Podcast: The Public Discourse

Episode 5: Education and Social Progress

We talk with Anne Snyder and Eric Farr about the nature of an educational process that can empower people to contribute to social progress. Snyder is Editor-in-Chief of Comment Magazine and Farr is a PhD student at the University of Toronto.

Read the Transcript

This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity

LAURA FRIEDMANN (Host): Schools and teachers are becoming increasingly conscious of the role of education in advancing social progress. However, searching discussions around justice and equity are often fragmented from reflection on the moral and spiritual education of children and youth. What is the relationship between moral education and social progress? 

My name is Laura Friedmann and this is The Public Discourse, a podcast by the Office of Public Affairs of the Bahá'í Community of Canada.

This is the fifth episode of our series "A Vision of Oneness" inspired by the centenary of the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, a central figure in the Bahá'í Faith who devoted His life to promoting the Faith of His Father. 

When He visited Montréal in 1912, 'Abdu'l-Bahá gave a series of public talks in which He emphasized the importance of education among other themes. He also talked about the kind of education that children require – that is, both spiritual and scientific. While upholding the importance of science and technical education, He also warned against the strictly material view of education. "There is a need," He said, "for systematic training and education in schools and colleges" until one's mind "has awakened and unfolded to higher realms of thought and perception." Intellectual and spiritual education, 'Abdu'l-Bahá asserted, is essential for social progress.

So to reflect on the theme of education and social progress, we are joined today by Eric Farr and Anne Snyder. Welcome Eric and Anne.

I'd like to invite you to introduce yourselves. Can we start with Anne?

ANNE SNYDER (Editor-in-Chief, Comment Magazine): Sure. I'm Anne Snyder. I am the Editor-in-Chief of Comment Magazine which is a Canadian journal, although it serves all of North America. Our tagline is: "Public theology for the common good." I have some exposure to the character conversation and questions of character formation. So I’m just very glad to be here today.

LAURA: It's great to have you here. Thank you for joining. And Eric?

ERIC FARR (PhD student, University of Toronto): I'm Eric Farr and I'm currently a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto for the Department for the Study of Religion, and have worked for a number of years in various Bahá'í-inspired, educational programs.

LAURA: I'd like to begin with you Anne. You have written in recent years about the role of character in the process of social renewal. I wonder if I could ask you to start by describing the meaning of the term "character" and how it finds expression in educational processes?

ANNE: Sure. I'll give it a go. I think character is one of those … foundational things that we're often more apt to say, "We just know it when we see it." It's easier caught than taught, absorbed and imitated rather than articulated and lectured about… It's quite difficult to define a lot of the time, in part because it's such an integrated part of who we are as human beings; in part because it's dynamic and it's at once part of our own identity, but also very much shaped and formed by forces beyond ourselves; and in part because, to your introductory point, we do live in a time where it feels like any normative declaration of what the good is, is very easily politicized and under contention [or] debatable. We can maybe get into that in this conversation.

But all of that aside, I guess I would define it simply and just say I think of character as a set of dispositions to be and do good that is engraved on a person in a few different ways: by strong family attachments that teach you what to love and how to love well, by regular habits that engrain small acts of self-control, by teachers or role-models who personify excellence and inspire emulation, by religious instruction sometimes on honest, courageous, compassionate living through institutions that establish standards for good conduct, and mentors who inculcate concrete ways to execute that conduct by reading literature, experiences of struggle, positions of responsibility, and just the blessings and demands of enduring commitments. 

So, the habits of character tend to grow best in contexts that are nurturing, that are orderly and predictable to some degree but also have clear, yet grace-infused feedback mechanisms, and always some inspiring ideal in view. So we could go through a lot of traits - and I have some favourites but I don't want to hog up all the time I have…You could look at the fruit of the spirit, or I think about generosity, and hospitality, and graciousness, and humility, life-long learning, taking responsibility for your own mistakes, the ability to discern qualities of character in others, one who forgives and seeks forgiveness, and a whole variety of other virtues, and aptitudes, and some would say today sort of certain soft skills. I think they are all part of the composite of a whole integrated person of character. 

LAURA: That's a very comprehensive and holistic view around character. And just wondering how you think it finds expression in educational processes?

ANNE: I have never been a teacher, and I have not yet had the joyous responsibility of being a mother, but I have been a journalist and I was raised by pretty thoughtful – I would say extremely thoughtful – parents. There were quite a few layers of love there going cross-generationally. And I was also lucky to experience a fairly rigorous education, but in very different moral subcultures at different stages of my life. I grew up overseas andlived very cross-culturally. So [I was] exposed to different understandings of the good in different seasons. And in all of that, I guess I would say, at the most universal level, character formation is just fundamentally wrought in the context of fierce attachments, and exemplaring, and struggle. But you need to be in a context where you can process your struggles, like a sort of psychologically safe context. You can process them honestly and be held accountable and grow from them, not be shamed by them.  

So I think in that light, the most impressive and transformational educational settings in which I have found students from early childhood all the way up through university age, or stage… When I found students enter a certain kind of way and leave a different way – and that different was for the good – they just tended to be those environments that had a profound understanding of moral transgression as the breaking of relationships. So I think that definition [of] understanding morality as fundamentally embedded in a relational reality first and foremost creates a certain culture and a certain way of understanding the person, and the nature of grace, and the nature of growth that was always really important in the most beautifully formative educational settings.

I think of institutions or schools that understand the role of desires in shaping us and guiding us, that we are what we love. And also schools that see pluralism and difference as a healthy challenge and are not scared of it. They are sort of a healthy, even friction device that if it's kind of contained or canopied in the right way, might enable people to grow into such aptitudes as empathy and cross-cultural agility, and the ability to see certain transcendent goods in a wide range of cultural clothing I guess for lack of a better metaphor. It's just training people to have the ability to be a “border stalker” and demonstrate boundary-crossing care: that you don't have to love just your own kind.

LAURA: I love what you said about the need to have these safe spaces where people can develop, and explore, and nurture their character. And so speaking of these environments, and these healthy environments, I'm going to turn it to Eric.

Eric, you've worked extensively with Bahá'í-inspired, community-based, youth education programs. You're also looking at the role of religion and secularism in Canadian schooling in your PhD studies. So what do you think schools can learn from these extra-curricular education programs when it comes to fostering moral and spiritual education in a diverse society?

ERIC:  In many of the educational efforts that I've been a part of, we talk about spiritual qualities: these features of a person's life and character that aren't reducible to any sort of material output, or physiological or psychological state, and that grant them a kind of inborn nobility. These are their capacity to love; and to sacrifice for others, for the well-being of others or for immutable beautiful principles; to exercise wise discernment in their choices; to overcome deeply engrained prejudices. These are the kind of qualities that it's not that you either have them or you don't have them, they are kind of within us and they can be developed, they can be nurtured, they can be the object of a life of striving.  

So when we think about what a child is, then we have to think how that [understanding] of what a child is creates a vision for what we expect them to do in their lives: for themselves, for their families, for their communities, for their country, for humanity as a whole. What kind of character must they develop and what should they do with it? And then what kind of formation is required to develop these qualities? And at this time in our collective history as a human race when we, for the first time ever, we can see ourselves as a human race. We develop a sort of planetary consciousness. We are one human people on a single planet. And yet these threats that we've been pointing at or hinting at in our comments: these threats of polarization, tribalism, the kind of the recrudescence of long-standing prejudices, and a kind of pervasive apathy, or disillusionment, discouragement. 

I think in our educational efforts, when we think about character, we need to move beyond the vision of moral mediocrity: an approach to character that attaches itself to sort of ephemeral, material pursuits, and kind of seeks mainly to just not harm others. I think what we need in this generation of young people are moral characters that really shine; that shine out like a light on a mountain top. A kind of spiritual, and moral, and intellectual excellence that is so powerful you can almost see. And it's not the kind of thing that it manifests itself in sort of grand gestures, or certainly not in any kind of performance, and doesn't attract individual accolades necessarily, but it's the kind of moral heroism. A kind of new moral heroism for this day that manifests itself in these everyday strengthening of community ties that allows us to sort of overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and greatpersonal sacrifice.

And then I think just maybe the last thing is if we see these two moral impulses in our lives that propel and give shape to our characters; this vision of who we can become and what we can contribute, how we can build up the community and society around us. The educational programs that I've been a part of, we're learning how these two fundamental dimensions of a young person's moral purpose can find expression, and I mean really, can only be developed in a life of service to others and to a community. And it's in service and trying to contribute to the material and spiritual prosperity of a place - you know, with actual people living in it - that we're called to develop these qualities where they're tested and forged in the fires of challenges. 

So public schools may not be able to adopt all of these approaches or this language, and they maybe shouldn't at this stage, but I think we can learn together about an expanded conception of the human person befitting of our day. 

LAURA: Well it's interesting that you say they shouldn't, maybe not right now is not the time but I look forward to the day. In the public school system, we are addressing this spiritual and material progress. And here in the West we're in this predominantly secular context I'd say and to talk about moral and spiritual education will be a non-starter for some people. It might strike them as sectarian, or ideological. And so, Anne, how do you think we can approach this topic in a way that is inviting to a broad cross-section of society? What do you think is the kind of language that we need to help people to talk about qualities, attitudes, and the virtues that we want our education and school systems to cultivate in young people? 

ANNE: That's a good question. It's sort of the million-dollar question of the moment I would say, so it's a hard one. I love everything Eric was saying and I think it sort of precedes my answer. He was reminding me of something that my husband, who also is a journalist, likes to say and sometimes feels like his role is to translate between the spiritual sacred world into a very secular material world. And so he says something when he's trying to persuade folks who do not believe in anything real in the invisible realm - that everything has to be data, and quantified - he'll say, “I just want to invite you to consider that we each have, whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe in a spiritual realm or not, that there is some part of each of us that has no size, or weight, or colour, or shape, but it gives each us infinite value and dignity. And that rich people don't have more of this than poor people. And that slavery is not just an attack on a bunch of physical molecules. Rape is not just an assault on a bunch of physical molecules. They're all, they're both, an attempt to obliterate another person's soul."  

And I think something about that word "soul" – which I think is slightly different from character, but they're very, very interrelated and you could almost treat them as synonyms – gives us our fundamental equality, and moral responsibility, and our sources of desire. So I'm kind of bringing someone I talk to every day into this just because Eric had to spark that as he was trying to grope for language. So forgive me. And I say that in the context of this question of what kind of language can you use? And I view this as a translation task. I view it as threading a needle through such a suspicious era where all-or-nothing politics is so morally loaded. It's like our new religion and it's very unhealthy I would argue.

I have found - not that I have been always very successful – but having written a book about character a number of years ago that was very much for a pluralistic, widely diverse, largely secular crowd, readership, I learned that if I used a language that was fundamentally relational, that saw relational health as a major telos, or end, towards which moral character is motivated towards, that was very helpful. People understood we're in this crisis of solidarity as a society; we're very siloed; we seem to have lost the ability to get out of ourselves; our relationships are crumbling at the most fundamental level; something is amiss. I think just locating the cause of character there as part of the stakes of a relational reality has been helpful because suddenly people get motivated to hear maybe firmer facts about weighing different goods, and good and evil, all that. So I would say just: addressing the fundamental relationality of it. 

I would also say a language that is very gentle, but also honest about the realities of struggle, and hardship, and suffering, in all of our lives, which or course we all go through at different stages, to different degrees, in very different ways. But I think, when I would ask people, years ago writing this book, everyone from very fancy people leading large organizations to people who were custodial staffers and stay-at-home moms, and neighboours… you know. I would ask hundreds of people, "Just tell me a story. How would you say your character has been shaped?" And they would invariably tell a story that almost always conformed to a three-part pattern. They would mention a loving authority figure in their lives that had really made a difference and had provided some example of how they wanted to be themselves one day. They would highlight an experience of struggle or suffering that kind of shaped them and sort of built both the spine they have now, but also left some scars that are inextricable from who they are, and how they exist in the world as healers or whatever. And then the third thing was awakening to a context within themselves. And those three ingredients were always a part of how they described the gem-tumblerof character formation over, and over, and over in a lifetime.  

So I think a language that leads with compassion… there is something there that then leads to these deeper moral questions that exists in all of our lives: dilemmas we face, trade-offs. That is a doorway in, and I think is widely resonant because the human experience has pain.  

And then the third thing I would say is a language that doesn't pull punches when it comes to articulating a very high vision of the good: the good society, the good community, the beloved community, even something like, I hate to say, a good family, but to say there is such a thing as an ideal that is beautiful and that isn't about being joyless, or starchy, or goody-goody, or G-rated, but is about flourishing for all. And when people are self-less, and when people are responsible, and these individual character traits are fully alive and fully mature, that leads to this greater sense of sort of shalom, and deep peace, and freedom. 

ERIC: Can I add something? 

ANNE: Yeah, absolutely. 

ERIC: I just loved that. I mean, it was such a helpful reflection. And I think one of the things that it made me think of, if we think about the language of character, both connected to what you were saying about it's the relational nature of character, and also just in your description of your process I also think about the role of conversation. The role of actually conversing and talking with people; reflecting, holding a vision of the good as an object of collective inquiry and conversation seems like just such a crucial part to our efforts to build ourselves and build a better world. 

ANNE: Thanks.

LAURA: Everything that you said, well, you had me sold on storytelling because I'm, I'm also a filmmaker so it's all about story. And this thing about character being contagious and how we can all effect each other. And this relational language as you said, it, it seems like an invitation to build bridges to invite us to see that there is no other. And there's something about the commonality, around the experience of people journeying to growth, that you said. These three things that you described around being in the starting point, going through a struggle, building this backbone, and then that results in this recognition of a collective experience, or an experience of oneness in our humanity.

And so I know we're talking a lot about primarily education from this individual standpoint. So what kind of person is being educated? 

However, there is another aspect to this which is about the society we want to create. So just going up one level higher. So Eric, where do you see the connection between education and social progress?

ERIC: Yeah. I think that this is an important piece to add to the conversation. It's the education systems and programs that are concerned in many ways with the development, the formation of a particular kind of person, and also the formation of a particular kind of society. They're animated by visions of “the person” and “the people”. 

So, then, in the same way where we're thinking about the kind of person we hope to be, we hope to cultivate, we hope to nurture, we need to reflect deeply on what [are] the characteristics of the kinds of societies that we have to build? The kind of people that we hope to be? What does it mean to be 'a people'? And what are the boundaries of 'the people', in a sense? 

The notion of “the people” in political and educational discourse has historically only permitted a kind of narrow participation of certain groups in the construction of a national community and identity. And even now, although I think most people would say that no group or individual should be left out of the society-building project, there remains a tendency to try and elicit participation through different kinds of domination, manipulation, or a feeling of, “We could really create a wonderful society if these people would just sort of go away, or join our team, or… Whatever.”

So when I think of a people and the kind of people that's required for the needs of this particular time in history, it's a people that quite literally needs the participation and contribution of every person. And not just a kind of passive participation that is reducible to the casting of a ballot, say, but active participation in the construction of new patterns of community life. And such a people has never existed before. Certainly not on the scale that's now required.

When we think about the relationship between education and social progress, it's really, to me, about how we need to take this redefined collective of humanity as an urgent object of learning. So when we approach the education of youth – just a couple of thoughts building off that idea – when we approach the education of youth we can't approach them as islands. And I mean by this not only that they’re not isolated, atomized individuals, but they also aren't some separate category of human being that can learn and act apart from the web of relationships, as Anne was saying, that they're embedded in. They are members of families, members of communities. And so education, in trying to nurture the development of collectives, needs to find ways to reinforce these ties of unity that bind together a people. 

So then how do we learn the virtues of peoplehood? How do we learn to tap into the vast reservoirs of power that lie in collective volition and unified action? And I think that it's at the level of the community; that is, a community in the sense of a limited geographical space where you live and you go about your daily life as a vital space to develop these capacities. If you try to learn about fostering universal participation of a whole society made up of tens, or hundreds of millions of people, it's kind of too much to bear. But we can learn about fostering participation on our block, on our street, in our neighbourhood. And communities in this sense can become communities of inquiry; centres of learning so to speak, where we learn about, and share, and socialize the growing knowledge of how to build a broad-based participatory community life. 

And then, just finally, connected to some of Anne's comments about this lofty vision that can inspire a moral striving, a striving of character. Because we need to think about what's capable of grounding this shared understanding, this shared identity. We live at a time when we need to both reinvigorate and advance these capacities of community living, while at the same time developing a broader allegiance, a broader based fellow-feeling as human beings on a shared planet that also requires its own civilizational forms and capacities to come into being. 

So I think we find even on smaller scales, but especially at this distinctive point in history, that a commitment, or a shared identity that's rooted in a political allegiance, or a nation, or an ethnicity, these are insufficient resources to maintain the deep ties of peoplehood that are required for this age; and [can even] stifle, and undermine, and damage it. They can't withstand the tests and challenges that seek to splinter, and divide, and discourage us. So we need to reach deeper.

And again this has been, traditionally… one of the roles of religion; to create communities out of previously antagonistic, even warring groups. And maybe religion will play this role again in some sort of kind of unexpected spiritual resurgence or revolution. But regardless, education I think needs to be attentive to these needs and these virtues of peoplehood, of collectives, and find ways of learning and talking about ties that are durable and flexible enough to hold us together at this particular time.

LAURA: Lofty vision indeed. That sounds really beautiful and, thank you so much for sharing that. I'm going to turn it to Anne. Anne, in much of your writing, including your new book called Breaking Ground: Charting our Future in a Pandemic Year – congratulations by the way – you have tried to reconcile perspectives, move past ideology, and you've given new expression to old ideas. In fact, in the introduction to your book, you wrote that the us “an opportunity to recalibrate tired cultural values and ways of thinking, and to renew particularly fragile spheres like education… with a recovered moral purpose oriented toward our actual makeup as human beings, and toward serving the needs of the commons.” I wondered if you could elaborate on this at all. What do you think are some of the unifying spiritual principles and cultural values that can help us to renew our approaches to education in the future?

ANNE: Well I fear I may be repeating myself in this episode, and more importantly just amen-ing everything Eric is saying, although I won't be as eloquent. But I'll say just a few things. I, probably like everybody, though I was involved in this book, it's really an anthology of people much smarter than me evaluating what is this pandemic and this broader time of sort of layered crisis accelerating longer standing things that were never quite right with normal, revealing about our society, and about ourselves. 

I'm usually very hopeful. These days I find myself more worried. But, that honest confession out of the way… Just a few, I guess, unifying values, principles - spiritual, cultural, especially vis-à-vis education… Most people I know would like to restore exactly what Eric is describing. Like, the fundamental human, humanizing whole person relational aspects to a full education. I mean, “to educate,” historically, over centuries and centuries, meant “to form”. You were formed whole; wholly. And that was part of the role of education that wasn't to replace what parents were doing… But it was to expose you through the social life, through literature, through poetry, through the sciences, through all of it… And through encounters with strangers, and with friends, to the sort of full flowering of what it is to be a glorious human being; gloriously endowed. And I think a lot of our education, for a variety of reasons over the last century and a half, just decided to become more technocratic, or utilitarian. And at the end of the day that does, whether you know it or not, wear you down to feel like you're just a cog in a wheel of a civilization that may or may not need you – that you're largely expendable. 

And these are subtle things, but they become profound in terms of how they shape the way we teach, the way we design school cultures, rhythms, etc. And I think there's just something in this notion of humanism at its best that we're all longing to see restored in, you know, where we send our kids. What it is to be loved? What is it to be tutored to inspiring heroic ideals that Eric so well beautifully just painted? 

You know, this is a controversial thing to say. And this may be reflecting a little, I guess, my own cultural coordinates. But deep down, I think because we don't love conflict, I think we'd all like to be better at dealing with difference, and engaging difference well, and learning the art and skills of seeing other people accurately and deeply, and in turn being deeply seen and understood. I think we may not all articulate that. There's a lot of, “We all feel threatened these days and want to go to our tribe.” But I think when we have experiences of surprise magical “a-ha moments” of being enriched and widened by someone who is extremely different from us, and we give the patience to learn from, and in turn, be served by, and to serve, I think we all desire that kind of formation and exposure young, in our schools. And to cultivate environments that somehow figure out a way to engage deep difference that doesn't make any person feel threatened in his or her identity, standing, membership in the community, sense of horizon, but rather enriches all of that, and helps me understand my roots maybe better in a way thatpairs a healthy critical element, but also with a grace that says, “I'm part of the redemption story of that line.” Or whatever.

So, I think the last thing I'll say – and this gets to I think some of Eric's emphasis on the arts and your emphasis on story – I do think beauty is a very big piece. 

And I think there's something about what sorts of almost holy yearnings could be granted to children early, even if they were poignant, or had a little lace of longing or pain in them, that equip them to step into the challenges of real life that will greet them? What's the role of beauty in gently coaxing young people into embracing a kind of moral realism that understands the world as a broken place, and we're all actually a part of… we play a role in that? But we also have whole agency to contribute in some way and try to shift the rudder or the oars a little bit. 

And I think somehow we're covering a very rich understanding of beauty, aesthetically, musically, moral beauty, sort of the beauty of paradox when it comes to truth when you discover it. I think all of this would go a long way. And it may sound like a luxury but I think if we actually baked it into our education from a very young age, all of it would go a long way to healing a lot of divides that actually feel kind of false to me, that are separating us today. [We need it] especially in those early growing up years just to sort of get us out of ourselves, and our need to find identity within, and instead to look for it outside of ourselves and in the face of others. 

LAURA: Thank you for bringing this idea of, of beauty, really. I think we all as human beings are attracted to beauty. It's just a natural attraction that's part of our makeup. We yearn for it and, speaking of it and bringing it light through the arts and different educational contexts are, can be this source of connection for us. 

Eric, building on Anne's comments… here come a bunch of questions so feel free to ask me to repeat. But I'll start with [this one]: where do you see opportunities for social change in the future? And where do you think it is possible to change education within the school system? And lastly, to what extent do communities of people become protagonists of educational processes both inside and outside of schools? So I know that's a lot.

ERIC: Well, I'll try to offer some reflections. I think part of what I think about when I hear those questions is how do we have to rethink the role that education plays in our society. Where do we see education, and knowledge, and understanding, taking a central role? 

For some reason in our culture, and this is like the fruit of a long process of different kinds of societal differentiation, and specialization, but we've come to connect education really, really tightly to the school. And to the point where schooling and education come to be seen as more or less synonymous. Where when you ask someone, “Oh, where did you get…” Or, not ‘where’ did you get your education, but you ask someone about someone's education they usually say, "Oh, I went to this place. This is where I went to school." But education, when we think about it in the way that we've been talking about it in this conversation, it's really just this vast, hugely important spiritual enterprise that every human being undergoes. I think we would do well in our culture, as we strive towards progress, to consider the role of education in the various dimensions of our life.  

So what role does education play in the life of a family? How does knowledge, and the sharing of knowledge, the generation of knowledge, how does this actually play a central role in our immediate families? In our extended families? How does it shape the life of a community that sees actually one of its central objectives, one of the things that it's pursuing, is the generation of knowledge, and the sharing of knowledge, and kind of the discovery of the knowledge that exists within a population.  

I think that essentially that's what I would want to think about – is how knowledge, and learning, and education can be infused into the different aspects of our life? How do religious communities also see themselves in a humble posture of learning, and adopt that in the day-to-day lives of their communities. Because when you disassociate it from that then we can imagine the proliferation of all kinds of educational programs that compliment and work in collaboration with the school system. The public school systems are kind of stuck in some ways within the constraints of their policies and different kinds of restrictions. But if we can all sort learn together and see ourselves as pursuing a common project of education and formation, then I think we would see a much more educated, in the true sense, society of persons and a people. 

ANNE: I feel like Eric's going to save our country; save the world. Everything he's saying it's very timely. 

LAURA: Yeah. And you too Anne. Everything that you've said has really been inspiring and enlightening, and, giving, given a lot of hope in just created a lot of space for exploration and, flexibility, and openness, and invitation. So for my final question, which is always my favourite one because, it leaves me feeling so hopeful in general. What gives both of you hope and inspiration for the future of education for young people? Who would like to go first? Anne. 

ANNE: I think we're in a deep remaking time. And I'm seeing this a lot in my context now I'm more in the higher education world in the US where there's just huge questions around the meritocracy and how do we build business models. So I'm very encouraged by some pretty bullish experiments that are going on there. But I think in a similar way they're happening at younger levels.  

And the few things I'll say is I do think, one, we are all getting wiser about technology. I am seeing more schools be more careful about just immediately embracing the latest technological advance, or device, and having a bit more of a principled prudential question of, "Okay, is this latest thing - this app, this tool, this digitization - is this going to promote healthy relationships in our environment and individual skill? Or is it going to make those goods more difficult? And if so, we have to put some limits around them." So I think both parents, and teachers, and principles, and so on, are just not quite so naively gobbling it all up as one linear line forward of human progress. I think they are seeing that there are bad effects and are figuring out how to, not be luddites, but draw a healthy boundary. So that's encouraging. That we are just evolving as we've had this shocking speed of change in our world that we are trying to adapt and figure out how to still be masters of the tools and not let them master us.  

People are more attentive, just ‘period’, to the environments that shape us and the ways in which the atmospheric things like… This sounds very shallow but I actually don't think it is like, warmth, and colour, and a variety of rhythms in a day, and your rituals, and safety. Again, that's that feeling. That that is so important in a home, and actually it's so important for ability to learn and to be in the right posture to learn, and the right posture to grow.  

And so one of the things we can learn about the importance of atmosphere that we may have gotten so familiar within the confines of our homes in this time where all of life is happening inside four walls, and transfer that to school. And not only school, other places too. But are there… I'm just hearing teachers in particular be like, "Oh. I'm…" As parents describe their homeschooling techniques, "Oh. You know, maybe the school environment could have more sofas in our hallways and feel like a living room. Or we could involve more cooking in school kitchens. And more music. And more craft.” And maybe we could just harness the power of atmosphere as not just a decorative thing, but as quite powerful for the position and posture kids are then in to really feel alive to all the exciting things that, when you're young, usually happen unconsciously as you grow and learn. What are the things you could cross-pollinate from the household into the school halls, or just into the school building. 

So that's kind of… I'm encouraged by that. And I'll be watching that cross-sector transfer, for lack of a better way of putting it, with a lot of interest in the next five years or so. 

LAURA: That gives me so much hope. And thank you for sharing that. And Eric?

ERIC: Yeah. Oh, yeah. That was really lovely to hear about. And I especially like this emphasis on the power of certain kinds of environments and how they can sort of unleash and release the capacities of young people, and people in general.

And I think when I think about what gives me hope and inspiration - and it's true, it's a time when that has maybe been tested more than usual - I just think about the young people that are in this world, and the young people that I've had the opportunity to get to know and work with. 

There's a story that sticks out to me. I was in a neighbourhood in Toronto and been working with a group of 12 to 14 year olds for a couple of years. And we were always trying to kind of grow the group and invite other of their friends to participate in this one neighbourhood. And so we went up to one of the friends of one of these young people and invited them and kind of explained this group and how we're trying to develop our own capacities, but also really serve the community. And this young person we approached just gave the most eloquent expression of total disillusionment that I never heard from a 12 year old. It, just like, "This will never work." "You're never be able to do this." "No one is going to want to come and participate in this." And I was thinking, "Oh boy, how do I, you know, how do I respond to this?" 

But then one of the participants in the group - this 12 year old - just kind of looked him in the eyes and said, "I don't know how you can say that. There's a group of 15 of us. We meet every week. We're getting to know the challenges that are in our community. We clean up the park once a week. Every Thursday we have a class where we teach, we bring together younger children and work with them." And he just had this confidence, and warmth, and sincerity. It wasn't like he was… It wasn't a recruitment pitch. He was just, he was kind of… He was just expressing how he felt. And so that kind of clarity of purpose, and confidence, and purity of these young people in the world. And it's not like this young man was unique, there's so many young people like this. So I think the hope that I have comes from them, and from the effect that a certain kind of environment that allows them to flourish can release among youth.  

LAURA: Thank you so much. That's a really beautiful story and I hope that, uh, it gives our listeners also, um, a glimpse into how, how simple it can also be to reframe these, maybe, these, feelings of cynicism, or hopelessness. You know?  

So thank you both for, for sharing all these views and bringing hope to the conversation around the relationship between moral, and education, and, material education, spiritual education, and social progress; learning about engaging in difference and the importance of being understood; and rethinking the role of education; this power behind storytelling, and beauty, and recognizing beauty; and the shared experience and longing that we all have to be a whole and full human being and to be able to express this within the context of our families, in our community, and especially in our schools and educational systems.  

So thank you both for joining us. And hope you have a wonderful day. 

ANNE: Thank you. 

ERIC: Thank you so much.