The Essence of Education for Life

By Michael Nitai Deranja

Michael Nitai Deranja is the founder of the Living Wisdom Schools with campuses in California, Oregon, Washington, Italy and India. He has been a classroom teacher and principal for over 30 years and is currently working on starting up the Education for Life Institute, a 4 year degree teacher education program located in Beaverton, Oregon. He is author of the book, “For Goodness’ Sake.”

Expanding Consciousness: the essential purpose of education and life

There is a dimension of consciousness that runs through all of life. At the upper end of this spectrum we find a vibrant, expansive energy that reveals itself in qualities like kindness, truthfulness, forgiveness, generosity, self-respect, love, and joy. At the least developed level, it flickers with a low level of energy in a constricted range of behavior, manifesting in such qualities as obstinacy, negligence, lack of self-confidence, superstition, procrastination, callousness, and duplicity. In the middle range of consciousness we find a mixture of behaviors where the energy is generally high, but with a turbulent, egotistical expression as in the qualities of selfishness, impulsivity, pride, fastidiousness, revengefulness, worry, and arrogance.

Progress along this dimension of consciousness is essentially motivated by a person’s desire to avoid pain and sadness and to achieve an ever-more enduring and satisfying experience of happiness. At the lower levels where consciousness is contracted, motivation is almost always produced through the enforcement of rules and other outward forms of discipline, as when an insensitive child must be forced to stop bullying others. As we move up the spectrum however, a deeper, more enduring form of motivation gradually becomes accessible.

Within all of the higher life values, there is an intrinsic core of experience that provides a natural motivation for expressing that quality. For example, there is a calmness that accompanies the expression of truth, and a joy that can be felt in selfless service. As a person’s consciousness evolves, the need for external motivation is gradually replaced by these awakened inner sensitivities, providing a sound, practical basis for constructive life choices.

The Teacher/Student Relationship: the crucible for nurturing growth

The consciousness of the teacher is an essential component in implementing the Education for Life model. To the extent that teachers are preoccupied with personal issues, there will be an inability to genuinely attend to the needs and potentials of their students. Teachers must therefore be given the time and resources to cultivate their own level of consciousness through whatever practices they find to be helpful. Meditation, prayer, and the practice of mindfulness are a few examples.

Secondly, the educational setting must allow opportunities for the teacher to establish an empathetic relationship with each student. Many of these opportunities can be spontaneous and informal, but without this kind of contact, the teacher will be unable to develop a curriculum that truly serves the students’ needs. Class sizes must be of an order that facilitates this style of interaction.

The Curriculum: a co-creation between teacher and students

The curriculum in an EFL school will be student-centered and dynamic: unfolding in accordance with the interests and capacities of the students, and utilizing current opportunities for growth that present themselves in the flow of daily life. Traditional curriculum objectives like writing, reading, math, and science can be “humanized” through the teacher’s focus on presenting these basic skills in ways that directly support the students’ overall development. Key learning objectives would include: expressing one’s ideas clearly and concisely, living harmoniously with the environment, understanding the motivations of other people, and appreciating life’s interrelationships.

Of special concern will be the nurturing of a balanced development of the body, feelings, will, and intellect. Students who develop physical vitality, emotional maturity, dynamic will power, and a clear, practical intellect are prepared to lead a genuinely satisfying life of personal accomplishment and growth.