The 5 Pillars of Education

1. For education to be meaningful, it has to educate the whole person.

So, what does a whole person consist of? There are different formulas for this which are useful, but one simple one is: We are mind, body, and spirit.

2. We have to teach for the hierarchy of needs.

And not just for the lowest needs, which are the material fulfillment of food, clothing, shelter, and maybe some health care. What are those needs? Well there’s Maslow’s hierarchy, which you are probably familiar with. And then there are our three needs are for autonomy, bonding, and meaning. There is an interesting tension between autonomy and bonding, since we need to be with one another but we also need to be a Self, which is independent.

3. Whatever we teach and however we teach it, it has to be grounded in reality.

It has to be grounded first in concrete nutritional realities but then open itself up to deeper realities. And in this developing new education, one of the things Gandhi said was, “If you do not till the soil you will forget who you are.” Every one of us has to be involved in some way with what he called “bread labor, “ and the best way to do that was to have you tilling the earth and growing things that you yourself eat. An edible schoolyard is a very concrete way of instantiating this principle.

We should not allow intellectual development to separate us, to create a caste, which unfortunately is very common in today’s educational system where immediately we have to be subject to testing and a spectrum of who won, who’s in the middle, and so on. For this reason Gandhi, for example, was constantly stressing the non-development of the intellectual life of the peasants in the villages who had the same intellectual capacity as all of us do. But because they have to follow the bullock all day long, seven days a week in order to make ends meet, their intellect was never developed. Then you had these Brahmins who felt almost infinitely superior to them. So the idea of superiority is another thing we have to avoid in getting students grounded in reality.

4. Cultivate deeper modes of knowing.

We're not saying that we should not teach facts, but we should teach them in such a way that students can pick up on underlying patterns and ask themselves, How does this relate to my challenge as a human being that has to live right now on this planet? We tend to polarize so much that when you talk about understanding or wisdom, people think you mean we are not going to teach facts anymore and students will be adrift in the world (without?) knowing these facts. But what we're saying is that we should use facts as grist for understanding and, ultimately, for wisdom.

5. For students to emerge from our institutions as truly educated, they will need a grasp of the mystery of unity in diversity.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you cannot be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” So far from imagining a world as a place of competition, which through the misuse of Darwin we have done, we have to realize that all this this apparent separateness that we see is really diversity. We need our diversity to discover our unity. They are actually complementary: diversity is more or less on the surface of life, and should be: unity resides on the heart level, which is why Gandhi taught that we need to discover “heart unity” among all our surface differences.

This is an edited version of an a discussion at the Metta Center for Nonviolence. Access the full audio and the transcript.