Two days ago, I sat in my friend Claudia’s kitchen. I had come to see her new baby girl. Adoring the infant, I almost forgot about her two year-old son, Zinou. He was busy constructing a castle on the living room floor when I spotted him. “Would you like to come and eat with us?” I asked, and his answer was a smiling “YES.” Within seconds he was among us at the table, on the chair and, oops, on top of the table among the food. “Hey,” his mother called wanting to stop him—but instead, she stopped herself, and smiled at him, “Show your baby sister,” she continued in a different tone, “that the table is for eating, and the chair is for sitting. Thank you so much!” Zinou looked at his two month-old sister, waved to her, sat down in the chair and poked a piece of raw cake onto his fork. “Table for eating. Chair for sitting, Yes?” he looked at his sister and then at me for support. “WOW! you know how to teach your sister?” I asked him, and he answered with a serious face of almost grave importance, “Yes!” Then his attention turned to a bird outside the window “Bird is eating, too, Yes?” he announced, poking his fork at the window. “Yes, it looks like the bird is hungry, too.” I confirmed and we both nodded.
Suddenly I realized the complete absence of the word “No” in this little interaction between all of us. My own epiphany made me laugh and I shared it with Claudia. It became clear that, while our ‘gut’ reaction may still be the defensive, negative one, we can transform it, as did Claudia, in the moment, into a co-creating one. “Zinou’s favorite word is ‘yeees’—he sings it like a tune,” she laughed. That’s because he is not patterned by defensive behavior from the start, I thought. When we become aware that the defensive paradigm is a learned cultural one and not a natural, in-born ‘fight or flight’ reaction, we swing the doors wide-open to a new, ?joy-centered sense of existence.
Our old Western culture requires us to grow up in fear. From the moment of birth, and preceding that moment, we are absorbing our mother’s fears and are literally taught to expect adversity of nature, evil intent of fellow humans, pain and loss of health and wealth and fear of everything imaginable. As soon as we can move about as toddlers, we are taught all the things we are not allowed to do. When we enter formal education, the fear of grades and test scores is added. We hear threats of terrible consequences to our actions long before we hear praise and encouragement. We are raised internalizing the words no and don’t much more than yes and do. Consequently, our brains become physically patterned by negative definitions of ourselves and of the world. Our initiative and self-confidence are crippled.
Our new, global culture, however, the culture in which we begin to take responsibility for our life and for the planet as a whole, allows us to change this fear-driven approach to a trust-based approach. Just as we can choose to take responsibility for pollution and global warming, or for our body and its healing, we can choose to let our children grow up with confidence of their ultimate importance. When teachers or parents bring the notion of trust and co-responsibility into the classroom or home, children do not need to be ‘taught’ responsibility; they will absorb the notion; they will participate in, and lead the exploration of the subject to be learned. In my book titled Freedom-Fun-Genius, I call this shift of paradigm “Turning Learning into Adventure” (SILC Books, 2010). In the book’s conclusion, I suggest, “go ahead, overestimate your child’s ability and literally run with it. Your child will most likely live up to your overestimation.” When we trust (not coerce), we can see amazing results.
Leaving out no and replacing it with yes, leaving out fear and replacing it with trust may well be the most important steps toward an education in consciousness. Being without fear changes our energy field, changes our body chemistry—including the scent that animals can smell—and elevates our understanding of everything around us. Living without fear also means we no longer are afraid of the truth. We can overcome culturally imposed inhibitions and shame and speak about everything with our children; be it death, sex, the Twin Towers, or the War on Drugs. We no longer need to hide in conventions or be oppressed by them. We no longer need to be ashamed of our bodies or of our past actions. Instead of regret and depression, we can employ self-reflection and learning. This does not mean that we condemn all conventions and traditions. We can consciously adapt to and enjoy them wherever we choose to do so—such as in participating, for example, in a relative’s traditional Muslim or Catholic wedding or a Native American powwow. Here, we teach our children to respect and enjoy people’s rituals and fashions even while we would not condone some of the individual behaviors displayed in them.
The concept of a creative, positive environment leading ?toward higher consciousness is not entirely new in education. In the year 1919, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, Austrian philosopher and educator, founded the first Waldorf School on then radically ‘positive’ principles: “Receive the child in reverence, Educate the child in love, Let the child go forth in freedom” (Dr. R. Steiner). These revolutionary principles for child rearing have resurfaced in many forms throughout the twentieth century and have spread around the world. Not only do we now find over 2,000 Waldorf preschools, schools, colleges, and teacher training institutions in over 50 countries, we also find many other institutions and homeschool settings embracing the concepts of a loving, positive, consciousness-raising education.
Over the first decade of this century, we have discovered the Law of Attraction, The Secret, and many paths to personal success through a shift in consciousness. We now have the tools to overcome dependency on ‘the authorities.’ Consequently, we now also have the ability to devise entirely new forms of education. We no longer need the ‘enslavement’ of children in centralized school systems that remind us of large plantations in which all slaves have to do the same repetitious labor by filling in blanks on forms devised by the ‘masters.’ Today, we can overcome the military structures in which our little soldier students sit in straight rows and respond to the call of duty without thought or choice (and no, I don’t mean multiple choice). Today we can create dynamic and circular structures in which children co-create their environment.
In a new effort to enable such co-creation by students and teachers, many European Waldorf schools have implemented the ‘moving classroom’ concept. Throughout the early grades, the children not only bring things from nature into the classroom, they also rearrange the physical space of their classroom many times a day for different activities. They may be sitting on cushions in a circular arrangement, stacking up their benches to form a half-circle auditorium, creating a landscape for a dramatic scene with colorful cloth, or forming small group tables at which to share a meal. Not only are these settings esthetically pleasing, the children have been physically active in the co-creation and rearranging of the world around them. They have built beautiful environments in which ever-changing new creativity can grow. In non-military, inclusive (rather than hierarchical) structures, children will learn to co-create dynamic environments in which reverence for our endless individual differences is the basis for collaboration (rather than segregation). These environments are free of competitive test scores and filled with student inventions and explorations; environments in which sharing, not greed, will lead to a sense of wealth; environments in which violent rebellion becomes unnecessary because pondering new paradigms to co-create the world is possible.
Today, we can appreciate the fact that Albert Einstein was a daydreamer, slow learner, considered “retarded,” and told by his teachers that he would never amount to anything much. Today, we comprehend that he was just avoiding the negative influences of the ‘authorities’ around him and retreating into an inner space to develop his imagination. And that is exactly what an education toward consciousness requires: imagination, co-creation, freedom and fun. When we import these principles and practices into our homes and into our schools, we inevitably raise our children’s awareness. And before we know it, we have raised happy, conscious, little geniuses!
Vol 30 Issue 2 Page 40