The Robert Muller Center for Living Ethics in Fairview teaches ecology lessons through its Harmonies Way Teaching Story Series. Photos courtesy of the school.
Feb. 24, 2015
By Rita Cook
What to make sure your children have a rich understanding of the environment and that they’re learning it in the classroom? Look no further than the Robert Muller Center for Living Ethics in Fairview. The private school, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, has operated since 1986 and was 501c3-incorporated 11 years ago.
“We are leaning strongly into calling the school the Living Ethics School because of the confusion [the name] causes people,” said founder Vicki Johnston, who has certification from the American Montessori Academy and a masters of arts in education.
Left, Vicki Johnston, founder of the Robert Muller School in Fairview.
She explained the roots of the school's philosophy.
Robert Muller was undersecretary to the United Nations for 40 years and was very vocal in 1970s, penning a book called New Genesis in 1982, urging folks to care of the environment. He inspired holistic educators around the world and more than 30 Robert Muller Schools were formed, the first launching in Arlington in 1979.
He advocated teaching in terms of four interrelated harmonies: The miracle of individual life; the human family; our planetary home and place in the universe; and our place in time. It was through his ideas that Johnston says she created The Harmonies Way Teaching Story Series, giving it her personal stamp.
“Being by nature a writer and storyteller, I have chosen to follow the example of the Native Americans and other indigenous peoples by teaching through stories in which wisdom flows in on currents of new knowledge.”
Johnston says The Harmonies Way Teaching Story Series, used at the Fairview school, was written more than 20 years ago for children ages three to 11 years old. It appeals to their innate love of nature.
“From a young age, children have a natural affinity for all living creatures,” said Johnston. “For example, the Prairie Partners Series for four year olds teaches the alphabet through animal alliteration paintings. Listening to the corresponding stories, the children learn about the ecological reciprocity of creatures like Biso Bison, Grousey Grouse and Prairie Prairie Dog. At the same time, the stories evoke tenderness for the creatures as they care for their young, and the children learn to ‘walk softly’ through the prairie.”
Children at the Robert Muller school also find immediacy to the stories by means of the two-acre prairie on the school grounds. Years ago, Johnston says she seeded the area with native wildflowers as the beginning of the Prairie Restoration Project.
Overall, the school has six acres that “offer food for the soul and food for the body,” Johnston says.
“The daily activity that is child led is children running across our Prairie Restoration Project area, climbing trees and forming households in secluded areas. Modern children are increasingly stressed out by schooling that is test-driven and walled off from nature. These fields, trees and tree houses are like a healing balm that helps restore childhood to children who come here. Nature is a child’s natural habitat.”
At the Robert Muller Center, children also learn the reason for admiring the flowers without picking them and for not mowing the prairie in the spring so the flowers can reseed themselves.
“When there are no more seeds, there are no more flowers,” Johnston explains. “Yearly, we mow paths through the tall grass and native flowers of the prairie so adults and children can walk through, enjoy the beauty and learn the names of the flora. Most of the seeds have gradually redistributed themselves according to where they like to grow best. For example, certain lavender penstemmons seem to like the low-lying wetland area the best.”
Johnston says the children also help maintain the organic compost and plant, tend and harvest an organic garden. Every year they spread compost from the compost pile on the planting rows of the circle garden. In early March, they plant the seeds and put them in the greenhouse. Then in mid-April they begin planting in the garden. At the time of the Solstice, around June 20, they harvest and share the organic produce including corn, potatoes, green beans, squash, lettuce and tomatoes.
“We also have a 1,000-gallon water tank connected to a system of drip hoses for water conservation,” she says. “The children learn that this way there is minimal loss of water, as it seeps directly into the ground. Our two beehives have become a vital part of our center. Children, in bee suits have even helped tend the bees. The older entrepreneurs have participated in straining the honey and putting it into jars.”
Johnston, who says the school averages around 55 children ranging from three to 12 years old, says she is not sure if any of the graduates have gone into environmental professions.
“I just know that as I hear back from children who left here years before to enter institutions walled off from nature, as teens and young adults, they treasure the time spent in nature with great nostalgia and speak of a life-long connection to nature’s habitats, their natural habitat, because of it.”
The school has helped Johnston grow too.
“My own lesson has been to slow down on my yearly conquest of thistle in the back three acres where the bees live. The thistle, one of the most fragrant and beautiful flowers, makes incredible honey.”
Overall, with the Native American stories as her model, Johnston hopes the lessons speak to the head and heart of each young listener simultaneously.
“The time has come to extend our appreciation for ecology from planetary terrains to the inner terrains of children,” she concludes. “The terms ‘deep ecology’ and ‘eco-psychology’ give a sense of the multilevel reality that is a human being.”
Tuition at the Robert Muller Center ranges from $4,700 per year for the youngest part-time children to $6,500 yearly for 6th graders.
Rita Cook is an Arlington-based award-winning journalist who writes or has written for the Dallas Morning News, Focus Daily News, Waxahachie Daily Light, Dreamscapes Travel Magazine, Porthole, Core Media, Fort Worth Star Telegram and many other publications in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. With five books published, her latest release is “A Brief History of Fort Worth” published by History Press. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.