The conference was opened by Dada Ratnadevananda and Prabha, welcoming the over 50 participants who came from Mongolia, Venezuela, USA, Egypt, Laos, Thailand, Mexico and from local places like Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Lismore. Dr. Marcus Bussey, professor at University of the Sunshine Coast and Associate of Prout College, was the facilitator of the conference.
Foundations of a Neohumanist Curriculum:
Curriculum in Abundance
Dr. Marcus Bussey gave the opening presentation. A summary of his talk prepared by Didi Anandarama. Follows below.
Consciousness – Longing: Neohumanist Education is a story of creation – the story of emergent consciousness. “Love is the starting point… Love is the last point.” It is the story of a Divine Spirit who felt lonely and in need of relationship and thus started the creation to populate the emptiness and bring about matter and substance, joy and happiness.
Diversity – The World of Forms: Divine Consciousness transformed into more and more diverse forms, and over millions of years, human beings came into being and developed language to communicate ideas and awareness.
Self-awareness: Consciousness deepened, world culture developed and we began to live in a conscious story. We developed maps (stories of meaning, myths, ideologies) and pathways.
Relationships: We created us, a collective mind where we share and connect together and where we exist in relationships as a result. There are webs of meaning, social webs, family webs.
Acceleration: Today we experience intensification on various levels, yet as human beings we are clever and can make choices. Do we see crisis or opportunity? It is a time when fear is either confining us to our ‘kitchen’ where we are in control, or it is an opportunity where we can have a human, a planetary consciousness.
Creating a New Wave in the Collective Mind: Through self-knowledge, collective learning and flexibility in various contexts we link personal transformation with global transformation. A spiritual revolution is going on in so many micro-worlds. There is a dynamic longing for healing relationships. In our weaving a new form of language.
NHE Curriculum in Abundance
As NHE educators we are part of this spiritual revolution. Many groups and schools work at the level of social reconstruction that hinges on consciousness. In NHE schools, we educate the human and we have a different map of what it is to be human. Each NHE school is unique but each shares the aspiration to make a difference. In this conference we are sharing our trying to make it happen; as we share our experiences we are making the map. We are learning collectively to make a difference. NHE gives us the tools but the process needs to be grounded in spiritual practice which makes us truly human. Love is the central force, love binds us together; it is the dynamics, and it is the reason and the goal.
Neohumanist comes from neo – new which is a Greek word and humanitas is a Latin word chosen by Shrii P.R. Sarkar who hails from the East thus bringing East and West together. We are tied together in subtle ways. With our many schools we share local and global wisdom. We are a very rich community group as we represent this Neohumanism as a form of shared experience.
Curriculum is about community, knowledge, family related ideas, how we deal with them, how we process them. We embody a different understanding of an abundant curriculum. Abundance is what we are about. We are becoming transitional beings having to negotiate the immense pressures … especially in the west …or in a very impoverished area… but we are all becoming Neohumanists.
Designing an NHE Curriculum
Eric Jacobson, director of the Progressive School of Long Island told the story of developing the curriculum at PSOLI. At the beginning he researched the best curricula from the best schools available in America. He got curriculum material for each grade with specific objectives. Then he mapped out Sarkar’s philosophy as an outline of many different points and saw what in the available curriculum material needed to be erased, added to, or changed.
In the course of two decades he developed every subject at PSOLI in this way and finally wrote his findings in a Teacher’s Handbook. (available from AMGK for $10).
Eric emphasized that philosophy is the essential leading constant in NHE that percolates down to the teachers and children, into the curriculum content, then methodology and into the environment and community of the school. Philosophy is the outer nest in which all the other layers of what makes a school find common shelter. The nest of Neohumanism is the same for all our schools around the world. It can be evaluated and understood by answering any of the three following questions: “What is Neohumanism? Why are we creating Neohumanist schools? What is our goal for a graduate of a Neohumanist school. We must be 100% consistent on what this Neohumanist philosophy is. On this foremost outer layer there is not now, and should never be, any difference amongst our schools, though its description may vary. For example, some may describe it as expanding our circle of love, while others may describe it as the movement from crude towards subtle.
The next layer is the “WHO” that is, the children who will be in our school and the teachers who will be teaching. Philosophy helps to guide us to be clear on what qualities we are looking for in teachers. They need to be neohumanists as far as possible. Some variation in personnel will occur around the world. As we move away from the pure philosophical outer layer, this variation is natural and acceptable. It allows each school to have a unique footprint, and enables our schools to respond to the ever changing elements of time, place and person.
Then we come to the plan or the “WHAT” that has to be taught which is the curriculum, the main focus of this conference. The content that we add in the curriculum is inspired by the philosophy, the WHY. Here the subjective philosophy is objectively adjusted to the students or the WHO.
Once these priorities are clear we come to the methodology or the “HOW” best to teach and formulate the specific lesson plans, and how they will be carried out.
Finally we come to the “WHERE” or the specific circumstances of the school’s locale.
Once again, as we move away from the philosophy, and apply it to the personnel, curriculum, methods and facility, the variations from school to school will gradually increase. The beauty of this system is that the same universal love is evident in all we do, yet it promotes an abundance of creativity and freedom in learning how to apply that love through all the layers of the institution. Best practices can be shared, but not compelled in a uniform way.
The Language Tree: Building Neohumanist Literacy
Eric Jacobson introduced the discussion on Language Arts in an inner circle into which others could step and share their perspectives. The Neohumanist philosophical starting point in Language Arts could be thought of as how can we attempt to increase the circle of our love.
What is the value or purpose of reading and writing? In general language curricula have the following priorities:
1. acquisition of skills to pass tests with high grade
2. habitual reading, regardless of content
3. good content if at all possible
In NHE, however, the most important question is what is the effect of the literature on the reader. Guided by our philosophy of the importance of imparting cardinal moral values, we have reversed the list and gave foremost importance to content:
1. Content must be meaningful, soul-touching, neohumanistic, and allow for deep thought that can lead to related lesson activities
2. Great content, and application of lessons learned inspires the child to develop a reading habit
3. Habitual reader will gain skills at an accelerated rate
At PSOLI, they kept to these reverse priorities in comparison to outside curricula and have proven successful in the course of 25 years. They are outperforming public schools’ students because they changed the focus from short term to long term learning. It is a difference of getting someone ready for tests and getting someone ready for life. Eric then shared many personal stories from his school demonstrating this success.
The qualities we seek in selected literature are:
1) moral content
2) expansion of the mental horizon
3) stories that encourage the reader to re-evaluate what they believe
4) allow the reader a glimpse of the world from a new perspective
5) inspiration to dream great dreams
Our schools need to have a collection of books that have cardinal human values and neohumanist values that expose children to different religions and cultures. For example at age 10 children may struggle with lying. We have several books on lying with Christian, Buddhist and other cultural backgrounds. There are many genius authors who help you in this. Your job as an educator is to find good books and to continuously add to it.
Another example that was discussed in some detail was the use of biographies of great personalities.
Discussion and Follow-up Plans
Teachers shared their favorite literature and lesson extensions. Didi Ananda Gaorii, the principal of Sunshine School in Laos, described lack of suitable literature in Laos. She suggested that we set up an exchange of good example of books and circulate them in our schools along with suggested extended activities that worked well with the students. (see “Global Project” for details) An extensive book list provided by Vistara Primary School is on the NHE Resources and you are free to add your books to this list. (www.nhe.gurukul.edu/resources.htm).