Spirituality and Holistic Education

Spirituality is integral to Holistic Education. For most, spirituality is either consigned to religion or ignored as essential to education. The question naturally arises: Is it possible to include a secular, non-sectarian, spirituality in education? And, as spirituality defies specific definition, is there agreement about what it is, and how to incorporate it.

Meetings with Remarkable Educators tackles these questions directly. Here is a brief sampling of insights that emerged during recording.

Tobin Hart, professor of psychology at West Georgia University, focuses on the challenges of bringing spirituality to education. His interview is a treasure chest of understanding. A brief excerpt:

It is so tricky, isn’t it [to bring spiritual and education together]. I mean, in a largely secular world to be able to talk about that. I think the thing though that is really common, and that folks can pretty easily get is that we have both moments, and feelings, and also values that are deeply meaningful…. And particularly when there's a spirituality that's really about things like authenticity, and individuality, and creative expression, and then there's a part of a spirituality that's also about interconnection, and receiving, and surrender and that kind of thing.

Tobin goes on to talk about “embodied spirituality”, and how that can be actualized in classrooms for all ages.

Josette and I have had the honor to facilitate Rites of Passage for children, adults, and whole families. We have always wished that they become incorporated in schools. Thankfully, Rachel Kessler led the way with the Mysteries program. She has passed away so you can imagine our delight in finding Shauna Sorce and her work with middle school children and Rites of Passage. She sees this a way to bring spirituality to education. The interview specifies how she does it. Here’s why:

I'm doing it because I didn't have a Rite of Passage as a teenager. I had this deep, heartfelt longing for a mentor or a guide…somebody that I could trust, and put my faith in, and believe in and go to 100%. And I didn't have that… I longed for some kind of an initiation…and a wise elder to guide me. And for lack of having that soul in me nurtured through school, or through home, I sought it out on my own, and it wasn't always in the safest or positive, nurturing ways.

Marni Binder, professor and educator of young children, spent 23 years teaching before she “realized something was missing.” I was surprised as she had already included profound commitment to social justice. Loved by her students, secure in her profession, she experienced an extraordinary transformation. Here’s a brief anecdote from her interview describing a moment of realization:

I remember being in a meeting with my primary teachers and our Ministry of Education in Ontario in Canada stated that we have to teach the whole child. I thought,, "Wait a minute." When I asked people if they could tell me, what they thought that meant? Really what they were talking about was integrating. They were talking about some of the domains, but the spirit of the child was missing. And so that to me, that piece of identity and soul, and who that child is, which is so wrapped up in the spirituality of that child, that was the missing piece.

She goes on to describe how she changed her practice based on this insight.

I could on and on. There’s Jack Miller specifying holistic pedagogy that has influenced literally thousands of teachers. And Paul Freedman speaking of spirituality as naturally emerging in children when the school creates the proper nurturing environment. In short, every interview contains insights, practical suggestions, real life stories, and appreciation for integrating spirituality and education.

We look forward to sharing these with you, and for your feedback. Meetings with Remarkable Educators is about connection and community. We wish you our very best.

The Secret of Their Happiness

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As you might expect, Holistic Educators face many challenges. So where did all the joy and laughter come from during these interviews? I didn’t encounter folks stressed or pessimistic about their efforts, their schools, or their future. Even though we explored many of the challenges, I walked away feeling from each recording feeling light, alive, and unreasonably happy.

So as I listened to the recordings while editing I selected comments that might reveal the secret to joy that they shared. In the end I believe I discovered the secret.

Debbie Millon and Marni Binder told of knowing that something was missing and that something needed to be found. They went back to school, sought Holistic Education colleagues, risked money and job status and seniority. I find it compellingly interesting that their fields of engagement are so different. Debbie is Head of School at Wingra; Marnie is both a professor at Ryerson University and teaches art through holistic practices.

That diversity of interest and expression can be seen everywhere in Holistic Education. Most see the importance of parents and parenting. Our very own Josette has taken this as her vocation. Like Debbie and Marni, knew she had to reshape the understanding of the possibilities in parenting.  Amazingly, parents who engage holistic child development can access greater cognitive and emotional understanding. The surprise: beyond that they can access wisdom. Wisdom-based relationship in families—amazing.

Then there’s Jack Miller telling us of his 12 years working with students and administrators in the frozen north of Canada as a laboratory in which the need and possibility of Holistic Education appeared. Phil Gang credits the inspiration and much of the material for his film Educating Eco-Sapiens, with creative revelations as he grieved the passing of his adored wife.

As for me, it’s been in my bones for the whole of my life. Circumstances eroded the buffers; expression instantly followed.  

This is a taste of some of the educators you will meet when listening to Meetings with Remarkable Educators.

And the secret? I guess my italics have given away it away. There is great joy in connecting to deeper meaning and purpose. That joy somehow includes a willingness to engage challenges as opportunities and the courage to fully live life.

Five Sad Sights

The Five Saddest Sights for an Aware Educator

  1. Overwhelmed teachers unable to develop relationships with each student

  2. Students ashamed of their grades and lying

  3. Teachers and parents colluding to spur student’s academic interest by rewards and punishments

  4. Fear and loathing as standardized tests loom

  5. Teacher initiative stymied

The Five Saddest Sights for an Aware Parent

  1. Physically threatened children

  2. Teachers heartfelt lament that they cannot organize curriculum to meet the child’s needs

  3. Students cliques on the playground

  4. Pedophiles ubiquitous presence in society

  5. Children craving junk (fast) food

The Five Saddest Sights for an Aware Independent School Administrator

  1. Parents clamoring motivated by fear

  2. Boredom during Board of Directors meeting

  3. Educator justifying non-relational behavior with student or parent

  4. The Fire Marshall frowning

  5. Students arriving unkempt, unfed, and unhappy

What Turns a Teacher into an Educator?

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Etymologically, a teacher is one who “points out”, who “says.” An educator is one who draws forth—a galactic difference. How does a person gain the escape velocity to leave the culturally sanctioned teacher and attain orbit as the freer Holistic Educator?

What happens? In most of the recordings for the coming podcasts I asked that question of the Holistic Educators. Their answers surprised me.

Several had been teachers for years in mainstream schools. They had tenure, decent incomes, pensions, and success in delivering the curriculum to students. In a word, they were set. And yet, they left that security, and incurring significant expense, went back to school to get advanced degrees in Holistic Education. They reengaged students as educators, often working in Independent Schools or Charter Schools. Why?

One educator said: “Something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I read that Holistic Education includes the spiritual nature of the child. Whoa! Can that be done without organized religion? And then I knew that I had been trying to do exactly that my whole career but was stymied again and again by the rules, regs, and tests I had to live by. That was it. I was done. I went home and told my partner. He just smiled and we took out the budget to reorganize our finances.”

Another said: “Intense spiritual practice removed the blocks. I looked around. There are many possibilities for adults but few for children. And yet all agree that wounding in childhood leads to problems for adults. I went where the need is greatest.”

There are other perspectives; you can find one in just about every podcast. But I cannot resist one more:

“I don’t know how, why, or when. But now I don’t know how I could have seen it any other way.”

On Imagination, Inspiration, and Transcendence

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Richard Lewis is a brilliant educator who has spent more than 50 years awakening, deepening, and using experiential learning to nurture the child’s natural capacity of Imagination. Listen to his podcast, #25, on Meetings with Remarkable Educators. It’s guaranteed to stimulate your imagination as well.

Natural Learning Relationships, the holistic appreciation of child development championed by Josette and me, holds imagination in high regard. Imagination is operative and creative throughout life; yet it is its moment of dominance during 8 to 12 years of age. We call that stage FeelingBeing and in FeelingBeing Imagination, Inspiration, and Transcendence from a trinity of optimal well-being and spiritual growth for the child.

FeelingBeing is the least understood of all the life stages. Perhaps the least understood aspect of FeelingBeing is its capacity to be inspired, and once truly inspired, to feel transcendence. Imagination is the natural capacity to form new ideas, images, or actions not present to the sense. Inspiration refers to creativity and appreciation of the sacred. Transcendence means lying beyond the ordinary range of perception. FeelingBeing children, then, have the capacity feel beyond themselves, beyond typical material perceptions, and into the subtle connections that all life shares.

To illustrate, here is a story of the great, great philosopher, humanist, and spiritual sage Martin Buber. This story shows the feeling basis of his profound insight into the sacred nature of relationship. Those familiar with Optimal Parenting know that I used Buber’s I-Thou philosophy to describe the spiritual development of children.

When I was 11 years of age, spending the summer on my grandparent’s estate, I used, as often as I could do it unobserved, to steal into the stable and gently stroke the neck of my darling, a board dapple-grey horse. . . . What I experienced in touch with the animal was the Other, the immense otherness of the Other, which, however, did not remain strange like the otherness of the ox and the ram, but rather let me draw near and touch it. . . something that was not I, was certainly not akin to me . . . and yet it let me approach, confided itself to me , , , placed itself. . . in the relation of Thou and Thou with me . . . The horse, even when I had not begun by pouring oats for him into the manger, very gently raised his massive head . . . But one . . . it struck me about the stroking, what fun it gave me, and suddenly I became conscious of my hand. . . . It was no longer the same thing.

Growing our Imagination is Powerful

by: Josette Luvmour with excerpts from the Richard Lewis interview 11/27/18

The man who has no imagination, has no wings.

~ Muhammad Ali

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The innate ability to imagine influences everything we do, think, dream, and create. Richard Lewis has worked in public schools for over 50 years to bring forth the incredible natural ability of imagination in children and adults. Moreover, he attracts a multi-talented group of artists to help him in this important work. Working with children from the youngest (in kindergarten) to the oldest (even adults), he said,

…the imagination is a natural act of being. It's not a segment of thought, but it might be the very nature of thought itself. And if that's the case, then it opens up a whole level of thinking by the child to see that they have a sense of control, a sense of empathy with their imaginative life.

A hidden gem in Richard’s interview is when he talks about teacher workshops in which he uses the same process that he uses with children to re-activate their adult imaginations. In his interview, Richard showed us how adults develop and grow beyond their fears. He said,

In the same way that the child is afraid, the adult is often afraid.

…sometimes they [teachers] get so excited. … that we can't stop them. It's almost as if they've rediscovered their own marvelous sense of childhood and it’s a way of perceiving.

I always comment on that and I say, "Well in a way it's that the link to childhood doesn't end. It's a continuous process." So that even though you were perhaps put in a position where you were being asked a question that I asked of children, that your ability to visualize and to imagine is still there, and it's still as powerful as ever as it was in childhood.

In my life, I have held many positions from mother, to teacher, program director, teacher-trainer, professor, and board member (to name a few). The job was always more interesting and fulling the more I allowed myself freedom to express my imagination.  Engagements that invigorate my imagination these days include my hobbies of seamstress, garden-maven, and caring for my two creative and robust granddaughters. I’ll grant there are many mistakes but with imagination, turning mistakes into new creations is satisfying.

Our ability to be imaginative doesn’t have to diminish as we grow older. From the fields of academia, to business, to parenting or teaching, and to the arts, imagination is essential to the emergence of great ideas. Rediscovering our imagination can happen in our relationships with the children and grandchildren we play with, and that may help each new generation change the world. What about you guys? What do you do with your imagination?