The Common Vision:
Parenting and Educating for Wholeness
by David Marshak
At the end of the twentieth century, we find our lives entangled in paradox. Never before has human capability been so powerful, so productive, and so diverse. Yet never before has it been so dangerous, nor has it exacted so vast a toll from the health of the earths biosphere.
To survive on this planet, human beings must continue to evolve, particularly in our moral and spiritual dimensions. One critical means through which our species can evolve is child raising and education. The way we raise and educate our young is one of the most powerful means we have to choose consciously to evolve through and beyond our current crisis.
We can learn to nurture and educate our children in a way that differs profoundly from the norms of "modern" culture, and as we help our children to unfold into a more complete wholeness, we will also encourage our own mental, emotional, and spiritual growth as adults. Indeed, the more we unfold as whole beings, the more nurturance and aid we can give to our children.
A holistic, spiritually based description of the needs and potentials of children and youth from birth through age 21 is available to us in the insights of three early twentieth-century spiritual teachers: Rudolf Steiner, Sri Aurobindo Ghose, and Hazrat Inayat Khan. These teachers' works articulate a common vision of human growth, wholeness, and evolutionary change, which provides detailed responses to three key questions:
What is the true nature of human beings?
What is the course of human growth from birth through age 21?
Given this understanding of human growth, what are the desired functions of child raising and education?
This common vision of Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan provides a clear set of images of what constitutes human potential, wholeness, and growth throughout childhood and youth. It is both holistic and integrative in character, describing the body, emotions, mind, and spirit, and the systems of interactions among them.
This common vision of human becoming offers us a way to collaborate consciously with the energies of evolution, as parents and as teachers. It provides us with a template for a profoundly postmodern way to raise and educate children, and it shows us a path through the evolutionary crisis of our times: through the work of conscious co-evolution.
A Common Vision of Human Unfoldment: Birth to Age 21
In the broad outlines of their visions of human becoming from birth through age 21, Rudolf Steiner, Aurobindo Ghose, and Inayat Khan reach almost complete agreement. Their common vision of human becoming from birth through age 21 includes these elements:
The process of human becoming from birth through age 21 is an unfoldment of inherent potentials that require proper nurture if the young persons nature is to evolve to the extent of her (the female pronoun is used to include both female and male reference) capacities. Thus, what is central in determining the becoming of the young person is her nature and her nurture in relationship to each other.
Each child and youth is an organismic whole containing within herself her own innate wisdom and motive force, her own spiritually founded inner teacher, to guide and power her unfoldment. This wisdom and motive force direct the child to unfold in a direction and at a pace that are appropriate for her development if she is not coerced or compelled from them by adults.
The unfoldment of the child and youth follows a course that is relatively consistent, regular, and foreseeable in its large outlines. Yet each individual unfolds at her own pace, which results in wide variations in the particular age when any given child experiences any particular step in her unfoldment; this process of unfoldment includes three major eras, each about seven years in length:
a) Birth through six years of age
b) Six through 1214 years of age
c) 1214 through 21 years of age
A Common Vision of Child Raising and Education
Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan also articulate a profoundly similar set of principles to guide the practice of child raising and education:
The parent and teacher must apprehend the child and youth as a unified system, composed of physical, life-force, mental, and spiritual beings and their various aspects and faculties, existing on a path of life that includes the past, present, and future.
The parent and teacher must provide the child and youth with both a safe environment and as much freedom as possible, so she can unfold according to her innate spiritual wisdom, her inner teacher. The parent and teacher must allow the child to unfold in tune with her own inner law, at her own pace.
The primary external agent in the education of the child and youth is first the parent, then the teacher. It is the qualities of the parent and teacher that most affect the child and youth, not their skills or knowledge. The qualities that have the most positive impact on the child and youth are love and wisdom. Given this responsibility, the parent and the teacher must consciously attend to their own continuing unfoldment in an ongoing and consistent manner.
The parents and teachers task is not to shape or mold the child and youth but to help, guide, and nurture her. The parents and teachers primary purpose is not to train the child and youth or impart knowledge, but to help her learn to develop her own instruments, faculties, and capabilities. The parent and teacher also need to help the child and youth learn to recognize and validate her own inner knowing, her inner teacher.
These purposes and principles form the core of the common vision of child raising and education.
Major Lessons for Parents and Teachers Today
Here are the major lessons for both parents and teachers, for child raising and for education:
The common visions descriptions of human nature and of the course of human becoming in childhood and youth are as valid today as they were in 1920. They provide us with an understanding of who we and our children are as beings, and of who we and our children can become. They also help us to understand the relatively predictable course of our childrens and youths unfoldment through the first 21 years of life.
However, we need to recognize that the timing described in the common vision of unfoldment is not absolute. Today, at least in North America and Western Europe, the onset of the third era of childhood and youth (the beginning of adolescence) seems to be earlier than was described by Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan. Whether this is the result of spiritual or cultural changes, or some combination of both, is not clear.
Even with this change of timing, the three eras of childhood and youth continue to exist as they are detailed by the common vision, as do all of the many interrelationships among the unfoldment of body, emotions, mind, and spirit. As parents and teachers, we need to master an understanding of the nature and challenges of each of these eras of unfoldment and then use this understanding to inform the ways in which we parent and teach children and youth. Each child is unique, yes, but each child also moves through a relatively predictable course of becoming through the three eras. The more we know of this course, the more effective we can be as parents and teachers in supporting the unfoldment of the child.
The most profound element for child raising and education within the common vision is the understanding that we must have faith in the childs inner teacher to guide her own becoming. Thus, we must provide the child with a safe environment and, within that zone of safety, as much freedom as possible to express and fulfill her own needs.
The timetables of the common vision are not absolutes. They are guidelines and norms. All children and youth unfold at their own rates, and some do so much more slowly or quickly than most. In addition, it is very common for a child to unfold at different rates in different aspects of her being.
Each era or stage in the unfoldment of the child and youth must be lived fully. Each must be explored for what it can be and valued for itself, not rushed through quickly or seen only as a step on the way to somewhere else. Each era or stage has its own ultimate value. The principle that guides human growth is not haste or acceleration, but the completeness of the unfoldment of the individuals potentials in each era of her life.
As parents and teachers, we must understand this principle of becoming and respect its mandate. Sooner is not necessarily better. Each child has her own timetable. What is best for each child is the opportunity to live each era or stage fully, without pressure or compulsion to move on before she is ready to do so.
The common vision explains that children learn most profoundly from who their parents, caregivers, and teachers are as people, from the wholeness and rightness of these adults qualities and actions. To nurture our children more effectively, to help them grow and unfold, we need to work on our own growth as much as that of the next generation. We must strive to become as good examples for them as we can be, for the future is born in the present.
The common vision tells us explicitly that everything that children and youth experience has an impact on who they are and who they become. The system is a seamless whole; nothing experienced by the child is without influence. This understanding informs us that childrens experience of media matters tremendously. If children watch thousands of hours of violence and advertising on television, these images and messages affect who they are and will become.
As a society, we have acted with profound irresponsibility in terms of the electronic media experiences that we create and allow for children and youths. If we seek to support the healthy unfoldment of young people, we must transform our media so that they support growth and becoming, not pervert it. In the short run, parents and teachers must act to shield the child from destructive media experiences. In the long run, we need to transform our electronic media so that they promote our ideals, not our greed.
We must always recognize our children as beings who have the potential to indeed, who are likely to, if we are successful as parents and teachers evolve beyond us. Given this understanding of evolution and unfoldment, we must truly be open to learning from our children, from the very moment of their birth and in every subsequent moment, as well as helping them to learn.
This article was adapted from the book The Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness by David Marshak, Peter Lang Publishing, and appears with permission of Peter Lang Publishing. All rights reserved. More information about the book is available at <www.halcyon.com/comvis>; you may order the book from Peter Lang at (800) 770-5264 or through the Internet at the above address.