Chapter 2: Education Should Be Experiential

This is part two of a multi-part series summarizing “Education for Life”, the philosophy behind our curriculum. Reading these articles will familiarize you with the principles and ideas that make the Living Wisdom School a unique educational experience. Please check our site regularly as we post synopses of additional chapters from this original and pioneering text.

Education Should Be Experiential, Not Theoretical

Kriyananda questions the educational status quo in this chapter as he does consistently throughout his book. Simply stated, modern education in the West is primarily theoretical, and the trust that the theories are strong, is problematic. It is too easy to focus on the methods rather than actual tangible results.

Kriyananda takes a look at university professors who are so hung up on theory, and pedantic, elaborate theories of thought that are so stuck on themselves, that they fail to serve a realistic purpose. He mentions the prevalence in elite universities of the teachings of Sartre, a nihilist, whose writings (which are brilliantly developed) is intrinsically non-productive and impractical:

“Theories imposed on reality are allowed to pose as substitutes for reality itself.”

In short after years of education students are left with theories entirely divorced from actual life experience. This leaves the door open for alternative or holistic education to fill in the gaps. If a private education is to succeed, as we will see in later chapters, it has to be willing to be flexible in its approach.

He emphasizes an education that stresses direct experience and observation—not just for the sciences but arts and humanities too. Instead of a system that favors repetition, memorization, and the regurgitation of facts, he believes schooling should be practical giving students useful skills that will help them to understand the world and serve the world around them.

Junior high students serving at Ananda Farm on Camano Island.


“It’s no accident, surely, that many of the world’s greatest men and women – scientists, thinkers, teachers, molders of public opinion – either never finished their formal education or did poorly in school.”

He references Einstein, Edison and Goethe as figures that didn’t fit into the paradigm of formal schooling. More modern references are Buckminster Fuller, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Innovators, scientists, and writers like these individuals were inherently creative and did not simply wish to think about something. They had the passion and ability to make their thoughts a reality.

As we will continue to learn through Education for Life, the approach to learning is about critical thought, experience, feeling, and appropriate handling of the humanity of each student in the system.

Tying these thoughts to our Living Wisdom School, we see here the importance of personal experience and consciousness. As a mainstay of the Education for Life approach, meditation is taught as a practical tool for self-exploration and inner-peace. Living Wisdom school teaches the practice of meditation. If you think about the practicality of sitting quietly and calming the mind and one’s emotions as well as developing inner confidence and strength you can understand very quickly what sets apart Living Wisdom from traditional educational structures. More on this subject will be elaborated in future chapters and blog posts!

Living Wisdom School students practicing meditation.

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Chapter 1: Attaining True Success

This is part one of a multi-part series summarizing “Education for Life”, the philosophy behind our curriculum. Reading these articles will familiarize you with the principles and ideas that make the Living Wisdom School a unique educational experience. Please check our site regularly as we post synopses of additional chapters from this original and pioneering text.

Success is Achieving What One REALLY Wants

In chapter one of Education For Life by J. Donald Walters – better known as Swami Kriyananda, the author asks questions about conventional definitions of success. Walters challenges the promoted definition of success quantified by the accumulation of material items and proposes a re-calibration of conventional definitions of success. Walters offers up the idea that success is really about inner-happiness.

“…what people really want from life is not the mere symbols of happiness, but happiness itself.”

As the seminal text and foundation of Living Wisdom Schools approach to education and embedded curriculum, Education for Life challenges the status quo with elegance and grace.

But before we dig further into the first short chapter of Education for Life, or EFL, let’s learn a little more about Mr. Walters, or Swami Kriyananda.

Yogananda (left) and his disciple Swami Kriyananda (right)


Swami Kriyananda was a direct disciple of yogi Paramahansa Yogananda – a yogi, guru and largely accepted modern master who authored Autobiography of a Yogi. It was Yogananda whose teaching of meditation and Kriya Yoga illuminated (and continues to illuminate) many millions of Westerners in the deep practice of attaining direct personal experience with God. Yogananda’s teachings continue to inspire individuals and organizations across the globe with several key teachings:

• To disseminate among the nations knowledge of definite scientific techniques for attaining direct personal experience of God via the path of meditation.
• To teach that the purpose of life is the evolution, through self-effort, of man’s limited mortal consciousness into God Consciousness; and to this end to establish Self-Realization Fellowship temples for God-communion throughout the world, and to encourage the establishment of individual temples of God in the homes and in the hearts of men.
• To reveal the complete harmony and basic oneness of original Christianity as taught by Jesus Christ and original Yoga as taught by Bhagavan Krishna.
• To point out the one divine highway to which all paths of true religious beliefs eventually lead: the highway of daily, scientific, devotional meditation on God.
• To liberate man from his threefold suffering: physical disease, mental inharmonies, and spiritual ignorance.
• To encourage “plain living and high thinking”; and to spread a spirit of brotherhood among all peoples by teaching the eternal basis of their unity: kinship with God.
• To demonstrate the superiority of mind over body, of soul over mind.
• To overcome evil by good, sorrow by joy, cruelty by kindness, ignorance by wisdom.
• To advocate cultural and spiritual understanding between East and West, and the exchange of their finest distinctive features.
• To serve mankind as one’s larger Self.

-Excerpted from Wikipedia

Of course, this is just the beginning of Paramahansa Yogananda’s teaching, but we’ll reserve that for many more blog posts.

As a direct disciple of Yogananda and a prolific writer, teacher and philosopher Swami Kriyananda penned EFL as an elegant, logical and critical treatise on educating young people. Even in the first chapter of EFL Kriyananda makes the essential distinction between the educational status quo which favors the memorization and regurgitation of facts versus focusing on promoting critical thinking and creative problem-solving.

Like a breath of fresh air, Kriyananda points out the importance of instilling students – like the ones attending Living Wisdom School – with a thirst for wisdom.

“The tendency to confuse knowledge with wisdom becomes a habit for the rest of most people’s lives.”

We can all relate, especially if you were educated in a conventional Western system. The memorization of facts has always taken precedence over self-exploration. Many modern critics of western education point out that our current systems were created for an industrial era population where repetition, memorization, and homogenization were/are optimized for compliance.

EFL as the foundation for Living Wisdom school takes Kriyananda’s direction for building educational institutions that promote inner-exploration and the search for wisdom so that our children may achieve the success that they really want…for life.

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Celebrating Cultural Diversity

In recent times, we have seen an increased number of hate crimes and bullying incidents by adults throughout the United States and Europe. This unfortunate behavior is trickling down to the children in our communities, causing some to shrink in fear and uncertainty, and emboldening others to bully and abuse their schoolmates.

At Living Wisdom School children are taught how-to-live skills. Along with reading, writing, arithmetic, science and art; children learn how to make friends, expand sympathies and cultivate courage. They learn how to work through disagreements in a way that leaves everyone feeling empowered.

Last week on the soccer field, one of our 1st grade boys received a blow to the face from a ball kicked by another boy. All play stopped as he tumbled to the ground. The children gathered around the boy to make sure he was OK. There were lots of hugs and pats on the back. The boy was alright, but a little indignant. “Why did you kick that ball into my face?” he asked. One of the girls put her arm around him and said, “He wouldn’t do that on purpose – he cares about you!” The hurt boy thought about it for a few seconds, smiled brightly, brushed himself off, and play resumed.

This is just a small example of how the how-to-live skills taught at Living Wisdom School help the children to work through social challenges to a positive outcome. You can learn more about how-to-live skills here.

Through story telling and role playing, the teachers at Living Wisdom School help the children to understand that although others may dress and speak differently than we do, we all have a much in common. Everyone wants to have friends and to be loved. Each of us has feelings, that can sometimes be hurt by mean words and misunderstandings. People everywhere want to have a comfortable home and nourishing food to eat. Everyone values a kind and loving family.

While its important to help our children discover and appreciate the common ground we have with other cultures, we must also teach them to value and respect cultural differences. What a boring world this would be if we were all the same!

Child meditation Inner life

There is an underlying oneness that permeates all life. Direct experience of that oneness naturally expands our sympathies to include all that is. Experience of this one reality helps us to work well with others, to experience peace in our lives, and to be even-minded and cheerful when  things don’t go our way.

At Living Wisdom School the children learn to experience this oneness through the practice of yoga and meditation, and by exploring the various faith traditions throughout the world. We sing spiritual chants and pray for expanded awareness and healing in our lives, and in the lives of others. This universal approach to spirituality provides an opening for a personal one-on-one relationship between the infinite presence and the individual child. This relationship gives the children a strong sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.

Living Wisdom School offers a safe environment for children of diverse backgrounds to come together to develop academic skills, to explore science and the arts, and to develop a deeper understanding of their relationship with one another and with the world in which we all live.

Living Wisdom School children

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Feed Your Mind. See the World. Make it a Better Place.

FEED YOUR MIND. SEE THE WORLD. MAKE IT A BETTER PLACE. The Children’s Film Festival Seattle was started with the idea that children can only change the world if they see it. This year there were 190 films for children from 50 countries. Watching these films from all over the world exposes the children to a beautiful tapestry of diversity and expression, and also shows us how we are very similar in our day-to-day lives. We have much in common with people from vastly different cultures. A major theme on the film Festival’s website is bringing global awareness to children.

Elizabeth Shepard, director of Children’s Film Festival Seattle, congratulating our two middle school students, Arthur and Serena, for their participation in judging the films this year.

World Geography has been a major theme in our middle school curriculum this year. What better way to
connect students to other cultures and places than through great storytelling through short films about kids, and for kids, from all over the world? Our middle school and upper elementary classes attended a private showing of an 80 minute, 8-film series called “Destination”. This series featured films from eight countries; touching on subjects such as global culture, overcoming difficulties, combating discrimination, and doing the right thing.

J. Donald Walters, Author of Education for Life: Preparing Children for Today’s Challenges, says “Happiness increases in direct proportion to the expansion of empathy”. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. My hope was that the students would come away with a sense of why we, at Living Wisdom School, strive to embrace diversity, social inclusion, empathy, care for our planet, teamwork, love and kindness. Humans all over the planet have the same longings in life, to be loved, to be happy, to belong and to find deeper meaning in life.

I am always looking for new and innovative ways to help these older children mature into radiant, loving, happy adults. Walters also stated that “maturity is the ability to relate to other people’s realities.” In our class, we watch Ted Talks and Great Big Story several times a week. In this way, we use technology to expand the children’s horizons, taking them to other countries where they can meet interesting people from other cultures, and open their hearts and minds to different realities. I want to help them make connections with people around the world so they may see the inter-connectedness of all life – that we live in a global web of humanity.

I have a jar in class with a hundred small strips of paper in it, each with one word on it. The word can be a noun, a feeling, an idea, really anything. Examples are: fire, peace, brave, earth, money, wonder, travel, whale, sky, adventure, shelter, movement, words, sustainability, master, space, beauty, birth, snow, smile, happiness, etc. As I walk around the classroom, the students reach into the jar and pick two random words. Then they brainstorm on ways to make a meaningful connection between the two words. Sometimes it can be challenging, but usually with enough thought, they come up with creative connections. We follow up with free writing for fifteen minutes, connecting the two words into stories and ideas, which we then read aloud. The students really enjoy this activity.

“Learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Madchen Sen
Middle School Teacher
Living Wisdom School Washington

Miss Madchen’s Middle School Class
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Serving the Greater Community

In preparation for our school’s day of service to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday,
our first through third grade class (ages 6-9) studied the life and mission of Dr. King. Because my class is in the sensitive feeling years, I am always careful not to expose them to too much “reality”. To that end, our class discussed Dr. King’s dream for equality and world peace – without exploring the more brutal aspects of slavery and racism.

Education for Life founder J. Donald Walters taught that children in the feeling years should not be overexposed to worldly concerns, as it can overwhelm their open hearts and desensitize them. Generally speaking, the best time for taking action on social issues occurs in the teenage will years and intellectual years of young adulthood. You can learn more about the stages of maturity here.

During our brainstorming session, the majority of my students voiced concern for the homeless population of both people and animals. I prayed about how to honor their concerns about these increasingly visible issues in our society, and how to empower the children to help in an appropriate way. As we discussed the needs of these people and animals, it became clear us that food, shelter, warmth, and friendship/ love are what is needed most.

We decided that on our day of service we would put together care packages for local homeless people with food, socks, and toiletries, and that I would distribute them throughout our community to local homeless people. They also brought in items in for the local food bank. Several of the children’s parents expressed an interest in handing out care packages with their kids. We talked about how one of the most powerful things we can do is to acknowledge the homeless people as human beings. They are often ignored. “Look them in the eye, smile and say hello.”

Children in the feeling years are often drawn to the little creatures of the world. You can tell someone
is in the feeling years (or is feeling predominant) when they exclaim “Aww!” upon seeing a photograph of a baby animal. We have been studying animals all year, and have had several experiences with the Lynnwood PAWS educational outreach program. For the animals, our class chose to make cat toys, catnip balls and homemade dog treats for the shelter cats and dogs. Since we visited PAWS last month on a field trip, we also decided to write letters thanking the volunteers for their loving work with the animals.

There is an expansive feeling that comes from serving others. After making our care packages, the class felt a deep sense of joy. Over the next few days I enjoyed hearing stories about the connections the children made while handing out their care packages. One student said, “The man smiled at me from the heart, and said God bless you.” Another said, “The homeless lady looked me in the eyes and said thank you. It felt good to help her. My family has decided to keep a few care packages in our car to share with homeless people, because lately we are seeing them everywhere we go.”

Dr. King would be proud of our student’s good deeds and loving acts of kindness. I know I am.

Miss Heather Knouse
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Living Wisdom School children and faculty.

Living Wisdom School Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting Celebration

ribboncuttingcopy_000Please Join Us Wednesday October 26th, 4:30 – 6:30 pm at Our New Location: 6717 212th SW, Lynnwood, WA 98036

Senator Rosemary McAuliffe will speak, along with Lynnwood Councilperson Shirley Sutton and author Susan Usha Dermond. Students, families, community members and ALL interested are invited to join in the celebration. After the ribbon cutting, there will be opportunities to meet the staff and view the campus. Event will include activities for children and hors d’oeuvres.

LWS Thank you photo2 3

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