by Jill Dianne Bittinger
Providing for Social Emotional Needs of both Students & Teachers
The challenges of today’s educational climate are all too evident through the statistics of drop-out rates of both students, and teachers. The Educational Leaders who understand that it is more than knowledge alone to be instilled in the learning environment are the ones leading the way towards revised curriculum and strategies to cultivate connection to Body, Mind and Spirit for overall health and well-being. The Transformed Education team seeks to grow and unite these communities. We are sponsoring summits with educational leaders to strengthen this movement, and offer consulting and programs to promote this vision.
Within the consensus of many, we see that we live in a time in which there is great tumult in the world. People often feel disconnected, disillusioned, and caught on a wheel of simple survival. Through many paths of traditional education, we raise our young into this environment, saddling them with a tremendous amount of “knowledge” to hold on long enough to feed back to the test, then release and forget (unless they find they need to ask Siri and be reminded). However, for many, there is a felt sense that something is amiss—a sense of yearning, calling to us through the voice of intuition. It recognizes the level of corruption, control, confusion and conflict within our present culture and asks if education, as it has been, is doing the best it can to uplift both the individual and collective society.
How do we invite them to Love Learning?
The growth of ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), and its leadership in conveying the necessity to consider Whole Child Education, speaks to the fact that educators throughout the world are hearing this call —and seeking to answer it! Through this forum of organized and intentional change, ASCD empowers us with vision, curriculum and community to believe that our voices, innovation and activation, can make the difference our system is calling for. Transformed Education seeks to align with and support this valiant effort.
Whole Child Thinking implies a unified vision of the disparate parts. Clarifying and utilizing a shared language towards visionary goals of unification is an important step. What words shall we use to unify around transformative concepts that can unite and inspire an elevated and shared vision of life and our role in it? It is an evocative question that calls not just to the mind, but to the Spirit within. The current educational climate denies uniting terminology that honors this Great mystery. God, Great Spirit, or Higher Power are terms to be kept separate from Traditional Education. So, how do we reach into the realm of the inner Spirit, alive within each one of us, in the educational context? This essence is worth reaching in that it motivates and energizes our actions, inspires the mind, uplifts the emotions, and connects us to our hearts. Addressing these realms expands education to serve a vision both personal and collective.
Invite a Planetary Consciousness
Fundamentally, we are called to a Planetary Consciousness. This global consciousness is one in which we can recognize the inherent precious interconnectedness all planetary life shares. It can address the unique role humans have to either destroy or preserve the web of all earth based life. As educators, it is valuable to come to the big picture of our global family waking up to the vastness of our universe in order to inspire a noble vision of what education can be. As educators, we can aid in awakening within a desire to positively affect the good of the whole, empowering the good of the whole through cultivating the unique talents within. So then, how do we best facilitate a Planetary Consciousness?
Gratefully, Maria Montessori has helped show us the way through her introduction of Cosmic Education. Rather than re-invent the wheel, we can benefit from the roots already deep and strong within the work of this pioneering educator. We need not have to convert to her entire system of schooling in order to benefit from this tree of knowledge, a legacy proven over a hundred years in continents all over the world.
Principles of Cosmic Education
Maria Montessori held the unique perspective that it is a teacher’s responsibility to provide the stimulating, enriched environment and contextual stories that elicit children’s curiosity. Children’s natural tendency to bring the quality of wonder, with fundamental questions of “Why?” and “Who am I?” lend themselves to the early years of school through this route. Cosmic Education is an effort to convey the sense of being a part of a vast and complicated network of energies, all interconnected with one another. Rather than shying away from the big questions, the perspective of Cosmic Education embraces the story of the beginning of the universe and introduces the child to the realm of metaphysics and astronomy. It invites the exploration of the stars and our solar system—encouraging the exploration of physics and chemistry. The cosmic education view then narrows its perspective, introducing the story of the Earth, through geology and geography. Then the story of life upon this Earth through nature and biology. It takes a look at the development of Humans. It examines the major shifts that came with the development of language and its written forms, then numbers and math systems, all from the vantage point of stories with uniting themes.
Maria Montessori believed that the world was a highly ordered and purposeful place and that children who were educated properly would become normalized into this order and purpose. War and poverty, ignorance and injustice, were viewed as deviations from that purpose. Cultivating peace in the important and tender age of early education can take place naturally through cultivating a deep sense of gratitude as they gain a sense of wonder for the miraculous interdependent relationships upon our planet; relationships that are informed from, and honor, the natural world.
Above all else, Cosmic Education is intended to be purposeful. It is meant to provide children with a clearer understanding of the natural world and, thus, themselves. I agree with Montessori that it will be the children who receive a Cosmic Education in childhood that will be better prepared to enter adolescence as independent, confident, responsible, and emotionally intelligent individuals. Achievements will be multifold—balanced in physical, intellectual and social realms. Such children are better prepared to make responsible decisions and act on them in a responsible way.
Seeing through the lens of our relationship to the Cosmos gives us the language to embrace the unifying principles within a spiritual perspective that unifies concepts in Science, Nature, Art, Math and Culture.
The Power of Story
STORY offers us a fundamental road for engagement. Wired within us, story engages because they make concepts relatable and engage the imagination. When we use the power of story, we give students permission to step into an experience they can relate to. Cosmic Education invites us to use the power of story. It invites us to consider our own personal story, and our collective story. What are we writing upon the pages of time?
Dr. Maria Montessori understood the power of story to captivate and educate. It is through story that she developed The Great Lessons for Elementary age student. She gave five impressionistic, dramatic stories, to be delivered by the teacher to inspire students to self-selected work. The Five Great Lessons stimulate deeper questioning and discovery-based work based on the stories: 1) The Beginning of the Universe, 2) The Coming of Life to Planet Earth, 3) The evolution of Humans, 4) The evolution of Language and Writing, 5) The evolution of numbers and Math. (We are presently working to suggest a Sixth Great Lesson in order to address the new scientific learning since these were developed.) After the stories, the students are given lessons to explore and discover for themselves in the areas they’ve been stirred to wonder. The teacher, or Guide, discusses with the students the constructs and assessment rubrics for their self-selected work.
As an institution passionate to educate teachers with this mindset, the North American Montessori Certification (NAMC) program helps us to understand that Cosmic implies that it is comprehensive, holistic, and purposefully oriented towards the development of the whole person. The aim is to prepare individuals to be independent, confident, decision-makers that are able to benefit the whole of society.
Rather than teaching the curriculum as separate parts, abstractly and disconnected, the Great Lessons provide an all-encompassing, holistic vision of various disciplines combined. This work supports the view of the world and universe as a highly organized and purposeful place. Children are able to draw connections as the narrative unfolds naturally from the whole to the part and back to the whole again. The Great Lessons tell of how each particle, substance, species, and/or event has a purpose and a contribution to make in the development of all others, inviting each person to explore and develop his or her unique purpose. This attitude is carried forth by a deep sense of gratitude that the Montessori classroom purposefully generates.
Cosmic education is intended to help each of us search for our cosmic task as a species and as individuals. To do this, we must understand ourselves in context. It is only against the background of our place in the universe, our relationships with other living organisms, and our understanding of human unity within cultural diversity, that we can attempt to answer the question, “Who am I?” S. Beydler
Artist unknown—please help identify
Cosmic Education also includes the intentional aspects of Montessori’s ideas for Peace Education. The curriculum for the entire Peace Flower includes: Self-Awareness, Cultural Awareness, Environmental Awareness, Community Awareness and Planetary awareness. Two things necessary for raising peaceful human beings, Maria Montessori believed, were an awareness of interdependence and the sense of gratitude that comes from that awareness. The inspired perspective of Montessori Education invites us all to such noble aims and the actions that may arise from them.
How do we now embody and activate these powerful concepts in order to reach a global scale?
We do so through naming the workable strategies that can get us there. Strategies that move the learner beyond concrete and abstract knowledge of content area and into a plane of appreciation for the beauty and depth of the cosmic knowledge itself—the undeniable unitive principles that weave our universe together where today’s science and spirituality are meeting.
As this conversation broadens to consider voices beyond the Montessori realm, we see that other significant Educational leaders have strategies that coalesce with these principles. One of these leaders calls for no less than a revolution in education, Sir Ken Robinson.
Sir Robinson, similar to Montessori, calls for us to step beyond the mechanistic view of education—a machine that we need to get all the parts lined up on— and instead into a humanistic view. He invites us to recognize education not as a mechanical system, but a HUMAN system— full of people that either want to learn, or do not. Each brings their personal story to it. Education is a uniquely human experience and is therefore an inherently organic system. In the context of our discussion, we could view this in terms of the microcosm and the macrocosm. If we do not honor the organic child at the hub of all learning, how can the expanded learning be truly meaningful?
Robinson makes the call for education to value and cultivate the following conditions: a sense of possibility, a broader range of opportunity, a cherished relationship between teachers and learners, possibility for creativity for both, and administration that does not command and control but facilitates this climate of possibility.
Robinson points out that we are poised upon a stage of coming revolution in order to have life sustained upon our planet. Yet, because of the present conformity, most people have no idea of what they are capable of. Because of its European foundations, our present educational system has been based upon a model of the division of thinking and feeling. Recognize that what it truly means to be a person includes both knowing AND feeling offers us break through territory. It inspires activities that connect ourselves with ourselves and invite a deep personal connection with the Great Mystery.
In conclusion, we may realize that Education, in its truest sense, is not about what we put in, but about what we draw out. What have we drawn out of the individual, child or adult, in the educational process to truly prepare them for the realm of tomorrow? A realm that we cannot yet fully know. May we invite the student of tomorrow to cultivate and express his or her unique gifts, think critically, keep an open heart and open mind, and express creative thinking in compelling ways.
An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking: it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live. —Maria Montessori Education and Peace
As the teacher invites the students into inspiration, so too s/he is given license to follow such inspiration. For all ages, this article invites you to explore the question of activating this consciousness.
The Foundation for Cosmic Education for All
Image by Stephen Coburn
YOU are a dynamic part of an AMAZING, organized, creative UNIVERSE! A cosmic mystery that holds the living Miracle of Life! As boundaries between nations and states vanish from our view in space, so too do all abstract boundaries when we look through the unifying lens of what we learn to consciously share, this incredible planet in space, our home, the Earth.
An Introduction to Cosmic Education. Blog: 4-12-17 Montessori Acadamy.
Children of the Universe. Michael Duffy and D’Neil Duffy. Parent Child Press, Inc, Jul 15, 2016
Cosmic Education: The Heart of the Montessori Classroom. For Small Hands blog http://www.forsmallhands.com/ideas-insights/cosmic-education
The Purpose of Montessori Education. Grazzini, Camillo. https:// files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1078117.pdf
Montessori Elementary Curriculum: Cosmic Education and the Five Great Lessons, NAMC Blog, 8-6-10
The Timeless Human Spirit. Montessori, Renilde. Beydler, J.A. Montessori Guide.
NAMC Teacher Training. What is Montessori Cosmic Education? The Keystone of Montessori Philosophy Explained.
Educating the Heart and Mind. Robinson, Sir Kenneth. https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1A4OGiVK30
How to Escape Education’s Death Valley. Robinson, Sir Kenneth https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX78iKhInsc