Every Child has an Inner Compass
Networking Event, February 2020 Bucharest, Romania
By Didi Ananda Devapriya
There is a voice inside of you
that whispers all day long,
‘I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.’
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
or wise man can decide
what’s right for you – just listen to
the voice that speaks inside.
– Shel Silverstein
Children growing up today are facing a world of increasing complexity and choice. As adults involved in children’s education, how can we support them to be equipped with a reliable inner compass to successfully navigate this changing world and become compassionate, self-aware, fulfilled and confident human beings?
In particular, what types of relationships and guidance nurture the emergence of this moral compass? How do they evolve over time, according to the child’s developmental needs? Is morality a socially imposed construct, or inherent to human nature? If inherent, what are the educational implications?
These were some of the questions that over thirty educators, social workers and civil society leaders from Romania, Portugal, Latvia, Serbia, Poland, Bulgaria, Italy, Macedonia, the Netherlands and Bosnia gathered together in Bucharest to explore, in February 2020.
Neohumanist Education Association of Romania and Zonnelicht Early Childhood Daycare and Afterschool Center in Holland had partnered to host this Peer Learning Activity, funded by the International Step by Step Association. According to Liana Ghent, the executive director of ISSA that attended the event, the theme had attracted the most of all of the PLAs they had funded so far, and she was interested to find more ways to continue building on the momentum created at the gathering.
Indeed, there are many complex factors that lead to a child to being able fully reflect our human potential for subtle, noble qualities such as wisdom, altruism, justice, selfless love or courage. While embedding positive messages and values into the content of curriculum or creating clear rules and limits can be some of the more traditional approaches, in Neohumanist Education, our understanding is that there is an innate striving for good embedded deep in human psychology that needs nurturing. Modern neuroscience is starting to confirm this intuitive wisdom, and the key role that nurturing relationships play, particularly in the early years, in encouraging the child’s inborn potentiality to blossom.
“Education does not only mean literacy or alphabetical knowledge. In my opinion, real education means proper, adequate knowledge and the power of understanding. In other words, education should impart an awareness of who I am and what I ought to do. Full knowledge about these things is what education means.”
Shrii P. R. Sarkar
The project developed out of the deep, intuitive clarity that Yolande Koning, from Zonnelicht, has gained over the years, in her direct observations of the development of children’s sense of self through the lens of Neohumanist Education philosophy. I wanted to help to articulate these ideas in a way that will make them accessible for other educators. However, my own particular interest in the project was to use it as a springboard for opening up dialogue with others in the field about how to help children that have suffered through abuse or neglect and have not had the adequate nurturing experiences in their early childhood, to recover their often damaged moral development. This is an extremely relevant and burning problem for my work with the children that come to live in the care of our AMURTEL Family in Romania.
The project began with a series of face to face and online meetings between myself and Yolande, in which we began to create a framework for understanding the development of the child’s emerging sense of the self, and how to strengthen and support that process with appropriate adult interactions.
In order to better contextualize Yolande’s ideas in relation to other leading thinkers in the field of moral education, I then began a process of researching the existing literature on moral development and moral education of children. I also looked into the moral development of children living in adversity.
The result of this work was a booklet that sought to articulate both Yolande’s ideas and my research. An initial version of the booklet was distributed at the event, and since then it underwent re-editing, and will soon be available on www.neoumanism.org. It includes an extensive annotated bibliography of the resources I referenced in my research, including Paul Tough, Paul Bloom, Lawrence Kohlberg, Marvin Berkowitz and others.
Besides presenting my own work and understanding of moral education from a Neohumanist perspective, two other colleagues also shared other approaches and best practices. Afternoons were spent in smaller groups, discussing the practical implications and applications of the ideas presented in the morning sessions.
Nedim Krajisnik from the Center for Educational Initiatives Step by Step in Bosnia gave a presentation about the “School of Values” project taking place in schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recognising that one of the implicit functions of schooling is to transmit social values, he challenged thinking about which values do we choose to teach to students? Are those values universally understood and who, how should they be taught? How can young people themselves be involved in the process of identifying and developing a set of values for their school? He gave several interesting practical examples of how to explore values with children, through open-ended discussions. He handed out cards that contained values, like friendship, hard work, honesty etc and then invited us to sit in smaller groups and choose 3 that we had received from our families and 3 that were most important to us now. We then had a chance to explain our choices to the group. He further discussed the challenges of exploring values in a post-civil war society, in which legacies of idealizing violence and revenge persist, and the scars of trauma are still felt on a visceral level.
Vera Leal came from Portugal to represent “Learning to Live Together” an intercultural and interfaith initiative for ethics education. It is an excellent material, that I highly recommend, available for free online. It was the result of an intensive process of intercultural exchange, debate and practical application, involving not only religious leaders from many different traditions, but also young people from around the world. Arigatou, the organization that initiated the project, has its roots in Japanese Buddhism and all of the work is funded by Buddhist practitioners as part of their service to the world.
On many levels, it was a very enriching exchange, and I look forward to continue learning from each other and refining our thinking on this topic. I invite other Neohumanist educators to join as the process continues. Please write to me or consult our website www.neoumanism.org for updates and other interactive events which will be taking place online.
The spirit of morality will have to be instilled in human beings from the moment that they first start to learn the lessons of interaction. By interaction I mean social interaction. Viewed from this perspective, the mind of a child is the best receptacle for morality. …
…Remember, humanity’s very existence is based on morality; when morality leads human beings to the fullest expression of their finer human qualities, then alone is its practical value fully realized. The concerted effort to bridge the gap between the first expression of morality and establishment in universal humanism is called “social progress”. And the collective body of those who are engaged in the concerted effort to conquer this gap, I call “society”.
Shrii P. R. Sarkar