Synthesis ~ The Meeting Place

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Synthesizing my learning through this research project on the Heart in Connection to Learning  and Education has taken me to thoughts of initiation, and the evolution of modern education from its ancient roots. One of the strongest impressions that I am left with is that the physical heart is thought of as a purely physical, beating, pumping machine only by modern western medicine. In both Chinese Medicine and Anthroposophical Medicine (which is actually an extension of Western Medicine) the heart is seen as an organ of cognition. The Native peoples of North America have expressed that the longest road is from the heart to the head, and I think that this reflection is as accurate today as it was many lifetimes ago.

The following are my current concluding statements. I am sure that these thoughts will change over time as I continue to ponder, experiment through teaching and researching.

Education, at its most ancient roots, was about preparation for initiation …


whether in tribal life, or ancient Asia, Egypt, or Europe, the purpose of education was to prepare individuals for initiation into a higher position of responsibility. The preparation needed to be considered ready to join the circle to womanhood, manhood, a temple, a guild, or other  social grouping was most often held by the elders within the group, or the medicine people or healers. Up until the last century schooling was considered the realm of the religious community in our own country; the birth of public education changed the impulse from education with a goal of improving humanity to education focused on preparing individuals to become wage earning members of society.

While reviewing the contents of this research project I was struck by the potential of the developing human being, especially during early childhood and again during adolescence. In our culture there is a growing understanding of the importance of the early childhood years, Canada has a national a program called Success by Six ( that works with community partners to focus n the needs of the young children, and their families, in the community. There is not the same appreciation/understanding of the similar needs, potential and importance of the adolescent years. I think that the reasons for this could be a wonderful research project, for my purposes I can just notice that if even a fraction of what is presented in this research project is accurate, we are grossly limiting the developmental potential of our species based on the way that we treat our adolescent members – especially by the way we educate them.

Today it was announced by the BC Minister of Education that the grade 12 portfolio program will no longer be necessary to graduate.


This is a program that was introduced (at great expense and confusion) in 2004, and had at its heart the goal of better preparing students to leave school and enter the world of work, independent living, having had 80 hours of work experience, volunteer work in the community, and the experience of creating a portfolio to portray their learning.

Although I think that the program had many difficulties, it also had much potential. The reasons that were given for scraping the program were that students were too busy with preparing for exams and regular course work to have the time to complete the portfolio. I have seen both the work load and stress placed upon high school students, especially grade 12 students, and it is contraindicated in everything that we know are understanding about learning.

Healthy stress that challenges is invigorating to the learning process, stress that is filled with anxiety, not enough time for digesting and understanding shuts down the higher centers of learning in the brain. While some students are able to cram and memorize to achieve the test results that they need or want, many are unable to do this, and can leave high school with negative experiences about their inherent capabilities as learners. Just when their brain is poised to grow and expand, and open up into new, exciting territory we have created learning environments that. for the most part, are not designed for learning.

I believe that this is a critical time in the development of humanity as a whole, and that for our species to move with hope and confidence into the future we must begin to take care of our own developmental potential. We no longer have priests, healers, medicine people, etc looking out for us and making sure that our education is fit for our body/soul/spiritual needs. Our elders are medicated, locked up in seniors homes, and not considered as bearers of wisdom for those who come after them. I was struck by the feeling of gratitude that I heard from many of the elders that participated in the research. they longed to have conversation, to tell their stories, to be valued for wisdom.

In an age when we have so much advanced “stuff” here in the western world, it seems that we are in the dark ages when it comes to being interested – let alone informed about how to educate our young. The notion that the heart is just like a mechanical pump, and has nothing to do with our brain or the life of our soul, is very new on the scene. Yet in an age lead by reductionist science – we will find the cure for cancer, as the drug companies cash in – the idea of a holistic and inclusive approach to understanding human potential is tantamount to heresy. With universities accepting students sight unseen via their computer generated provincial test scores, the following story is no longer uncommon:

    “when I first started teaching accounting, the students were always pushing the edge. They would challenge me, debate and question. By the time I was in my last year teaching at the college, the entry mark for my courses had risen from 68% to 92%. The only time that a student would raise their hand would be to ask “will this be on the test”. as told to the author by former accounting teacher Norm Curruthers.

I believe that the education of adolescents is seriously important; I believe that it is the training for the initiation of adulthood. Along with Joseph Chilton Pearce and Rudolf Steiner, I think that there are capacities available to human beings that  are essential for our times. To be able to begin to think with our hearts means that we will, as the indigenous people hold sacred, consider both those around us, and those who will come after us, all the creatures of the world and the earth herself, before making any decision. At a time when most of the Western world is ruled by mass materialism, this will take a huge shift within the culture, and the time for preparing human beings to be able to initiate and lead such a shift is during adolescence.

This gesture is the antithesis of the approach akin in nazi Germany, or in the training of child soldiers for that matter. Education that is focused on supporting the development potential of human beings does not teach dogma, but rather teaches through considering many different aspects and angles, building both respect for and interest in others along the way.

I believe that by offering a warm, loving, balanced, challenging and engaging learning process, adolescents will continue to develop into the prefrontal cortex of their brain, which has the biological and spiritual desire to be of service to the heart. This desire comes with the ability to override the fight or flight mechanism in the reptilian brain, and to separate from the very personal feeling realm of the limbic brain and neocortex

As a visual, kinaesthetic learner, I am always drawn to including images in my work. As this is the meeting place for the four lenses of my research project, I have prepared a series of slides to portray how the lenses speak to each other.

In the tradition of bards of long ago, my apologies to those I may have offended, and blessings to all,

Barbarah Nicoll