Education: What’s LOVE got to do with it?

By Tom Culham

You don’t often find the words love and education in the same sentence. You might hear of a teacher’s passion for the profession, or a student’s passion for math or poetry, or you might confuse it with sex education. What I am talking about is the love that exists between a newborn and mother. You might ask, what’s that got to do with education? As unlikely as it seems, almost everything.

I encountered this kind of love when my daughter was born more than 30 years ago. After a very long and arduous natural labour, the nurse handed me our baby daughter, while the doctor attended to my wife. As an engineer I expected meaningful interaction would begin when my daughter was able to talk. Moments following her birth she was calm and her eyes were wide open. As I looked down at her while cradling her I noticed that she appeared to be looking at me. I thought is she really looking at me? So I moved my head back and forth, side to side and she tracked my every move eye to eye. She was there: following my every move; announcing hey I am here; I see you!! I was astounded and blurted out “let’s have another one”! I certainly got a different look from the nurse and doctor than my daughter. You might say it was: “you have got to be kidding”.

Many years later I discovered while reading A General Theory of Love (Lewis, Amini, & Lannon, 2000) that I had witnessed the love between caregiver and child that is the foundation of human survival and brain development. This relationship is not always obvious to the conscious mind but nonetheless it is critically important. Humans have the ability to be in brain resonance with one another by detecting through sight and other senses the internal state of another human. Reptiles don’t have this ability. We say snake eyes when a pair of ones show up in dice because when you look a snake in the eyes there is nothing looking back at you. In humans there is, and your physiology automatically responds to what is perceived in the other with a corresponding response from the other like two mirrors facing one another. To the Doobie Brother’s lyrical question in the song Long Train Running, “without love where would we be now”? The answer is: We’d be reptiles.

Before a child’s development of language and conscious memory, a loving mind to mind relationship is vital to brain development and lifelong social well-being. If a fully attentive loving relationship isn’t present in the early years, the child’s brain will not fully develop causing relational problems later in life. The limbic emotional brain holds our largely unconscious knowledge of how to relate to others. It not only provides our relational skills, it has pretty amazing problem solving skills too. In fact research has found that the emotional limbic brain can way outperform some problem solving skills of the conscious rational brain. (Lewis, Amini, & Lannon, 2000). Einstein alluded to this ability when he said there is: “no logical path to” the laws of physics; “only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience can reach them… The state of mind which enables a man to do work of this kind … is akin to that of the religious worshipper or the lover; the daily effort comes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the heart” (Calaprice, 2011, p. 363).

As unusual as it seems, it is not only possible but vitally necessary and very possible to teach love in all classes. Arthur Zajonc (2006) of the Physics Department, Amherst College and Director of the Academic Program, argues that our current rational intellectual knowledge is partial, and devoid of the truth of our connection to everything. Love is the means by which we can discover the truth of our existence and are made whole. I teach postsecondary business classes where students participate in meditation and relationship development activities as an adjunct to the business course content. One exercise requires students who prefer talking to practice listening to others. Students commonly remark when the course begins they don’t have the patience to listen to others they disagree with or don’t like. When done the class they observe: they understand the why’s of the other’s views; are not frustrated listening, and feel closer to the person. While the word love is not used and students don’t engage in Buddhist loving kindness meditation, their shift parallels the direction of this practice that calls for widening one’s circle of compassion from one’s self, then to someone close, and widening the circle to include someone who is difficult in our life. It is possible to bring love into our classes and teams work better together.

We now know: that people need emotional skills to get along in their families; to bring up healthy children, and to be happier and productive at work. We also know that the unconscious emotional brain has great problem solving skills, and that to teach this part of our brain we need love and devotion.

How do we go about bringing love into education? This is the question the Contemplative Inquiry and Holistic Education special interest group considered at the Comparative International Education Society annual conference in Mexico early in 2018. A vitally important response to this question is caring teacher pupil relationships fostering caring student relationships. Other ideas include tools to access the emotional brain such as: meditation, reflective journaling, art, music, poetry, literature and perhaps others that we don’t currently know about. These answers are not the traditional 3 R’s of reading, writing and arithmetic. These are the early days in exploring the ways of love in teaching, but given the benefits of healthier families, workplaces and society I think it is worth the effort of diving in with all the passion of a mother’s love for her newborn in order to figure it out.


Tom Culham teaches TRANSFORMATION THROUGH ETHICAL LEADERSHIP, A certificate program designed for Executive and Middle Management Leadership, offered through CityU’s Continuing Education programs. You can learn more about the next series beginning February 28, 2018 HERE. The program is taught over 5 consecutive Wednesdays 9am – 1pm, Feb 28 – Mar 28. Download a program flyer HERE.

Tom Culham, Ph.D., Program Director School of Management City University in Canada Co-Chair, Contemplative Inquiry and Holistic Education, Special Interest Group of the Comparative International Education Society. Representative at Large Research, Management, Spirituality and Religion Special Interest Group of the Academy of Management.



Calaprice, A., (2011) The ultimate quotable Einstein. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lewis, T., Amini, F., & Lannon, R. (2007). A general theory of love. Vintage.

Zajone, A. (2006, Sept) Love and knowledge: Recovering the heart of learning through contemplation. Teachers College Record, 108(9), 1742-1859