On the 8th and 9th of October 2010 the international spiritual think tank SOTERIA INTERNATIONAL gathered in Berlin, Germany, for a series of round-table discussions, dedicated to the topic of Integral Education – guidelines for educational reforms in the 21st century.
The think-tank has decided to dedicate this special meeting to the subject of education, as a result of our work so far – mapping the principles at the basis of the current situation at the individual and global levels, the root causes of the problems, and outlining guiding principles for an alternative paradigm, based upon harmonious principles which will resolve these problems and lead to a reality in which such problems are not possible. This prior work pointed out on several instances that in order to change the situation from its roots, a situation which arises from the individual itself, we must start from the very first years in the forming process of the individual – its early education. Therefore, education proves to be a crucial modality for providing the individual with the guiding principles which will allow him/her to guide his/her life in such a way that he/she will enjoy fulfillment and harmony at all levels. From the individual, this process of harmonizing transformation will expand to include the society itself, bringing about the resolution of the main conflicts and problems which we face today, from their roots. Hence, we have concluded upon expanding our work to include also the field of education as an important component of the needed reform.
This conference is the first step that we make in this direction. The work in the field of education will continue in unison with our work at the level of the universal principles which are at the core of the new paradigm (about these you can read in the background document for the conference – peace for the 21st century) and our work in the other fields.
The conference on Integral Education served as an exploratory study of the field of education – an opportunity for the think-tank to examine this domain from various perspectives and points of view – to begin mapping out the principles which are at the core of the educational system, the problems and challenges of this educational system, the goals that it sets to itself, and raising areas and questions that we should investigate and develop further. This first view on the topic of education, meant for gaining a general acquaintance with this field, is used for outlining directions of work and ongoing study in the future for developing the new paradigm for educational applications. This work will continue over the following year, leading to a conference on October 2011 in Berlin which will dive deeper into this field, suggesting practical modalities and initiatives. Naturally, the work will continue after that.
The round-table sessions included members of the think-tank and external experts, included prepared presentations on various topics followed by open debate. The sessions were marked by a high level of discussion, aiming to deeply understand the situation with its multiple aspects and levels, and extract from it the essence – an elevated perspective upon the situation of education today, its challenges and opportunities.
In the following, we will offer a very short summary of some of the main points mentioned in the conference:
Education is the natural next step in the work of Soteria, allowing us to have the holistic approach of dealing with the source of the problems instead of their effects. By focusing on the harmonious and integrated values, the problems just drop away.
The word ‘Education’ is derived from the Latin ‘educare’ which means ‘to bring out’ – to realize and manifest the potential which already exist in the human being.
In most countries, pre-school education is not obligatory. This raises a question of what is the importance of education at the pre-school age and weather neglect of those years would have severe effects on the development of the child; what are the specific needs of the child at the pre-school age and what are the characteristic transformations in that stage of development; are these needs better met in kindergarten or at home; what is the role of parent involvement at that age, is the absence of parent involvement the source of a lack of morality that manifests later on, as was noticed in some cases; what are the reasons for the lacking involvement of the parents in those cases – is that itself a result of incorrect education?
An overview of the national laws of education, specifically the goals of education set forth by the legislators, and comparing them with the reality, shows that these stated goals are most often not put into practice. This is a result of the fact that the educational system is very big and some of its characteristics make it so that transformations in it take a long time to happen and cannot be determined from the out-side as a result of any formal decision. Education itself is done primarily through the personal example of the teachers and parents, so in order to achieve a transformation it is needed to transform the educators. It is a change which must come from within, from the level of the teacher, and which cannot be guided formally.
Were viewed experiments (namely of Sugata Mitra) that show that when children are given the opportunity, they can learn independently with great efficiency and motivation. Yet, was marked the need of education to include guidance, otherwise, the abilities that the children will develop might be used for disharmonious aims.
Was viewed the need to integrate as an educational goal the knowledge of the Supreme Self (Atman, as it is called in some traditions) – manifested as the consciousness in every human being, the ability to be simply aware and witness all our experiences, the underlining experience of being and our deep identity beyond the personality. Was decided to further work and research in this direction, to determine the importance of this goal in education, the outcome of its omission and the results of integrating it as a goal.
There are, these days, many different approaches to education and new alternatives, offering a multitude of ideas, modalities and research. Yet, there is a difficulty in integrating together the input from these various approaches. There is a need to define a ‘common map’ – a shared system of reference – which can be used for all these various approaches to be able to share their work and research together and benefit from it. The universal principles which we are exploring could offer a natural system of reference such as this.
There were reviewed the history of the evolution of the educational system and its ideals, as a way of analyzing its evolutionary processes. Up until less then two thousand years ago, education was primarily an issue of the spiritual systems and of philosophers. Then, it became a matter of the church and other religious institutions. In the last two centuries, education has become an independent system and has separated itself from any other influence. This new form of education became disciplinary – aiming for expertise in one single field. This is in contrast to the classical education that was including in it many different fields, all seen as one unitary whole.
It is worth noting that the most important scientific accomplishments (not in the field of practical applications but at the level of opening new understandings that make new systems and applications possible), however, are reached when having a cross-disciplinary view or better yet, when adopting a trans-disciplinary approach. The trans-disciplinary approach facilitates a development of a holistic view and understanding of the reality at multiple levels. This raises the importance of the principle of unity of knowledge as a constituent of a correct paradigm on education. This is suggesting the complementary roles of both disciplinary and trans-disciplinary studies. Trans-disciplinary studies imply the following: transformative praxis, constructive problem-solving, real world engagement and rejecting of formality and formal structures. These elements are largely ignored in the current system of education. The trans-disciplinary approach also gives a practical answer to the need of elevating the consciousness – as it was noticed that when a system grows in its complexity it reaches a threshold beyond which it becomes self-organized and in the same time it continues its development on a higher level of reality – elevating our level of perspective and understanding with it. All these perspectives raise the need of investigating and developing modalities of integrating the trans-disciplinary attitude into the education system.
This age is characterized by a great speed in which the information and knowledge is developing. This means that there is too much information then what can be learn in school and the information becomes quickly obsolete – therefore, the goal of education in this age should not be the acquiring of knowledge, but learning how to learn independently and continuously.
Was reviewed a research upon the importance of language in fulfilling the potential of the learner. According to this research, an atmosphere of prayer the consciousness of the student doesn’t focus upon the linguistic structure, but upon the use of the language. The most efficient way to bring the learner’s potentiality into full play is eliminate the negative suggestions from the mind.
Were reviewed main elements about humanistic education. Was pointed out that many of the aspects of the humanistic education are positive, correct and fit with the perspectives developed so far in this think-tank. The main point of controversy between the humanistic education and the spiritually correct paradigm which is being developed in this think-tank, is that the humanistic education define the human development and fulfillment as the central value of all education, and thus they leave spirituality out of the equation. There was raised a question weather this omission will deny the efficiency in the long run from this system and will determine it to fail in achieve its goals. It was postulated that the universal principles, if adopted and applied in this system, would resolve this problem. In this manner, the universal principles could be a connecting element with the humanistic education, as they are not contradicting their view but rather fit well with it. In the same time, these principles are a connecting link between the mundane and the spiritual and will therefore give the humanistic education the spiritual link that will put them on an ascending path.
Were viewed the relations between science and spirituality. Was pointed out that esoterism combined with mysticism reach what science puts as its goals – an experiment which can be repeated, verified and predicted, while explaining the processes that take place within that experiment – thus, confirming the validity of those natural processes, principles, laws. Even the demand of science to have result that can be quantified and verified objectively is fulfilled, due to the fact that even though this inner experimentation is tainted by inner conditions that are different from person to person, there also exist universal principles that are valid to all people, therefore there will be distinct common elements in the results among all the participants of the experiment. Thus, the results can be passed through a kind of ‘grill test’ to check if the expected common elements will exist in the results of all participants. This perspective offers a bridge to unite spirituality and science within an integral view of education.
On the other hand, it was also noted that science, especially mathematics and quantum mechanics, offer, like religion, understandings that can affect and transform directly the life of people. However, in order for these understandings to indeed have a profound transformative effect on the life of people, those individuals need to have access to the super-mental perspective.
This latter perspective marked the importance of developing the super-mental view through education, and has raised the need to study what would be the effects of integrating this into education and to develop educational modalities for developing the super-mental view. This implies also to develop a scientific approach for describing and explaining the super-mental. It was also pointed out that developing the super-mental requires to also develop the person at the soul-level: developing the higher integration of the person at the level of core values, morality and identity. This is due to the fact that the super-mental and the soul are complementary aspects of the same level of the psychology of the human-being, and developing one without the other would lead to disharmonious results.
Was investigated the role of the teacher in education. Were marked some key points: the teacher should be humble and put the teachings first; should have a state of gratitude towards the teachings; the teacher educates through his own personal example as a model; Teachers teach more by what they are than by what they say. The attitude of a teacher: love, know and be yourself, compassion through empathy, detachment, enthusiasm, aspiration, abnegation. The authority of the teacher arises from having already the experience of what he/she is teaching, and then teaching the essence of it, so that the students have room to find their own way.
A Chinese proverb says: ’’tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.’’
Were remarked certain elements from the spiritual principle of initiation which would be good to integrate into the role of the teacher in the educational system: the responsibility of giving further to the students what you have received from your teachers; talk from your heart and you will touch the heart of your listener; respect the hierarchy of teaching and contribute to its development – this will awaken the same attitude in your students; respect your teachers and what they taught you – and so will your students; to be a good teacher you have to also be a good student.
Were reviewed the opportunities which exist today for a new paradigm in education. According to data which was reviewed, it was appreciated that we are now on the verge of a flourishing of alternative educational systems, and world-wide there is spreading a recognition of the importance of the inner universe and emotional intelligence in education. These developments offer a great opportunity for the emergence of a new paradigm in education.
Were reviewed challenges which confront the emergence of a new paradigm in education: the multicultural agenda is used to cleanse public schools of spirituality and religion; removal of natural and fulfilling teacher-student interaction due to legal fears; lacking parent trust; reluctances in taking risks leading to limiting the freedom of the children to experiment and experience; the role of the media in discrediting the teachers;
centralization of planning and decision making; teachers, parents and children might be willing to try new approaches, but are often restricted in their choices, due to a higher degree of political control over educational content; institutionalization and beaurocratisation of the schooling system; closing of the small schools and creation of mega-schools.
Were analyzed actors in the educational system (from bottom to top): students, parents, teachers, school management, teacher education, local government and city councils, regional government, labor unions, teachers and students associations, national government, international organizations.
Were analyzed elements in the educational system (from bottom to top): personal experience, best practice, ideas, theories, schools of thought, paradigms, legislation, politics, campaigns (media), stories (press), traditions, history.
According to this analysis, was pointed out that we should focus the attention upon the lower levels of the hierarchy, as the basis from which transformation can arise: the students, parents and teachers. In the same way, to focus upon developing personal experience, best practices, ideas and teacher training.
Was reviewed with special attention the importance of emotional education. Most of the attention in education is given to developing the capacities of memory and logic, while the emotions are neglected almost entirely. This is very grave, considering the fact that the majority of our decisions are determined by our emotions and not by our logic. In addition, the emotions are the basis for the relationships that we will develop in life, our integration in society and the over-all feeling of satisfaction in life. This is showing the paramount importance of the emotional education – which goals should be to become aware of one’s emotions, to understand them, experience them fully, control them and integrate them harmoniously in life.
The emotional development defines in a great measure the richness of the content of the mind and lives of the children. The emotions also have an important influence upon the learning process – each new piece of information being categorized in the memory according to the emotions that are associated to it. The emotional preparation is creating the bridge between the teachings and the real life. The emotions of the teachers mark the background of the beginning of the emotional educational process.
Therefore, there is a need to develop a coherent system of emotional education. This is vital in order for achieving the goals of education, and will bring solutions to many of the problems that humanity is facing today.
The development of a system of emotional education has multiple implications, including: the need of the teachers themselves to become living examples of harmonious and conscious emotional lives, arising from inner transformation and practicing of the appropriate modalities; emotional education implies a process of education that involves emotions as a method – this means to create proper emotional environment and modalities for creating this environment; developing an immense courage for facing and dealing with the emotions; the products of emotional education will be much more immune to manipulation, will have an enhanced ability to chose freely and will therefore be free of all formal structures of power.
As a consequence of this discussion, was pointed out also the need to investigate the effects of the lack of emotional education – thus making clearer the need for the emotional education and making the consequences of the choice more clear.
As part of a debate, were raised suggestions for goals of education (these are not concluded upon but are meant to feed the creative discussion in an on-going work):
Were reviewed the universal principles in the context of first ideas about the way in which these principles can be integrated and taught within an educational system:
At the closing debate, was kept a discussion about modalities for applying these ideas in practice, by the think-tank. Among others, were expressed these lines of action: sharing the ideas with other persons and groups working in the field of education; creating a system and curriculum and applying them ourselves with students in small scale experiments; creating modalities and a system of training teachers, which will then use the system and modalities to teach students, while they themselves continue with the ongoing process of training so they stay one step ahead of the students; commit these ideas and systems to scientific research and experiments, which will give them integrity and credibility.
In conclusion, we mention some of the main questions and points of interest that were pointed out in this conference for further research and development:
The participants of the conference and the members of the think-tank expressed their commitment for continuing the work on these working questions, with the view of crystallizing and developing the ideas, gaining both a greater depth and complexity of understanding and applying the notions to real life applications through concrete systems and modalities of education. The intermediary goal that was set is to prepare until the conference that will be in Berlin in 2011, a coherent paradigm on education, and a practical system of education which is based upon it.