Relevance of Neohumanist Education to the Current World Context
By Didi Ananda Devapriya
Within the context of the current global ecological crisis facing humanity, raising ecological awareness has an important role and must be cultivated. Ecological consciousness is based on a profound awareness of the natural laws guiding nature and society and of the interdependent relationship between man and the environment. It raises an awareness of the need to care for nature, to predict and understand natural phenomenon and to rationally and efficiently use all natural resources. Therefore, in contemporary society, as we witness the results of a lack of harmony between society and nature, the necessity of cultivating an ecological consciousness, a wise and rational attitude towards the natural world that increases its wealth and minimizes human impact and pollution, is of utmost important.
The concepts of universalism and unity in diversity are fundamental to identifying new tools for creating an inclusive world. This component of Neohumanist Education aims to prepare a generation capable of promoting and developing harmonious relationships between ethnic, and religious communities creating a positive framework for dialog between children of different nationalities, religions, that are open to accept ethnic differences (language, customs, traditions) etc.
Cultural diversity is a social reality that must be taken advantage of in the preschool kindergarten setting. The kindergarten setting is an intercultural space, offering children the opportunity to become aware of their specific historical and cultural surroundings, thus helping them to know and value their own personal ethnic and national identity, and to extend this identity to their membership in a wider universe. Neohumanist education emphasizes this sense of identity, considering it vital to be firmly anchored in one’s own ethno-cultural values and traditions in order to guarantee the transmission of generational wisdom, as well as for healthy personal growth.
Knowledge of one’s’ own past, ancestral values, and ethno-cultural legacy are roots that nourish the growth and flowering of the healthy individual identity of each person. The arts, especially the traditional arts, help to create a connection between past, present and future. An authentic sense of rootedness contributes to a sense of identity and self-respect, which is the foundation for being able to explore and experience other cultures in a constructive way that enriches the individual. Modern life creates increasing daily opportunities for interaction between different cultures, and the attitudes cultivated in Neohumanist Education help children to navigate the emerging “Global Village” in an open, compassionate and human way.
Neohumanist Education cultivates the aesthetic sensibilities of the mind and respect for culture, in order to shape the personality with refined aesthetic ideals, attitudes and behaviors. Thus, beginning with aesthetic awareness, a child gradually reaches higher and subtler experiences of beauty, or aesthetic feelings that are deeply lasting, as well as the specifically human experiences of appreciation and love for divine qualities. This is especially important in the modern world where children are overwhelmed with a multitude of stimuli from the profit driven mass media. Much of mass media is dominated by pseudo-culture, which threatens to erase subtler forms of culture with those that have the most sensational mass appeal, promoting consumerism, violence and a materialist emphasis on sexuality.
Finally, rationality and the awakened conscience are fundamental for developing a full, complete, balanced and free person. Neohumanist Education supports the development of the child’s moral capacity to rationally discriminate right from wrong, and the self confidence and moral courage to act in accordance with their own conscience. This moral conscience is awakened by resonating with the child’s own innate attunement with universal principles such as truth, benevolence, and love, rather than imposing morality through fear-based techniques which result in the child learning to trust authority, but not their own authentic conscience.
Self-actualized people and leaders are those that develop trust in their own thinking and the ability to maintain their principles, even in the face of external pressures. Forming the foundations of a strong character in early childhood helps children to build the strength that will be needed to resist the strong peer pressures that they will encounter in their adolescence, which have become increasingly dangerous in recent years. Contemporary adolescents no longer trust authority, thus attempts to instill moral principles solely through authority without developing the rational capacity of discrimination, tend to only be effective in childhood, and cannot provide the moral compass needed to navigate the turbulent teenage years. That is why it is so important for children to have contact with positive models and why it is so important for the adult to show the child respect for moral values through actions, not just words. In this way it becomes much easier to inspire the development of morality despite the many obstacles arising in modern society.
Benevolence, generosity, honesty, compassion, and loving kindness are the expressions of happy, fulfilled human beings.
These qualities bring out our human nobility and must be generously encouraged in children right from kindergarten. At this preschool age, the focus is on an education of the heart, educating children in a spirit of cooperation, service-mindedness, free expression, responsibility and tolerance.