A Brief History of Education for Life and the Living Wisdom Schools

The first Living Wisdom School (then called Ananda How-to-Live School) was started by Michael Nitai Deranja in 1972 at the Ananda Community in Nevada City, California. Nitai, with an MA in education, left the public school system because he was inspired by the concepts of spiritual education as described by the yogic master, Paramhansa Yogananda. (In 1917 Yogananda had founded the model for the Living Wisdom Schools in Ranchi, India.) That first year Nitai had six students, ages four to eight. The school grew gradually and by 1986 had sixty-five students in pre-school through eighth grades.

In 1979 Toby Narani Moorhouse joined the faculty and has taught at the Living Wisdom School ever since. In those early years, from 1972 until 1984, other teachers came and went, helping to develop the school, but Nitai and Narani were the mainstays. Some of the students from that era still have reunions and get-togethers. In 1980 Nitai wrote The Art of Joyful Education which described the concept of Progressive Development (although it did not use that term) and the Stages of Maturity. Susan Usha Dermond joined the staff in 1984 and worked at the Nevada City school until 1996, eight years as a teacher and four years as the assistant administrator and coordinator of Education for Life adult training classes.

Education for Life, the book which defines the model for the Living Wisdom Schools, was published in 1986 by J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda). The book was introduced at a weekend program at Ananda Village, held outside at Crystal Hermitage and attended by over 150 people. Kriyananda emphasized that the principles described in the book are non-sectarian and could be broadly applied.

In 1992 the second Living Wisdom School was started in Palo Alto in response to the request of parents there. Barbara Rabin, Helen Purcell, and Gary McSweeney all helped develop a K-8 program. The third Living Wisdom School was founded in Portland in 1997 by Usha Dermond and Karen Busch. Again, the desire of parents for conscious education was the impetus that led to the school’s founding. The staff began their first week-long teacher training program in 2005, expanding it to a ten-month (90 hrs of class time) program in 2008. The first online class was launched during the 2009-10 school year and included students from three continents and five countries.

Beginning in the mid-nineties, Nitai began working with Irene Schulman to explore ways of serving the will years, ages 12 to 18. By 1997 they had started a boarding high school, first for girls, then including boys three years later. In 2004 Nitai helped Nakula and Nischala Cryer found the Ananda College of Living Wisdom, incorporating a year-long Education for Life teacher training program as part of the offerings.

The Education for Life Foundation was incorporated in 1998 to support the schools and share the EFL principles with all interested educators and parents. In recent years new schools have been established in Assisi, Italy and in India. The newly acquired campus at Laurelwood, Oregon (near Portland) is dedicated to establishing EFL programs around the world.

There are currently nine Living Wisdom schools worldwide.

Nevada City, California 1972
Palo Alto, California 1992
Portland, Oregon 1997
Nevada City High School 1997
Nevada City College 2003
Assisi, Italy 2006
Seattle, Washington 2007
New Delhi, India 2010
Jesi, Italy 2012
Ljubjana, Slovenia 2012


The Art of Joyful Education, Michael Nitai Deranja, 1980

Education for Life, J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), 1986

Supporting Your Child’s Inner Life, Toby Moorehouse,1998

I Came from Joy, Lorna Knox, 2000

For Goodness’ Sake, Michael Nitai Deranja, 2004

Calm and Compassionate Children, Susan Usha Dermond, 2007


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