Transforming Life Through Holistic Education

With the coming of a new year many people go through a process of evaluating their lives and goals. The lovely white snow, the sweet carols, even the commercialized process of the season and winter festivals reminds us that the time for renewal is at hand. Some make resolutions and others simply contemplate and wonder. One way or another, we feel the urge to transform our lives, making them more meaningful and fulfilling.  Winter festivals these days, for the most part, circle around the material aspect of life. Maybe the saturation with materiality makes us thirst for our spiritual side and hope for new beginnings in the New Year.

In the Baha’i Writings, we find that human happiness is based on spirituality. (For more information please see www.bahai.org)  Without spirituality one might find one’s self in total loss despite every comfort. On the other hand a spiritual orientation in life can connect one to a different and less transient form of wealth and comfort.

Through holistic education one tries to transform one’s life in every aspect. One of the transforming aspects of holistic education is connection to self. In the western world, where people live with many material comforts and distractions, video games, entertainment, continuous TV and radio, one hardly finds time to sit and ponder. We have seen six, seven or eight year olds coming to us with anxiety attacks – at best running for their rescue remedy – unable to comfort themselves when even the possibility of threat to their immediate pleasure intervenes, as slight as the possibility of losing a toy for half an hour. Disconnectedness is quite common among youngsters and it manifests itself through a variety of symptoms. Many like to consider this a physical challenge and deal with it physically, though the root cause of such problems often lies in the dissatisfaction of the spirit.

The other transforming aspect of holistic education is connection to the creator, in whatever name we might call this eternal essence. This connection is the root of creativity in children and adults. How many great works of art and science have been inspired after reflection on the beauty of creation. This need for reflection is a clear indication of our thirst after connection with the source of our lives. The word creator denotes creativity and creativity brings new life to those who make it a part of their lives.

Another transforming aspect of holistic education is connection with others. In a world rampant with competition and starved of meaningful connection with others, this connectedness empowers all to be part of a greater whole, to benefit from collective wisdom and contribute to the betterment of humanity. Working with children demonstrates clearly how they thirst to be of service to others, how they would like to work with others and help others achieve more in their lives. Those who start early enough with us and are not programmed with competition, are inspired to do their best for no other reason than that it is right to do their best and not through an ulterior motive to be better than their neighbour. Cooperation is natural to children and it is only after years of competition that they learn to undermine others and become self-centred.

One of the most important transforming aspects of holistic education is connection to nature. Nature is one of the best trainers and healers. Through observing nature one learns much about one’s self, about others and about the transitory nature of this world. Through this connection one also develops empathy and understanding for other creatures. Touching soil, a walk through the forest, a day in the wilderness can bring total change in life. We are all part of the circle of life and without connections we are no more than broken leaves. With meaningful connections, we become part of the whole and receive and give to this phenomenon of life.

At Roger White Academy children are encouraged to connect with their inner selves, to search for meaning in life and to fulfill their potential through the transforming power of deeper understanding of self and connection with life, others, and humanity at large. Words and ideas without practice are like lifeless parts of a tree and not worthy of mention. Ideas expressed in appropriate action are worthy of human beings and have power to conquer hearts. Children are capable of transforming their lives when they discover the value of human life. At Roger White Academy, we inspire children to see their own value and to make sure they contribute their share, regardless of smallness or largeness to the service of humanity. For more information visit our website at www.rogerwhiteacademy.org or call us at 905-967-1156 for an appointment.

We invite you to visit Roger White Academy to observe our classes and see a demonstration of a truly transformed group of children.

Celebrating Diversity Through Holistic Education

Every human being is a unique creation endowed with special gifts and faculties. To appreciate these gifts and to bring them to fruition, one needs to explore beyond the surface – sometimes very deep. To look at an acorn and to imagine the oak tree potentially in that tiny seed requires the experience of a gardener and the trust of a tree planter. Within each paradigm certain gifts are valued and others may go without due attention. For a materialistic society, intellectual gifts might be considered of supreme value and spiritual capacity and other capabilities might go unnoticed.

As an educator, I do not believe in labels and classifications. Human beings are organic entities, changing as a result of their environment and education. Tests, therefore, are nothing more than a vertical section, providing very limited information. For example if you have seen an apple for the first time and to understand it better you cut it vertically, you might rightly say that there are no seeds in this fruit. Though there are no seeds in that particular section of the fruit, nevertheless the apple has a core and seeds.

As an executive member of the committee for the educators of gifted children, I have come to appreciate that even standardized testing and labelling are not very standardized.  Like the example of the long section of the apple, they could vary from one region’s Board of Education to that of another. Giftedness and learning challenges are measured by comparing a child to others of the same age. The first percentile means that ninety-nine percent of children of that age are doing better and the ninety-eight percentile means that only two percent of the children of that age would do better.  A child in the ninety-sixth percentile may be labelled gifted in a region where the cut-off is ninety-six percent but would not benefit from the gifted program in a region where the cut-off is ninety-eight percent.  These tests do not measure how well the child is doing according to his or her own capacity. They are only comparisons to the very specific cultural and educational “norms” of an age group in a particular place.

In our classroom we are growing a spruce tree seedling and a celery root. One of our students observed how quickly the celery grew compared to the spruce. I pointed out that they also have different life expectancies. To compare a spruce tree with celery is of little value except for scientific experiments. Human beings are different plants in the garden of love, each bearing his or her unique fruit. To celebrate the diversity of individuals, we need to have a paradigm shift in which each and every talent is appreciated, using something less transient than the ability to recall information as a standard of measurement.

At Roger White Academy spiritual intelligence is celebrated above all other forms of intelligence and good conduct, fair treatment of others and respect for the environment is celebrated before other achievements. It is not that we do not appreciate academic, artistic or athletic achievements, yet we teach that without true love for and appropriate interaction with humanity these achievements would serve little purpose, rather they need to be combined with spiritual mastery of self.

To give an example, let us look at one of our students who has been with us for five years, since he was seven years old. At Roger White Academy, we do not have any competitions at all. Our system is based on cooperation and children learn that they are unique creations with unique talents and therefore should compare themselves only with themselves. We also have Karate and Yoga as part of our curriculum and we take our students to Brad Jones Karate-Do. This child has a green belt and also takes Karate lessons outside of the school curriculum. He is well coordinated and performs well in all subjects including Karate.  One evening when there was a quiz competition at the Do-Jo, he received a silver medal and was quite pleased. Another child, who had received bronze, came to him stating his wish to have received the silver medal. Our student removed his silver medal and offered it in exchange for the bronze. On his way home our student ‘s mother asked him if he knew what he had exchanged. He answered, “ Yes, I know. I had done my best and had achieved silver. He could have the medal.” I do not know of any test that could measure this conduct and the value of such citizens for our society.

In a paradigm where spirituality is valued, where love and altruism is the norm, percentiles do not come into picture. We are flowers of one garden as pointed out in the Baha’i Writings (See www.bahai.org) How wonderful it is that each has a different shape and size and fragrance! How great it would be if each one of us could see the good in others and praise them for their achievements.

Diversity of language, culture, race, religion and spiritual belief all contribute to the beauty of the garden of humanity. Diversity of talents and faculties are also main contributors to the preservation of all aspects of our life. If we all wanted to be gardeners or teachers and no one wished to drive buses or study medicine, we would have a hard time. To encourage each child to be grateful for what they are and to try to bring to fruition their latent potential is the duty of all parents and teachers as educators.

At Roger White Academy parents and teachers celebrate the diversity of students. Students realize that their abilities either complement other students’ abilities or they need to cooperate with one another to augment their abilities. Children are empowered to recognize their own gifts and to persevere in strengthening their weaknesses. They are encouraged to find at least one area of success in their learning experience and to observe their own process of success to learn from it and apply it to other areas of their learning. They are expected to develop independence in their learning process and acquire networking skills to fulfil what is outside of their particular abilities. For more information visit our website atwww.rogerwhiteacademy.org or call us at 905-967-1156 for an appointment.

We invite you to visit Roger White Academy to observe our classes and see a demonstration of a truly healthy human family.

Children Are Potentially Light of The World

With the coming of September a special feeling surges in my heart. As a Persian, growing up in Iran, several things were related to the fall. Being children and having our own priorities, first were the harvest time and the coming of fall fruits, the most delicious of them being pomegranates. The next important event was the Festival of Mehregan, which is celebrated around the fall equinox. This is the time for planting trees and thinking of the future and the welfare of our next generation. On this occasion, trees that are long time bearing, such as walnut, which bears fruit for a hundred years, are planted since one would like to think of a further future than a few years.

It is interesting that schools also start at this time of the year and I cannot help to think that our next generations are like those trees that bear fruit long after we may be gone. Therefore it is the right time of the year, for me, to think of human potentials especially those of children.

To expand on the example of the trees, one has to remember that all children are not the same and every tree is not going to be a maple. These little seedlings, which now are transferred from the shelter of their homes to the greater arena of school, come with different potentialities. The degree to which we recognize children’s inner realities, nurture them and guide them to bring their potentialities into reality is the degree to which they will feel fulfilled and be of service to their communities. Some trees will give fruits and are of service in this way, others provide medicines, and yet others provide wood, spices, nuts, shelter, and beauty. All trees give us oxygen and are of service in this way. To expect an apple tree to provide medicine or eucalyptus to provide fruit will lead to the frustration of the gardener and prevent fulfilment of the service of the tree.

Many parents have apple trees but would like to have had maple. Some prune maple trees in the way that apple trees are pruned or vice versa and wonder why their apple tree does not bear much fruit or their maple tree does not provide enough shade. Every tree deserves to be treated with love and care and this love and care will assure the fulfilment of the destiny of the tree. Children respond to our acceptance of their potentialities and watching us, they will in turn accept their own potentialities and try to fulfill them to the best of their ability.

This year Roger White Academy experienced a large increase in enrolments and we observed the dynamics of the interactions in the school with great interest. As educators we feel moved to see the potential in each child and to try to empower the child to develop such potentials, turning capacities into capabilities. Probably, one of the most important aspects of educating a child is to recognize that all children are born with gifts and talents and all children are capable of progress (for further information see Baha’i Writings on education at www.bahai.org).

The essence of good education is to strive for excellence in all areas of life, without any comparison to any other being. When comparison and competition prevails, the ability of children to see their own potential is clouded while they feel obliged to conform to or meet standards that may have very little relationship with their reality. For a child gifted in reading or math to be compared to standards would not serve any purpose other than a hindrance for progress. On the other hand a child who has challenges in any area would be so discouraged as to give up trying for excellence in her or his own capacity.

Holistic education stresses the use of cooperation. In cooperative learning students are empowered to bring out the best in one another. The joy of helping another in the fulfilment of their potential helps students to try to reach their own potential as well. We often experience this when children, in teaching a friend, without any feeling of superiority and only as a service to their friend, are moved to do better in their own work and to fulfil their own potential with greater enthusiasm.

Many of the challenges that children are facing at this time, are emotional and more importantly spiritual in nature. For example we observed that some of our new students, though having great potential, come suffering from lack of self-confidence, self-reliance and self-esteem. The usual remedy for low self-esteem is greater attention to the child and encouragement in their desirable qualities. Yet in the course of years we have discovered that empathy with others could serve as a great catalyst in bringing out self-mastery and self-esteem. Empathy is the quality of teaching children to think about the feelings of others. Though this does not seem to be a priority for skill building for the child that lacks self-esteem, yet it is through thinking about other people’s feelings that one develops understanding of one’s own feelings.

Humility is another quality that helps children reach their potential. Humility helps children to see their strengths and weaknesses without pride or shame. When one knows where one stands, it is always easier to go forward. Humility enables us to discuss with children their strengths and build on them and also those qualities that they need to develop to help them reach their potential. The eagerness for self-knowledge, which is the foundation for self-mastery and self-esteem, will not come without humility.

There are many other qualities that children require to reach their full potential. As educators we evaluate the conditions of children and their uniqueness and we help them discover the path that would best help them reach their potential. In this path we will always ask for guidance from the positive forces that are at work in their mysterious ways in this world.

At Roger White Academy we look for the potential of each child, celebrating the wide range of diversity in abilities and interests, kindling the flame of their hearts and souls with the most loving and inspiring instruction. Finding their dignity, children often try to fulfil their potential and attain a greater degree of success and more praiseworthy achievements. For more information visit our website at www.rogerwhiteacademy.org or call us at 905-967-1156 for an appointment.

We invite you to visit Roger White Academy to observe our classes and see a demonstration of a truly fulfilled group of children.

The Effect of Happiness on Learning Ability

Are you happy? This was the question a great teacher once asked before beginning his lessons. Are you happy? What message does this question give to the budding scientist, or the aspiring artist? The fact that we care for what they feel and how they are is certainly a reassuring statement for everyone concerned.
Human happiness is of three kinds: physical, mental and spiritual. Physical happiness is based on accessibility of the necessities of life, the comfort and beauty of ones surroundings. Physical comfort is an indispensable aspect of learning. A hungry or sleepy child or one who needs one of his or her basic needs met would not be able to concentrate on learning. A well-rested child who has had an appropriate amount of food and is comfortable with his setting will have a much greater chance in learning. Beautification of the learning setting has also proven to have profound effect on increasing the learning ability of children. Natural light, bright colourful paintings, inspiring drawings, soft background music, and handcrafted decorations all contribute to a better attitude towards learning. This is why we, at Roger White Academy, pay a great deal of attention to the physical beauty of our setting.

Mental happiness could be acquired through development of a positive attitude towards life. A supportive family, a loving caregiver, a mentor or guide could all provide the bedrock for the mental happiness of a child. A sharing circle and a short period of meditation and reflection help to centre the children and prepare them for the mental challenges of learning.

The most important part of human happiness is spiritual happiness. Human reality, though manifested in a physical setting, is fundamentally spiritual. Therefore true and deep happiness could only result from the inner spiritual reality of human beings. To attain this happiness one has to know and regularly reflect on the purpose of human life. Fundamental questions of life, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am Going?”,  form the very foundation of human happiness.

We engage children through learning to understand and apply virtues, which become a stabilizer for acquiring learning. The child’s learning is continuously focussed on setting realistic goals and finding the means of achieving them. The acquisition of virtues is a bridge by which children are empowered to tread the spiritual path with practical feet.

Though physical and mental happiness play significant role in learning ability and augment human capabilities, according to Harvard researcher and scholar Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in her book “Creativity”, many creative and distinguished contemporary human beings come from poor families and the challenges of physical and mental discomfort have not hindered the flow of creativity and production of praiseworthy masterpieces. She writes that: “We share 98 percent of our genetic makeup with chimpanzees. What makes us different –our language, values, artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology- is the result of individual ingenuity that was recognized, rewarded, and transmitted through learning. Without creativity, it would be difficult indeed to distinguish humans from apes.” P. 2

This creativity is nurtured through spiritual happiness. Spiritual happiness in turn is achieved through spiritual orientation in life. A human being who knows the purpose of his or her life would have greater incentive to learn any new subject and more so if the purpose of life is an all-encompassing one, centred in service to the human race. A being possessed of such fundamentally happiness as a learner, will use her or his creativity to bring joy to others. Spiritual happiness is also acquired through understanding the oneness of humanity. With this understanding human beings will use their creativity to promote the interests of the whole human race.

At Roger White academy, children’s true happiness is a central concern for all.  Children are encouraged to aspire to become active members of the human family as the foundation on which to attain their spiritual, academic, artistic and physical potential.

Service to humanity: The Goal of an Ideal Education

To claim that the goal of an ideal education must be service to humanity may sound quite unusual in this age. In the secular world the worth of a human being is often measured by the degree of knowledge that one has acquired, the papers that one has produced or at best the degree of recognition that one has received from one’s colleagues and leaders. However the degree of joy emanated from these secular measurements have, invariably, little relationship to the every day life of the person. In looking for their children’s educational setting, one often hears parents reflecting these very same secular measurements, the number of computer labs, the size of the gymnasium, and the appearance of the school building, though the heart of an educational organization, from preschool to university, is the attitude inculcated in the students.

The true worth of a human being, in light of our long-term goals, is dependent on the degree to which that human being can be of service to others, because the material world and all its criteria for success will inevitably come to an end for all human beings. We all have to leave this world some day and whether we look forward to or believe in eternal life or not, we do not find another variation. No one can partake of material joy beyond a measured portion.

The Persians say that Alexander The Great had willed that for three days after his passing his hand should be left out of the grave to show to the world that though he had conquered many countries he had left the world empty handed. I was quite surprised to find that this does not seem to be noted in Greek history. Maybe this is the view of the conquered, but he did leave the world empty handed and of all his conquering what is left for us is his services to the world of humanity, if, in fact, there are any.

The history of the life of the rest of us is in the same vein though on a much smaller scale. If the goal of education is anything other than service to humanity, it will never bring happiness to the heart. For example, parents often tell their children to study so that they may be able to earn their livelihood, get a better-paying position and live more comfortably. The best of the children of these parents are those who obey them and are rewarded with exactly what the parents have inspired them to look for, a more comfortable life, a greater degree of recognition and so on.

By the time these children hit mid-life or the first major crisis in their lives, they are beside themselves and like the great Greek Emperor, may ponder on the emptiness of not only their hands but also, more importantly, their hearts. At this stage they will have to re-evaluate the chronicles of their lives and ponder where it went out of sync with the true meaning of life.

A life that is not dedicated to the service of others is often dedicated to the service of one’s self and the service to self is like salt water that would never appease the thirst or the endless pit that could not be filled.

When the goal of education is service to humanity it elevates the student to view life from a higher vista. It is like having a master plan that coordinates the relationships of every aspect of life. It inspires and benefits the student because of its all-encompassing nature. One, who knows the value of others and hopes to serve them and better their lives, would certainly respect his or her life as well and value every opportunity that presents itself.

Service to humanity raises the consciousness of the student to the point of deriving meaning from presented information and transferring knowledge, through experience, into wisdom. Since the human being is created for love, this service to humanity would clothe words with action and knowledge created in this environment regenerates the students and the world around them.

At Roger White academy, we inspire students to learn to serve humanity through the practice of humbly sharing their wisdom gained in academic, visual arts, drama, music, movement and Karate with their fellow students celebrating one another’s success. This mutual help and exchange of expertise empowers them to be of service to their family and community.

Holistic Parenting

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you they belong not to you…

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might that His arrow may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

So He loves also the bow that is stable.”

Kahlil Gibran

Holistic parenting is a dance between the archer, the bow and the arrow. As parents we bend with the movement of our children and are exhilarated with their growth. We sometimes hope for the archer to launch this arrow to a certain destination and suffer when our assumptions are not fulfilled by the archer. Therefore parenting is both a joy and a test of patience and endurance.

Holistic parenting is acceptance of the quality of the bow given to us. It requires the best cooperation with our children as the arrows, who are with us for a short while. It is parenting of body, mind and spirit, responding to the nobility of human beings and working for the nurturing of these noble, inherent qualities. When a child is born, a little bundle of potential is presented to the parents and the greatest joy in parenting comes from the fruition of these inherent gifts and faculties.

Like fruits of different trees, children differ in nature one from the other. In the Bahá’í Writings, we find that human beings are all endowed with gifts and faculties and in creation there is only good. (See Bahá’í Writing for further detailswww.bahai.org). It is through holistic parenting and education that all the gifts of children can be discovered and nurtured. A human being has a body, mind and spirit. Though we hear the cry of the child for milk and other physical needs are easily demonstrated, intellectual and spiritual needs are as dominant. Without fulfilment of these needs, one might find one’s self in total loss despite every physical comfort.

Holistic parenting gives direction to the efforts exerted by parents. In this system, life becomes a journey rather than a destination and “how” becomes as important as “what”. Through holistic parenting and education one tries to transform one’s life in every aspect. One of the transforming aspects of holistic education is connection to self. Children have to know who they are and what is the purpose of their lives. This simple and complex understanding will empower them to choose the course of their lives. This is the one of the most fundamental aspects of holistic parenting.

They also need to have connection with others and understand interpersonal relationships. In holistic parenting one is encouraged to know more about all races, creeds, cultures and spiritual beliefs. Through this connection, they will know more about their own selves.

Children need to have connection to nature, which is one of the best trainers and healers. If these connections are made with nature as a family affair, then the joy is shared and all will benefit from the experience. Connection with nature not only purifies our lungs, it purifies our hearts and souls. Holistic parenting starts with walking the path of discovery with our children and participating in their investigation of the mysteries of life.

Parenting is a second chance to live life again, this time with our future generation, to share their awe and wonder as they discover the world. Holistic parenting is the completion of all aspects of this joy. It is important to continue this parenting process at school, as children need such support for many years before being able to walk alone.