Lisa Renner: Drawing a child’s highest potential in life
One of the most beloved teachers at Ananda Village’s Living Wisdom School in Nevada City, Narani Moorhouse is celebrating her 40th anniversary of teaching this year.
Known for her unflappable patience and kind spirit, Narani is a leading advocate of Ananda’s Education for Life philosophy.
“We think about the children on soul level,” she said one day in the classroom where she teaches kindergarten and first grade. “We’re not trying to make them fit into a mold. We’re trying to draw forth from them their highest potential in life.”
Ananda Living Wisdom School serves students in preschool through high school.
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In Education for Life, the curriculum is made to fit the children, not the other way around, she explained. Teachers are trained to look at each child individually and consider what they need.
Narani said she knew she wanted to be a teacher from the time she was in kindergarten. She remembers her first day thinking “Oh, that’s what I’m going to do when I grow up.” She said it wasn’t a choice.
From then on, she paid close attention when she was in the classroom and consciously tried to remember how it felt to be a child and what kind of teaching worked and what didn’t.
She got her education degree from Sacramento State University and taught for a while at a Lutheran school.
Her road to Ananda began when Ananda founder Swami Kriyananda spoke at her church in Sacramento. At the time, she was a gymnast on the U.S. team and was getting ready to compete in the world championships. She hadn’t been sure what to do after that, but when she saw Swami, her course was set.
“Before I heard him speak, I knew he would be the answer,” she said. “It was instant recognition.”
In 1979, the strait-laced young woman arrived at Ananda in the middle of its free-spirited phase. Everyone had amazing stories and had been to India or had visited other spiritual teachers. She was just learning about yoga.
“I didn’t know anything except it was home,” she said.
Before long, she started working under what was then Ananda’s How to Live School, serving under the school founder Nitai Deranja.
Over the years, she taught various grades and at one point, took a break to teach a couple of years at a public school, where she had 32 kids in her class — quite a change from the maximum of 12 she gets at Ananda. She helped out with other Ananda schools around the world and found time to write the book “Supporting Your Child’s Inner Life.” Someday, she hopes to expand it and add more insights.
Gita Matlock, one of her former students, says Narani is one of the greatest teachers she has ever known. “I recall the peace of Narani’s voice talking us through a meditation, while my first-grade classmates and I perched on the branches of nearby trees. She made us costumes and toys and celebrated our academic successes with genuine enthusiasm.”
Matlock’s daughter Tulsi is now a first grader in Narani’s class. “Nothing makes me happier than to get to share Narani with my child,” she said.
Narani likes that the goal of Education for Life is to prepare the child for all of life, not just to get them ready for college and a career. The idea is to prepare kids to face challenges that come up, to be able to relate effectively with others and fulfill their life’s purpose.
When asked what it takes to be a good EFL teacher, she said the person must love it and be insightful and creative. There is no textbook to follow.
She said the success of EFL is shown in its graduates. “By and large, they feel free to give themselves to aspects of life that are deeply fulfilling to them,” she said, adding that may not always be something related to money or status. “They’re almost always really good at what they do.”
Ananda Village is an intentional community of about 200 people on the San Juan Ridge. It was founded 50 years ago by the late Swami Kriyananda, also known as J. Donald Walters, who became a disciple of Yogananda after reading the guru’s now classic work “Autobiography of a Yogi.”
Lisa Renner lives in North San Juan.
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