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The Education Pyramid

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The Education Pyramid

Let not thy learning exceed thy deeds. Mere knowledge is not the goal, but action.  ~ Talmudic Axiom

By Linda Dobson

EDITOR NOTE: The Education Pyramid is, of necessity, a lengthy piece. I don’t want to break it up into smaller parts as those who might miss the beginning before stumbling on a later part might be left more confused than enlightened. I share it on a Friday in the hope that you will be able to use some weekend time to read in its entirety.

Education PyramidA little explanation is in order before we continue our deeper look at
schooling and the art of education. A lot of us are tired and disgusted with
our  generation’s  focus  on  self.  We  have  seen  the  ancient  message  of  self
knowledge, passed down over millennium through every major religion on
earth,  twisted  and  turned  until  its  wisdom  serves  a  generation  nursed  on
materialism, teethed  on  immediate  gratification,  and  educated  in  a  social
environment  of  hostile  corporate  takeovers,  get-rich-quick  schemes,  and
criminal politicians.

This  atmosphere  has  produced  narcissism,  not  self-knowledge.  The
former focuses on gain, a “What’s in it for me?” mind set, a belief that the
singular “I” is the center of the universe. The latter, however, is a journey
into  one’s  inner  world  and  spirituality,  leading  you  ever  closer  to
compassion  and  the  knowledge  that  “I”  is  an  illusory  separation  from  a
singular universe.

So please, as you read, do not confuse self-knowledge with narcissism,
self-centeredness, or selfishness. Think of Self-knowledge as awareness, as
a life of quality. The others represent dark sleep, a life of quantity.

The  aim  of  education  is  the  acquisition  of  the  art  of  the
utilization  of  knowledge.  A  merely  well-informed  man  is  the
most useless bore on God’s earth.”   
-Alfred North Whitehead

Unfortunately  we  have been  led to believe that it  is through the child’s
mind that he will reach awareness. But just as rocks are collected and piled
one atop the other until, as a group, they form a dam capable of restricting
the  natural  flow  of  a  raging  river,  thoughts  (products  of  mind)  hinder  the
rhythm  of  consciousness.  They  create  an  impasse,  separating  the  force  of
energy  and  intelligence  from  the  pool  of  “outer”  life.  In  reality  the  mind
impedes  awareness.  To  relate  this  understanding  to  learning  and  the  true
meaning of education, we must examine the nature of the mind.

Education and the Nature of the Mind

In our normal waking state all information the mind admits is perceived
through the filter of our senses. From the first day of life, this information is
understood  only  in  relation  to  what has  passed  before.  It  remains
unchanged, in the same order and the same relation with previous
impressions, not as they necessarily were, but as they were perceived.

Since  the  mind  relies  upon  sensory  data,  it  continually  desires
stimulation  and  constantly  requires  experience.  In  this  attempt  to  satisfy
itself,  it  seeks  the  most  pleasurable  experience  available.  So  attention
constantly  drifts:  our  focus  transfers  to  pleasant  music  while  reading  the
newspaper, an attractive member of the opposite sex passes down the street
and interrupts our thoughts, we watch the gym class exercising outside the
window  during  math  class.  But  the  mind  will  never  reach  contentment  in
the  ever-changing  relative  field  because  new  experience  is  continually
created and, therefore, desired.

The  object  of  experience  fills  the  mind  like  a  motion  picture  fills  the
screen  at  a  theater.  The  pure  whiteness  of  the  screen  (consciousness)  is
veiled in the changing motion of color (experience) produced by the camera

But for education to occur, one must know what remains as a result of
the experience, not the experience itself. Learning, therefore, is the product
of the union of the knower and the known. This union can only occur when
pure  consciousness  remains  unbound by  the  experience’s  impact  on  the
mind. When mind exists on the stable foundation of self-conciousness, it is
in  a  state  of  contentment  and  capable  of  serving  in  its  true  capacity  – the
link between spirituality and material life, a bond between the relative and
absolute states of being.

When  a  person  whose  consciousness  is  lost  in  experience  attempts  to
learn,  the  lack  of  foundation  becomes  apparent.  This  is  why  a  child  who
managed  to  receive  an  A  on  a  test  can  no  longer  remember  the  facts  two
months later. The information was merely an experience the mind perceived
as opposed to a true fusion  of the  knower and the  knowledge, the  witness
and the witnessed.


Imagine a three-year-old child’s first experience with a car’s engine as an
example  of  a  mind  relying  solely  on  sensory  input.  He  sees  a  wonderful
conglomeration of nuts, bolts and wires; something to touch and play with.
When the conscious  mind  is brought into play,  we  have an auto  mechanic
who  views  a  marvelously  ordered,  structured  work  of  art.  Both  child  and
mechanic  observe  the  same  machinery  but  they  acquire  totally  different
perceptions  because  the  mechanic’s  understanding  transcends  the
experience of the engine.

There are many psychotechnologies available today through which you
may expand your awareness. Meditation, from Sanskrit and meaning “doing
the wisdom,” is a good, inexpensive, simple, easy place to start with your
children  as  a  family.  (Check out  the  reference  section  for  some  good
starting materials.)

Please don’t let words like psychotechnologies and meditation scare you
into  erecting  walls  your rational  mind  won’t scale.  Your life  has room for
any form of meditation when you throw away the image of incense-burning,
robed  monks prostrate  before  an  altar.  “Doing  the  wisdom”  simply  means
allowing yourself the time and space for introspection. In fact, it’s probably
something  you  already  routinely  do,  under  labels  like  prayer  or
contemplation or, perhaps, without even labeling it at all.

Yes,  we  meditated  – not  always  by sitting  down  cross-legged,
trying  to  direct  our  erring  thoughts  toward  higher  realms.  We
might start the day with a recognition of our relationship with the
whole,  opening  ourselves  to  an  acknowledgement  of  the  creative
forces in the universe, keeping  wide the channels of our being so
that  benign  forces  could  stream  through. We  breathed  especially
deep  of  life  at  those  times,  and  tried  to  continue  this  sense  of
dedication throughout the day. Was this meditation? For us it was.

– Helen Nearing in Loving and Leaving the Good Life

For  one  of  my  friends,  meditative  states  sneak  up  during  quiet  canoe
rides.  Another  friend  finds  that  once  she  travels  deep  enough  into  the
woods, the rhythmic crunch-crunch of snowshoes helps empty her mind of
life’s  trivia.  Long  walks  or  drives,  quiet  moments alone  at home  or  in  the
office, horseback riding, gardening, sewing, hanging laundry, doing dishes –
all  provide  opportunity  to  quiet  the  “monkey  mind”  and  uncover  the
wisdom within. My point is that you don’t have to wait for these moments;
you can consciously create them, allowing yourself additional opportunities
to  reach  a  place  where  daily distractions  momentarily  disappear  and  you
find  the  peace  and  knowledge  Christ  called  “the  Kingdom  of  Heaven”

It  is  unfortunate  that  so  many  people  steeped  in  institutionalized
religions  confuse  the  universality  of  these  practices’  benefits  with  an
experience  of  “humanism,”  “witchcraft,”  “New  Age,”  specific  meditation
methods, etc., and don’t understand the difference between catholic

spirituality  and  organized  religion.  Because  of  these  misconceptions,
schools  fear meditation’s  inclusion  in  children’s  daily  lives  because  of
separation of church and state. The benefits, though, are real. And increased
consciousness  and  awareness  are  vital to  your  child’s educational
experience, no matter where it occurs.

We  have  educated  so  exclusively  to  specialized  training  for  life’s
“work” that we confuse intellect with intelligence. Intellect is thought void
of emotion; the sharp, calculated, trained response. If we apply the cosmic,
eternal  definition  to  intelligence,  we  cannot  separate  creative  intelligence
from  love. True intelligence  involves an  integration  of feeling and reason,
rendering the ability to understand life and internalize right values.
True  learning  requires  thought.  Thought  has  energy  sending  it  and
creative intelligence directing it. The art of education requires both energy
and intelligence.

The Education Pyramid

Now on to the Pyramid. The bottom  of  our Education Pyramid shows
the  simplest  level  of  learning. Facts,  or  information,  are  presented  to  the
learner  as  second-hand  knowledge  from  text  books.  It  engages  only
intellect,  and  is  the  most  passive  way  to  supposed  education.  (And  isn’t  it
really  programming?)  Information  is  thrown  at  the  learner  and  his
involvement in the process is minimal.

The  second  level  involves  memory  and  an  ability  to  remember  the
second-hand  facts,  but  this  type  of  learning  also  stagnates  at  the  intellect
and is something “done” to the learner. As a fifth grade teacher in Oregon
laments,  “some  [kids]  seem  to  have  forgotten  how to  learn  without  visual
stimulation and affirmation  of  what they  hear. Concentration and memory
are  just  not  as  important  to  them.”2 As  poor  a  substitute  for  learning  as
Level 2 is, this teacher’s description seems to indicate that too many public
school students are stuck at or below this level today.

educationLevel Three,  an  ability  to  find  one’s  own  facts  about  a  given  subject
(research), engages a higher level of intellect. This level requires a bit more
effort  on  the  learner’s  part  than  the  previous  two.  Instead  of  having  the
second-hand  facts  presented  on  a  silver platter,  the  learner  needs  to  first
track down information on a given topic, separate the wheat from the chaff
by deciding which bits of facts are relevant to his focus, then place all those
facts in an orderly manner so they may be communicated to another.

You  may  remember  from  your  own  school  experience  that  this  activity
appears  to  represent  the  epitome  of  accomplishment  in  institutional
learning.  A  research  paper,  or  report,  or  speech  supposedly  relays  to  the
teacher your grasp of the subject. This paper oftentimes counts for a large
portion of your final grade. And after you sweat over its preparation, after
the teacher marks it up with a red pen (making it look like a whitewashed
wall covered with graffiti), after the final judgment – the grade – appears at
the top, you file your research paper away. (Maybe in the circular file?) In
spite of the time contributed to this activity, the ability to find facts is still
just a passive experience.

“But if one looks at what actually goes on in the classroom the
kinds  of  texts  students  read  and  the  kind  of  homework  they  are
assigned,  as  well  as  the  nature  of  the  classroom  discussion  and  the
kinds  of  tests  teachers  give  – he  will  discover  that  the  great  bulk  of
students’  time  is  still  devoted  to  detail,  most  of  it  trivial,  much  of  it
factually  incorrect,  and  almost  all  of  it  unrelated  to  any  concept,
structure,  cognitive  strategy,  or  indeed anthing  other  than  the  lesson
plan.  It  is  rare  to  find  anyone  – teacher,  principal,  supervisor,  or
superintendent  – who  has  asked  why  he  is  teaching  what  he  is
– Chas. E. Silberman in Crisis in the Classroom

Levels  1,  2,  and  3,  then,  are  typical  school  approaches  to  education.
Regardless of their difficulty level, they all fall under the broader category
of  book  learning.  As  you  can  see  from  the  pyramid,  these  approaches
require use  of  intellect, trained response.  At these three  levels, the  learner
gets  “just the  facts.” The facts are perceived by the  mind and  can  only be
connected to previous understanding. In other words, if enough information
isn’t already “on file,” additional bits and bytes of information (the type that
come  from  writing  research  papers)  sit  there  like  lumps  of  coal.  They
cannot  serve  the  learner  in  any  useful  capacity  because  they  do  not  get
connected; they do not “increase” knowledge.

And  just  to  add  to  the  confusion,  there  is  no  guarantee  that  the
impressions received from these activities enter the mind free of mistakes,
misunderstandings,  or  misconceptions.  How  the  impressions  are  received
depends  on  the  condition  of  the  individual’s  filter,  or  senses.  The  way
information is perceived ain’t necessarily the way it is!

Reaching the Top of the Education Pyramid

Take  a  deep  breath  – you’re  three-fifths  done!  And  now  we  reach  the
exciting  part.  You’ll  see  how  – with  the  freedom  to  direct  your  child’s
education yourself – you can guide him to the higher levels of the pyramid
which rise above rote, book learning into the art of education.

Level  4  is  called  Application  because  here  knowledge  that  the  learner
possesses  from  whatever  source  goes  to  work.  Your  child,  vigorously
engaged in activity, uses the facts in context.

Take ten year-old Billy Bob Raynor of Virginia, for example. One night
he watched a news story about hungry, homeless children living in Brazil’s
sewers.  Through  family  centered  education,  he  has  learned  to  use
intelligence instead of intellect. The plight of the children touches his heart,
thereby  capturing  his  attention.  Because  his  family  has  “the  gift  of  time,”
here’s what unfolds:

Off  to  theater  rehearsals  and  performances  that  he  enjoys.  The
Brazilian children are never far from his thoughts. At last, he earns a
paycheck as a Munchkin in “Wizard of Oz.”

“The hardest thing,” Billy realizes, “is trying to find out how to do
it, who to send the money to.”

He searches until he finds WorldVision, and donates his paycheck.
“As soon as I am old enough I want to go to South America, find these
children, and bring them home with me. I would feed them and provide
schooling for them.”

Following his interest, Billy Bob Raynor has learned how to track
down  information  and  write  letters,  skills  he’ll  keep.  He  has  also
exercised compassion and the joy of giving, skills he will cherish.

This simple Level 4 example illustrates how the freedom to experiment
with  facts  – to  play  with  them,  challenge  them,  advance  them  into  a
personally  meaningful  context  – drastically  enhances  the  learner’s
experience. Thoughts now burn  with the  “fuel”  of internal  energy, and are
guided by creative intelligence. The learner becomes an active participant,
the  most  important  ingredient  of  the  learning  process,  instead  of  a  mere
passive receiver.

The  main  difference  between  Levels  1  through  3  and  Level  4  can  be
boiled down to a single ingredient which family centered educators discover
daily – learner interest.

“One  group  of  researchers  tried  to  sort  out  the  factors  that helped
third  and  fourth  graders  remember  what  they  had  been  reading.  They
found  that  how  interested  the  students  were  in  the  passage  was  thirty
times more important than how ‘readable’ the passage was.”
– Alfie Kohn in Punished by Rewards

At  Level  4,  activities  are  not  prescribed  ahead  of  time  and  assigned
externally via a curriculum to produce certain skills. Rather, the same skills
(or  more)  artfully  emerge  as  the  learner  engages  in  activities  of  his  own
choosing.  You  might  say,  at  the  lower  levels  of  the  pyramid,  skills  are
acquired – hopefully. At Level 4, skills are brought forth – naturally.

For those of you who may be skeptical (for I can totally understand your
skepticism if you have never trusted a child to this degree), Jane M. Healy,
Ph.D.’s Endangered Minds gracefully shares scientific evidence of Level 4
benefits  in  laymen’s  terms.  After  an  interesting  journey  through  the
development  of  a  human  brain  and  the  environmental  impact  on  its
formation,  Healy  summarizes  the  scientific  evidence.  “External  pressure
designed to produce  learning  or intelligence  violates the fundamental rule:
A  healthy  brain  stimulates  itself  by  active  interaction  with  what  it  finds
challenging and interesting in its environment.”

Public school rarely, if ever, moves beyond Level 3. Using Levels 1 – 3,
they seek to implant skills to serve the needs of the economic and political
machinery. With close  examination, you’ll see these skills are grounded in
conformity to a prescribed  way  of thinking and behaving.  At Level 4, the
skills  brought  forth  serve  the  learner.  They  are,  in  fact,  what  I  call
“universal life skills.” They pertain not to singular tasks, but are important,
transferable  skills  the  learner  can  bring  to  bear  on  dissimilar  tasks  in  the

“You make a great, a very great mistake if you think that psychology,
being  the  science  of  the  mind’s  law,  is  something  from  which  you  can
deduce definite programmes and schemes and methods of instruction for
immediate  classroom  use.  Psychology  is  a science,  and  teaching  is an
art;  and  sciences  never  generate  arts  directly  out  of  themselves.  An
intermediary  inventive  mind  must  make  the  application,  by  using  its
– William James, speaking to Cambridge, MA teachers (1892)

The implications of Level 5 – Connection – are enormous. The apex of our
Education Pyramid, Connection is an ideal not often reached, but the view
from this summit is worth the effort to arrive.

Reaching  Level  5  requires  conscious  awareness  that  goes  beyond,  or
transcends,  the  “knowing”  of  normal,  waking  consciousness.  This  type  of
“knowing” is impossible to explain with words, for how can we verbalize or
intellectualize  something  that  exists  beyond  our  senses  and  the  relative
field? A “relative world” understanding of the subject can be obtained with
study,  if  you are  interested  enough. It  is called (of course!) the science  of
consciousness, and here’s a taste of it from Christopher Hills, Ph.D., author
of Nuclear Evolution:

“The  yogic  science  of  consciousness  lists  three methods  of  validating
knowledge. The first is knowledge of the knower or observer’s limitations,
leading to the study of ontology, the science of Being, which deals with the
nature  of  perception.  The  second  method  deals  with  epistemology  and  is
identical  with  what  the  West  calls  scientific  method.  The  third  method  is
transcendental  knowing,  which  unites  the  previous  two  in  the  study  of
reason itself since, rationally, all effects  must be traced to their causes, all
perceptions  traced  to  the  perceiver,  and  all  evidence  examined  from  the
point  of  view  of  the  Universal  Intelligence.  This  three step  validation
enables the student of the knowing process to penetrate directly beyond the
relative and comparative  knowledge  yielded by  what we call the scientific
method of validation.”

Hills  and  company  are  not  the  only  scientists  heading  down  this  path.
Gary Zukav, author of the  layman’s  guide to physics,  The Dancing Wu Li
Masters, describes quantum physicists as a group saying, “We are not sure,
but  we  have  accumulated  evidence  which  indicates  that  the  key  to
understanding the universe is you.”

The more quantum physicists discover, the more unity they uncover,
going as far as saying the physical world is “a web of relationships between
elements  whose  meanings  arise  wholly  from  their  relationships  to  the
whole.” Today’s  exciting  scientific  study  is  rapidly  moving  toward  the
connection,  the  interaction,  and  the  dependence  between  the  observer  and
the observed, leading us naturally to the knower and the known.

The union of the knower and the known may be considered the ultimate
vantage  point  from  which  to  know  anything.  Much  time  must  pass  and
many  elements  must  fall  together  for this  to  materialize  – energy,
intelligence,  learner  interest,  universal  thinking  skills  and,  of  course,
knowledge. Achievement is a tall order for anyone. But one thing’s for sure:
Neither  creative  intelligence  nor  internal  energy  find  freedom  to  blossom
under the shadow of teachers confined by their own conditioning, or under
the oppression of pseudo-scientific education methods where method reigns
more important than the individual.

If  you  plan,  for  your  children’s  sake,  to  take  responsibility  for  their
education you’re free to reach for the stars. And the peak of the Education
Pyramid is worth stretching for.

…it  makes  sense  for  parents  to  consider  putting  aside  grades  and
scores  as  indications  of  success  and  to  look  instead  at  the  child’s
interest  in  learning.  This  is  the  primary  criterion  by  which  schools
(and our own actions) should be judged.”

– Alfie Kohn in Punished by Rewards

“The Education Pyramid originally appeared in 1995, in The Art of Education: Reclaiming Your Family, Community and Self, now available as an e-book for just $4.99.
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