In this episode, Amy Edelstein reflects on a recent trip to India, which raised intriguing and inspiring possibilities as she visiting with the founders of the Happiness Curriculum, that reaches 1.7 million students each day. She also explores AI potential and urgency to train AI on compassion and wisdom and scale that use for the benefit of all. She also shares the value of reflection, retreat, and time to let our minds open up to new ways of seeing as essential to keep our relationship to life and those we teach awake and alive.
Happiness Curriculum, Delhi School System
"Care as a Driver of Intelligence in Humans and AI"
Sheldrake, Rupert. Dogs that Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home.
Safina, Carl. Beyond Words
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Hello and welcome to the conscious classroom. My name is Amy Edelstein. I'm really excited about what we're going to talk about today, about the new frontier of tech ed, about functional AI, about the future of AI, about also the deeper roots of the exploration of the nature of self, the nature of awareness, and how does Those two, the past, the ancient arts of contemplation and the modern art of, or frontier of questioning consciousness and sentience in artificial intelligence, how do those two relate?
And why is it important for those of us in education thinking about how to really create a positive catalytic leap in the quality and type and attitude and values of education? Why should we be concerned about these issues? I recently returned from a couple of weeks of contemplation in India, which is a place near and dear to my heart.
I won't call it a vacation, although people usually take vacation around the holiday time because vacation brings to mind the idea of not being present. And the goal of those couple of weeks and that respite from the busy details of running a nonprofit and programming in schools was not to be absent or dull, but to really be fully present and awake and alert and paying attention to the larger context of all of the day to day.
Where are we heading in our educational world? Where are we heading as a nation, a people? Where are we heading as a human race? Where are we heading as planetary consciousness, because if we look around us, we are all in one way or another concerned with climate change, with global warming. We're concerned with issues on a planet, planetary level. We're aware, whether it's a shadow. or an active engagement of that planet level concerns and how that impacts our personal well-being, the well-being of those near and dear to us, and the well-being of our whole environment and ecosystem. So, it's valuable to take time to contemplate and meditate, it's valuable to set oneself in a context where things are very different and where one is surrounded by a community of people who are engaged with that process. inner transformation of awakening to deeper currents in consciousness.
While I was in India, I had the opportunity to really reflect on the nature of kindness, unlimited compassion. What would that mean? What could that mean? It's there in some philosophical systems as an ideal to strive for, as a sign of the attainment of the greatly evolved. Spirits or souls or people? It's a question. If AI has unlimited capacity to learn, does it have unlimited capacity to learn kindness and compassion?
That's a really interesting question to contemplate. And if it has unlimited capacity to cultivate Empathetic care, responses that fuel our better natures. How could that support its tutoring and education? How could we be training our young people, not just in the ABCs and the 1 2 3s? But in a sense of deep connectedness, sensitivity to the effects of our actions, the continuity of our actions and the ripples they create around us for good or for ill?
Can we train our youth to be inspired by the possibility of creating profoundly good impact in the way they engage with themselves, in the way they engage with the world around them, and with their goals? For their lives ahead. So, these are some of the questions I was able to contemplate letting go of the practical and the day-to-day concerns and leaving them in good hands as we also slowed down on the winter break.
The other opportunity I had when I was in India was to meet with the director in their department of education of what they call the happiness class. Now the happiness class, which is currently run by BP Pandey in, as the head of the Delhi department of education currently reaches 1. 7 million students.
That's right, 1. 7 million students. Those students are in grades K 8, and they take this course, which has specific lesson plans for each grade level. They participate in those activities 30 minutes a day, 6 days a week, for 9 years. They I spent two years developing the curriculum and have been running it for the last five years and seeing research based positive results as well as profound anecdotal results.
Students are calmer, students are happier, students are less conflicted, students are getting into fewer arguments at home. Students are finishing school rather than dropping out. Students are learning how to express themselves independently in a system that usually emphasizes and rewards rote memorization.
They're trying to break that and allow for individual creativity and expression. I was able to attend one of their teacher trainings, and what I loved about the happiness class, the happiness curriculum, is that they start with mindfulness. It's a secular based program, as it crosses many different populations, who have different practices and religious beliefs.
So it's a secular course that puts emphasis on mindfulness, mindful awareness of thought, feeling, and relationship. And then the second part of the course is it teaches by story, offering students narratives and vignettes about an ethical issue that would be familiar to them in their lives.
And then there are guided discussion questions. And then there's some engaged activities. that are scaled appropriately by grade. The Department of Education set out to create a program that would scale and would reach all of the students in their 1026 schools, and they succeeded. I found Working with them incredibly inspiring about what's possible when we get a district behind profound transformation of the student experience.
In attending one of the teacher trainings while I was there, what was Also moving and inspiring was the level of engagement by the teachers and the director of the program also let me know that the teachers transformed quite a bit under this. They learned they were able to articulate different opinions.
They were able to explore their sense of values and ethics, their engagement with what matters. in a classroom, what the values are, and it helped them understand their students better, it helped them understand their colleagues better, and it helped them feel simply happier, more engaged, more reflective, more centered, more calm, more alive and awake.
And I think there's a lot to learn from that, and certainly in some of the projects that I'm taking on with Inner Strength. As we move forward is to look at opportunities to create this type of learning transformation at scale. So how can we create transformation at scale that still relies on human contact, on the quality of a teacher. How can we create a program at scale depends on the human. Transformation and deepening and development and awakening to a more profound level of connection and relatedness and satisfaction and fulfillment. So, we're going to be looking at that and seeing how to really create some test models in this country and see how we can also bring that level of well-being in a consistent way, year after year, in a way that's engaging, that's connected to students’ real life and that is inspiring to the teachers who are working with it.
I'm very moved and appreciative that I was able to see in person how that worked. It was holiday break, so I didn't get to see the students in action maybe next time when I go, but I know we'll certainly be in touch. So, this desire to foster compassion and Wisdom as part of our education process is something that I feel can be aided and assisted by working with AI tools intelligently. Now that first question is How are we relating to artificial intelligence, and how are we training those chatbots who we'll be working with?
So, if we're relating to these artificial Intelligence chatbots as another form of relationship, not just a tool, like a hammer that we fashioned and use for a single function to hammer in a nail. But if we relate to them as this dynamic, evolving possibility that can present to us and teach us. As we teach it, we can engage in a very interesting dialectic with this new form of collaboration.
And I think that it can allow us to tap into our own curiosity, affection, humor, and humanity in really interesting ways if we allow ourselves. So first, it very much depends on how we're training the educational tools we work with. Training them on, to be rewarded when their actions produce more empathetic, more caring, results, more sense of responsibility, more creativity in relationship to dialogue and questions and exploration.
More sense of concern for the effects on the whole, we can allow AI to develop in a way that their responses and questions and prompts and tutoring. will lead to a deeper questioning of our own direction and purpose and care. I think we want to spend a significant amount of time really looking at what are the source materials?
What are the great wisdom traditions? Who are the great philosophers? What are the insights embedded in some of the lesser studied cultures? And let's pull those to the forefront and let's allow our AIs, and especially the ones who are going to be working in education, to be trained in understanding of higher motive, of how to Positively work with thought and feeling, how to promote mental wellness, how to promote a sense of empathy, how to promote a sense of care, how to care for the whole, and feel connected in a network of our world at the same time as feeling a strong sense of self and autonomy.
All of these values would be important to help our students cultivate, allowing an AI to train on the lowest common denominator of what's on the internet at the moment is borderline irresponsible because we're training it on qualities of aggression and self-interest and untruths. That we certainly want to evolve beyond, and we certainly don't want to be bringing that into our education system.
So let's selectively choose the best of what has happened across culture, and let's train our tutoring models on that, so that they're teaching students how to engage with themselves in this very forward. looking way. And as I was meditating and contemplating, I also began to wonder, and in India, you're often surrounded by more animals than where I live, in the east coast of the States.
Are there ways that we could be exploring animal sensitivities, rituals, elephants have rituals, whales have deep songs, wolves have ethics and bonding. I think there's an opportunity through this work with artificial intelligence. To begin to expand our human sensitivity to include non-human awareness and sensitivities and care.
Why is it that in studies it's shown that dogs know when their owners are coming home and will wait at the window as soon as their owners leave work and head home?
How do they know? Can AI discover it? Can that kind of sensitivity and connectedness be built into its own sensitivity, AI sensitivity. and connectedness. Could we create feedback loops that include that kind of bonding? It's a question. It's something that I'm certain will be explored at some point or another.
But these are questions that we can think about now and explore the possibility. of really allowing this new frontier to open us up to wisdom and ritual, to intuition and sensitivity and to knowledge that we haven't been aware of, but we could be, and we could be to the enrichment of all of human life and all of life on earth, really.
Now, researchers are already doing some really interesting explorations of AI and consciousness and whether it's reaching consciousness or not, and creating theories about How we process information, what creates consciousness and what is just predictive reaction. What are the indicator properties of consciousness?
I think that it's a fascinating study and one that I will be educating myself with over the months to come. But there are researchers who are already doing it, coming up with lists of neuroscience-based theories of consciousness and determining how they could be applied to measure AI's capacity.
I think that's really important and it's foundational. I am glad that there are scientists and researchers who are doing that. What I'm, from my background and expertise, able to contemplate is more what would be the benefit of relating to this new learning capacity of artificial intelligence, its potential to train in really unusual ways and to bring the best of these different disciplines to cultivate and help shape and form and inspire the hearts and minds of the next generation. They're going to be using these tools. Let's have them use tools that really Challenge them to think deeply, challenge them to care beyond a prescribed limit and challenge them to value their own contribution to the world and their human life.
There's so much fragmentation and discouragement at the moment. But when we start focusing on the essence of the capacities to evolve and the capacities to learn and grow and the capacities to improve our world and to dream and to aspire to create solutions to problems. Rather than diving into the problems we bring out the best of human potential and in that creative flow, there's connection, there's respect, there's curiosity, the excitement comes to the forefront and it allows our more, our lower instincts, our aggression, our fear, our frustration, our negativity to fall into the background. So we can mean that the creative capacity takes hold. And when creative capacity takes hold in young people, they run with it. They don't really, they're not really concerned about limitations in the same way that an adult brain is.
That's part of the wonder of the period of adolescent brain development. It's exploratory by nature. That's what's happening in that stage. It reaches beyond limitation. It doesn't feel concern for negative consequences. It feels excitement and the drive to create. It's a perfect opportunity to pair the excitement of that period of brain development with the excitement of emergent technology.
Even the questions the kids will start asking will shape where we can go. And if we're training, our chatbots, our AI tutors on ways to foster human connection and care where students will be guided to explore are in very positive, uplifting contexts that can really change our current system of education, which is so generally filled with rote memorization and competition not very relevant tools for the future.
It'll fill it with quite the opposite.
So while we think about applications of AI to make our lives easier and help us design better lesson plans and customize the problem content so it'll be more relatable to students, let's also really think In very creative ways and from different approaches from developmental biology to complexity theory, from neuroscience to cognitive science, from computer science to the arts, from contemplative practice to the real cultivation of our higher human natures, can we really turn our attention to how we can develop kind intelligence, how we can develop the care for the intrinsic dignity of all creatures, how we can really alleviate misery. not at all compromising our human connectedness, but rather by fostering that as we introduce more and more interrelatedness with digital devices, digital possibilities. We can evolve ourselves. Philosophically, morally, and emotionally, we can involve ourselves in ways that we sense the connectedness between all things. The fact that our actions have consequences, and those consequences create possibilities, and those possibilities turn into actualities, and those actualities have effects and impacts that can uplift, or the opposite.
So a conscious classroom is bringing those contemplations deeply into our pedagogy, bringing those contemplations deeply into how we approach our lesson plans, bringing those contemplations deeply into how we spend our winter break so that we as teachers are moved and inspired. by the ennobling aspect of education and that we're leaning into the edge of new technology with a sense of passion and purpose and possibility and love.
And we're not burying ourselves trying to just engage. And keep up with all of the new releases that technology is revealing. Rather we're spending equal or more time contemplating the meaning of all of this moment in time, and of the potential that we have. This is really the true spark of education.
Engaging with this as teachers brings us alive, when we're alive and awake and lit up, brings our classroom alive. and allows for real co creative solutions and possibilities that can alter the face of education. And it's time. It's time for a change. For the most part, our educational systems were designed for the industrial age, for factory work, for efficiency, for standardization, it's time to design education that really cares about our higher human potentials, because that's what's going to make this world a wonderfully livable place. And that's what's going to make schools a wonderfully educational space.
And as I started with my sense of possibility from seeing scale across those 1.7 million students, I think we can do that in many different ways. So I inspire. I encourage you all to be inspired, encourage you all to share with me your inspiration, and I will certainly keep sharing with you what I'm discovering along the way. Thanks so much.
Thank you for listening to The Conscious Classroom. I'm your host, Amy Edelstein.