All-USA Meeting (AUM) 1998
Becoming Collective: Education, Community, and Life
August 28-September 1, 1998












AUM Presenter:
David Marshak
Review of David Marshak's book The Common Vision
Introduction to The Common Vision
Resource list for Transformative Education

David Marshak is an Assistant Professor at Seattle University. He is also the author of The Common Vision: Parenting and Educating for Wholeness, in which he looks at the commonalities among Sri Aurobindo, Rudolf Steiner, and Hazrat Inayat Khan in terms of the nature of children and education. He has been an editor, and has developed curricula for the Unitarian Universalist Association of North America, as well as the co-founder of an alternative school. 

The Common Vision is available from or from Peter Lang Publishing

Review of The Common Vision, by Jean Korstange. 

Few professional educators look to modern spiritual practices to find out what guidance is offered to parents and teachers for raising and educating children.  David Marshak, a professor of education at Seattle University, examined the teachings and current educational practice of  Steiner, Aurobindo and Inayat Khan with the goal of articulating a common vision of human growth, wholeness and evolutionary change in order to offer suggestions for applying these ideas to current educational practice.  Marshak believes that : 

    “The way we raise and educate our young is 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.”
 Marshak begins by pointing out the similarities and differences of the three disciplines as described by Steiner, Aurobindo and Inayat Khan.  He points out how they concur on a common vision of human development that can inform our educational practice.  He draws this shared vision through the description of the developmental stages of the human being from birth to age 21 as defined by each of these 20th Century spiritual leaders.  At first I thought this was superimposing the Piaget/Erickson human development paradigm on to these spiritual thinkers.  By the end of the book I realized that he has taken what is for educators a common tool, the developmental stages of the human being, and used it to organize the concurring ideas of the three different traditions.  This is very useful for an audience of teachers and parents who may know of the human development framework, but might not have read anyone of these spiritual philosophers.  It allows all of us, from whatever philosophical or practical calling, to consider how these ideas establish a common direction for nurturing and educating children. 

After introducing each of these modern spiritual leaders through a brief biographical sketch, Marshak explores in depth the guru’s thinking on education through their writings and a visit to a site where disciples are engaged in implementing the unique vision of each leader.   When I finished reading the 5th chapter, which is on the vision of Sri Aurobindo and the educational practices Marshak observed in the Ashram school in Pondicherry, I was astounded.  Here in a matter of 72 pages I found all of my own knowledge of Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s thinking on education, as well as a summary of the the central ideas needed to understand Aurobindo’s evolutionary vision of man.  Marshak’s observations of children at the Ashram Kindergarten and interviews of teachers and students at Knowledge revealed an educator who seeks to elicit philosophy, practice and reflection about what was occurring.  He has the ability to look through the disciple's eyes rather than the critical eye of an outsider seeking to point to the failings of the disciple. 

To my surprise and delight Marshak captured my experience, understanding and struggle with applying Sri Aurobindo’s ideas to raising and educating children.  I re-experienced that struggle of attempting to allow children enough freedom for the inner voice to direct the child’s activity with the nagging concern over whether or not the child really needed discipline or structure to direct their emotional, intellectual and impulsive behavior.   Marshak shows how Sri Aurobindo’s concept of the psychic being is the goal of nurturing and educating the child for a future life that is qualitatively different from the way in which we currently live.  Through his observation in  the Ashram Kindergarten in Pondicherry and his interviews with students and teachers at Knowledge he portrays how difficult this goal of developing the psychic in us really is. The soul searching of teachers and students in this portion of the book informs the reader that this may be the most challenging life one can take up. It demands that the parent and the teacher live that goal so as to inform their practice of nurture and education of the psychic being in self and child. 

Marshak is sensitive, perceptive and brief in his handling of three very complex modern spiritual paths. He shows tremendous respect for  the value of the educational work being done by very dedicated practitioners in each of the traditions.  Typically I run across articles that seek to point out how practitioners of Aurobindo, whether they live in the Ashram or Auroville, fail to realize his ideals.  Here is a writer who portrays for his audience the struggle of the spiritual path and encourages them to join in because the current evolutionary crisis demands it. 

I never expected to find a book by someone who hadn’t lived in the Ashram or Auroville to capture the confounding ideas of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother on education, but here it is.  It leads me to think that if he has done this for Aurobindo it is probably true for Steiner and the Sufis as well.  This book will help those of us involved in Aurobindonian methods of education to see that we are not unique.  Others struggle to nurture and educate for the spiritual evolution of the human being, not just for the world as we know it.   Those of us who have worked with the Aurobindo path to educating ourselves for the future evolution of the human species can use this book both to inform our own practice through comparison to others and our methods for sharing our experience.  The research and summarization of what has been achieved through these three spiritual paths to date is an excellent starting point for conversations among parents and teachers who want to further this process. 

From the introduction to The Common Vision: 

The Evolutionary Crisis, The Coevolutionary Response 

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 Earth's biosphere.  Never before have hundreds of millions of people who live in "advanced" industrial cultures enjoyed such a high level of material wealth.  Yet never before have billions of people lived in such extreme poverty and with such constant vulnerability to disaster.  And never before have nation states had so much wealth that they could devote more than a trillion dollars a year to preparing for and making war, even without official enemies in most situations.  The intensity of paradox that we experience is heightened by the richness and growing complexity of our electronic media.  Never before have people throughout the planet, the poor as well as the rich, been connected to each other by such a powerful web of media.  In the "global village" of pervasive radio and television and the exploding Internet, we can keep fewer and fewer secrets about the crises and contradictions of our times. 

We struggle to make sense of these contradictions and, so far, of us have largely failed to do so.  Why?  Because most of us have not identified the pattern that underlies and connects them all: the very paradoxical condition of our evolution as a species. Those of us who live within the technological culture have grown far more powerful than we are wise and compassionate, far more identified with our separation from each other, from our habitat, and from spirit than with our connections to each other, to the Earth, and to what we experience as "God." 

To grapple effectively with our paradoxical condition - and to survive in our natural home as well as allow the survival of many other life forms on this planet - we must continue to evolve, particularly in our moral and spiritual dimensions.  This book describes one critical means through which our species canevolve: child raising and education.  The way we raise and educate our young is 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. 

What I will share with you in this book is a description of the needs and potentials of children and youth from birth through age twenty-one, a description based on a holistic understanding of what human beings are and can become.  This understanding is founded on the insights of three early twentieth-century spiritual teachers - Rudolf Steiner, Aurobindo Ghose, and Inayat Khan - whose works articulate a common vision of human growth, wholeness, and evolutionary change.  This common vision 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 twenty-one? 

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 postmortem way to raise and educate children.  And it shows us a path through the evolutionary crisis of our times - through the work of conscious coevolution. 

Chapter One delineates this common vision in detail, while Chapter Two briefly tells the life stories of Steiner, Aurobindo, and Inayat Khan.  Chapters Three through Eight provide a detailed examination of the single vision of each of these teachers, with particular focus on their recommended methods for child raising and education and the ways that people have applied these purposes, principles, and methods in schools.  Chapters Three and Four focus on Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf School; Chapters Five and Six, on Aurobindo Ghose and the Aurobindo International Centre of Education; and Chapters Seven and Eight, on Inayat Khan and the Sufi Seed Centers.  Chapter Nine details the specific ways in which the three single visions of Inayat Khan, Aurobindo, and Steiner both agree and diverge in relation to their descriptions of human nature.  Chapter Ten explores the most important issue raised by differences among, the three teachings and offers suggestions for applying these teachings, this common vision, today for the purpose of raising and educating whole children and youths and consciously participating in the coevolutionary process. 

Transformative Education Resource List 

(From the article, "What's Missing in Our Schools?" by David Marshak, NAPRA Review, Vol. 7, No. 6.) 

This list is also available as a separate file for easier printing.) 

Mentioned Titles 

Magical Child, Magical Child Matures, and Evolution's End, all by Joseph Chilton Pierce 

Natural Childhood, by John Thomson et al. 

Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth, by Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick 

Spiritual Parenting, by David Carroll 

Spiritual Parenting: A Sourcebook for Parents and Teachers, by Steven Rosman 

Whole Child/Whole Parent, by Polly Berrien Berends 

You Are Your Child's First Teacher, by Rahima Baldwin 

The Classics 

Education and the Significance of Life, by J. Krishnamurti 

A Modern Art of Education, by Rudolf Steiner 

The Montessori Method, and The Absorbent Mind, by Maria Montessori 

Also, books by Waldorf tradition teachers and writers, Sri Aurobindo tradition teachers and writers, and those from the Sufi tradition (e.g. Hazrat Inayat Khan). 

The "New Classics" 

The Challenge to Care in Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education, by Nel Noddings 

Educating for an Ecologically Sustainable Culture: Re-thinking Moral Education, Creativity, Intelligence, and Other Modern Orthodoxies, by C.A. Bowers 

Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect, by David Orr 

Harmonic Learning, by James Moffett 

Look to the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education, by Gregory Cajete 

The Moral and Spiritual Crisis in Education, by David Purpel 

Natural Learning Rhythms: How and When Children Learn, by Josette and Sambhava Luvmour 

Openmind Wholemind, by Bob Samples 

The Radiant Child, by Thomas Armstrong 

The Universal Schoolhouse: Spiritual Awakening Through Education, by James Moffett 

To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey, by Parker Palmer 

What Are Schools Good For: Holistic Education in American Culture, by Ron Miller 

Educational Approaches 

Every Child, Whole Child: Classroom Activities for Unleashing Natural Abilities, by Leslie Owen Wilson 

In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child's Personal Learning Style, by Thomas Armstrong 

Learning and Loving It, by Ruth Gamberg et al. 

Rhythms of Learning: Creating Tools for Developing Lifelong Skills, by Chris Brewer and Don Campbell 

Spinning Inward, by Maureen Murdock 

Teaching Children to Care, by Ruth Charney 

Education in Action 

Building the Good School: Participating Parents at Charquin, by Gloria Wilber Fearn 

Healing Racism: Education's Role, by Mathan Rutstein and Michael Morgan 

Nizhoni: The Higher Self in Education, by Chris Griscom 

School as a Journey: The Eight-Year Odyssey of a Waldorf Teacher and His Class, by Torin M. Finser 

Schools That Work: America's Most Innovative Public Education Programs, by George Wood 


Holistic Education Review 

Mindshift Connection

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