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Learning at its Best

“Education and the Consciousness of the Developing Child” – A Review

I want to introduce you Co-op Catalyst readers to a brilliant and insightful author.  Josette Luvmour, partner of Co-op Blogger, Ba Luvmour, has written a brilliant article which appears in the current issue of Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice.  Here is a link to the full text of the article (thanks to the Encounter editors) and below is my attempt at a pithy review 😉  Enjoy!

Early on in Josette Luvmour’s important essay, she quotes a parent with whom she has worked, “So much is missing from traditional education today. I don’t want my child to just pass tests in reading, writing, and arithmetic. I want something more.”  What is the nature of this “something more?”  What would it mean to educate not only for the acquisition and refinement of skills, but for the optimal unfoldment of the whole child?  And what could be gained from such a shift in the definition of what it means to educate?  Luvmour, a highly esteemed developmentalist, consultant and educator uses her decades of practice with children, parents and educators to inform her understanding of the nature of development both for the child and for the adult/educator.  Drawing from research in the fields of consciousness studies, child development, holistic education and adult development, Luvmour eloquently unveils the mutualistic nature of developmental opportunities both for the child as well as for the adult.

Luvmour asserts that any meaningful or holistic education must begin with a reverent and nonjudgmental understanding of the individual child’s consciousness in the present moment.  This then, is the place to begin, by asking, “who is this young being?”   Luvmour offers insight into how each stage of consciousness is defined: “there is an organizing principle at work in each stage of childhood that guides the child to access (and actualize) innate capacities and, ultimately, his or her true nature.”  It is the recognition and elevation of this “organizing principle” as the key to understanding the consciousness of the child that has been at the center of Luvmour’s well-known and widely-respected theory and practice she calls: “Natural Learning Relationships” (NLR.)

By recognizing what is developing in the child, a good educator has a way to understand … and supply that child’s developmental needs to create optimal learning environments. Educators who pay attention to these developmental changes in their students’ consciousness have the best opportunity to be a master of connection by seeing through the children’s eyes and feeling into the children’s hearts.

Luvmour also explains what many of us suspect intuitively, that relationship is critical to education.  It is only through relationship that the learner can significantly engage in real learning.  In a clear bold statement, typical of Luvmour’s confident style, she writes:

 The most important thing in education is the educator’s relationship (including parents and all professional caregivers) to the child’s developmental moment and the organizing principle. Education is essentially about developing the child’s capacities to full potential. An educational relationship that encourages the child to access and express the fullness of his or her being is what is called for. We should not settle for anything less.

 Luvmour goes on to explore the nature of consciousness for the educator.  It is the coming together of both beings that is so important.  The “who” of the adult in this encounter, the lens through which she views the world, will necessarily and deeply impact the learner and the learning.  When the adult is focused on developing a deep awareness of the consciousness of the child, then there emerges an amazing opportunity for the development of each.  It is the acknowledgement and appreciation of the consciousness and developmental issues for the adult that makes Luvmour’s work so unique and important.  Adult development has been largely neglected in the literature around holistic education, and Luvmour has set out to correct this glaring omission.

Luvmour sites a number of moving stories from her own firsthand research to undergird and give texture and richness to her proposition.  In these mini-portraits, Luvmour highlights moments where adults experience glimpses at transformation and even transcendence.  A teacher in dialogue with her students, reflects in that moment about how she must be coming across to the learners, as an authoritarian:

While I was saying this I thought, oh my God, I sound just like an old person, and I’m only 29! This was exactly what my parents would say to me when I listened to my music. In that moment I sort of saw myself in them and I felt very close to them. They helped me think of myself as a kid again and not a crusty old parent.

It is through self-awareness in moments such as these that adults can re-define their understanding of what it means to guide, educate and mentor youth.  And it is through this emerging adult consciousness that teachers and parents can move towards wisdom. Luvmour’s vision of relationship-based holistic education is transformational for both child and adult:

Because meaning is formed in relationships, sustained effort to be in relationship to the child’s developmental moment allows the parent or educator to access greater trust, to engage in the process of self-inquiry, and to make new meaning throughout life.  My research has demonstrated that caring for the child’s developmental markers promotes optimal well-being in the child while simultaneously benefiting the adult’s development of well-being and wisdom.

 Luvmour concludes her essay by offering a glimpse into an exciting new learning community based on these principles of consciousness, development and relationship as the key components to a holistic educational paradigm.  She reviews the Summa Institute in Portland Oregon, which has grown in part out of her ground-breaking work.  Summa Institute, she explains, includes four pillars: a school, the Summa Academy; a parent development department, a professional development center and a research and publication component.  Consistent with her understanding of the reciprocal learning encounter, the child is not taught in isolation, for “it’s always about relationship.”


About Paul Freedman

I am the founding Director of The Salmonberry School in Eastsound, WA. I have taught elementary school in public and private settings for the past 19 years. I serve as a contributing editor for Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice (Formerly the Holistic Education Review.) I also serve on the faculty of the Self Design Graduate Institute. I hold an MA in EDU from Goddard College.


4 thoughts on ““Education and the Consciousness of the Developing Child” – A Review

  1. Thanks very much for this, but darn, I can’t open the link to Josette’s article. Is it just me?

    Posted by Mindy | January 7, 2012, 3:40 am
  2. I downloaded and gave myself the great pleasure of reading Josette’s article with leisure. It includes fine definitions of learning in relationship to consciousness, and a discussion of 5 elements of effective teaching I found especially delightful: archaic, magic, mythic, mental, and integral (Neville 1999). Thank you so much Paul for bringing this article to my attention, and for forwarding the work of all the visionary Luvmours. Their conceptions of the holistic nature of education is as complete and compelling as any I know. I look forward to visiting the Summa Institute to see it in action.

    With consciousness and appreciation,


    Posted by Kirsten | January 10, 2012, 9:18 am
  3. I also really appreciate this post, Paul, thank you. And I appreciate the multi-dimensional quality of Summa, which seems like an extension of the multi-dimensional quality of learning relationships. My husband and I have both had the pleasure recently of visiting Summa and getting a first-hand taste of their thoughtful, insightful work. Such a comfort knowing they’re just down the road here in Portland.

    Posted by Mindy | January 10, 2012, 8:36 pm

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