Living Wisdom to open school in Palo Alto

Alternative, private school focuses on individualization, meaningful learning

Students applying to a new, private, alternative school opening in Palo Alto this fall are asked not about grades or test scores but to describe the qualities they like most about themselves and admire in others. A grid titled "How do you see yourself?" asks prospective students to evaluate themselves on qualities like willpower, curiosity, open mindedness and personal happiness.

The application makes Living Wisdom High School's philosophy clear: At school, students should focus not only on academic learning but also values like adventure, creativity, connections, self-discovery and joy.

Living Wisdom High School is an offshoot of the Ananda Living Wisdom School, which was founded in 1972 and has a Palo Alto location that serves elementary and middle school students. Living Wisdom is based on a philosophy dubbed "education for life," which espouses personalized learning that is both academically rigorous and personally joyful.

At the new Living Wisdom High School, which will open temporarily in two Cubberley Community Center classrooms in September, this means high academic standards are taught in small classes, through regular trips to a Half Moon Bay farm and with the nurturing of a specific interest or passion that might manifest in an internship, volunteer opportunity or focused project. At the heart of the program is individualization, said the high school's principal, Kabir MacDow, who has been a Living Wisdom teacher since the school's first campus opened in Nevada City, California, in 1977.

"As I explain it to parents, we put the student in the center," he said. "We're not putting a class in the center.

"The whole focus of that whole program is around that person," MacDow added. "Our job is to get to know who that person is, on all levels."

The school will start small this fall, aiming to enroll 15 to 20 students (whom MacDow calls "pioneers") who will be taught by three full-time and some part-time teachers. The school hopes to start with a freshman class but will accept students from older grades who are interested in attending this year, MacDow said. By the fourth year of its existence, MacDow hopes to have 80 to 100 students enrolled and to be in a more permanent location.

MacDow stressed that while Living Wisdom embraces its identity as an "alternative" school -- where things like daily meditation, overnight camping trips and self-awareness are front and center -- the school simply seeks to provide the same academic rigor that many local families expect.

"There is a choice to be made when considering high schools, but it doesn't have to be between academics and well-being," the school's website states. "There is an alternative."

Living Wisdom's high school curriculum meets the University of California and California State University A-G subject requirements and is aligned with the new Common Core State Standards, MacDow said. Students will get typical instruction in core subjects. But unlike at a traditional, large high school, mathematics, for example, will be taught using a combination of textbooks and online programs tailored to each student. Each student will have his or her own program and schedule, MacDow said. Classes will emphasize real-world and project-based learning, such as teaching students how to create a budget.

Teachers will also work with students to identify an area of "deeper motivation" — anything from wanting to be a doctor to loving animals or the outdoors — and pursue that, inside and outside of the classroom. Students will be given time to leave campus for internships, for example. Students can also take courses at Foothill College and receive college credit.

And while Living Wisdom is associated with the Ananda Church, "there will be no focus on religious dogma or on any one spiritual path, Ananda included" at the high school, unless a class broadly studies world religions, MacDow said.

Out of 72 current Living Wisdom School students, only three are actually connected with Ananda in any way, according to MacDow. Half of the school's eight main teachers are connected with Ananda.

The Living Wisdom team is hopeful that their approach will offer an attractive alternative to students and parents worried about often "unachievable" standards and high pressure placed on many high schoolers today.

"The academics are supported by this next step, which is self-discovery," MacDow said, "that sense that there's something greater inside, something more."

"What we're developing through this whole thing is an approach to education that many people understand and know and acknowledge is important but their hands are tied," MacDow said.

Living Wisdom High School is currently accepting applications for its inaugural class. Tuition is $29,850, with an additional $1,500 enrollment fee. There is no application fee. Partial scholarships and tuition assistance are available.

For those interested in learning more, the school will hold an open house this Thursday, Jan. 12, at 7 p.m. at Cubberley, rooms B4 and B5. To register, call 650-646-1066 or email Another open house will be held on Saturday, Feb. 11.

For more information, go to


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7 people like this
Posted by Tall Tree
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2017 at 11:52 am

"Living Wisdom High School" --- someone had better research that name and make sure that Mr/Ms Wisdom was never in favor of some political no no.

7 people like this
Posted by Long-time Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 12, 2017 at 6:45 pm

Was it not The Ananda Church of Self-Realization in Palo Alto on El Camino Real that was founded and led by a man who called himself a swami, and who several years ago was reported to have had an improper sexual relationship with a female church-member?

The revelation caused him to leave the USA for a while, if what I remember is accurate. Please, PA Weekly, more background facts would be appreciated with this news.

Parents deserve full disclosure about this new alternative form of education.

12 people like this
Posted by Supporter of Higg Caliber Schools
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 12, 2017 at 10:36 pm

It's a wonderful school. They learn so much more than just the academics. They learn compassion, understanding, and finding joy in learning. Feeling so blessed that my children got to attend LWS. So happy they are starting a high school to continue building on the elementary school experience.

5 people like this
Posted by Kabir MacDow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Thank you for the comments and questions. Indeed, wherever children are concerned, it is always good to proceed with awareness, so I welcome this opportunity to respond. My name is Kabir MacDow, the principal of the Living Wisdom High School of Palo Alto.

To the first comment, as educators, we bring no political position or influence to our children. In fact, to do so would take us in the opposite direction of what we are striving to achieve with them. Our only concern is with the individual development each child — to support each as they strive to reach greater potentials and understanding of who they are — academically, socially, mentally and spiritually. There are many effective ways to take this journey, and if a child is interested in politics along the way, then he or she is certainly free to explore that, without any biased direction on our part.

To the second comment, in the 1970’s and 80’s, Swami Kriyananda was central to the founding of the Education for Life approach, a system based on the balanced, non-sectarian development of the whole child. At that time, few in this world conceived and manifested such a gift in the educational support of the world’s children, regardless of race, religion or background. For this, we continue to be deeply grateful, having witnessed the happy and successful fruit of Education for Life in the lives of hundreds of children and families.

Swami Kriyananda passed away several years ago, but the manifestation of his deep caring for all mankind continues on in this and many other ways. This is what we choose to focus on.

2 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Mom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 16, 2017 at 6:34 pm

Why is it that such a wonderful school has to use the Evergreen Park neighborhood for all of their physical activity? Every day the kids run through our neighborhood, with one or two adults watching. They use our dead-end streets for games. If they are so wonderful, why the heck don't they build a playground for the kids? Also think it is a bit strange that all ages walk through the neighborhood together.
How about some activities for different age levels?
Nice job Ananda - keep off of our street - it is not a playground!!!
Completely unsafe for the kids!!!
Do the parents know???!!!

6 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 16, 2017 at 11:10 pm

My 2 sons attended Living Wisdom School, kindergarten through middle school.
It was a wonderful experience for them. They both learned to relate to other people of all ages, younger and older, with compassion and empathy. Playing together with all the age groups in the school was a vital part of their emotional development. After LWS, they both attended and did well at Gunn High School. Today one is at Cornell University, the other at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Sending them to LWS was one of the best things this parent did for them. I wish there had been an LWS High School 7 years ago.

5 people like this
Posted by Navashen Jones
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 17, 2017 at 11:45 am

I currently work near the Living Wisdom School and I am amazed and inspired daily at the kindness, love, and joy that these children display. Having their teachers and guides doing their best to be living examples of these beautiful qualities has clearly made a wonderful impact on the kids.

Being quite inspired by the uplifting energy I was seeing in them, I wanted to see if there was a way to be involved and take part in that environment. I began working part-time at LWS shortly thereafter and have loved it ever since! It is so nice to experience first-hand how much energy the teachers give the kids and how the Education for Life philosophy has been put into actual practice with beautiful results. I have found that direct experience is truly the best way to know what is really happening!

I'm so happy to hear that LWS will now be able to offer a high school this upcoming year and can just imagine how many young adults will thrive in the LWHS environment!

Great job to everyone who has been, and will be, involved in this school!

3 people like this
Posted by Gary McSweeney
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 20, 2017 at 2:47 pm

My son attended Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto years ago. He learned invaluable life lessons along with excellent academics. Of all the things I ever did for my son, I am most grateful for his 9 years at LWS. I invite anyone interested to visit the website and explore the many faceted approach to education - academics, theater, conflict resolution, or underlying philosophy. Education for Life is practical idealism at its very best! The balanced approach to education employed prepares the students to face today's challenges and make positive contributions. I encourage everyone to read Education for Life, attend one of the school plays, or attend an Open House to find out more.

Like this comment
Posted by George Beinhorn
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 27, 2017 at 9:38 am

A quick response to the person who complained that students from the new Living Wisdom High School are annoying the neighbors by playing in the street. The school will open its doors in September 2017; thus this is a non-issue, and I am sure that it will remain so, because the school has no plans whatever to allow the students to play, supervised or not, in the nearby neighborhood streets - their P.E. and field classes will all take place on the grounds of the Cubberley campus or in nearby recreational venues such as Mitchell Park, the Baylands, Rancho San Antonio, etc.

As for the reference to the court case against Ananda, I can recommend that readers study both sides before choosing one or the other. Ananda's side is detailed, intelligently and entertainingly, in the Book "A Fight for Religious Freedom," by former Palo Alto attorney Jon Parsons. For the Bertolucci case specifically, a perusal of is recommended, which gives an in-depth look at the issues. At any rate, the forty-year history of the Living Wisdom Schools stands on its shining merits. Readers can visit the K-8 school's website,, to read an inspiring new book about the schools, Head & Heart: How a Balanced Education Nurtures Kids Who Succeed in Academics and Life.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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