In Pursuit of Knowledge Excellence and Service

At a meeting of all parents at The School of Total Education early in 2013, Principal, Shane Power, drew inspiration from the school motto “In Pursuit of Knowledge Excellence and Service”.

The school motto, “In Pursuit of Knowledge Excellence and Service”, is intended for the whole school community, not just the children. It is a living motto which embraces the entire school culture, including joyful children, loving teachers and engaged parents.

In Pursuit of…

We don’t normally focus on the words “In pursuit of …” which begin the school motto. But these innocuous, humble, little words actually reflect a part of the school’s ethos — that we are all a work-in-progress. For parents, it means that we are striving towards being better parents and should not expect ourselves to be perfect at parenting.

Knowledge

Knowledge is a really interesting core principle of Total Education. We are all familiar with the idea of knowledge as information and expertise — knowing “why” about our material environment and “how” to do things. However, the school founder, Vijayadev Yogendra, understood this word to mean more than just book knowledge and to encompass a more subtle, deeper concept, akin to the idea of wisdom. For instance, the understanding that impatience breeds anger and comes from wanting things to be as we would like them, is knowledge.

This knowledge includes seeing the value of, and being able to practice, such attributes as tolerance, acceptance, humility and the capacity to suffer. My experience is that being able to look honestly at oneself and adjust one’s behaviour, where needed, builds knowledge. The school’s Parents Program provides an opportunity for reflection and discussion that can lead to the growth of this kind of knowledge.

Vijayadev Yogendra also taught that we all have deeper knowledge within us that we can access through quietness and which is connected to Divinity or God. This quote from James 3:17 touches on that deeper aspect of knowledge, what is often referred to as wisdom:

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”

Excellence

In the school, Excellence is seen as flowing from wholeheartedness and from not comparing oneself with others. It is about effort, enjoyment and unlocking potential.

It is not about being the best, but about being your best. It is through excellence that we see the disadvantages of competitiveness and the advantages of cooperation. The student who is very skilled is encouraged to help others so that everyone “wins”. Games and general school life are constantly throwing up opportunities to talk about and understand what is driving competitiveness and what effects it has.

This ties in with some recently published research referred to in a book by experienced American therapist, Stephen Grosz, who reports that both excessive praise and criticism can stifle children. He recommends that we listen closely to children as they play and study so that they can develop their own passions and “thrive in the things they love doing”.

Service

The idea of service frightens a lot of people, making them feel that they may have to give more than they are prepared to, and thus deplete themselves, or that they are going to miss out on their own enjoyment.

I can remember early in my working life expending more energy in trying to avoid serving than I would have expended actually doing the task. Through the example set for me by the school’s founder, Vijayadev Yogendra, I learned the ironic truth that wholehearted service actually gives one energy rather than burning it up.

Service is a great source of pleasure and joy that is available to each and every one of us. As Martin Luther King Jnr says in one of his essays:

You don’t have to have a college degree to serve…
You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love,
And you can be that servant.

The school program provides lots of opportunities for students to serve — not in a heavy, laborious way, but in a lighthearted way that they can enjoy. For instance, the Year 12 students empty the bins for the staff in the school office, students clean up their classrooms, the Grade Four children put up and take down the flags each day and the secondary students organise the “Big Game” each Wednesday for the primary children.

I found the following quote in the autobiography of indigenous educationalist, Dr Chris Sarra. I feel it is very relevant for us as adults living in this materialistic world:

“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… But the world may be a different place because I was important in the life of a child.”

Forest E. Witcraft (1894–1967). Scholar, Teacher, and Boy Scout Administrator. Quoted in “Good Morning Mr Sarra” by Dr Chris Sarra.

About the Author

Shane Power has been Principal of The School of Total Education since 2012. Starting as a volunteer at the School in the 1980s, Shane later worked in businesses which funded the School, where he worked under the personal guidance of the School’s founder, Vijayadev Yogendra. A member of the School Governing Council since 1992, Shane has also been actively involved as a school parent, with two children who have attended the School.

This article is based on a talk given to Parents at The School of Total Education in early 2013. (Published on web site: June 2013)