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Date Posted: 12:12
Author: Brian - 9 Sep 2001
Subject: Re: Paramahansa Yogananda - A message to the world
In reply to:
ketch - 9 Sep 2001
's message, "Paramahansa Yogananda - A message to the world" on 12:10
Cooperation, Compassion and Education are key. Check this little excerpt out its quite the eye opener.
Peace, Love and Blessings All!
Sharing Values With Children
by Michael Nitai Deranja
A Living Wisdom ® Book
®2001 by Education for Life
I became a teacher because I wanted to help children become better people. Right from the start, I could see that a narrow focus on learning fractions or developing vocabulary wasn't going to be enough. Students could get high grades in language or math and still be insensitive, untruthful, or lacking in courage. To meet my broader goals I had to find a way to address the "how-to-live" parts of the curriculum. I began by leading discussions with the children on such values as honesty, kindness, and perseverance.
We also read books about people who demonstrated admirable qualities in their lives. The students developed a good intellectual understanding, but their behavior made it clear that something else was needed before they could begin integrating these values into everyday life.
And then one morning it snowed….
I'd been working with my class on the topic of cooperation with typically unsatisfying results; lively discussions with little carryover into practice.
Snow is unusual where I live, and on a morning like this one, I'd have been a complete ogre not to go along with the children's pleas for a special recess.
I stayed inside watching from the window, enjoying the unbounded exuberance of their play. In the space of a few minutes, however, the scene shifted dramatically. First, it was an inadvertent shove that landed someone on the ground, then a wayward snowball hitting another child in the face.
Within minutes, everyone seemed to be angry with everyone else. I rang the bell and called the students in. After a calming-down session, I asked the class to join me in a discussion circle in the middle of the carpet.
"Can we go outside again?", someone asked. "Only on one condition," I responded, reminding everyone of the topic we had been discussing.
"Anyone who wants to go out in the snow again will have to take a personal pledge to practice the quality of cooperation. The moment you behave otherwise, you'll have to come back in."
Everyone, of course, wanted to get back to their recess, so we had an impromptu "swearing-in" ceremony as students solemnly pledged to cooperate with one another. When they returned to the playground, at first there were a few nervous glances in my direction and several overly polite interactions, but gradually everyone settled down into good, wholesome, cooperative play.
I was especially struck by the fact that even the architecture was affected. Whereas during the first recess, squat, box-like forts seemed to have been the structure of choice, now the children were helping each other build soaring, elegant palaces. After about a half an hour I signaled for recess to end. Once inside, we reformed our discussion circle, and I asked which recess people had enjoyed more. Every hand went up in favor of the second time.
When I asked for ideas on why this period had worked so well, it was clear to everyone that the quality of cooperation had made all the difference.
If I had any doubts on the power of this experience, they quickly evaporated as I watched the children maintain their efforts at cooperation in the ensuing weeks and months.
It was after this experience that I became aware of a three-step process through which children absorb values. My early efforts at discussion, readings, etc. were helpful, but limited.
The snowy day episode showed me the importance of direct experience in helping the children see how a particular value could be useful in daily life.
Later I discovered that my students were much more receptive to this kind of instruction if I introduced the value in an interesting, fun way. So to summarize the process, it goes:
1) introduce a value through a game or activity,
2) deepen the students' understanding through discussion and readings, and
3) look for an opportunity where the students can gain personal experience of the value's importance. *
(*Footnote: I was greatly helped in gaining this clarity by the insights of my good friend Joseph Cornell. I highly recommend the presentation on "Flow Learning" in his book Sharing Nature with Children II.)
This book is mainly a collection of games, skits, charts, stories, etc. for making the initial presentation (step 1) interesting. Some of the activities are original; some are borrowed/adapted from others.
Their common quality is that they worked for me in one or more of my classes. Through these activities, I have been able to avoid the pernicious notion, prevalent in western culture, that values are somewhat akin to castor oil or raw vegetables; good for you, but distasteful.
Rather than present these qualities as something you "should do", my goal has been to help children see that by integrating these values into their lives, they will become happier and more at peace with themselves. A positive, fun introduction sets the appropriate tone.
After the introduction is completed, there comes a time for an expanded awareness of the value through discussion and stories. While several wonderful books are listed in the resources section of this website, I've found that a special form of magnetism comes into play here. When I'm focussed on presenting a particular value, any number of pertinent books, newspaper articles and personal stories appear, seemingly out of nowhere. By opening myself and my classroom to this serendipitous flow of energy, I find that I prepare myself for an even more important step, the opportunity for direct experience of the value.
Is it possible to manufacture the experiences that will show children the importance of these values?
Perhaps, but my observation of my own attempts and those of my fellow teachers is that there is usually an overtone of artificiality, or sometimes even condescension toward the children. Far better are the "snowy days" or "lunchbox thefts" (see sharing vs stealing) that occur spontaneously in the natural flow of life.
Not all of my experiences have had the same note of high drama, but I've had any number of occasions where the quality under consideration was highlighted at just the right time for my students to see it's significance.
Often, my first reaction has been to recoil at the onset of the arguments, lies, etc. But then if I can remember one of my favorite teachings, "There are no such things as obstacles, only opportunities," I look on these incidents in a new light and can then often find that the situation presents just the conditions we need.
Rather than create the situation, my job as teacher is to "frame" what occurs naturally in such a way that my students can grasp the underlying significance.
In closing, I want to invite your participation in this process of bringing positive values into the lives of children. While this material may eventually appear in traditional printed form, I would also like to experiment with the creation of an ongoing accumulation of activities and experiences here on this website.
If you find an introductory activity that works for you, a book that helps your students appreciate the importance of a quality, or an experience that involves children directly in the appreciation of a value, please send it in to us via email at INFO@LIVINGWISDOM.ORG As time and resources permit, we will add appropriate submissions to the website, making your experience available to others. Hopefully we can inspire one another to keep working toward the goal of helping young people lead better lives.
--Michael Nitai Deranja
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