The Alice Report: An Indian Revelation
What a surprise! My wife, Leslie, and I were on the last day of our trip to India that took us from Varanasi on the Ganges River to Sarnath where Buddha gave his first sermon to his disciples. The agenda in Sarnath called for a temple visit, but we asked our guide to take us to the village instead. We were templed-out and wanted to get a feeling for the day-to-day life of village people. As we walked through the narrow streets, we suddenly saw a sign that said, “The Alice Project: Universal Education.” Following the arrows, we came upon the school and were soon welcomed into a vibrant classroom of children in light blue uniforms. A few minutes later we were joined by the school’s Italian co-founder, Luigina de Biasi.
Everywhere we looked there were large posters with statements that said in effect, “Your mind creates the reality you experience. Know your mind and direct your life.” It was clearly, in my mind, an SDL school. And that is the surprise: how could we, on our last day, seemingly by pure accident, stumble upon a school with so much to teach us about my major commitment in education? As we talked to Luigina, that wonder grew.
We had many questions and little time, but here are the highlights of what we found out. The school is one of three schools established in India by Valentino Giacomin, an innovative Italian educator who was challenged by the Dalai Lama to become involved. The school has 900 students from kindergarten to grade twelve. Students follow a unique program designed to develop their inner awareness and self-management until they reach grade nine, when they switch to regular courses in preparation for state board exams, which Giacomin calls “a necessary compromise”.
The name, the Alice Project, refers to Alice in Wonderland as a metaphor for the inner journey of self-understanding and direction that the school guides its students through. Giacomin says “We all need to do what Alice did, but in a protected way; we need to know ourselves.” They had few materials for teaching this program, so Giacomin wrote them or had them written, books and teaching materials that they could use to “cultivate their wisdom and kindness.”
Their approach is spiritual, they say, but not religious. They teach thinking about yourself, your feelings, and your actions. They do it through such practices as stories to discuss, meditation, and yoga; and what they call integrated universal learning which includes dance, drama, mythology, ethics, farming and philosophy.
I worried about the idea of spirituality, but Luigina said,”We use whatever methods work for us, but as you look at our pupils you will see Sikh sitting next to Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Christian.” Learning to live at peace with yourself is the key to peace, understanding and tolerance in the world.”
As we were preparing to leave, Luigina said, “It’s too bad you can’t come to our daily assembly tomorrow. Sitting in the courtyard with 900 students meditating is an overwhelming experience.” We may have to go back for that.
You can learn more about this program at their website www.aliceproject.org.
This site offers two scholarships of 5000 rupees each to students of this school.