Joyful Education by William Barnes

Transforming the Dragon – The above quote from the great English critic and essayist G. K. Chesterton states for me the exact relationship between the child’s knowledge and intelligence and real education. Killing the dragon means knowing how to transform dragons of the imagination into powers of mental, social and spiritual development. 

The Spiritual Intelligence – In 1983 Howard Gardner proposed his theory of multiple intelligences. It was ground-breaking psychological research.  His seven intelligences–now eight, I believe–certainly did much to open the way to considering intelligence as composing a much wider array of mental abilities than just verbal and mathematical ability. 

The Wonderful Heart – Daniel Goleman in his great book, Emotional Intelligence, talks quite a bit about the heart as our emotional mind. I believe that the heart has its own intelligence, language and field of awareness that is much more than emotion. 

Science, Play and Joyful Education – here he comments on several articles he read about play: To find the article by Joe Robinson, google Joe Robinson The Key to Happiness: A Taboo for Adults? For Judy Willis’s article, google  The Neuroscience of Joyful Education. 

Varieties of Human Experience – In this blog and the next two blogs I want to focus on three kinds of experience (i.e pleasurable, engaging, meaningful) that researchers in the field of Positive Psychology say that human beings generally seek. Each of these experiences is important for a Joyful Education. The topic of these experiences is taken up in more detail in my forthcoming book, Renewing the Sacred. This blog will briefly present thoughts on pleasurable experiences. 

Engagement –  I want to briefly discuss two kinds of important experiences for education: engagement with work or creative activity, and engagement with others or social engagement.

Engaged Learning – In this post I will write about two examples of engaged learning, one long-term, one short-term… There is no textbook on life and learning that I know about, so lessons, too, should not be textbook bound, though they can be textbook-based.  For me, all textbooks are just one more resource to use.  They are not sacred scripture.

Meaningful Experience Needed in Education – We all know that some of our most meaningful experiences come from pain, sadness, even despair, so long as we can work through them with the attitude that “some good can come out of this.” Dennis Prager, in Happiness is a Serious Problem, writes: “Happiness can be attained under virtually any circumstances provided you believe your life has meaning and purpose.” The philosopher Nietzsche wrote: “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” Perhaps some of you read Brent Poirier’s recent article in the Huffington Post: “Processing Personal Pain — A Baha’i View.” I highly recommend it.       

What’s Wrong with Education? – education’s trouble is part of the same trouble afflicting society everywhere.  What is wrong? I think that, by and large, we have lost both our sacred foundations and our spiritual goals. Hence we have little idea of the moral and intellectual powers that flow from the former that enable us to achieve the latter.  We have become so secularized in our thinking, so material in our aims and purposes, and so self-concerned in our living that everything else goes to rot.

Who are you, really?Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh – Many theorists of human nature, seeing a newborn, would argue that human beings are inherently poor, weak and helpless and some forms of education, often tied to religious indoctrination, subtlety prey on that debilitating idea, keeping people in a state of psychological dependence on outer things, other people, authority, and circumstances of crisis. Bahá’u’lláh counters this bit of crushing psychological nonsense with: “I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty?  Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself?”

A Mine Rich in GemsRegard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. Bahá’u’lláh …Among those inner gems of inherent powers and faculties which an improper education deprives us of mining, and so mankind cannot benefit therefrom, is the faculty of accurately recognizing divinity.  I wrote about this faculty in a previous post, calling it the Spiritual Intelligence… In choosing the label ‘divinity’, I am not assuming that God exists and is there to be perceived.  Rather my research on the moral emotions has lead me to conclude that the human mind simply does perceive divinity and sacredness, whether or not God exists.”

The Power To Change the WorldIf you are not busy changing the world, then you are busy keeping it the way it is. Recently I found the above quote which I think is profound.  It provides a good introduction to the topic of this post: the role of faith in education.  I said in the last post that I would discuss how we can mine the gems within us.  We need power to do this. The first of these powers is faith.

Stimulating the Power of Vision – We are discussing ways to mine the gems deposited within the human reality, to spiritually magnetize the talisman which is the human soul, so that we can see spiritual things and things spiritually.  I said that we need power to do this and the first power I discussed was the power of faith. By faith I meant not a blind belief in some rigid doctrine or unsupported idea, but an open attitude toward life that generates purposeful action. This post will discuss the power of inner vision. How faith and vision work hand-in-hand.

The Sound of Creation – For me creativity is the result of an intricate dialogue held among the human reality, the creation, and divinity. Education is their language and process. If education is to bring forth, then what is brought forth must already have been present. But “what is brought forth” from what is already present is done through a reciprocal relation between the mind and creation, each calling to the other for completion. Creativity is a mutual calling forth of spirit.    

A Dialogue of Lights: Some Reflections on ReflectionThe source of crafts, sciences and arts is the power of reflection. Make ye every effort that out of this ideal mine there may gleam forth such pearls of wisdom and utterance as will promote the well-being and harmony of all the kindreds of the earth. Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh 

Bringing the Future into the Present – enduring improvement in education requires more than unleashing the power of creativity within an old system of belief and understanding about ourselves, for this will cause havoc.  Creativity is the bringing forth of novelty, and it can be a pretty unprincipled power unless properly guided…more fundamental than creativity is guiding that creativity into productive channels that bring greater peace and prosperity to all. There are two ways to do this… 

A New Curriculum – The first and real subject of spiritual education is the student, and not math, science, art and language, which become from this perspective the means for a student to understand himself or herself and the world. This means that whether a student is studying physics, literature, or physical education, study of that “subject” should lead him to understand human nature and the world more deeply. The purpose of any curriculum is not really to efficiently and sequentially package a certain body of information. The real purpose of any curriculum is to train the powers of perception, cognition, emotion, and volition to see and experience the world in a particular way. 

A New Curriculum: Spiritual Values – Children are innately spiritual, but not innately moral.  Paradoxically, to say, as Maslow does, that education must be concerned with “final values” means that they are first and foundational. But values of any sort are not taught, principles and virtues are taught. I mean that what are called spiritual values are the gems within the mine of humanity. They are moral and intellectual powers in a state of potential. Virtue and principle are what educe them, bring them forth, drawing them out into actuality. Principle and virtue mine the gems.  They teach the value of the value. 

Unifying the Academic Curriculum – Spiritual principles are rational statements of human values, what gives them intellectual definition and a social dynamism.  Spiritual principles resonate and connect with inner conditions of the human reality…  In today’s integrating world, the master spiritual principle of all education must be, intellectually, the consciousness of the oneness of humankind and socially humanity is one family.  If the oneness of humankind were to be the guiding ideal and purpose of education, this alone would reconstruct the curriculum and go a long way toward reducing the unreality of most current moral education, for the academic curriculum would be built upon those qualities that come from the spiritual dimension of human nature. This dimension, the Bahá’í Writings say, “can be understood, in practical terms, as the source of qualities that transcend narrow self-interest.  Such qualities include love, compassion, forbearance, trustworthiness, courage, humility, co-operation and willingness to sacrifice for the common good — qualities of an enlightened citizenry, able to construct a unified world civilization.” (Baha’i International Community, 1993 Apr 01, Sustainable Development Human Spirit)  

First Things First – I have suggested in recent posts that the values that we want children to acquire cannot be taught; only the knowledge of values can be taught, either intellectually as principles of conduct or as noble behaviors which I have called virtues. In the above quote, Baha’u’llah does not say for schools to teach religion, but to train children in its principles. When ‘Abdu’l-Baha states that “Good character must be taught” I think that He means something like good character must be exampled. Good character can only be shown in actions which we hope children will, in turn, imitate in the best sense of that word. But example appears as a kind of inner moving picture in which we are the actors. Recently, brain researchers have discovered a class of neurons in the brain called mirror neurons. These enable one person to tune into someone else. That is, when we observe someone act the same neurons fire in sequence in our brains. The observer’s brain function mirrors the one that the observed person went through to carry out the action. Voila, the neuroscience of the dynamic force of example. 

Ancient East and Modern West: Universals of EducationHave they forgotten the celebrated hadith (Holy Tradition): “Seek after knowledge, even unto China”?  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 25) Anyone wishing to ground education in good theory has no farther to look than 500 B.C. Confucian China… Muhammad…took some backward, scattered, savage tribes and in less than two hundred years molded them into the greatest force for civilization that the world had seen to that time. He did it by, in part, telling His people to get knowledge even from China. That must have been quite a startling statement, but how else, save by His authority, would they overcome deep-seated prejudices regarding learning from other peoples. Prejudice remains in force today.

Some Myths About Myth –  Children should be bathed in myth, because the child’s mind is mythic in structure and content. Children delight in the loose rhythm and fluid construction of myth… First, it is only a “rational” scientistic (not scientific) conceit that equates myth with something untrue.  This prejudice stems from believing myth is only an imaginary story rather than perceiving myth as an imaginative structure of human understanding.

Word Magic – Roughly speaking, then, there is what children consciously learn and what they unconsciously absorb, and what they absorb is accomplished more easily and has greater effect because it is closer to how the intelligence is actually built and operates.  But what the child understands unconsciously must be translated into a language of consciousness. That is what learning and education should do.   

Playin’ the Numbers –  There are two ways to “read” the creation, verbally and digitally…The two main tool subjects of language and mathematics are most important to know not just in themselves, but also because the two main knowledge systems of humanity are religion, based on the Word, and science, based on number… The Baha’i Teachings assert that “science and religion, the two most potent forces in human life, will be reconciled, will cooperate, and will harmoniously develop.” Reconciliation, cooperation, and harmonious development between science and religion is possible because, like words and numbers, religion and science are, as Spengler says, “structurally alike.” 

Structures of Metaphor: The Symbolic Dimension – A wise mentor once told me, “Don’t think about how to teach, remember how kids learn.” When we think about this statement, the thought gradually dawns that many so-called learning disabilities are actually teaching disabilities. The great psychologist Piaget believed: ‘There are no difficult subjects, only subjects taught in a difficult manner.”.. But we do have to get a clear grasp of how kids learn in order to know how to teach them.  The best way, I believe, is through art.  But by art, I mean not a special skill to learn.  That is the learning of art technique. I mean art as the Balinese are reputed to have said to some anthropologist: “We have no art.  We do everything as well as we can.” 

Transformation and Reformation – The next few posts will consider education within the context of some larger questions, because education never goes on in a vacuum, but is embedded within a complex of social conditions.  Education usually works to maintain and support those conditions. Less often it works to change them. But I want to consider another question to establish context of another sort. The question is: What does education do when spiritual conditions change?  

Three Kinds of Education-Part I –  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote that: “Education is of three kinds: material, human and spiritual. Material education is concerned with the progress and development of the body… Human education signifies civilization and progress… Divine education is that of the Kingdom of God: it consists in acquiring divine perfections, and this is true education; for in this state man becomes the focus of divine blessings, the manifestation of the words, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, and after Our likeness.’  This is the goal of the world of humanity.” 

Three Kinds of Education: Part II: Consuming the Veils of Knowledge – To summarize part one: ‘Abdu’l-Baha stated that there are three kinds of education: material education, common to animals and human beings alike; human education, which is cultivation of the rational mind, science, civilization and culture; and spiritual or divine education, which is “true education” where we are seen to be made in the image and after the likeness of God, which is the goal of humanity. I have suggested that these three kinds of education are not only three contexts and components of education today, but also successive stages in a history of education driving the “evolution of spiritual man”, and that now humanity is in transition from a human education, based on human learning, to divine education, based upon the revealed Word. But most people are veiled from this. How? 

The Quest for a New Kind of Education –  In the quote above ‘Abdu’l-Baha presents the stages of the process by which human consciousness advances via divine direction, the drive propelling what he named “the evolution of spiritual man.” I suggested in my last two posts that the leap of consciousness from the animal to the human world that ‘Abdu’l-Baha mentions above took place in a mythical “garden” called Eden with Adam naming all things—at least that is the Judeo-Christian telling of the event. Today, we are back in Eden with another leap of consciousness to accomplish. This time the leap is from the human to the divine, or, what Thomas Moore in his foreword to John Miller’s Education and the Soul calls, the “shift from mind to soul.” 

Reality – The next few posts will present some of the fundamental or first principles of a spiritual education, as I perceive them. These principles are really concepts of process and interaction, and thus hard to confine within a static definition. I apologize for their abstractness, which is a product of their being presented in isolation. But any theory must present its fundamental assumptions up front, must get the structural blueprint out to guide the building and allow others to see what it might look like. So here goes. 

Progress, Transformation, Transcendence – My first principle was a discussion of Reality, which is unknowable in its essence. But Reality in movement, which I called Reality-as-transformation, is knowable to some extent. The second principle is a discussion of transformation as it relates to human advancement, and for which education can provide the driving force. The discussion will take place within the context of the House of Justice statement above that the “mysterious nature” of the human spirit, whose essential quality is mind, “inclines it towards transcendence”, and Maslow’s prediction, quoted in the last post, that teachers will be “forced to teach spirituality and transcendence.”

Third principle: Humanity is undergoing transcendence –  I have been discussing some of the first or root principles of a new education, a new bringing forth of powers and capabilities from the human reality. The first principle concerned the nature of Reality; the second principle was a discussion of human progress through stages of transformation and into transcendence. The third principle is the relation between the individual’s spiritual transformation and humanity’s transformation, and that we are at a critical juncture in our collective evolution, called maturity, when all humanity must make a great leap forward, transcend all previous conditions, be lifted into a new condition. 

Knowledge is a State of Mind It is generally assumed that knowledge is something that human beings generate by and within themselves. Obviously every individual does develop his or her own intelligence through their own efforts. But knowledge, like light, is a manifestation of reality and an already existing quality through which every individual may illumine his or her consciousness. In this view, knowledge itself is something with which both our intellect and heart, humanity’s two main organs of intelligence, may attain.

The Sacred Essence – Learning starts with perceiving difference, with making distinctions. What is identical to you cannot be known by you. All knowledge is of distinction and difference. But the most important distinction is the distinction between the sacred and the ordinary worlds, the holy and unholy worlds. But I am not using holy and unholy in a strictly religious sense. A holy world is a whole one, for holiness comes from wholeness. An unholy world is one that is disconnected and fragmented…

The Sacred Dimension –  Last post discussed the sacred essence of the human reality.  But this inner dimension must connect with an outer dimension of sacredness in the world for sacred energy to flow… The sacred is, first of all, a power, a dynamic life-force. Like gravity, it acts upon human beings whether they are aware of it or not. But it is a dimension that can manifest itself. Human beings to be complete require the sacred and a connection with it for the world and themselves to have purpose and to make sense. Engaging and connecting with the sacred is the experience of transcendence and the infusion of energy to power positive transformation. 

What Happened? – This post is concerned with outlining a process of historical debasement in the thinking of the west, a process mistakenly called Enlightenment. The origins of historical processes are notoriously hard to identify.  So I will start not historically, but analytically. This post and the next are an overview of two longer essays to be available soon.

What’s Happening?– A holistic movement emerged in the twentieth-century to reconnect the secular and sacred realms, the One and its manifold parts, and make knowledge and experience whole again. With the exhaustion of the assumptions of secular, materialist philosophy, there appeared the desire to again expand the universe of human knowledge into the spiritual dimensions. The movement remains groping – to be sure, but it is there nonetheless. It is emblematic of the intellectual ferment of our times: a ferment about which, I think, education should be aware, because students are living in this environment of thought and need to know how to find their way around this new land, which is also the land renewed.

Building the Classroom Community – The next few posts will present some general principles of building the classroom community, as I understand them, for the crisis in education also revolves around a disintegrating traditional relationship of authority between teacher and student. The breakdown of authority in the classroom is part of the same breakdown of authority everywhere. Much of this is due to a shift going on about the nature of authority, a shift centered around words like authority, obedience and responsibility. Authority and responsibility, not authority and obedience, form the backbone of the emerging spiritual community at any level of social relations. 

Consultation as a Community-Building Power –  Consultation has many aspects and levels. It is more than the sharing of opinions in a common search for truth. It is a means of self-reflection leading to the development of new capacities for individual perception, for good consultation enables people to know in common what they cannot know alone, and is, therefore, a way to accelerate the development of human thought. 

Pedagogy of the Sacred – The word curriculum means “to run a course.” The curriculum is a doorway that opens onto reality whenever its content and structure reflects the perceived nature of reality. The word pedagogy meant originally “to lead the child” as a tutor, or guardian, does. In spiritual education pedagogy must embody principles that enable human beings to lead each other to educe their true or sacred humanity, to run that course that leads them to the highest and noblest they can be.    

The Great Reversal –  I had long felt that the world presented to me in high school textbooks, college classes, works of history and treatises in philosophy, in the sciences both social and natural, and even the arts, was upside down in some way and needed to be turned right side up somehow. It was as if my consciousness was being continually asked to look through the wrong end of a mental telescope. But there was an added twist to the beguilement of these works. They peered through a looking glass which not only reflected but also reversed true circumstances, something like taking the photographic negative to be the real picture. In short, I felt that the vision of things was inverted. I discovered that I was not alone. 

The Power of Example –  Only real, living examples make moral principles real. To grow spiritually, our children are in need of such models of spiritual excellence, as much as they need models of great statesmen, great athletes, scientists and artists if they are to excel in those fields. Where are they to find them?

Reading Our Creation – The whole cosmos is constructed symbolically. Symbols are the language of spiritual understanding, the primary tool for the communication of divine mysteries, a bridging device linking the concrete and material with the intangible and spiritual, a tool to facilitate spiritual transformation by evoking a transcendental experience. 

A Heartfelt Look – To achieve a spiritual perception of all things requires a new state of mind, a blending of mind and heart in a higher relationship. It means to advance into a unified consciousness; the two become one, where mind and heart are not intellect and emotion, but the spiritual intelligence. 

The Birth of the Ego and Morality – All spiritual perception begins with the Messengers of God articulating new dimensions and perspectives on the spiritual world. Spiritual perception gets turned into human learning, which can block the acceptance of deeper spiritual perception. And it is spiritual perception that opens up vast new horizons for human consciousness.

Reflections After a Few Days with the Grandchildren – We know that the sacred cannot be taught; only awakened.  It is already there, because kids know who God is. They know who God is because He is with them, right at the inner surface of their intelligence.

Light and Dark – the existing order–including Nature it seems–increasingly heats-up with contention.  Baha’is call these reciprocal powers the “forces of integration” and “forces of disintegration.” Terminology does not matter.  What matters is the truth that this world is a composite of opposites at every level, and they are being pulled apart.  How do we make unity out of this? One word: Justice. But there is a twist here. Spiritually, unity precedes justice, but socially justice precedes unity. Whaaa? 

Religious Teachings in Education– As much as training the logical and aesthetic faculties, full education must train what we might call the religious faculty resident within the human reality. Religion is a universal spiritual, cultural and psychological phenomenon. Only modern western man feels he can do without it, and he is paying the price. The religious spirit, which should never be wholly and exclusively identified with any particular religion, will not be denied. It is a permanent endowment of humanity. 

Spiritual Rationality – A seismic shift, a sea-change in consciousness–whatever the metaphor employed to convey something that is felt but not yet understood, because it is going on far “beyond” the level of conscious thought—is occurring that makes much educational reform out of touch.  We are renovating the house, when the ground itself is giving way beneath our feet.  A new consciousness is needed to see education in a new way.  Entering any new realm of consciousness both requires and brings new perceptions and conceptions that are neither part of nor accessible by a previous level of consciousness. 

The Great Code of Art – Some believe that poets and other artists are the first creators of symbols. But the Prophets precede the poets.  Artists create cultural symbols, but the prophets give us sacred symbols.  What is the difference?

Spiritual History –  Scripture is not secular history, but divine history, and divine history is in no way divorced from the economic, political, social or intellectual history of humankind: these being in fact parts and expressions of divine history.  Spiritual history is not just God’s redemptive work, but also humanity’s developmental work through God.   

The Holy Books as an Expanding Vision of Human Consciousness –  Each Holy Book shows humanity traveling the same road and covering the same ground, namely, from the beginning to the end of time, called the apocalypse, after which a whole new kind of history will begin. Each Book is a reconstruction of the real shape of historical time and meaning of temporal existence.  

Alpha and Omega – The special object of study of spiritual history is the process of humanity’s spiritual evolution in the material world. It is “the one eternal religion” as it progressively manifests Itself in an unfolding collective social form called civilization. 

OMEGA AND ALPHA –  I have discussed the principle that though the essential or archetypal form appears last in time it is also the source of all previous and partial expressions of itself. These forms or expressions of the essence unfold from the essential form and then enfold back into it. An example from the natural world of this unfolding/enfolding sequence is the life of a tree. The tree begins in seed form, grows through stages of the shoot, branches, leaves, buds, flower, and, finally, manifests as the fruit which holds another seed, another tree, within it.  Spiritually the same principle holds. 

The Indigenous Source of Knowledge – If education is to take the lead in rebuilding civilization it must show leadership. To do this it must, paradoxically to the superficial mind, return to first principles and peoples. These are the essential principles, the simplest notions, the foundation, the Source. For  individual psychology, this means to lead with the heart’s connection with the sacred…

The Third Power – Religion and science, faith and reason, are often portrayed as opposing powers battling over the territory of the mind, and individuals usually choose one over the other.  But that is only because usual history leaves out the middle third which is art and imagination.