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Detail Mentor Profile: DAVID MARSHAK

The Transformative Learning Foundation


David Marshak

David was intuitively led to explore the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, Sri Aurobindo Ghose, and Hazrat Inayat Khan more than 40 years ago. He found that these three spiritual teachers articulated a common vision of human nature, unfoldment from birth through age 21, and the parenting and education needed to nurture the evolution of consciousness—and documented this in his book, The Common Vision: Parenting and Education for Wholeness. In his book, Evolutionary Parenting, David explains how this common vision connects with Spiral Dynamics and offers interviews about conscious parenting with seven families, including parents and their adolescent/emerging adult children.

David’s new guidebook, Inviting Youths to Claim the Power of Their Imaginations, names the new phenomenon of youths establishing themselves as social and global leaders—for example, Malala Yousafzai, Greta Thunberg, and Boyan Slat—and provides tools for inviting youths to identify and claim their own inspirations and creativity.

David was the founding president of the SelfDesign Graduate Institute.


  • Harvard University, Ed.D. 1985.


Main Interest

Evolutionary Parenting, Evolution of Consciousness, Adolescent Development

David lives in Arcata, California.


SDGI Courses

SD 501 Modes of Inquiry (3 credits) First Year Fall Semester

In this course we explore four modes of inquiry through which we can know:
the evolution of human consciousness as a species and its relationship to the evolution of the consciousness of each human from birth to adulthood; the qualities and dynamics of story as an epistemological vehicle; the four quadrant model of knowledge developed by Ken Wilber; and the heart as a vehicle for knowing.

SD 514 The Psychology of the Evolution of Consciousness (3 credits)

Learners in this course explore the Spiral Dynamics model in depth, with a focus on the work of Graves, Beck, Wilber, Gebser, McIntosh, and Houston. They then apply this model to enhancing their understanding of several phenomena at issue in the work of post-modern and integral education.

SD 515 SelfDesign and Its Historical Antecedents (3 credits)

Learners in this course explore the historical antecedents of SelfDesign and their relationship to SelfDesign. The course considers the 19th century transcendentalists (Emerson, Alcott), the early 20th century spiritual evolutionists (Aurobindo, Steiner, Inayat Khan, Krishnamurti, and later, Montessori), and the “free school” movement from A. S. Neill to Sudbury Valley.

PM 500 History of Schooling through Analysis of Consciousness and the Qualities of Post-Modern Schools (3 credits)

Learners explore pre-modern, modern, and post-modern forms of education and how each of these forms corresponds with a particular kind of consciousness, as described by the Spiral Dynamics model (Clare Graves, Don Beck et al) and by Jean Gebser.

PM 520 Adolescence as an Evolutionary Stage for Humanity (3 credits)

Learners in this course explore the theory that adolescence is a radically new developmental stage that has emerged only in the past hundred years, even though homo sapiens sapiens, modern humans, first appeared nearly 200,000 years ago.

In the Media



What should education be if adolescence is the next step in human evolution?

David Marshak

According to most recent accounts our species, homo sapiens, originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago, reaching full “behavioral modernity” (homo sapiens sapiens) around 50,000 years ago.

Use either number. We have lived for tens of thousands of years as a species, and for all but the last century, adolescence as we know it was not part of human life. Humans in their teen years were adults.

G. Stanley Hall was the first to name adolescence—from the Latin adolescere, meaning “to grow up”—in his 1904 book, Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education. Yet the first significant adolescent population did not appear in the United States until the post-World War II baby boomers began to enter their teens in the late 1950s.

What did adults do with these tens of millions of adolescents when they first appeared? They sentenced them to 30+ hours each week in secondary schools plus more hours for homework, even though the paradigm of the academic high school had been created for a very different purpose and a much smaller fraction of the population. Adults excluded teens from most of adult life and, instead, dumped them into the age ghetto that quickly became youth culture.

It’s not at all surprising that our initial social and cultural responses to the sudden appearance of tens of millions of adolescents were so misguided. The manifestation of adolescence on a mass scale was a radically new evolutionary step for homo sapiens. For the first time in our existence as a species, we had an opportunity for tens of millions of individual humans to explore and develop their human potential, to find their gifts and their callings, and to evolve into a much more complex and articulated consciousness. Right on schedule, the human potential movement—part psychology, part spirituality—emerged in the 1960’s culture and began developing tools for this evolutionary step upward.

But the people with power in our industrial society had no insight into either evolution or human development; they feared the human potential movement and fought to delegitimize its insights and destroy its initial flowering. They worked hard in this campaign—and they are still working very hard—to keep adolescents in conventional, industrial paradigm schools, youth culture ghettos, which block both the development and maturation of individuals and the evolution of the species.

So here we are three generations into adolescence, and as a culture we are ignoring or repressing this profound evolutionary possibility.

Margaret Mead explained one aspect of where we need to go with adolescence in terms of cultural evolution in her book, Culture and Commitment. Mead describes three cultural paradigms in terms of their teaching/learning relationships between the young and the old:

postfigurative, in which children learn primarily from their parents and other adults

cofigurative, in which both children and adults learn primarily from their peers, and

prefigurative, in which children learn from their parents and other adults, and adults learn from their children and other members of their children’s generation

All human societies prior to the 20th century were postfigurative. Pre-agricultural societies, in which humans lived for 80%-95% of our species life, changed little if any. Agricultural societies, beginning about 10,000 years ago, did change but slowly enough not to alter the dynamics of cultural transmission. In contrast industrial societies have experienced continually accelerating change for about 250 years, a moment in the history of the species.

What our societal leaders unknowingly did in the 1950s in the United States was to create a cofigurative culture. Adolescents were sentenced to years of schooling, even though formal schooling is unengaging and unproductive for most of them. They were excluded from meaningful roles in the adult world, and teens’ capacity for perceiving the present in a quickly changing society more acutely than their parents was ignored or ridiculed. Adolescents responded to this exclusion by creating their own youth culture, which both in its 60s counter-culture form and its later rap/hip-hop form included considerable hostility to and contempt for adults. Adults responded by viewing teens as dangerous: the putative gangs in the 1950s, the counter-culture in the 1960s, the supposed “super predators” of the 1980s, and so on.

In our cofigurative culture, many adolescents feel sentenced to years of high school, which offers them a repressive, alienating, and largely meaningless experience. So they look to each other for engagement and meaning. Yet adolescents are not mature human beings, so the culture they create is also adolescent, immature, and often egocentric.

What we need to create, Mead argues, is a prefigurative culture, in which the capacity of adolescents to see the world anew, with idealism and creative vision as well as sometimes unbalanced judgment and critique, and make novel sense of it is valued by adults. In such a culture, teens would be welcomed into adult society as contributors with different strengths and limitations, and teens who were engaged in this way would value the experience and wisdom of adults. Forty years ago Mead saw the destructive divisions and the denial of wisdom that a cofigurative society engenders and argued that we need to move beyond this dead end. What kinds of experiences and social structures would we offer teens if we understood adolescence rightfully to be a new stage of human development that can allow a more complete unfolding of each human’s potential? To start, adolescents must have a wide range of choice of activities, within enough parameters to insure that they also have a wide range of experiences. So there must be a lot of freedom with clear boundaries. And many or most of these experiences must take the teen out into the mainstream society in all of its complexities, so they interact with people of all ages every day and every week.

Adolescents also need to have the opportunity to find their own passion, even their own calling. Our culture celebrates a small number of adolescents who discover their calling in their teen years and through their focused engagement, indeed at times their obsession, they create something new and/or significant. What if millions of adolescents were invited to follow this same trajectory of inner discovery and outer manifestation?

Howard Thurman wrote, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” The evolutionary potential of adolescence as a stage in human development is that for the first time in our species history, we have created societies in which individual human beings can discover what it is that makes them come alive—their gifts, their passions, their callings—and can begin to “go do it.” Not later on. Not when they’re older. Now, today.

This is exactly what our species needs, to unleash our most profound creativity and capacity, if we intend to evolve through the crises and challenges we have created for ourselves in this century. Should we not get started with this effort at once?