Humility, Clarity, and Critical Thinking

How do our actions differ when we feel secure in ourselves versus when we don’t? Or when we are unsure what to do, but have to do something? Or when we are very sure of what we think, but someone disagrees with us? If we want to think clearly, a little humility can go a long way.

 

When I first started teaching at the Lehman Alternative Community School in 1985, I hadn’t taught an academic class for ten years. I had taken a break in my teaching career. Walking into a large public building, with the sounds of hundreds of people in the halls, and working 10 or more hours a day to create and teach five or more lesson plans—all was new and stressful.

 

And since it had been ten years since I last taught, it was a struggle to remember the techniques I had used in earlier years or what I had studied in college or graduate school. I felt I had to appear to be an interesting person, and to provide something engaging and worthwhile for students. Only later did I realize the job was to help them find their own lives interesting and worthwhile.

 

It is often when we are unsure that we speak the loudest. I was unsure of so much, so I tried to sound sure about whatever I was teaching. It was difficult to admit what or how much I didn’t know. It was difficult to feel the school was a home where my true self could live.

 

But that changed, thanks to the students, the structure of the school, gaining experience, many hours of study—and practicing mindfulness, both by myself and with students. As I grew more comfortable with myself, students grew more comfortable with me, and it was easier to admit what I didn’t know. The classroom became a second home. I realized it was more honest and real to model asking questions instead of dictating answers, so students could discover reasonable answers on their own.

 

We all think our view of reality, of politics, of certain people, is correct. This is partly due to our biology. Even when we doubt ourselves, we can believe our self-doubt.

 

When we see a red rose, the redness arises from the way our brains interpret a certain wavelength of light. Red is the way our consciousness recognizes and interprets the light reflected off the rose. A colorblind person, or another species of animal, won’t perceive the color at all. For a red rose to appear in the world, we need at least three things: the thing seen, enough light, and a brain capable of learning about and providing color. But we don’t perceive red as a gift of our own mind, or as a way we make sense of the world. We see it as an inherent quality of the rose itself.

 

A similar thing happens in social situations. We think someone is a “good” person, or beautiful or ugly and think those qualities are permanent and totally inherent in the person, not supplied by us. The other person is just, forever, good, bad or beautiful. Or we think our solution to a problem is the only good solution, and think the goodness we perceive is objectively true. So, we never understand our own role in the world; never understand the world or ourselves.

 

We might even think, when someone disagrees with us, they are being stupid or  ill informed, and they should adopt our viewpoint over their own. And they might be ill informed, or unreasonable, but so are we if we think we can simply dictate to someone else what to think. Or if we imagine any viewpoint is objectively the only truth, and we forget that a viewpoint is just that: one way (hopefully based on reliable and verifiable evidence) to view a particular situation from the context of that particular person’s brain structure and life experience.

 

It might seem a contradiction, but feeling some humility about our own ways of understanding the world might reveal answers when none are apparent. It might help us look before we conclude—to notice what we might otherwise ignore or hear what we might otherwise never listen to, and thus save us from situations that seem impossible.

 

Humility is the quality of being humble. To be humble has very different connotations. For some people, it has negative connotations, as it can mean to be brought down low, even humiliated. Or as Wikipedia points out, in some religions, humility can mean submission, even self-abasement, to a deity. It can mean one is economically poor. Or it can have positive connotations, and mean being simple, modest and unassuming, even virtuous, in contrast with being narcissistic, vain or greedy.

 

The root of humility is humus, earth. The connotations of the word might arise from how we think of earth. Is it dirty, lowly, as contrasted with heavenly? Or does it mean grounded, or focused on the place out of which all life emerges?

 

In the martial arts, to move forward with power, we push down and back against the earth or floor. We curl our toes to grip the earth and be grounded. There is no place else we want to go, nothing else we want to do. We are thus at home in the situation and ourselves.

 

When we feel at home wherever we are, with whomever we are with, and with whatever role we play, we are more present and open. We don’t need to try to be what we aren’t but think we are supposed to be.

 

And when we realize how much our own minds color the world, we are more humble and real. We are able to perceive other people and our world with more clarity, more compassion, and more depth. Thus, we are more able to help others perceive and think about the world with more clarity, compassion and depth.

 

This is a powerful way to be and act, a powerful way to teach and relate. Humility and critical thinking should be two core elements of a modern education. This might help us save ourselves from the political and economic situation we are in. In my “humble” viewpoint, acting with some humility towards our own viewpoints, and compassion for the lives and needs of others, is certainly better than the narcissism, greed and lack of self-knowledge that we too often face today.

 

 

The Mystery You Solve As You Live

When I was in college, before going on a date, especially in my freshman and sophomore years, I remember I would first read a philosophy book or play music I loved, like that by Bob Dylan. I’d play “All You Masters of War” or “Maggie’s Farm” and feel filled with energy, with something to say, with character, and a self.

 

I’d become a persona built from my understanding of Dylan and what he meant to me. I’d become a rebellious philosopher, a person with a meaningful life who had meaningful things to say. I’d become, or tried to become, this mask that I wore for my date. I’d become, for a moment, someone worthy of loving.

 

But to focus on being this persona had side effects. I was looking for my self, “looking for love in all the wrong places.” The persona was a mask I wore not only for others but for my self. It hid me from myself. I expected it to be the real me, not whoever it was who wore the mask. So the reality of the wearer of the mask was hidden. And this led to a subtle sense that something was wrong with me. I felt anxiety because I could never feel real as a mask. A mask, no matter how well crafted, never feels like a face. Who wants to kiss a mask?

 

Only later on did I begin to realize that it wasn’t the music that “filled me up.” It was my love of the music that filled me. When the quality of mind is loving, whatever or whomever you meet is greeted with this emotion, including yourself.

 

Understanding the self is such a mysterious and complex endeavor. The more you look for the self, the more difficult it can be to find it. As Dogen Zenji, a 13th Century Japanese Buddhist teacher put it, “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things….” You might think you are this image or memory you cherish, some demands or expectations you cling to for yourself, some hope that your parents or others hold out before you. But who you are can never be summed up by an abstraction, or a label you put on your character.

 

You don’t automatically develop this self-understanding. It is something you must work to discover, so persist at it with some gentleness. It’s not something you learn once and forever. It is a curriculum made by nature for your whole life, a class in which we are all both students and teachers. You have to learn that to live well, and to live fully, is what life is about. When you think of life as perpetual learning, or as a mystery you are solving as you live it, then you don’t spend too much time regretting or attacking yourself. You are more mindful; you notice, learn, and change. And to be open to learning, to learn well, it is helpful to be kind, or you won’t take in what is offered to you, and what is there in front of you. You need to appreciate, even love your life, in order to fully live it.

 

So, when you’re feeling lost or anxious or lonely, close your eyes and notice whatever arises. Feel the fact that you can feel and know. Simply breathe in the moment and let it go. If you normally hold up a mask of being unloved, you could instead hold up an image of someone who feels loved. If you normally hold up a mask of being powerless, imagine the face of someone who feels internally powerful. It might not be easy, but you can get better at doing it. You can even ask for help if you get stuck, find a teacher or therapist who you think knows his or her own mind. And study yourself: who is it that controls the whole play, who sees whatever is seen, who provides whatever reality is experienced?

 

The Lehman Alternative Community School, where I used to teach, has a Community Service graduation requirement. Service was such a meaningful experience for students that, at one of our weekly all school meetings several years ago, they voted to increase the requirement from 30 to 60 hours. Giving to others, and recognizing the reality of others and the suffering they face, and working to diminish that suffering, is helpful to everyone. It is especially helpful when you feel anxious or confused about who you really are. By giving, you feel you have more to give. You feel your inner world exceeds even your understanding of it, and in that excess you find yourself.

An Analysis of the News, Thoughts On A Gloomy Administration, and A Review of My Book

Three different pieces for you:

The first piece is a review of an article giving a detailed history of how a manufactured crisis in education and the undermining of American literacy might have led to the Republican administration. The second is an announcement of one of my blogs being published by the Good Men Project. The third is a link to a review of my book by Dr. Dave Lehman.

 

*Many people have said to me “I don’t understand the avid supporters of this President and his administration and can’t talk with them.” These Republican supporters “do not listen to facts,” and seem to be condoning the undermining of their own freedom, rights, and economic position. Many theories have been brought forth to explain this behavior: the fact of a tribalization of the news, so each group only listens to its own brand of news. The racism, anti-semitism, and misogyny inherent in our culture. Blaming the leftists and liberals for not listening to these people (and daring to have a different perspective). Not speaking the language and mythology of the right wing.

However, there is another interesting viewpoint: Did a long history of politically and economically manufactured crises, both in education and throughout our culture, cause increasing insecurity and illiteracy, and decreasing critical thinking, and thus lead to the new Republican administration?

An article in Salon.com by Henry Giroux raises this issue very cogently. It is called: Manufactured illiteracy and miseducation: A long process of decline led to President Donald Trump. At first, I thought the article was another attack on public education, blaming schools and teachers for the US political crisis. Not so.

Diane Ravitch, in her book Reign of Error, and Naomi Klein, in The Shock Doctrine, first provided me with this analysis. Starting with the Reagan years, public schools have been under attack, sometimes by the Federal government itself, often by private economic interests and the politicians who supported them, certainly in many media. For example, A Nation At Risk, a report issued by the Reagan administration in 1983, claimed public education and teachers were responsible for everything from a declining college graduation rate to the loss of manufacturing jobs. It said, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” It said graduation rates, SAT scores, etc. were decreasing—all of this was later proved untrue. Academic achievement from 1975 to 1988 was actually improving, and not only for middle class white Americans. The divide in academic achievement between rich and poor was diminishing. But the A Nation At Risk report was just the beginning of the attack.

Giroux points out how the supposed reform movement led by elements of both major political parties called for “teaching to the test,” increased “accountability” (or decreased flexibility, creativity, and freedom for teachers to meet the individual needs of students), national standardization, corporate-produced tests and lesson plans, and the weakening of unions—all leading to “a frontal assault on the imagination of students” and the attempt to create corporate “pedagogies of repression.” Even in universities, knowledge has been increasingly viewed as a commodity, where the “culture of business” has become “the business of education.” Of course, many teachers are doing their best to fight this deformation of education.

The Republican administration, says Giroux, is now engaged in a frontal attack on thoughtfulness and compassion. Everyone and everything is valued mainly as a commodity and a source of profit. At the same time, Republicans provide their oppressed supporters with the illusion that those who impose “misery and suffering on their lives” are actually their liberators. What blinds them to the reality of their situation is what binds them together. (Newspeak, “consciously to induce unconsciousness,” 1984?)

You might want to read the whole article.

 

*In the gym yesterday, one of the younger men, in his late twenties, turned off CNN on the tv monitors above the elliptical machines and stationary bikes. He said, “I am sick of watching politics.” I understand how the news has become too disturbing for many to watch. But for this man, the news itself was political; facts were opinions or political statements, not statements about what was real…

This blog post was originally published here five weeks ago and was just re-published, in an edited form, by the Good Men Project. Here is a link you can use to read the rest of the piece.

 

*Dr. Dave Lehman, the founding principal of the Lehman Alternative Community School, in Ithaca, N. Y., where I taught for 27 wonderful years, wrote a review of my book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy, and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching. The review was published in the National School Reform Faculty, Connections. Here is a link. (Thank you Dr. Dave.)

 

*Photo by Kathy Morris

**Thank you to Jill Swenson who sent me the Salon.com article.

 

 

Compassionate Critical Thinking and the Adventure of Teaching

For most of my childhood, my family lived in a house in Queens, New York, which is a suburb of NYC on Long Island. There was still a feel, where I lived, not just of suburbs but of the declining remains of a rural area. There were many trees. We were one block away from a huge golf course, with a lake and hills, where I ran with my dog, played football with my friends, and went sledding in the snow. It was quite a privileged and protected life.

 

I used to write all sorts of stories for myself. One fall, at the age of 6 or 7, I borrowed a little wagon from a neighbor. I invited 2 or 3 friends or relatives to hop on the wagon and took them on a guided adventure through my backyard. The adventure was partly a story I invented and narrated, partly theatre, partly a miniature midway ride. I had such a good time, I repeated it until there were no more customers and winter closed down the midway.

 

While my love of writing started in my early childhood, until recently, I thought of it only in terms of fiction. As I got older, I realized the motivation behind my writing was not just to entertain, but also to feel inspired. I loved the heady joy of pulling ideas, images, and feelings together. It was so alive. I felt that I had something worthwhile and meaningful to say and to give. In other words, creative writing had the power to teach. The only thing I was unsure of was whether teaching had the power of creation.

 

And I discovered that it did.  After college, I joined the Peace Corps, in Sierra Leone. As a teacher, I felt respect from my students. What I was doing mattered to them. So I wanted to do it even more when I returned to this country. I found this again in other teaching jobs, most notably at the Lehman Alternative Community School in Ithaca, NY. Part of my childhood desire was met. Now that my book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching, is being published by Rowman & Littlefield, the other half of my yearning is about to come true. It is not a novel, but certainly describes a creative approach to teaching.

 

When you teach, you hold the hearts and minds of students in your hands. You have this amazing opportunity that you just can’t ignore and dread disappointing. You can take students on the greatest adventure imaginable—into the depths of their own minds and hearts. You can show them that there are these depths unrecognized in many schools, or maybe unrecognized since they were small and inspired children. You can show them how valuable and important they are. Show them the joy of play in PE, the miracles of nature in science, the creative spirit in literature, and in social studies classes, show the great diversity of possible ways of living and the importance of relationships, .

 

My book describes and illustrates methods to use in teaching as well as an overall conceptual framework for understanding the way the mind and heart can work together— to take in more of what’s around you and think more clearly and critically. Critical thinking is fueled by caring and feeling, and guided by mindful awareness to focus attention, and notice, formulate, and ask questions. Compassion and imagination help you understand and explore diverse perspectives and let go of distorting judgments.

 

When you quiet the mind by accepting, caring for and valuing it, you hear the world more distinctly. You hear what your own body is saying and how to befriend your emotions. The world is not at a distance but at your fingertips, or is your fingertips. What you think is right to do is evaluated more clearly. You feel more joyful, your life more meaningful, your relationships with others more conscious and honest. Now that is a worthwhile adventure to undertake—that is a way of teaching.

 

*The release date for my book was delayed a few days, but the book launch in Ithaca, at LACS, on Thursday, October 13, at 7:00, will go on as planned–I hope. There will also be a book talk on Saturday, October 22, at Buffalo Street Books, at 3:00 pm. I hope you can come.

Compassionate Critical Thinking

My book, Compassionate Critical Thinking: How Mindfulness, Creativity, Empathy and Socratic Questioning Can Transform Teaching, will be published by Rowman and Littlefield in September or October, 2016. My intention is to bring teachers and other readers inside a classroom to witness instructional effectiveness with increased student participation and decreased classroom stress. The act of teaching is turned into a transformational practice. Teachers can’t add more minutes to a school day, but with mindfulness they can add depth to the moments they do have with students in the classroom. I introduce core concepts and simple practices of mindfulness.

 

When students feel a lack of meaning and purpose in their lives, particularly in school, they resist learning. They fight back against meaninglessness and anything they deem a threat to their dreams. Using mindfulness and a Socratic style of inquiry changes the classroom dynamic. Self-reflection, insight, empathy, and compassion are used to teach subject material. Vignettes capture dialogue between teacher and students to illustrate how mindfulness practices elicit essential questions which stimulate inquiry and direct discovery. What bigger mystery is there—what more interesting and relevant story—than the story of one’s own mind and heart and how they relate us to the world?

 

My purpose in writing this book is to show teachers how to turn their intentions and goals into a classroom culture of compassionate critical thinking. Many books teach mindfulness, but few provide a model for integrating it into the classroom to teach critical thinking across the curriculum. I hope this book does justice to the courage, brilliance, joy and struggles of the students who inspired it and the Lehman Alternative Community School which gave me both the opportunity to find a sense of purpose in my life and to contribute positively to the lives of others.

 

To learn more about compassionate critical thinking, please subscribe to my weekly blog. And to learn more about the book and its release, please sign up for my (infrequent) newsletter.

 

 

Musings On A Reunion, Dreams, and Compassion

For too many students, schools are like factories, large institutions where they are inspected, tested and rated until they are passed on to other schools or employers where they are further tested and rated. But for others, at least many students from The Lehman Alternative Community School, school was a place where dreams were born, where the education of the capacity for imagination, for feeling that life was alive with possibilities, had a place along with the capacity to think critically. This insight was inspired by a graduate of LACS, John Lewis who, when still a student, created a mural of Peter Pan characters whose faces were those of students and staff from the school, youthful dreamers dreaming.

 

Two weeks ago, LACS had its 40th Anniversary Celebration reunion. I went to the reunion thinking about all the dreams that students had had for their lives, thinking even about my own dreams, and wondering how many saw their dreams realized or felt happy with their lives. How many would remember the school, and me, fondly and think we had prepared them well for the world? As soon as I opened the door to the beautiful guest house where the first event was held, I had my answer.

 

But first, think about dreams. There are so many different. even conflicting, ways we use the word ‘dream,’ some positive, some negative.  Start with night dreams. They arise out of a mystery, or they often feel like a mystery, and arise when we are most vulnerable. They can feel like an expression of what is most intimate to us, unknown not only to others but even to our own conscious awareness. So, we often push them away. Many of us remember few dreams even though we have four or five cycles of dreams (dependending on how long we sleep) each night. So we live our lives surrounded by a largely unknown territory of our own making.

 

Then there are day dreams. By daydreams we can mean those moments when we drift from the reality of now into flights of fantasy. Or we can mean imaginatively exploring possible courses of action or the meaning of what we think we truly desire. We can use the mind like a chalkboard or play movies of our own creation in order to explore scenarios of what might be. We set our mind free.

 

How well we use our capacity to dream depends on how much we are aware of what we’re doing. After a night-dream, we might think of our self as the hero or heroine. But that can be very deceiving. We perceive or experience each scene in a dream from either the perspective of a character in the dream, someone who looks like us, or from a “godlike” perspective looking down on it.  We can take this person who looks like us for the self, but I think that is a mistake. I think that each dream image is ambiguous, probably in several ways, but one way is that each element of the dream is yours. You are not just the central character or any one character but the whole scene. When you have the nightmare of being overwhelmed by a flood or wave, you are not just the being overwhelmed but the force of overwhelming.  When you are hugged by the love of your life, you are hugged by yourself. You need to take in the whole perspective as revealing something about your self, not just one element of it.

 

And this gets us to the reunion. The reunion lasted from Friday night to early Sunday evening. Saturday included an ASM, an All School Meeting, as part of a Symposium on Education. At our school, once a week the whole school meets to discuss some issue or proposal or to share an event together. So this was a poignant blast from the past for many graduates.

 

Dr. Dave Lehman, the founding father of the school and first principal, brought a proposal to the group. In our school handbook (we call it a footbook, to tell us where we are going) we define the school’s mission as creating global citizens, persons of character who strive to be caring, kind, sensitive to others, trustworthy, recognizing when there is bias, and such. Dr. Dave proposed that we add compassionate. Quoting the Dalai Lama, he defined compassion as “concern, affection, and warm-heartedness;… the essence of compassion is the desire to relieve the suffering of others.” To take action to relieve suffering. We ignore our own inner lives—and the inner lives of others—“at our own peril.” The motion passed overwhelmingly.

 

In her introduction to the ASM, Diane Carruthers, the present principal, quoted Septima Clark as saying that “education is freedom.” I’d add, to go along with Dr. Dave, that the recognition of interdependence is freedom. Compassion is freedom. A graduate, Megan Hanna, helped develop this connection. She said that compassion for others begins with compassion for oneself. We are too often miseducated into thinking that our welfare is opposed to that of others and so we often feel torn, bound, isolated. Like in a dream, recognizing that the whole dream situation and all the characters in it are you is liberating. Compassion is liberating as it wakes us up to how important other people, relationships, our surroundings and the quality of our experience are to us. It allows us to open up in inconceivable ways. We ignore this truth at our own peril and the peril of our planet.

 

Certainly, one of the tasks of childhood is to bounce against boundaries. We test out where we end so we can discover where we begin. We begin this homework assignment as children but our education in this subject continues throughout life. We start life with no notion that we, or our needs, end, but soon we start thinking of the skin as our boundary, that we end at our skin. But one of the main functions of skin is to feel the world. And certainly, as teenagers, we feel. What we think of as our end is thus a beginning. We realize our own capacities not as much by opposing what is “outside” the skin but by contacting it. Only then can we know it. Even to fight something, we need to first know it. Our end, the skin, and the “rest of the world,” or, in reality, our capacity to feel, is thus where we begin.

 

And this is what the reunion showed me. Leaving the school was an opportunity for graduates to learn the meaning of their dreams, which includes learning the meaning of their schooling and community. We are always embedded with others in a world, like a dream character is embedded in the whole of the dream. Students said, both in the ASM and in private conversations, that what LACS did for them was allow them to be themselves. It gave them the freedom to trust and thus discover themselves and to speak from that process of discovery. It did the same for me and for other staff members. We staff members knew we were doing something meaningful for others. We trusted (with some careful watchfulness) and tried our best to nurture others and in turn were, as much as we could be, nurtured. What we gave we received.

 

I came to the reunion hoping to hear that every student was a success and their dreams realized, but students made clear to me I had an outdated notion of success. Success is not really about worldly recognition. The mark of a successful life is how we live, and how much we feel we play an important role in other people’s lives and they play a role in ours. It is how we deal with our struggles and the world. This all ties in to the mirroring quality of compassion: how we live with ourselves is mirrored by how we live with others. We are all, as John Perkins said, dreaming the world together. And in recognizing that, I think most of our students are clearly a success, or they’re on the way to it.

Creating A Compassionate Community

Mindfulness and compassion practices are extremely important to teach to students, but what’s even more important is embedding compassion in the structure of the school. Schools must make it a priority that students and staff, instead of feeling distant from others or powerless, care for others and feel that others care for them. They feel responsible for what happens at the school and even what it looks like. They have a sense of justice and power to make changes.

 

Schools could consider institutionalizing empathy into graduation or promotion requirements. In my old school, the Lehman Alternative Community School, for example, there is a sixty hour community service requirement. It was originally 30 hours but students voted to expand it. Service in this case means taking action with the intent to directly learn from and thus be able to help others. It must be mutual; they not only help but are helped in the process. Students work in kindergarten and elementary schools, senior centers, animal rescue shelters, and juvenile detention centers. The emphasis is on long term commitments so trust and empathy can develop over time. For example, the school has worked with the Akwesasne Freedom School for around twenty years. The teacher who administers the program, Jon Raimon, leads by example, caring for the welfare of his students so they, in turn, will care for others. He spends half of his day arranging, supervising, problem-solving. Combine that with teaching three different courses and he’s always busy.

 

Community service is often cited by students as one of the most meaningful parts of their education. One student made a video about the importance of service and the lasting impact it had in his life. He spoke about a week long trip he took with other students to work in the 7th Ward in New Orleans. They repaired houses of people neglected by different government agencies after Katrina. He spoke about service turning him into a self-motivated learner, excited about his own education and committed to standing up in the face of a wrong.

 

Another unusual graduation requirement is analyzing and taking action to end some form of bias. The student can choose the bias. It can be racism or sexism or anti-semitism. It can be countering an obvious bias, such as about gender, or more intellectual, such as scientific materialism (the view that only what we can touch, feel and measure can cause things to happen in the world).

 

The school is relatively small (about 310 students) and democratic. There are three major aspects to this democracy: The All School Meeting, a committee system, and family group. Once a week, the whole school, students and staff, meet to discuss and vote on proposals introduced by anyone in the school community. Instead of simply taking an academic course on democracy, students get to actually practice it. Students get to help figure out and vote on meaningful issues, like graduation requirements, school trips, how to spend fundraised monies. This develops a sense of commitment and responsibility– and some patience with the fact that a community is made of many individuals with diverse ways of perceiving and thinking. Of course, there are days students couldn’t care less about the meeting and spend their time whispering to friends or secretly texting. However, I remember meetings where sixth graders stood up to defend a position even in the face of twelfth grader opposition. I remember a meeting where a student with autism took a period and a half to describe how his condition influenced his life and perceptions. Everyone was attentive, sometimes laughing with him, sometimes crying. At the end, the entire school gave him a standing ovation. Such learning experiences are priceless and no single teacher can create them. It takes a community. These meetings are a powerful lesson on the transformative power of giving students a voice.

 

Students meet twice a week to serve on one of twenty committees which help run and maintain the school. There are committees to welcome and mentor new students, to help clean the school, plan all school meetings, learn about and plan environmental actions, and a student court. The court is not only about getting a student perspective on how other student’s actions affect them and the community; it is about restorative justice replacing automatic punishment. If an action disturbs or harms the community, the court tries to figure out what could be done to restore the sense of safety and trust.

 

What’s crucial in developing empathy and compassion is the relationship between staff and students. To develop a caring relationship, it is helpful that students and staff learn about each other in contexts other than classes, so teachers are not only “teachers” and students are not only “students.” One way to facilitate this is to give each student an in-school family group led by one or two staff members. The family group acts as a support group and an intermediary between home and school. If a problem occurs, it is the family group leader who often contacts the parents or caregivers. The group helps plan a student’s schedule, do check-ins and discuss school issues. They go on trips, fundraise and, on occasion, eat meals together.

 

The aim is to create a true community, a community of learners where people know and care about each other. The school is not always successful. No school is perfect for everyone. But this one tries. It is a second home to most. This sense of a second home extends way beyond graduation. Students often stay in touch with friends—and staff. Because the school acts as a compassionate second home for students, they take that home out into the rest of the world with them. They work to make the world a safer and more compassionate place.

 

 

A great video that I recommend is called My Teacher Is My Hero, by Devin Bokaer. Many teachers all through the world are heroes of compassion. Here are suggestions on how to do it.

 

Thanks to LACS staff and students, Sarah Jane Bokaer, Sam Frumkin, Hayya Mintz, Tommy Murphy, Jon Raimon, and Chris Sperry for giving suggestions for this blog.