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Happiness in Seoul, 2013

(and Why I Am Seeking It)

by Dr. Stuart Grauer on October 8, 2013

On October 17, 2013, I will be heading out for Seoul, Korea, at the invitation and generosity of their Ministry of Education, which is interested in my work as a part of their new awareness of the concept of “happiness” in life and in education. Happiness as a legitimate purpose or outcome of education is not considered in many nations.

Some educational policy makers and practitioners consider happiness to be frivolous and besides their point (whatever their point is), while for many others happiness appears to be an unrealistic luxury. For literally billions of people, most of the world, really, happiness is considered beyond any practical educational goal. Much of the world just wants a job, almost any job. The nation of Bhutan got famous for calculating a “gross domestic happiness” index to compare with their “gross domestic product” measurement of economic health. However, the new Bhutan president seems to be doing away with it. All the same, the new science of happiness has been sweeping the world’s educational forums and I believe The Grauer School has a head start of a generation or two on this issue.

One of my fellow six presenters in Korea points out, “Happiness is not just good for our feelings, it is good in itself. Happy people (when compared with those thatreligions field triparen’t happy) are more creative, better thinkers, help others more often, have safer, longer marriages, and stronger immune systems” (Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor at the University of California). To be honest, this strikes me as one of those statements that demonstrates a firm grasp of the obvious. Didn’t theBible explain thousands of years ago that “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Book of Proverbs, 17:22)? All the same, I’m thrilled to hear this idea being restated by great educational researchers.

When I received my invitation to speak in Seoul to these purposes, I found it striking. A generation ago, I often used Korea as the example of an educational system that was hyperbolic with respect to how impersonal and bureaucratic it was. Class sizes of 40. Of 60! Of course, since that time, the United States classes have grown to these sizes. The well-documented U.S. obsession with “accountability” which can only be measured by big, nationwide testing programs are turning education into a race.

Hence, when I read my invitation, the first thing I thought was that Korea is aiming for what we had a generation ago. Dinosaur as I am, I would have to be an expert in Korea. I accepted their invitation! Here is the way my speech is being introduced (the translation is less than perfect):

Dr. Grauer will:

ㅇ Look at the current situation and effects of the teaching methods and practices in “small schools” as distinguished from other types of education.

ㅇ Look at what opportunities can the meaning of the “Small Schools Movement” and the student-focused Happiness Education provide for Seoul education through the example of success of The Grauer School.

Stuart Grauer Visited the University of Alicante

I hope you will wish me luck in Seoul. These days, Korea, in test scores, always ranks first or second in educational achievement in the world, so the United States policy makers love to study what they do. While I am in Korea, I will be met by Dr. Lee Hyeong Eung, Head Researcher at the Seoul National University Happiness Research Center.

If only those U.S. policy makers would find out that while our researchers are studying Korea, Korea is busy studying what The Grauer School does! I try to keep a light heart about this all. Naturally, I know there is pain and poverty all over the world. And yet, I believe this: Happiness is far more than an indulgence of the privileged—it is something inside our minds that we all deserve to strive for and hold among our highest aspirations. Thank goodness for The Grauer School, bastion of balanced education, a place where we can hold happiness and “a merry heart” as legitimate and worthy goals in the face of history’s trends and politics.

Originally posted at

Out of the Alps

by Dr. Stuart Grauer on September 25, 2013

Reposted from Dr. Stuart Grauer’s Blog

“I stand before you as one who offers a small message of hope … there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society… and prefer a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk.”  ~Thomas Merton

Once we traveled with a group from Bern down to an alpine village, bunking in a massenlager, so that we could leave early for a trek. We got up pre-dawn, moved quietly to the trailhead, rolled our sealskins out across the bottoms of the skis, unclicked the heels for hiking, and began our ascent. That time of year you can see pretty well a good 30 minutes before sunrise, and soon the shadows began turning into dull, bluey colors.

The first destination was the house of our guide. This was the easy part of the journey, not too steep or complex a trail. After dawn, we reached the guide’s house, a farm chalet on a high mountain pasture, and we all bellied up to his long, wooden table for muesli. He had only two spoons, which the eight of us shared, and then gathered our gear for the trip.

Setting out again, our guide led us up higher, traversing and making our way towards a small pass, and we entered a cirque, which looked something like a crater, and began crossing. We crossed little brooks and rock formations, but it was mostly flat, until we reached the other side of the cirque. Above rose a formidable set of crags, which were the highest peaks on this mountain called Engslingenalp. It was late winter and we expected fairly warm weather, especially after hiking a while, when our bodies heat up from the trekking. But some cool, crisp snow was swirling around as we began our ascent, as the guide began picking his way up switchbacks, around rocky outcroppings, and across small snowfields towards the summit, our group following like a wavy line. We kept our jackets fully zipped and some of us strapped on goggles.

I was young in those days, and the biggest challenge for me was quieting my mind so that my body could establish an easier pace. This I learned from the oldest man in our group, who looked too frail to me to be doing all this, but who it turned out could hike all day only because he was patient and peaceful, and had a sense of humor about most things. At last we arrived at the summit, and we clicked out of our skis and extracted our treats from the backpacks. A wedge of cheese, block of chocolate, water. Someone had a bottle of wine, just for the celebration–you’d only have a sip. And we celebrated so, though it was getting overcast as the mists moved in right before our eyes.

SanElijoLagoon-300x225Presently, the guide signaled it was time to leave, so we peeled the sealskins off our skis and locked in the heels of the bindings. Ready to ski. The first section he chose to go down was not the roundabout way, but rather it was a steep, small cliff. Why had he chosen such an expeditious path? I no longer remember the guide’s name, but I will never forget the madly intense, knowing smile in his eyes. We could see only a few feet ahead. One after another, each of us jumped down this chute until the group reformed and was ready to start the glide down in unison. Descending from climbs like this is the most beautiful experience in God’s creation, if the snow is good. The floating into snow, the shushing sound, the rhythmic breathing, slow motion bouncing and springing down the mountain face and across the snow fields. We all lived for that, but now the snow was swirling much more and the fog was dense, so we kept a tight formation, each of us trailing a long red string behind us. This was well before the days of reliable avalanche beacons for all. We were on our own.

We made a little way, yet were still towards the top of the peak, far above the floor of the cirque, and the snow was swirling madly now. We could see almost nothing, and lined much more tightly together. It was obvious to me that, without the guide, we would be completely stranded, but he lived in this area, farmed in this area. We followed blind.

Somehow, we picked our way down to the flatter area, making small tight turns so as to control the speed and keep the formation, although I had absolutely no way of knowing which way we were going. When it’s wild like that, snow being swept in all directions all about the complex mountain geography, snow can appear to be falling up instead of down, and it’s hard enough even to balance or orient your body. You press on and on, the question of whether you are getting out of the situation or further into it is just a specter, and you never really know where the end will be.

farm1-300x168Then the steepness leveled off and we began working our way across the flatter area. But the guide methodically picked his way across the cirque and, somehow, through a pass, and down to the lower face of the mountain until, at last, we arrived in the tiny Swiss hamlet for coffee, raclette, eggs, and bread.

In our school when we go traveling, we make it a practice always to use a local guide. Local wisdom is a form of knowing that cannot be centralized, cannot easily be written down, and is often unknown until it is needed.

Today, in education, a set of big government and corporate teachings are prevailing and who knows the place for local wisdom? Teachers I keep hearing from around the country feel enormous pressure against teaching anything but what the required and standardized curricula are. They generally come under names like “Common Core,” “University of California A through G Standards,” “State Frameworks,” “Advanced Placement,” etc. Online courses add yet another world of options enabling students to think that expertise is attainable though a checklist. If there were a local expert in our community, he would be very hard pressed to find time to share this expertise as a teacher in most schools, amidst the swirling storm of Common Core and other “standards.” It would be difficult to get reliable school curriculum out of a wise man, and yet I have no doubt that students suffer daily in the world’s classrooms for lack of what they have to teach us. We have replaced worth with reliability. The idea that a teacher is a guide with some special knowing, something akin to wisdom, is viewed as largely arcane and far too unreliable to allow in the classrooms of America. Instead, we stay in this storm, and the idea that there is even a way out of the storm is just a dream. This is the environment imposed on American educators, myself included. We are expected to make our students stay in a reliable, standardized world where all knowledge is known. Why then, are there still these times when I feel so terribly lost in this world?

Not Thinking At All

by Dr. Stuart Grauer on September 10, 2013

From The Grauer School News, Headmaster’s Blog

(Last week, in her always relevant column, Dana concluded that “well-rounded, compassionate young people are our greatest legacy.” To me, this raised a series of questions. See how many you can get through…)

Wise men through the ages have told us that the mind is like a lake and when it is calm it is clear. How can we help our students and ourselves keep our minds free and clear like that? Like any kind of fitness, wouldn’t this take regular practice?

Students, do you have times daily where your thoughts are calm and clear? Can you concentrate all you want? Do you have times when digital devices are turned off and you do not even feel the lure of turning them on? Parents and teachers: what if we were all a little more “present” when students were with us? Are the goals of a peaceful, joyful environment the same as those for a rigorous learning environment? Everyone: Do you have times where your thoughts and inputs are at bay? For that matter, is it even possible to have no thought? Have you ever tried?

Is it possible to have a pure, clear mind? Will a clear and open mind help us access our compassion? Can we be more grateful and show more gratitude if we can quiet our minds and experience no thought for a while? What’s the relationship there?

If we can experience a pure, clear mind, will we find it easier to stop judging ourselves? And others? Will we be healthier then? Is it true that if we can have no thoughts for a while, this will release our worries, our fears? Did we ever really need those thoughts and worries, anyway? What do we need? Does life seem like a race… where the finish line keeps moving? How can we address this phenomenon?

Walking the Stone Circle

If we can have more peaceful mind, will we somehow have a greater sense of purpose in the world? If we can have a pure, clear mind, will we have a sense of ourconnection to all of life? And, logically, is our sense of connection to all of life not identical to being compassionate? Last, is there a quiet place within us, an inner wisdom maybe? What if all parents and teachers could access such a place? What kind of a school would they create?

I have attempted to access such questions many times. When I am patient, these attempts always end up making me smile. I’m not sure why!

(Weekly, for the eight weeks from September 30 through November 18, from 4:30 to 7PM, The Grauer School will host Dr. Tom Chippendale and Julie Chippendale as they present their widely acclaimed course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, as they have for hundreds of people in our region for many years now. Tom was trained by John Cabot Zinn personally and is the foremost practitioner of this in the area, as well as being perhaps the area’s top neuroscientist. Julie is a skilled nurse and yoga instructor. Many of our teachers are signed up for this course.

We heartily invite all interested parents and friends to sign up. This course is for everyone. It will be enlightening to try to discover the answers to some of the above questions together as a community. Call Tracy Ahrens in the office if you are interested. The cost is $495 and the first session is free.)

The Zen of Attention

From SmartBlog on Education

By Stuart Grauer on September 10th, 2013

What is puzzling and fascinating about the field of teaching at present is that we must become masters in getting the attention of students, and yet little emphasis is placed on the techniques we can use to shape that attention. Over the course of earning three academic degrees I sat for dozens of courses on education and none of them ever included a refined study of the art of paying or getting attention. Contrary to current practice, some of the most ancient and revered teaching techniques involve nothing more than teaching students the deceptively refined art of paying attention. Why are these age-old arts rarely practiced in our classrooms? Why are they not typical parts of our teaching practice? Is “alright, quiet down over there,” really achieving what we want?

Each week, at our school assemblies, I use a Tibetan singing bowl to start the proceedings. Although singing bowls and other meditative sound making have some pockets of popularity around the world, they are mostly disregarded by teachers and in schools of education.

The singing bowl has long been used for contemplative practices. For something like 3000 years these sounds have been effective in producing sound of a therapeutic, calming and even healing nature. I love watching the scattered, talky, diverse group of students come into a sense of unity, such as this bowl invites, if not induces. I love watching the students and teachers in the assembly room as chaos transforms into a pure focus. What teacher would not want this atmosphere in the classroom?

There are, of course, various strategies teachers use for creating various states of attention in any room. For most of us, however, any silence will do, and all silence is the same. This could be a mistake. As Rick Hanson says in his book “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom,” “attention shapes the brain.”

The singing bowl has taught me that there are various kinds of silence. Weekly, as the vibrations of the singing bowl calmly overcome the conversations and giggles, our assembly rooms transforms into tranquility again, always a little differently. At first, people become increasingly aware of this silencing across the room, and they tend to look around to confirm it. I normally continue to keep the bowl singing for a few seconds after that, even after the first silence has been achieved, and we can develop a collective, shared focus on the pure tone. Then, as I stop playing the bowl, it continues ringing for a while as the sound dissipates into nothing. It is silence you can hear, and it is the only time all week our entire campus is silent. In this way, the bowl has taught me to pay attention to paying attention. As a teacher, I try not to confuse a quiet room with clear and focused minds. Real attention means there are quiet voices, but also quiet minds.

I now believe that if we cannot embrace silence, we cannot embrace conversation. So we see, a class that is attuned to silence is just about the opposite of a class that is being quiet but not attuned. True silence entails the letting go of presumptions and judgments. The clear mind is open, receptive. And once the mind is open, the conversation can be open hearted. The teacher becomes a host, a mentor or, as Socrates described, the midwife, tapping into the insights of his/her students.

Of course, you do not need a bowl to teach silence. There are many techniques for us all to seek out. I have a nice collection of peaceful recordings, as well, that help achieve various states of mind from energized to calm, beta to theta. Baroque music. Ocean waves. Jazz. Even the volume I play these at makes a big difference in the kind of impact it has. Music must be extremely soft to “stay out of the way.” And there is no fast track to developing receptive students.

Paying attention is the quality of being heedful and of honoring ourselves and those around us with pure, non-discursive thought. What could be more respectful? I don’t know why schools and classroom teachers so rarely address this. We demand of our students pay attention as though the path to attentiveness is obvious, understood, and easy. It is none of these. From ancient to modern times, masters have studied the states of consciousness in an effort to do little more than “paying attention.” As teachers, the study of the attention of those around us, and of the quality and nature of that attention, is perhaps the ultimate mastery in teaching.

CSPS Name Change to Small School Coalition

We at the Coalition of Small Preparatory Schools have changed our name to the Small Schools Coalition. We came to this decision in order to include more schools, including non-college preparatory and non-private schools. We hope that this change will make the Coalition more inviting to public and non-traditional schools such as charter, public, religious, and themed schools. As our mission states:

The design and benefits of true small schools enables them to provide elegant, creative, and balanced education not available elsewhere. Small schools are not all things to all people, however, it is our aim to continually define and refine the essential characteristics of small schools so that the small school concept will be available for more students.

We hope to work together with all types of “small schools” (a subjective term) in order to promote understanding and progress for the betterment of education for all children. We hope you will join us. All are welcome who come with an open mind and kindred spirit, no matter the details. Both memberships and partnerships are available at no cost. With numbers come change.

Education in the Real World

Please check out Dr. Stuart Grauer’s new article Education in the Real World on SmartBlog, the nationwide blog of the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

“Fearless educators do not fear the real world, they seek it out and invite it in. Research makes it crystal clear that teachers whom students perceive as highly effective see their purposes as freeing rather than controlling. They view people as friendly rather that unfriendly. They see people as worthy. Real teachers have personal relationships with students and community members whom they care about as individuals. Students feel connected to these teachers and, subsequently, to higher causes, and they pursue those connections in tertiary education. In small and community-based schools like Orchard Gardens, we interact with everyone we can, cliques or not.  This is a real world I recognize.”

Cuba Expedition 2013

CSPS Founder Dr. Stuart Grauer led a student delegation to Cuba in April 2013. There they had extraordinary access to small schools and actively interacted with Cuban students and educators. You can watch the slideshow by clicking here, and read the blog here.

China’s Experience: How Examinations Impact Student Development

The exams we use to evaluate our school children have the power to shape not only a nation’s future, but the character and development of the children who take them. Who sets this agenda? This narrative essay, set in Southern China, deliberates on the changing landscapes of national testing in the United States (such as the College Board’s Advanced Placement) and China (in particular, the Gaokao), and the conflicts inherent when student learning, patterns of engagement, evaluation and placement are focused fundamentally on high stakes, standardized exams. Of the world’s seven billion people, nearly a billion are secondary school students. Is it conceivable that nearly one billion of the world’s students are educationally headed down and unintended track?

Please click here to read the article by Dr. Stuart Grauer.

Eisenhower Academy, a Summer Institute for Teachers

“THE EISENHOWER ACADEMY, a summer institute for teachers, will be held July 14 – 19, 2013 at Gettysburg College and Eisenhower National Historic Site. This professional development opportunity is sponsored by the National Park Service, Gettysburg College, and Mount St. Mary’s University and presents an in-depth perspective of Dwight D. Eisenhower as president and world leader. Sessions introduce effective strategies for teaching the Cold War in the classroom and include:

  1. New scholarship on the Eisenhower Presidency.
  2. Field trips, lectures, and discussion on the 1950s including the Cold War, civil rights, and popular culture.
  3. A visit to the Eisenhower National Historic Site to get an intimate glimpse into Eisenhower’s life and times.
  4. Opportunities to learn about and use primary source documents, film and video f ootage, and the World Wide Web as research tools. A walk through historic Gettysburg exploring Eisenhower’s life and times in the community.”

For more information on accommodation, schedule, costs and application, please visit their website.

Summer Institute 2013 of Community Works Institute

Community Works Institute will host their annual professional development event this summer from July 29 to August 2, at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), Los Angeles. This year’s Summer Institute will enrich and deepen your service-learning practice through interactive training designed to maximize learning, growth, and accomplishment for students. The Institute will feature experienced practitioners in the field and small study groups for peer-support. K-16 teachers, community based educators, administrators, and program trainers and leaders are all encouraged to come. For more information and registration, please click here.