectiveness of a holistic approach like Education for Life even in more traditional areas of student achievement. For a fuller discussion of this topic, see the article on “Organic Education”.

Education for Life High School Graduates

EFL graduates are accepted to the colleges they choose. For example,our 2013 senior class were accepted at the following colleges and universities: UC Merced, UC Davis, St Mary’s, Lewis and Clark, Humboldt State, Reed, Linfield, Whitman, Puget Sound, Maharishi University of Management, and Ananda College of Living Wisdom.

When we first met as a new Families for a New Tomorrow (FNT) group in the fall of last year, our families together decided that we want to collect food for those in need. It was really powerful when as families, we spoke about hunger.

To the younger children, we talked about what it meant to feel hungry. They all related to how it felt when they were picked up after school and said ” I’m starving!”

Some of the children wanted to ask all of those who did not have food to come over to their house to eat.

The elder children (7-8 year olds) spoke of actually collecting food.

The children then decorated grocery bags , took them to their classrooms and spoke to their peers about donating food / asking for donations. They seemed really proud to do it, and the teachers supported them as well.

After 2 weeks of food collections- we met again. This time we took out all of the food collected…and the children tried to imaging all of the delicious meals that folks could enjoy …putting the different types of food together. We tried to make sure the food was given in the spirit of love and caring.

Those who could go – went with a few parents and donated the food to the second harvest food bank!

We as an FNT group have done it twice and plan to make it a semi-annual event.

We started the FNT first meeting with Super Conscious Living Exercises followed by chanting Joy, Joy Ever New Joy. Nitai led the meeting. He explained that we can feel joy in the heart by picturing  joy as a balloon that becomes bigger and bigger. Then he led a short meditation. Opening Activity: (~20 minutes)

We played the game “I love my Neighbor.” Everyone stands in a big circle in front of chairs. One person in the middle says “I love my Neighbor because …” for example they have brown shoes.  Everyone with brown shoes stands up and has to go to a different seat. The last person who doesn’t get a seat has to stand in the middle.  This was a fun game to play and was perfect for all ages.

Service Project: ( for the whole family)  (~30 minutes)

 

Indoor Service Project

We meet at the Living Wisdom School in Seattle. Nivritti, the head of our school, provided three different service activities. The younger children stuffed paper bags with a flyer.  They loved doing this activity and were able to finish it in the 20 minutes provided for the project. Older children and adults assembled folders with information about the school. Those who wanted to work outside cleared the driveway of debris and mud with shovels. Many of the kids and parents chose to work outside.

Separate Activities: (for kids/parents)

Kids: Snack time for everyone (~10 minutes) – Each week a different parent volunteers to bring a light healthy snack. This week a parent brought hummus and chips, popcorn, and apples and almond butter.

After snack, the kids went to a classroom to play and were supervised by a parent as well as several older children who were ages 10 and 11.

Parents: Engaged in a discussion. Nitai led a brief guided meditation. He made some suggestions about possible topics to discuss such as:

  • How to deal with temper tantrums
  • How to get kids to help with chores
  • How to get kids involved in the spiritual life

We talked about how to get kids to help with chores. Parents shared some interesting tips that have worked for them. Before the next meeting, one parent will gather topic ideas by email and see what everyone wants to talk about. Children returned to the group.

Nitai ended the gathering by telling everyone an inspirational story. The children asked questions about the story. We assigned a Snack volunteer and a Childcare volunteer for the next meeting.

Closing Circle: We ended by sending out our positive energy to the world.

Families gather together to live these values.

We began the meeting in a circle, singing songs and doing simple yoga/energization exercises that the children were leading. We also played a version of “getting to know your group” game.

Opening activity: (~15 min)

We then read the book “Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids” and talked about what it means to fill someone’s bucket!

The group was then divided in two groups.  Each group did about 20 min of work around coming up with a team name and other related work. Our service task was to talk about the ideas around collecting food for Second harvest food bank – The two teams brainstormed how they would go about doing this and presented their findings to the larger group.

Children came up with ideas ranging from making posters to going to their classrooms to tell their class about their project.  After about 20 minutes, the larger group came together and children presented their ideas and everyone rated their team performance to rate on how effectively they felt teams worked together and how this can be improved etc.. Service project: ( for the entire family) (~20-40 min)

Separate Activities: (for kids/parents) ~ ( 30-40 min)
Kids: Enjoyed some delicious cupcakes and played in the yard!

Parents: Enjoyed some yummy cake and strawberries and talked about the things we would like this group to do etc. we just chatted about how to talk to kids about this group etc…

Our first FNT service project – collect food for Second Harvest Food Bank.  Children are going to make brochure to be given to their classmates – I have attached the starting template that you can print about 10 copies per child and have them write/draw on them.  Each child should also decorate a grocery bag each to be put in their classrooms for collection.  We agreed to leave the bags there for 2 weeks and bring them to the next meeting so the kids can sort and package them and talk about the experience before one of us drops the collection at the food bank.

  •  3-5 years old- can pick up the bags after collection
  •  6-7 years old can pick up the bags after collection
  • 8-9 years old can pick up the bags after collection

Closing circle: OM and Good Byes!

by Susan Usha Dermond

The Flow Learning format provides a template for presenting to groups of every age on any topic. Good presenters and teachers instinctively knows that the audience must be warmed up before being receptive to the information the speaker wishes to communicate. Telling a joke, sharing a personal story, asking students to share one thing they already know about a topic to be addressed…all of these help engage attention and prepare participants for the main ideas of a lecture, class, demonstration, or learning activity. In Flow learning terms, these activities areAwaken Enthusiasm and Focus Attention.

In the field of applied psychology and education much research on perception and attention has occurred in the last fifty years. One of the most recent and entertaining studies went viral and became known as “the gorilla in the room.”  In a summary of research on attention published in Educational Leadership, the common sense conclusion is that  teachers “should use imaginative teaching and management strategies to enhance the development of their students’ adaptable attention processes.”

That sounds like an academic’s description of Flow Learning! First, an engaging activity that brings mind and body awareness to students’ attention, that possibly connects right and left brain and that results in group coherence through a response in unison sets the stage for learning. Because a certain amount of trust and student interest builds over time, a teacher who has an ongoing relationship with a class may not need  this Awaken Enthusiam step. But for a visiting presenter or teacher who does not know a group, beginning with awakening the energy stimulates student expectations and gets the students’ attention.

After an engaging start the group is ready immediately for a Focus Attention activity. In a committee or faculty meeting that might be as simple as asking someone to restate the goal of the meeting and for new items to add to the agenda. For a high school or college class, Focus Attention might take the form of a quick review of new terms or important historical characters which takes the forms of questions all students must answer true or false with thumbs up or thumbs down. Or it might be a video clip or a story.

Awakening enthusiasm and focusing attention, done with sensitivity, result in a state of relaxed alertness that is optimal for learning. Not until this state of relaxed alertness is achieved, is the group ready for the Direct Experience step that will enable learning to happen. Direct Experience may consist of  working in groups, watching a demonstration, role playing, a lecture, or a discussion.

Finally, the unique and expansive contribution of Flow Learning to our understanding of the ideal flow of a learning experience:  Sharing Inspiration. Sharing new insights with others reinforces our understanding and gives an opportunity reinforcement of new learning in the brain. The learning experience is expansive when shared.

This step can take almost an infinite number of forms:

  • For adults:  sharing with a colleague or customer the conclusions reached, writing a summary to be used in a company newsletter.

  • For high school and college students:  giving a presentation to the class, working with a group to apply what is learned, sharing with a partner how one can apply the new insights, or demonstrating mastery on a test.

  • For children:  making a book to share with parents, having one’s work put on a bulletin board, going to a classroom of younger children to demonstrate what has been learned.

This final step of Flow Learning completes the flow of energy from teacher to students to others. By serving as a channel to let the energy and insights keep flowing to others, students benefit by increased power of the flow of energy unblocked.

Aspects of Flow Learning have been touched on by other educators, but not in a way that gives us the idea of a class or lecture as a flow of energy between presenter and participants rather than a passive receiving of information from the presenter.  The name Flow Learning is a fortuitous reminder of the groundbreaking work of a researcher of positive psychology movement, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.

In his seminal work Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihaly describes the ideal state of awareness when one is in the state of flow— a focused state of complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. Flow Learning gives us the framework to structure the classroom experience to best foster that state of awareness in learners.

* ASCD, Educational Leadership, vol 50, no. 4, http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec92/vol50/num04/What-Brain-Research-Says-About-Paying-Attention.aspx

by Susan Dermond

Parents love their children and want to give them everything they need to become happy, fulfilled adults. In my thirty-six years of working with parents, I have known many who go to extraordinary lengths to nurture their children.

Perhaps you are one of them. You drive them to lessons, enroll them in camps, and get them to all the practices and games for sports teams. I know parents who do all of this plus take their children camping, to science museums, to Scouts, and to temple, synagogue, or Sunday schools. Many of these children are full of confidence, competence, and joy, but many more of them are stressed out. The least disappointment or unfulfilled desire sends them in a tailspin and they pout, cry, or whine. They get bored easily. Their voices are often high-pitched and anxious, rather than relaxed.

These children need the one thing their loving parents have not given them. They need SILENCE.

 

In order to have any time at all for her own thoughts, to get in touch with her own feelings, to imagine, to create, a child needs to have quiet times. The inner self needs silence and solitude to develop.

Most religions teach us the necessity of being alone in silence as part of their mystical tradition. In Judaism, this tradition is called hitbodedut, a form of prayer in solitude which leads to self-transcendence. In yoga it is called pratyahara, the interiorization of the mind. Saint Teresa of Avila calls it the Prayer of Quiet, a state in which the soul experiences a quiet, deep and peaceful happiness of the will, without being able to decide precisely what it is, although it can clearly see how it differs from the happiness of the world.”

At the end of a week-long class on Education for Life [TM] I asked the parents to come to the last class with one idea of how they would put these ideas about nurturing the whole child into practice.

One couple had an overactive little daughter. The dad stood up and shared that they realized their child had no quiet time in her life. The parents meditated–before she got up in the morning. They had quiet time after she went to bed. But they now were seeing that their daughter had little peace in her life. All of her waking hours she was either at nursery school or at home with TV or radios on and her parents busily cooking, cleaning, and talking on the phone.

They decided to have silence (or relative silence) on Saturday mornings. They would leave off the music, the news, the entertainment. They would turn the phone OFF, and they would not even talk with each other any more than absolutely necessary. Their interactions with their daughter would include quiet play, concentration games, and conversation. They would give her creative materials and let her draw, cut out, glue, and color.

What a wonderful change in this little girl’s life. If she had this sort of environment every night of the week, she would be a calmer, more relaxed child. For these parents, withdrawing from their busyness even once a week with their daughter would open a door for this child.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy and effort on the part of parents to provide their children with a quiet, peaceful environment in which to develop. It goes against the predominant trend of mainstream society. Yet, not to do so runs the risk of children becoming teenagers who don’t know themselves or what brings them real happiness.

Susan Dermond founded the  Living Wisdom School in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of Calm and Compassionate Children. She writes and speaks about spiritual education and teaches yoga.

Source Citation

Dermond, Susan. 2002. Raising Your Child With Spirit: Eloquence in Silence. Tikkun 17(1): 80.