The Neo Humanist education system has a program of education that can help bring about peace based on social justice.
We need to develop a ‘loving stamina’. All justice must be underpinned with love.
If I were asked, “What is the one thing that Neo-Humanist education has to offer the world over any other educational process?” I would say that it has the potential to build peace (the capacity to negotiate life with a minimum of conflict) into the consciousness of every child. For this to be more than a rhetorical assertion we need to explore the qualities and skills that a Neo-Humanist education fosters in its children.
Neo-Humanism is an holistic philosophy for sustainable living that originated with the Indian mystic and philosopher Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar. Essentially, it states that for all reason to be rational it needs to be benevolent. Its analysis of the human condition is simple: the human mind is distorted by various narrow sentiments and is therefore irrational; this state of mind shuts one soul off from another, promotes injustice, personal isolation and despair. It therefore proposes that for us to become rational beings we need to wage an inner war on all narrow sentiment and work towards a liberation of mind, ours and others, that is inclusive and reverential.
A successful N-H education balances the inner with the outer. Every effort needs to be made in a Neo-Humanist environment to make the processes of interaction explicit. From the earliest years this can be presented as a simple trio of “Self/Other/Environment.” I do this using a wheel divided into three parts: The Self is Blue; the Other is Yellow; and the Environment is green. Over the years the child with the help of the teacher, develops this division in sophistication. In their first years with this representation, the child explores the following three assertions:
1. I am born to learn
2. Others have the right to learn
3. The environment supports my learning
This process develops the language of reflection and incorporates songs, drama, art, and service activity.
Learning and Peace
You might be asking, “Well what has this to do with peace?” In Neo-Humanism, learning is not about simple acquisition of knowledge; it is about a relationship with Life. Living is learning and is built on awe and respect. Awe is inspired by wonder and always so captivates the Soul of the child that they want to share; Awe engenders Respect as a direct result of a sense of connection and Reverence for Life.
A lesson is only learnt when we change the way we negotiate life. When the child is equipped to recognise this through being taught how to ask questions, observe, share, contemplate and enjoy their natural and social existence then we are on the road to building mechanisms for Peace.
Peace begins in the Heart. An individual unable to self-analyse is destined to project fear, anger and hatred onto others. So the role of meditation and supporting activities rooted in artistic and cultural awareness is essential. But it is not enough to teach these in isolation. The child must also be given the language to express who they are and reflect on their feelings and the impact they have on others and others have on them.
Furthermore the child also needs to have a number of strategies to implement when under stress and faced with strong emotions. These strategies need to be constantly reinforced and expanded. When violence occurs the response needs to be swift but not punitive. The whole situation needs to be explored and processed. Blame is not helpful even though there are times when children need to be removed from a teaching environment because they are at risk of harming others.
The child needs to be constantly reflected in the eyes of the other. This is how self-image grows; and identity fused to a sense of peace is the strongest foundation for success. Respect for difference is built on a sense of the wonder at the diversity of life. Teachers can affirm all children for their uniqueness and in so doing alert the children to the processes of tolerance and multi-lateral expression in the group.
Fear of difference can be uprooted simply by affirming difference and creating situations in which children are exposed to new situations and cultures.
The child absorbs all his/her values from the environment: home, school and society are the three dimensions to this. Schools and teachers need to work closely with home and community to uproot intolerance and anti-social behaviour. Of course this is an ongoing struggle and each child is going to have unique experiences of the world; to help with this the child can get a handle on better ways to negotiate life by experiencing the world in miniature in the classroom. The teacher models peace and conflict resolution; the class as a group reflects regularly on the occurrences of violence in class, schoolyard or community.
One of the chief forces at work in the child is a need for order: to make sense of the world, to recognise pattern in human action, to place themselves in the universe, to map out the laws - personal, social, natural and cosmic - that underpin their reality. Central to this process is a relationship with authority that is healthy, interactive and just. Most children learn early the bitter lesson that “Life ain’t fair”.
The antidote to this is to provide, through consistent love and justice, a sense that though life deals everyone a different hand, that we as human beings are gifted with the ability to rise above injustice. It does not help a three-year old to be told that the experiences we have in this lifetime are the result of ‘Bad Karma.’
What does help is to be given the affirmation that they are loveable, that they are not the sum of their actions, which we know they can change, that we all can change and that we all make mistakes, that they do have a voice, and that this voice is valued. We need to be relentlessly consistent in this. I hold as one of my key tenets in teaching, and in life in general, the comment that we need to develop a ‘loving stamina’. All justice must be underpinned with love.
Violence, like peace, is an habitual response to the circumstances of living. One is rooted in fear, the other in love; the one needs to control, the other to trust; one is ignorant and blind, the other enlightened and visionary; one is built on a broken heart, the other feels loved and safe (no matter what).
Peace does not deny the need for the warrior spirit, for the appropriate use of strong, even military action, to defend ourselves and others from violence and injustice. What it does require of us is deep love and compassion. As these are human qualities, we can nurture them in our lives and our classrooms by being clear and living examples of Neo-Humanists struggling to realize the ideals of a comprehensive spiritual ideology.
As Life and Ideology are two sides of the one coin, we need to be explicit in our values and teach the spiritual rationality that frees the mind from fear and ignorance. Simple clear language, the consistent application of an explicit value structure and a Loving Heart are the foundations that will enable Peace to take its place as the best way to successfully negotiate our troubled times.
Marcus Bussey is a Neo-humanist Montessori teacher, musician and author who writes extensively on the subjects of education, futures and consciousness.
This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 12, No. 1 Posted on the web on January 10, 2007