Let us move together. Let us sing together.
Let us come to know our minds together.
Let us share, like sages of the past,
That all individuals together may enjoy the Universe.
WHAT IS UNIVERSALISM REALLY ABOUT?
by Mahajyoti Glassman
We are blessed with a panorama of diversity in our world. There are the legion of physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, psychic, and spiritual capabilities as well as age, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income, interests, family, education, politics, diet, and lifestyle to mention only a few. However, instead of celebrating and enjoying these differences, there are many who with determined resolve are creating factionalism, division, and mistrust.
By the same token it is perhaps because of the complexity of the physical universe that the mind strives to anchor itself by formulating opinions, beliefs, world views and biases. As human beings, we have a need to define our world and our place in it so we may choose how we will interact and respond in our many relationships — to ourselves; to our animal, plant, mineral “relations’; to other humans; to our environment; and ultimately to the Cosmic Self.
While we may consider ourselves open-minded, in reality, we all cultivate biases. A bias is nothing more than a preference, a mental inclination, a partiality. They cannot always be perceived as being negative. Take, for example, the case of spiritual bias. P.R. Sarkar has implied that even spiritual bias may be considered excessive in the case of the spiritual aspirant who is not only becoming alienated from society but is abrogating oneself from the responsibility of performing service to others. Every individual has the burdensome task of maintaining internal equilibrium. If a bias becomes too skewed in either direction, one may run the risk of becoming prejudicial. How does one ascertain that a bias is imbalanced? When it interferes with the proper development of oneself and/or others through inflicting an injury by thought, word, or deed.
The maximum development of the society will be reached when there is balanced development in the physical, mental, and spiritual spheres. P. R. Sarkar
Stereotypes are generalizations based on assumptions. They can frequently be based on inaccurate information and personal opinions rather than fact or experience. Consideration of the great diversity within a group is not apparent in a true stereotype or differentiations due to time, place, person or evolutionary trends.
All of these — bias, prejudice, and stereotype — are primarily learned from our parents, although they are reinforced by the media, music, school textbooks, and advertising. Prejudices seem to thrive especially in the absence of first hand experience. They can become intensely rigid stereotypes based on fear, ignorance, habit, or lack of exposure, transforming into a singularly stubborn barrier which cannot be dispelled even in the face of the most rational logic.
We limit the opportunities for expansion not only for ourselves but for the world community by adhering to or by not confronting negative bias, prejudice, and stereotypes when we encounter them in the classroom. While the educational community has been touting its ‘anti-bias’ curricula for some time, the pro-universal outlook is an approach which is more comprehensive and deserves serious consideration. It may not be really possible or advisable to totally eliminate personal bias, but rather to seek to synchronize our biases and opinions in order to direct ourselves toward greater horizons of open-mindedness, open-heartedness, and tolerance.
Dharma means the balanced states of all aspects of human life. P. R. Sarkar
Bias in Literature
Some of the most prevalent prejudices and stereotypes being challenged worldwide are gender and racial issues as well as ethnic discrimination. While the Checklist is primarily directed toward gender and racial bias, it can be expanded to include any targeted groupism. This guide can be applied not only when we are selecting books to read but also when we are creating or sharing stories, experiences, and songs in the classroom. When reviewing the Checklist, ask yourself these questions:
- What happens to one’s self esteem when others perform all of the brave and important deeds?
- What happens to one’s self esteem when restrictions are imposed on the behaviors of a particular group?
Checklist for Reviewing Bias in Books, Stories, Literature, and Songs
Illustrations and Character Development
- Who are the active “doers” and who are the inactive observers?
- What are the preferences? Boys vs girls. Thin body types vs other types.
- Are the achievements of girls or women based on their own initiative and intelligence, or due to their good looks or relationships to boys?
- Are people of color, lower social status, or women in essentially supporting roles or simply observers?
- Who possesses the power, takes charge of leadership, and makes the important decisions?
- Are minorities in passive or subservient roles?
- Are people of color or certain social status depicted exclusively in ghetto-like environments?
- Are negative judgments implied of non-white or non-dominant characters?
- Whose interest is a particular character really serving?
Writing, Story Line, Standard of Success
- To gain acceptance or approval do the participants in the story have to be extraordinarily excellent or an exceptionally high achiever, such as winning in sports, getting “A’s” in school, receiving awards, etc.?
- How is financial success depicted?
- Are scenes portrayed in middle class suburban-like settings?
- How are the characters dressed?
- How are family relationships depicted? (In African-American families, is the mother always dominant? In Latino families, are there always lots of children?)
- Are norms established which limit any child’s aspirations and self-concept?
Resolution of Problems
- How are problems presented and resolved?
- Are certain types of people “the problem”?
- Is oppression misrepresented or inevitable?
- Due to depression of economy and/or environment, is passive acceptance or active resistance preferable?
(Adapted from “10 Quick Ways to Analyze Children’s Books for Racism and Sexism” by the Council on Interracial Books for Children)
There is one aspect for which there is no tolerance in neohumanistic education and that is for anything that hampers the development of the complete personality.
…we do not exclude anything or anyone, nor will we do so in the future, because we want to utilize the services of all.
P. R. Sarkar
Attention needs to be brought to the language and words that we use in the classroom. To demonstrate acceptance of all genders, it is necessary for the teacher to make adjustments or to rotate masculine/feminine usage so that particular pronouns are not favored in songs, stories, and conversational language. Certain words may be thoughtfully modified such as fire fighters, rather than firemen.
By honoring all students unconditionally and being all inclusive, a certain dynamic element blossoms forth. When universalism is enthusiastically embraced, new attitudes begin to emerge laying the foundation for personal transformation by adding dignity to the lives of everyone. A new sense of self and community is fostered.
Every individual or community will advance by virtue of its own inner vitality and assist in the collective fulfillment of the entire humanity. P.R. Sarkar
There have existed in some schools the tendency to be overly conscientious about what is introduced into the classroom to assure that no individual or family is offended. In one case Thanksgiving was being discounted because it was originally a religious pilgrimage. Birthdays were avoided due to the possible offensiveness to certain religious groups who do not honor birthdays. Halloween was omitted because it was originally practiced by pagans or was perceived as provoking fear. And, of course, everyone in America knows that St Patrick and St Valentine’s days were perpetrated by certain religious leaders …. and so one by one every cause for a celebrating unity was banished.
The greatest obstacle in the collective progress of the human race is the ignorance of the individual mind. Knowledge is for all .. it should be open and free like the light and air of the sky. P. R. Sarkar
At Morning Star Preschool this past December we celebrated Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday of miracle, commemorating determination of faith; Christmas, honoring the birthday of the spiritual leader of Christianity; and Kwanzaa, an Afro-American holiday respecting the heritage of a vital segment of our American community. All of our families loved this diversity of celebration. The students who grew up in these traditions expressed open appreciation of our respect for their specialities. Everyone in the school benefited from these experiences for in every religion or ethnic group there can be found universal elements that are inspiring for all.
Religion, in the sense of Dharma, is the unifying force in humanity. P. R. Sarkar
To recognize and respect ethnicity in the classroom, the teacher can make enormous contributions towards maintaining an individual’s healthy balance of self esteem. Differences can be acknowledged rather than ignored. Teachers can provide opportunities to enable children to appreciate and recognize their own ethnicity as well as others. These types of activities endeavor to connect the teacher to the student as well as bonding the students to one another.
The sole cause of the internal weakness of human society is its ignorance. P.R. Sarkar
In America there is often great national pride taken in the fact that we have become a “great melting pot” of ethnicities. However, in the process of Americanization we have all become rather like one homogenized mass. Most of us do not celebrate the customs and traditions of our ancestors, much less speak our original languages. In neo humanist education we are not seeking to maintain the melting pot analogy, but rather the “tossed salad” paradigm where it is the differences of the individuality of the ingredients that contribute to the enjoyment of the experience rather than the blending and synthetic assimilation into mono-culture.
Diversity is the law of nature; uniformity will never occur. P. R. Sarkar
Exercises in Universalism
As neo humanist educators, we guarantee that everyone’s point of view is important, allowing no one to think that they are less valuable. Dissimilarities are respected. Teachers and students work together to embark on the journey of celebrating diversity, observing and recognizing differences without judgment. How are we different? Dates of birth, food preferences, hand color, eye color, pets, hair, hand preference in writing, emotional responses to various situations, interests, favorite colors, abilities, physical height, sports activities. These opportunities afford us the understanding that we are actually a part of many groups and that membership in one group doesn’t totally explain or define who we are.
Humanity must be guided to follow the path of synthesis and not the path of analysis. P. R. Sarkar
Teachers facilitate positive interactions between the students when remarking on our similarities and differences, focusing on the uniqueness and individuality of every person as a wonderful gift! Together we look at and change those things that prevent differences from being valued.
We must discover unity in the midst of colorful diversity. P. R. Sarkar
Reenactments of specific historical events can help students feel the unfairness of discrimination – such as Rosa Parks’ actions which led to the ending of racial segregation on buses. Other compassion building stories and lesson plans can be found to reinforce kindness and caring: 1) Dancing to music. When the music stops, everyone gives a friend a ‘bear hug’. 2) Gently washing off the dust that has collected on leaves of indoor plants. 3) Practicing how to rescue a friend who has been hurt on the playground. 4) Not only caring for a school pet but learning when it needs something. 5) Drawing ‘get well pictures’ for another student. 6) Collecting trash and litter which has accumulated on Mother Earth in the neighborhood. 7) Having pairs of students paint a picture together. 8) Drawing a picture for a friend with the caption “I like you because —–“. 9) Saving pennies, nickels and dimes for a worthy cause. 10) Taking time to smile, laugh and have fun together.
Beyond ethnicity lies our emotional being. How are our students coping with fear and anxiety? Do we see inferiority complex so acute that it manifests as superiority complex? Is there defeatism, perfectionism? Complexes can be challenging to identify and assess. Frequently when there is a deficit in one area, the mind will overcompensate in the opposite direction. “I am the prettiest one here.” “Isn’t my picture the nicest one in the class?” “I’m the strongest one.” “I can’t”. Universalism includes providing an emotional safety net, replacing mental imperfections and weaknesses with positivity and encouragement. Through the application of our intellect and intuition, the neo humanist teacher seeks to understand each student, supporting them to bring feelings and insecurities into a greater balance.
Just as that little bird confined to a cage developed rheumatism in its wings, the human mind, due to constant negative thoughts, gets paralyzed. P.R. Sarkar
In our strategies for empowering children to overcome their negative tendencies and/or complexes, simple conflict resolution skills can carry them a great distance. Instead of teachers always intervening in student conflicts and disputes, we can provide them with “tools” to support their desire to be self sufficient and independent. We can “set the stage” for role playing to practice acceptable ways of how to respond when someone: 1) hurts your friend, 2) hits or bites you, 3) is hurt, 4) says your dress is not as pretty as ‘hers’, 5) will not share, 6) calls you a name, 7) gets in front of you in line, 8) removes leaves from a bush, 9) says ‘he’ is stronger than you are, or 10) says ‘I don’t want to play with you’. There are many techniques that can be offered to to build a logically based foundation to cope with hurtful or painful behaviors which strengthens compassion for oneself and others.
Every human mind is but the diversified individual manifestation of that same indivisible Cosmic Mind. P. R. Sarkar
In the classroom the teacher distinguishes vast differences of personalities as well as learning styles. Some students will flow along quite smoothly and effortlessly. Others may seem to be an infinite source of conspiracy and mutiny with an ever increasing appetite for consuming vast quantities of the teacher’s time and energy. Still others may ever so slowly be quietly struggling to where they tenuously take that next step.
Every individual has a preferred method of learning and integrating information. For example, some are more visual, some auditory, tactile or kinesthetic. The most effective teacher applies all the sensorial avenues of experience into instruction in order to maximize the whole potential of every child. From time to time the ideal teacher researches and seeks to expand one’s knowledge of various types of physiological, psychological, and emotional difficulties that challenge learning and social situations. A brief study of diverse communication and therapeutic methodologies assists in the development of positive strategies to ensure the progressive forward movement of every student to the best of each teacher’s ability.
You should always be vigilant that not a single individual of our collective body is in the least neglected or ignored. P. R. Sarkar
Universalism in the Curriculum and in the Environment
Young children are masters of keen scientific observation. By two or three years of age they have already been taking notes and are “testing out” opinions, biases, prejudices, and stereotypes on their peers for validation. What steps can a teacher take to implement universalism in the classroom? In order to promote that inner spirit of welfare and caring for the collective society, it is necessary to examine:
- What kinds of pictures do we have on our walls?
- Whose perspective is heard? Whose is silenced?
- How does the dominant culture and its biases affect our non-dominant groups?
- What are the power and equality issues?
- What multicultural units are presented?
- What kinds of festivals or events are celebrated?
- What types of music are sung and played?
While self interest is a natural development, it needs to be kept in perspective. Diversity is to be presented with sensitivity, nonjudgmental in approach, and in small bites so that it is easily digested. Teachers show by example that it is possible to honor, validate, and respect traditions that differ from one’s own.
Pictures from magazines and newspapers as well as posters mounted on the walls can further advance self esteem. Some children need more positive images of themselves because such images can’t be found in their home or community. Others need positive images of people who are different.
The fun of playing with multicultural materials such as musical instruments, baskets, dress, dolls, books and songs can propel students across barriers of prejudice.
The influence of the environment has a tremendous impact on the human mind. P. R. Sarkar
When introducing universalism in the classroom, teachers are compelled to practice constant self examination. When designating cleaning or working activities, do we have girls straightening up the dress up and dishes area while the boys are putting away the blocks? What anxieties or fears that we possess are we consciously or unconsciously transmitting to our students? These questions enable the teacher to adopt a more humble and tentative attitude about the accuracy of our own personal judgments and opinions. But to possess a truly universal outlook, we must be aware of what Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, and Native Peoples say, and what they think which requires being open to hearing other points of view.
Bioculture and Reduction of Prejudice or Fear
How much are we extending universalism to the environment and ultimately to the world community? For example, how do you feel about: rabbits, cats, deer, baby animals, doves, and dolphins? And then, how do you feel about: snakes, spiders, wolves, cockroaches, bees, bugs, and carnivorous animals especially when they are eating? We all subscribe to certain biocultural prejudices and biases. One of the most effective means of breaking down any extreme prejudice (especially one that is grounded in fear) is by maximizing the knowledge base. We can learn all about the subject by broadening one’s informational background. Teachers and students examine how each being interacts with humans, as well as other plant and animal species, with particular emphasis on its contributions to the world society.
Real education leads to a pervasive sense of love and compassion for all creation. P. R. Sarkar
Neo humanist schools embody the microcosmic reflection of what we feel the most ideal society can be. What is the single most important factor in the lives of children next to their parents? Teachers.
It is the teacher’s responsibility to expose students to the versatility of creation. Although it may be human nature to fall back on prejudice or stereotypes when encountering circumstances beyond our experience, by constantly introducing new situations and information, we show our students how to replace fear and apprehension of differences and the unknown with logical and progressive thinking skills and practices.
The psychic environment is more powerful in human life than the physical environment. P. R. Sarkar
At the same time we are refining and upgrading the incomplete picture of the world community which is emerging on the canvas of the student’s mind eye, learning to look at things from another point of view. Throughout this process the teacher advances concern and compassion for the well being of all.
Unite the entire humanity under one banner. P.R. Sarkar
To remain anchored in universalism is an endless journey and relentless struggle in which conflicts are inevitable. As we continue to practice universalism in our daily lives and learn to identify bias, prejudice, and stereotypes; we are opening the windows to diversity, greater balance, and personal integrity. Fundamentally to cultivate universal outlook is to change one’s perspective and extend equal respect to all differentiations existing in our world family. In the teacher’s continued effort to transform our classrooms into a safe haven from the hostility of the world, we encourage and expand the understanding of universal well being and teach magnanimity of mind. The students’ strengths can be supported through the emphasis of neo humanist values and building on the foundation of their relationship with the Cosmic Self, remembering that He is the starting point.
He is the originating point and He is the culminating point of all creatures. Thus there lies an inherent tie of fraternity among human beings, among all living creatures. You are all spiritual aspirants. You are all devotees. You are all going to be one with the Creator. P.R. Sarkar
A Summary of Steps to Implementing Universalism in the Neohumanist Classroom
- Make multicultural and multi-diversity displays, materials and curricula which reflect more than the local dominant culture, bioculture, race, language, ecosystems, etc.
- Exhibit art, tools and artifacts; enjoy musical instruments, foods, costumes, and articles from other cultures.
- Expand curriculum frontiers to address issues of bias and the joys of diversity, including the celebration of holidays and social events which grace many cultural, racial, ethnic, and other groups.
- Present auditory experiences (via live performances, cds, cassettes, etc.) of various cultures and indigenous peoples, languages, music, songs as well as a diversity of wildlife and sounds of nature
- Introduce classroom activities and conversations where children may discuss similarities and differences, likes and dislikes, in a supportive, non judgmental, and compassionate environment.
- Design visual displays of men, women, and children in and out of the house engaged in nontraditional, non stereotypical tasks, etc. Closely inspect our interactions with students to ensure minimization of gender stereotyping during activities and communications in the classroom.
- Create visual displays of ‘differently abled’ persons; children of all ages; elderly people; and others of various backgrounds working and playing. Initiate class discussions and observations of these ‘specialties’.
- Reinforce respect for all beings — forces of nature, inanimate, mineral, plant, animal, human, Spirit.
- Resist the tendency to discriminate against any animal, plant, or mineral because of its dharma or innate tendency. Maximize the existing knowledge and understandings.
- Initiate and carry out activities with children that question and take action against injustice not only against humanity but the earth, various habitats, and species.
- Use daily conversations, events, music, dramas, books, dances, and stories to better establish universalism within ourselves and our students.
- Embrace opportunities to individually and collectively discuss remarks that are based in bias or intolerance as well as appropriate responses.
- Practice exercises in conflict resolution and general interactive communication skills among staff as well as students.
- Strive to continuously reexamine our personal assumptions and attitudes, to reeducate and to deepen our personal understandings of universalism for ourselves and for others.
- Endeavor to value diverse perspectives and points of view.
- Construct alternative strategies for accommodating students with unique learning styles and/or capabilities.
- Assemble a plan for supporting students in achieving a stronger psycho-emotional foundation, particularly when certain complexes or imbalances become evident.
- Develop and implement character strengthening activities with an emphasis on yama and niyama for the staff and students.
- Interact with children’s families in authentic, benevolent, and respectful ways.
- Strengthen the children’s and staff’s abilities to seek shelter in the Supreme and to remember our ultimate Goal.
From this very auspicious moment, you should take a vow to progress individually and collectively and build a new society on the planet Earth. We have come to build a new society, to construct and to remain engaged in constructive works throughout our life. This would be the greatest mission in our life. P.R. Sarkar