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Educating the Heart, Cultivating Learning and Justice

Updated: May 27, 2021

By Mahnaz Ahrary, CEI Intern


Learning and Healing Go Hand in Hand. One of my long withstanding favorite quotes by Aristotle, says it all: ‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.’ Imagine a place where the core mission of education was to value this idea and let the rest fall into place. CEI’s vision underscores the idea that schools can and should be designed so that children of all ages, all ethnic backgrounds and all socioeconomic levels, can receive not only the same quality of education, but more importantly can find a place of healing for self-reflection and awareness. Unfortunately, most teachers and school communities are not currently equipped to serve as these types of institutions due to the limitations of their bureaucratic and rigid design and their role and place as one cog in the district wheel.

Participation & The Heart: Designing Cultures. How could a school culture that is an inclusive, caring community be designed? Consider the possible impact that every teacher is capable of having on the dozens of students they encounter, year after year. Reward is often reaped most by the conquering difficult challenges, which points to a powerful opportunity for a participatory approach. As classroom leaders, teachers have this ability to change lives, if they are given the proper platform, where their participation in determining directions and everyday solutions counts.  

Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum refers to museums as a ‘cultural institutions.’ Though her book is written in an attempt to change museums, her suggestions are applicable to any institution. In recognizing that the more things change the more they remain the same in terms of bigotry and racism, it is more of a pressing need that the highest social responsibility of schools is to establish the truth that the central mission of school culture is to be place for sharing and learning about all cultures. The term ‘cultural institution’ is a relevant and primary tool to shifting the mission of schools and moving toward a vision that prioritizes equity and justice across cultures.


While teachers make many decisions about their lessons, in the post NCLB ‘“ Common Core era, with the continued emphasis on high stakes assessments, teachers still tend to follow curriculum pacing guides, marching to the drumbeat established in an electronic log that continuously grabs for completion of more, for reaching more benchmarks, at a pace that barely allows anyone to catch their breath, let alone breathe.  

Active participation by parents, students, teachers and community in shaping directions will go far in encouraging participants to work together, to have the conversations that are necessary for growth and change. With Simon’s main points in mind, schools too must be a place for positive interactions with people who may or may not be like us, whose background, beliefs, culture, and appearance, may or may not mirror our own. Participation is the key to creating the environment where we learn and accept our differences. Participatory visioning and planning can be a very powerful way of listening to others, caring, having healthy disagreements that lead to better solutions, and where all members of the school community not only think, but know that their presence matters and can ultimately contribute to the greater good of what this new cultural institution of learning represents.

The Importance of Platform



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