Elemental School System — AGES Design Principles Part II

Martin Rezny
Words of Tomorrow
Published in
8 min readMar 29


Exploring the learning paths of fire, water, air, and earth


Following the mythological inspiration for our system even further, there is a more intuitive and philosophically deeper way to conceptualize learning paths. Instead of elementary school, we propose an elemental one. Elements in this case mean the classical four ancient Greek elements of fire, water, air, and earth, which can help the students track and filter various learning options.

In modern times, the main models of what the school is for and how it should be run are the factory model and the organic model. In the factory model, students are prepared for careers or otherwise indoctrinated to meet predefined societal goals and quotas, while in the organic model, the students are given the resources they need to pursue whatever learning they feel best serves their personal growth.

The main problems with these conceptualizations are that the former model doesn’t give much freedom of choice or internal motivation to the students, while the latter model doesn’t give them much guidance or ensure any socially beneficial outcomes at scale. But both contain some truth — societies do have quotas to meet to keep functioning, while the students can only maximize their potential if they’re driven by internal motivation.

Making the system responsive to the needs and wants of both the students and their society is possible in the many ways described in other parts of this charter, but merely enabling that isn’t the same thing as ensuring that. In many educational systems around the world, better educational outcomes are allowed and possible than are actually achieved.

The problems to solve here are those of guidance and motivation, and that’s where the elements come in. The philosophical elements are not just the physical substances of literal fire, water, air, and earth, although those do work as direct symbolisms on many levels. Philosophical elements are also psychological and abstract principles that divide reality into distinct realms of meaning.

The houses in the Harry Potter series already are a version or example of this in the context of education. Gryffindor is the house of fire, Slytherin is the house of water, Ravenclaw is the house of air, and Hufflepuff is the house of earth. On the superficial level, this affects the choice of house colors and mascots, but the metaphor has deeper, psychologically, socially, and educationally functional levels.

Here are some specific functional examples. Ravenclaw as the house of air is for the smartest (most intellectually-focused) students, as the element of air is the one of intellect. Gryffindor students are the most brave and competitive, as those are the main qualities of fiery personalities. The main subject at which the Hufflepuff students excel is herbology, because growing things is the primary earth skill.

Slytherin is perhaps portrayed as a bit too evil, but that’s because it’s based more specifically on the water sign of scorpio from western astrology than the water element as a whole, and it’s supposed to serve a story function. In a real school system which has an unbiased elemental system of classification, the water house would likely focus on subjects like art, psychology, criminology, and other fields related to emotionality, introspection, or intuition.

Put simply, philosophical elements are complex metaphors that can be applied easily across different subjects or domains, while remaining intuitive to understand and internally consistent. You can literally describe the behavior of a flame, for example by saying that if it burns twice as bright, it burns for half as long, and the statement will describe equally well the career of an artist and the lifespan of an actual star.

In modern science and education systems, the standard approach is to stick to limited precise descriptive statements, but that’s at best a double-edged approach. You only say exactly what you mean, but leave out all kinds of important contexts or implications. The elemental philosophical perspective, or similar mythological storytelling modes like zen koans, say more than just what they appear to say on the surface level. They can contain more wisdom than their authors had.

In the context of education, if the student has a fiery temperament for example, then showing them what can be learned through the lens of fiery philosophy, with all the associated myths and symbolisms, is more likely to make it clear to them why they should be learning anything in particular. Within this framework, nothing is just information, or just a future paycheck. Everything has personal meaning.

Every element, and by extension a type of personality, has specific reasons why to learn, different kinds of experiences it favors or dislikes, different preferred modes of socialization, and different ideal self-image. If the students are allowed to self-identify along these lines as they interact with such a system, then the system will know how to motivate them to maximize their potential and fulfil a needed role that best fits their personality.

Fire — Personal growth. The specific content of such learning should be highly voluntary and personalized, but will likely often involve the mastering of fundamental human capacities like languages, mathematics, or creative arts. There should also be a distinct competitive, playful, fun aspect to this path.

Water — Finding a way to belong. The primary fields of interest here should be social studies and performative arts, particularly music, but there should also be a big emphasis on all forms of social service, including especially healthcare, as well as on helping young people navigate romance and family.

Air — Expansion of the mind. This should include mainly the humanities, theoretical science, philosophy, critical thinking, and similar subjects. Training in rhetoric or law should be an important aspect of this path, in order to prepare the students to meet their civic responsibilities.

Earth — Development of valuable skills. This will mostly involve specific career or business training, physical arts, and applied sciences. Basic financial and more advanced economic education should be important aspects of this path, as well as stipends and other tangible incentives for those with the most skill or motivation.

Beyond these four fundamental elements, more elements can be introduced to further subdivide or specialize learning modes or paths. For example, if one thinks of the fire element as more broadly energy or plasma, different forms of energy can be used to denote different subtypes of fiery personalities. The path of lightning or the path of light are some of the more immediately evocative options here, for the students interested in following the example of Tesla, or a religious prophet of their choice, respectively.

One can also think of combinations of or borderline areas between the primary elements. For example, on the border between water and air domains, one can think of an ice domain, while on the border of fire and earth, one can think of a domain of lava. The specifics of these extensions to the model can differ, and the extensions should only be created if there is a need, but in this way, the elemental model has a lot of room for meaningful and intuitive expansion.

There can also be a further subdivision added to the elemental model in combination with some other kind of typology. This is how astrological signs were derived, after all, by combining the four elements with the three so-called qualities that can be described as a leading personality, an enduring personality, and an adaptive personality. Upgrades like this should ideally be rooted in solid social science and psychology research, but are definitely an option in principle.

Overall, however, any elemental educational lens or system needs to maintain the fundamental equality of all of the elements. In classical elemental philosophy, no element is superior or inferior, all are equally fundamental and necessary. Translated into educational tracks, skills or professions aren’t made objectively any better or more vital just because they require higher IQ or result in a higher pay.

As the recent crises have shown us, the currently underpaid people who grow, cook, and serve food, transport supplies, maintain utilities, or perform similar tasks are in fact essential workers, just like nurses or teachers, or ultimately any of the professions that keep civilization going. At the same time, there are good reasons why the currently highly paid professions are highly paid.

Not only is there no justification to underemphasize any type of learning path in an elemental education system, they’re also never underappreciated or looked down upon. There may be a distinction between more general and more specialized elements, or broader or narrower categories (like lightning or light elements being subcategories of fire), but there’s no difference in how essential or dignified any of them are.

The real world may still decide to value different jobs differently in terms of financial compensation in the end, within the logic of the earth element, but the students can literally choose to see the world differently, through the lens of different values and priorities. Each elemental track should have its own type of rewards, its own measures of success, and its own organizational logic and privileges.

Currently, the earth logic of profit is dominating all other domains of learning in most parts of the world, and it is arguably this fundamental imbalance that’s the cause of many bad outcomes. Put in the most simple terms, fire is about sportsmanship, not profit; water is about community, not profit; and air is about truth, not profit. Profit-only-based education is necessarily inappropriate to harmful for 3/4 of any randomly selected student population.

Any society that underdevelops the potential of any of the four elements (fundamental types of personality and meaning of life) risks being dysfunctional in one or more core areas or dimensions. Without fire, there will be no exceptional leaders or fun to be had; without water, fewer people will be born and more will suffer and die needlessly; without air, science and society will stagnate and rule of law will be in peril; and without earth, poverty will be the fate for all but a few.

An elemental system aims to be complete and unbiased. It aims to develop every type of personality to its fullest potential. It aims to maximize all personally and socially beneficial and desirable outcomes. It can also do so by providing any student with a story that will make them a hero on their own journey toward the best version of whatever it is that they innately value the most. We have already figured this out, we have just forgotten. Now, we need to unfix what wasn’t broken in the first place.

If you’re interested in helping us develop this program further or in any other way make the world a better place, visit the Savingtheworldtogether.org website for more information or support me or the project on Patreon using the support links under this article or on our website.