What is Education for Life?
by J. Donald Walters (author of the book Education for Life)

with videos by cofounder Nitai Deranja sharing examples of real-life applications

What do I mean when I say “Education for Life?” I can present the problem and the solution. The problem is that people in traditional forms of education usually approach it from the standpoint of just preparing a person for a job. But one’s job isn’t the definition of one’s life—it’s only that which enables you to have enough money to meet your needs. Our lives encompass a much broader arena than one’s capacity to earn money. Any educational system that teaches only job skills or offers only intellectual information is neglecting the essential needs of human beings. The solution is a form of education that trains us in that which is most relevant to us—how to find lasting happiness in life.

We deeply need proper training in “how-to-live” skills such as how to find the right mate, how to raise our children, how to be a good employee, how to get along with our neighbors, and how to concentrate our minds so that we can draw success into all our endeavors. There are many such skills that are essential to prepare a child for adulthood, and in traditional education many of them are completely ignored. Education for Life is a system that prepares the child to face the challenges of living as a human being, and helps him to achieve balance and harmony in all he does. What we’re really talking about is preparing everyone, not just children, for true maturity. This is a much bigger concept than just coming of age. As defined it in the book, Education for Life, maturity is the ability to relate appropriately to other realities than one’s own. You’ll find that even people of advanced years are often childish and immature with regard to this definition, yet this ability to relate to others’ realities is what education should accomplish.

You can see this ability to relate to other’s realities reflected in people’s conversation. Many times someone will try to discuss a topic from different points of view, but all they’re really doing is hammering on their own position. When a person has achieved the kind of maturity we’re talking about, he is able to listen to others, to absorb when they’re saying, and to relate it to what he already understands in order to come up with new insights. In this way, a discussion can build new understandings for everyone involved. The Education for Life system tries to point the way to maturity. It doesn’t presume to give maturity, but creates a mind-set that will endure for the whole of life. It provides a direction of growth that people can take all the way into old age and still keep growing so that they find things to marvel at in the world around them.

We find that basically we have four tools that enable us to relate to life. First, we have to recognize that since we live in physical bodies, we can see our bodies as tools for helping us to grow. If we don’t properly take care of our bodies, we may find them becoming our foes instead of our friends. Second, we find that we respond to the world with our emotions. If our emotions are always agitated because of intense likes and dislikes, we will respond emotionally to what others say and not really hear them. We may hear our own idea of what they are saying, but if we have an emotional prejudice, we won’t hear them objectively. Third, if we don’t know how to use our will power to overcome faults in ourselves, or to set goals and accomplish them, then we will never know fulfillment in life. Finally, if we don’t develop our intellect, then we cannot understand things clearly, and our life’s experiences will come through our minds in a dull way.

So we have these four basic tools that enable us to grow toward ever-greater maturity: the body, the emotions or feelings, the will power, and the intellect. I’ve observed that the first six years of a child’s life tend to be the period when they have to learn how to get their bodies under control. You’ll see a child of four running down an aisle and knocking over a chair, or falling over something because he didn’t look down. It takes a lot of energy to somehow learn how to get this body working well for us.

During this period from one to six years, it’s important to teach children how to use their bodies to grow in other ways of understanding. For example, drama and dance movements, especially in the first six years, can be extremely important because children learn with their bodies at this stage. If through drama they can act out positive attitudes, or through dance they can be taught movements that help them express expansiveness, then they’re learning in a way that’s appropriate to that level of development. They can be shown those kinds of physical gestures that come with selfishness, for example and those that come with being generous and kind. This can be done in an amusing way so that it’s a game, and they can learn by imitation.

Often we can observe that if a person is unhappy, he’ll tend to look down, to slump forward, or to lean on a table. But conversely, our physical bearing can also influence our thoughts and feelings. If you’re feeling happy but slump forward with your head in your hands, you’re more likely to become open to the thoughts and feelings of depression. If on the other hand, you can sit up straight and look up, you find that this posture helps your emotions and will power. It’s hard to feel that you have a strong will if you sit slumped over. But if you sit straight with your chest up, it’s much easier to affirm that you’re strong and able to combat this difficulty or overcome that obstacle.

As the child matures and the intellect is brought into play, it’s very important to understand the effect of physical posture on our mental functions. The seat of the intellect is located at the point between the eyebrows, or the frontal lobe of the brain. Physiologists say that anatomically this is the most advanced part of the brain and it’s from here that we reason. If we can learn to bring our energy upward to this part of the brain, we find that we can think more clearly. If, however, we allow our energy to sink downward, it’s much more difficult to think deeply.

The next tool of maturity is the feelings, and these come into play during the next six-year period from six to twelve. At this time, it’s easiest to instruct children through their feelings, and to inspire them through stories of heroism and courage. It’s essential to give them fitting role models to follow—to talk about people throughout history who have done inspiring, great and beautiful deeds. There are so many such stories, but in our day and age it seems to be a practice to show that these heroes weren’t all that great after all. It seems to be the cynical philosophy of our time to bring people down to the lowest common denominator. I think that there are great things that man is capable of accomplishing, and we should explore that potential during these “feeling years.”

Then we have years from twelve to eighteen—the terrible teens! This is the time when children want to express their own individuality. In theory, at least, it could be a beautiful time, but in our culture in America, it’s a period of rejecting the family, tradition, and authority on most levels. Yet it is also has a positive side—affirming strength of will and independence. If we can then encourage the development of will in wholesome ways through offering challenges and encouraging service to others, we can help those children develop self-control and discipline. This will help them from falling into the bad habits that weaken their will that many acquire during their teens. If you affirm your ego and your own desires with the attitude of “what I want is all that’s important,” you become contractive and in the long run weaken your will. This self-focus and defiance may strengthen self-will, but that’s not the kind of will we’re wanting to develop. Rather we want to help teens acquire the kind of will power that helps them overcome the real challenges they’ll face in life.