The conference afternoons were designed to give participants the opportunity to teach, learn and collaborate with others in areas of their interest and work. There were parallel tracks that included time for workshops, discussion groups and open space time.
Those working in NHE projects, doing research in this field or otherwise interested in this area, had a few shared workshops, and time to meet in specific interest groups afterwards.
Daycare, Preschool and Kindergarten with Yolande Koning, MJ Glassman and Ruai Gregory
The ECE interest group had lively discussions on programming, environmental setup, developmental assessment, parent/community involvement and other very practical applications of NHE philosophy. Ruai Gregory shared her presentation on “Components of a Curriculum”, which sparked further interest in the development and content of learning centers, as well as the importance of providing nature-based education, both indoors and out. Everyone shared about their programs and enjoyed brainstorming solutions to various issues.
Elementary and Junior High and Yoga for Kids with Eric Jacobson and Geeta Lee
This group focused on ways to teach meditation and yoga to children. Some of the techniques discussed were getting everyone involved with fun warm ups, using music to send the mind inside, whether holding the breath is appropriate for asanas with children, which asanas are best, how to deal with students who are disruptive. Each person in the group had experiences and ideas to share.
Birth and Infancy with Didi Ananda Uttama and Jody Wright
This group focused on how mother-baby classes and groups can be set up in a school; what the benefits and challenges are, and some of the structures that can be used. They also discussed how to raise children.
Neohumanist Educational Researchers with Kathleen Kesson and Marcus Bussey
Professor Kathleen Kesson led discussions which considered research from both an academic and a practitioner perspective. Group members shared their own contexts and discussed issues in their professional lives that needed deepening through research. Such issues included:
- The application of Neohumanist Philosophy
- What is Neohumanist Philosophy?
- Child Psychology and Neohumanism
- Sarkar’s developmental vision for humanity and its implications for classroom practice
- Better understanding of the Tantric Layers of the mind and how they relate to classroom and curriculum
- Neohumanism and Aesthetics/Arts
- The role of Service in the curriculum
- Teacher development and Training
- The connection between Neohumanism and Prout in school and classroom
- Neohumanism and Education for Sustainable Development
Other AMGK Faculties
AMGK is composed of over 50 faculties. A few of these were represented at the Conference, and during the afternoons they were given the chance to meet with others working in the same or related fields to share their work and collaborate. Groups that met included
Yoga and Intuitional Science Faculty, AMAYE and Yoga Therapists
The yoga and intuitional science workshop group, decided to separate into 6 mini-presentations. Kristine Weber described the physiology of fight or flight reactions and stress responses. Eileen Maxwell demonstrated a few components of trauma-sensitive asanas that are helpful for individuals with severe anxiety and depression. Richard Maxwell reviewed how misleading information is produced by media over-dramatizing the results of research studies and causing distorted impressions. Livus Lundkvist reviewed a multi-stage program that he uses to help people expand their communication skills, deepening relationships through more open and honest exchanges. Ruth Lee presented the benefits of meditation to the functioning of one’s brain. Sid Jordan presented a form of somatic therapy which has some resemblance to asanas and which is oriented toward correcting poor physical body habits.
Dada Diiptimanananda started with introducing his thesis on the subject, “Devotion, Creativity and Composition: Music in Ananda Marga and Its Philosophical Base, Aesthetics and Practice.” This thesis was written from 2009-2013 as part of a Master studies in Ethnomusicology in Tainan National University of the Arts (TNNUA). Dada introduced some of his key findings in his research on Prabhata Samgiita (PS) and kiirtana. The discussion went gradually into more practical aspects such as how to maintain the beauty of Prabhata Samgiita when we use guitar or other Western instruments, and what the key elements are that need to be preserved when we learn and present PS. This part became very enjoyable and we sang several songs covering the whole afternoon session, with inputs from everyone present in the workshop. The main aesthetic features that need to take into consideration are ideation (bha’va), language (bha’sa), melody (sur), and rhythm (chanda). Pritilata Kopetsky sang several songs demonstrating the subtlety of the melody, James Steen accompanied on tabla, and Dada Diiptimanananda sang a few songs and demonstrated how to play Prabhata Samgiita in Jhaptal on the guitar.
Socio Economic – PROUT Group
PROUTist met to discuss and analyze current global conditions and develop individual and collective strategies for change. These include networking with allied groups and key figures, building greater online presence, and holding events and conferences. Dr. Ravi Batra presented his new book at the public program (see book review in this issue on page 37), and was also interviewed.
MU Development – Peter Fleury
MU Site Planning Design – Dhyanesh Fleury
Dhyanesh met with members of the Ananda Aungira Master Unit. He had drawn up plans for them many years ago, and they spent the workshop time reviewing and revising those original plans.
Dance Workshop – Prakash Laufer
In the dance workshop, participants explored ways of dancing and moving together that strengthen communication, empathy and creativity.
A key tool in dance therapy is a moving circle with empathic mirroring of each other. Participants explored how to use dance and movement in teaching songs, and to express ideological concepts simply and with impact. Neohumanist ideology can be expressed through moving together and supporting the movement everyone is doing.
Film Group – Creating Promotional Films for Spiritual Organizations
Taught by Kevin Peer, filmmaker
Kevin Peer’s film experience includes being a filmmaker for National Geographic, creating award winning documentaries and working with Matthew Fox in creating Sacred Films at Naropa University in Oakland.
This workshop focused on making promotional film for spiritual groups. Kevin encouraged participants when creating a film to start with the ideation of “May this film be a service to all beings”. Kevin addressed key aspects to filmmaking including a balance between intuitive and practical aspects, setting goals for one’s film, transcribing interviews and organizing the information, editing, deciding whose perspective the film will portray and deciding on the target audience for the film. Kevin shared a spiritual promotional film he recently made in San Francisco for an Ayurveda organization to illustrate each of these essential ingredients in promotional making a film. The dozen participants attending this workshop expressed deep appreciation for the integrity and skill of Kevin as a teacher and filmmaker. They felt inspired and empowered to implement his clear formula for creating promotional film that could best serve organizations and society.
Family Systems and Emotional Wellbeing, Creativity and Learning for Teachers and Children – led by Linda Baker
This experiential workshop was based on the premise that learning environments can be substantially improved by focusing on the emotional wellbeing and creativity of both teachers and students. It drew on research and exercises developed by the ECL Foundation (Emotional Wellbeing Creativity and Learning Foundation) as well as that from Systemic Constellation Theory which is premised on the importance of understanding family dynamics in oneself and one’s students. Through exercises, participants first experienced these ideas through their own adult lenses and then were taught how they translate into tools for the classroom and the whole school system.
Agro-forestry in the Pasture: New Cropping Ideas for Temperate Region Master Units – Geoffrey Steen
High-productivity agro-forestry is an up-and-coming field of agriculture that helps integrate tree crops into existing farm systems. Whether it’s a livestock operation, vegetable farm, or cropfield; trees have an important role to play in soil conservation through their action as windbreaks, nutrient accumulators and micro climate creators. Additionally, trees offer shade and forage for animals, add value and beauty to your property and a diversified source of income for the farmers. Geoffrey Steen’s agro-forestry seminar demonstrated the beginnings of such a diversified tree-crop system being worked into an existing dairy farm. In the future, this 20-acre research site will be increasingly self-renewing (refers to nutrient cycling), productive of food for humans and livestock, and a model for replicating such an integrated systems within similar bio-regions and adapting it to different ones.
Honoring Local Cultures
led by Dr. Kathleen Kesson and Dr. Marcus Bussey
Contemporary Western forms of education have played a significant role in colonial expansion, empire building, and the destruction of local culture and language. Neohumanist Education strives to honor local and indigenous cultures, calling upon us to draw lessons from pre-modern, pre-colonial cultures and preserve what we find valuable in modern education to construct a post-modern, post-colonial form of education for an Ecozoic Era (defined here as a new time of human mutuality with the Earth and other members of the Earth Community). This workshop was framed as an opportunity to discuss issues that arise when educators aim to both honor local culture and support the development of an enlightened universalism.
We began with a brainstorm, in which participants listed as many components of culture as they could think of: language, customs, traditions, gender roles, food, holidays, gestures, rhythm, and body language, sense of time, attitudes towards birth and death, architecture, relationship to nature, etiquette, etc. This was followed by a short workshop introduction to frame the ideas we would be discussing. It was acknowledged that the room was filled with people from a multitude of cultures, all or most of whom have also had extensive experience in cultures other than their own. The workshop leaders, Marcus Bussey and Kathleen Kesson, thus presented themselves not as “experts” on cultural issues, but as conversation facilitators charged with the task of eliciting the wisdom of the collective.
The overarching question for the workshop posed as a “problem” the point that as educators who engage in contemplative spiritual practices, we may come to regard ourselves as “trans-cultural” – or beyond the grip of culture. Yet it is important to remember that forms of pedagogy are culturally specific and we can unconsciously project ways of thinking and problem-solving that are specific to our cultural origins. The workshop was an opportunity to explore these issues. The overarching question posed was “How can we avoid new forms of colonialism as we move ahead with the best of intentions in our educational work?”
The method of inquiry in the workshop was a narrative format, with small groups choosing one of four questions to engage with, followed by a large group sharing of what was learned. What follows are the four questions posed, with a very brief synthesis of the group’s commentary in italics.
- Neohumanist educators need to have a deep understanding of a people and a culture that they intend to “educate.” Can you recall a time when you needed to learn more about the students you planned to teach? How did you go about your investigations? What did you learn, and how did that shape your pedagogical decisions?
It is important to know the family background and cultural influences that influence the child. This helps to develop a rapport with your students, and enables them to express their learning in ways that are resonant with their culture of origin. The importance of the need to model appropriate behavior was noted. Workshop leaders noted the complexity of the phrase “appropriate behavior” and the ways in which cultural groups have varying perspectives on this. The issue was acknowledged as a point for further discussion.
- Neohumanist educators recognize that school and community are inseparable, both in terms of community development and in terms of shared responsibility for the education of young people. Can you tell a story of a time when these ideas became clear to you, and what you did as a result?
Discussants noted the importance of communication and collaboration with communities and identifying shared/common elements of culture in order to build cultural “bridges.”
- Educators, like other people, are “trapped” in their own worldviews. The way we see the world (and such fundamental aspects of it as the nature of time, space, language and relationships) is shaped by our early experiences, by the teachings of our elders, by our own schooling, and by our experiences in the world. The only way to break through this perceptive apparatus is by immersing oneself in a culture other than our own, and appreciating differences at a very deep level. Can you talk about a time when this happened for you? What was it like? How did you feel? How did it change you?
It was noted that immersion in another culture helps one understand their own culture better, and develops the kind of critical thinking that will help humanity shape and refine a future. One discussion that emerged in these groups had to do with the difficulties in identifying the elements of “pseudo-culture” and differentiating these from genuine culture.
- In our postmodern world, there is a recognition that culture is value-based, and to honor culture requires a “relativizing” of values, and not imposing our own value system on others. However, Yama/Niyama presents a very specific set of values, which may or may not be shared by a group of people we hope to educate. Can you tell a story about a time when this contradiction became apparent to you? How did you approach your work? What were some outcomes of this?
When we encounter elements of culture that are not consistent with the principles of Neohumanism, it is important to show respect for the culture, but also to set an example that is an alternative. We can “hold these tensions” while doing the work. It is important to separate people/individuals from a cultural context (this point, as many others noted above need further discussion).
Here is a list of some books that might prove useful in the study of culture and pedagogy.
- Banks, J. A. (Ed.) (1996). Multicultural education, transformative knowledge & action. New York: Teachers College Press.
- Banks, J. A. and McGee, C. A. (Eds.). (1989). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Banks, J. A. (1988). Multi-ethnic education: Theory and practice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Cajete, G. (1994). Look to the mountain: An ecology of indigenous education. Durango, CO: Kivaki Press.
- Cushner, K., McClelland, A., Safford, P. (1992). Human diversity in education: An integrative approach. New York: McGraw Hill.
- Delpit, L. (1995). Other people’s children. New York: The New Press.
- Dennis, D. (1984). Black history for beginners. NY: Writers and Readers Publishing.
- Derman-Sparks, L. and the ABC Task Force. (1989). Anti-bias curriculum: Tools for empowering young children. Washington D.C.: NAEYC.
- Diamond, B. J. & Moore, M.A. (1995). Multicultural literacy: Mirroring the reality of the classroom. Longman Publishers.
- Hall, E. (1983). The dance of life: The other dimension of time. New York: Doubleday.
- Hall, E. (1981). Beyond culture. New York: Doubleday.
- Highwater, J. (1981). The primal mind: Vision and reality in Indian America. New York: Meridian.
- King, E. W. (1990). Teaching ethnic and gender awareness: Methods and materials for the elementary school. Iowa: Kendall-Hunt.
- Ladson-Billlings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African- American children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Lee, E., Menkart, D., Okazawa-Rey, M. (1998). Beyond heroes and holidays: A practical guide to K-12 anti-racist, multicultural education and staff development. Washington D.C. : Network of Educators on the Americas.
- Nieto, S. (1992). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education. New York: Longman.
- Ramsey, P. G. (1987). Teaching and learning in a diverse world: Multicultural education for young children. New York: Teachers College Press.
- Schniedewind, N. & Davidson, E. (1983). Open minds to equality: A sourcebook of learning activities to promote race, sex, class, and age equity. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
- Slapin, B. & Seale, D. (1989). Books without bias: Through Indian eyes. Berkeley, CA: Oyate.
- Sleeter, C. E. & Grant, C. A. (1988). Making choices for multicultural education. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
- Takaki, R. (1993). A different mirror: A history of multicultural America. Boston: Little, B rown and Co.
Our Global Association of Neohumanist Educators (GANE) brings all together to network and share whether teachers, researchers or administrators. We welcome Niiti Gannon on board the staff. If you are an educator and have not joined GANE yet, please do so at www.gane-educators.org. For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
PR Sarkar Institute
The newly formed P. R. Sarkar Institute offers a repository for collecting and sharing resources as well as a center for research. If you would like to assist with this project, please contact Dada Gunamuktananda at email@example.com.
Neohumanist College Distance Learning
The newly developed Neohumanist College offers an online environment for teaching and learning utilizing Moodle. For more information, to inquire about a course or to offer a course, please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit websites: nhcollege.gurukul.edu and nhc.gurukul.edu/moodle.
Dr Sid Jordan and Dr Marcus Bussey led the closing session for the AMGK Conference. The focus of the session was on identifying the highlights of the conference and on making a commitment to some kind of action based on these.
This was a very interactive session. Groups were formed around the key interest areas explored over the previous days and Livus Lundkvist led a Deep Listening session which complemented these group discussions.
Extensive documentation of the ideas and aspirations of the moment was conducted with groups reporting to the collective on their main points. Groups were then broken up so that we could explore possibilities across interest groups and break out of narrow identifications with specific areas.
Organisers reminded participants that AMGK is committed to open systems of coordinated cooperation as manifest in the concept of transdisciplinarity. Transdisciplinary action creates fertile ground for creative and integrated approaches to the implementation of Sarkar’s vision of a new Renaissance in human civilisation.
In conclusion we reflected on these inspiring and challenging words from P.R. Sarkar:
“If human beings think seriously, they can perform small and big tasks unitedly in a beautiful manner. Work can be accomplished in a short time and with very little effort, the welfare of a maximum number of persons can be effected.”
The Evening Programs, hosted by Didi Anandarama, featured presentations from a rich array of schools and projects represented from around the world including: USA, Taiwan, Thailand, Nicaragua, Canada, Costa Rica, Australia, Venezuela, Holland, Romania, Indonesia, Africa, Egypt, Brazil and Lebanon.
GANE members can access powerpoints of presentations and evening programs at gane-educators.org