Sarah: One of the key questions in relation to education is: What are you educating? What is the fundamental nature of the student?
Gilbert: That’s a great question. It’s really asking about the nature of a human being. What happens in the classroom depends on what you understand a human being to be.
I’ll give you an example. We used to have lovely dog, a beagle called Wellington. And one day I tried to teach Wellington to read. I got the newspaper, and got him up on the couch next to me. I tracked the letters with my finger so he could see what I was reading to him. And I asked him to repeat the words, but he never did. So sadly Wellington never learned to read.
Now I know what you’re thinking: Why did Sarah pick this guy to be a guest on her show —he tries to teach dogs to read?
But the point is, it’s a funny story because no one expects a dog to read. Good education for a dog is to come when it’s called, not to bite the neighbours, and to do its business outside. If he can’t read that’s not a problem.
But if a child, a human being, gets to the age of 12 or 15, or 20 and can’t read, we’ve got a problem. And everyone knows that’s a problem, and that some sort of intervention should take place. We expect a normal human being to be literate, to be able to speak, to have certain basic skills, and to be equipped to accomplish things in life.
Why do we expect this? Because of our conception of what a fully developed human being is, as opposed to a dog. So the fundamental question then is what is a human being? In the Psalms it asks: What is Man, that Thou art mindful of him?
In Hamlet, Shakespeare says: What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in apprehension, how like a God. But then after this beautiful description of man as a demi-god, Hamlet goes on to say: and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
So Shakespeare sets out a choice. Either man is like an angel and with godlike apprehension and nobility and reason; or he is a quintessence of dust. To put it another way, we are either a universal being with the power to think, feel and act with limitless faculties, or we are mere blood and bone and sinew, our ultimate end to be very expensive fertilizer for plants in the cemetery. Are we a spiritual being or a quintessence of dust. What, as the Psalm asks, is Man?
One of the founding principles of our school was that every child was a spiritual being with limitless potential.
Sarah: How did that break down on a day to day basis?
Gilbert: It’s simple really. We looked after them on every level every day. We all have a physical body, which we use to see and hear and taste and move around with. We have a mind which we use to think and reason with. We have a heart with which we feel. And we have a spirit, which is the essence of who we really are. And that four-fold nature is true of every human being from the very beginning of life right up to the end, and, in fact beyond the end of life as well.
Sarah: So how did you care for those four parts of the human being, the body, mind, heart and spirit?
Gilbert: The principle is simple – you provide food, exercise and rest for each of the bodies. Just like a careful parent will give good food, plenty of exercise and a measured time for rest to their children, we did the same for each of the four bodies. Food, exercise and rest for the physical body, the mind, the heart and the spirit.
So take the heart, the emotional realm, for example. You feed the emotions by surrounding the children with beauty and wonder and magnificence. That’s food for the heart. Exercise for the heart is when they produce beautiful things themselves, when they write their own poetry, they paint pictures, when they sing, and play music.
It worked because the teachers loved all of this, all of the things they were teaching the children.
Sarah: We’re interested here in Conscious Confidence and that really involves the realm of the spirit. So how did you take care of that spiritual centre in the children?
Gilbert: Giving the children food for the spirit is actually quite simple. It’s very nourishing for the child to know who they are, so they heard stories, scriptures, myths and legends that speak of the greatness of our souls. But the main food for spirit is stillness and peace. So during the day, before and after every lesson, the teachers and the children sit quietly. They close their eyes and just have a moment of peace and stillness where they come back to themselves.
You add to that by giving them the words of the great scriptures, the master teachers, teach them prayer, teach them meditation. This is food, exercise and rest for the spirit.
[Laughing] And after a while we began to realize that this stillness and rest had a practical academic effect as well. The children could focus on their work with real attention, and also with this regular clearing of mental clutter, just the sheer amount of curriculum the children were able to get through in a day. Teachers from other schools, and school inspectors would comment on this, the children being ‘on task’ for extended periods of time. So it’s very practical this system of caring for the four-fold nature of the child.