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VALUES IN HOLISTIC EDUCATION

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VALUES IN HOLISTIC EDUCATION
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  For the Third Annual Conference on Education, Spirituality and the Whole Child at the Roehampton Institute, London; exploring the question, “Whose values are shaping education?” VALUES IN HOLISTIC EDUCATION The holistic education movement does not have a single source, a predominant  proponent, or a major form of expression. Consequently, it is difficult to define holistic education. However, there are a number of values and perceptions that most schools claiming to be holistic would embrace, and today I would like to mention some of these values and look especially at what gave rise to their popularity. I feel that what gave rise to their popularity is particularly important because it is a combination of new perceptions and values which seems to be something like an international grass roots movement – a movement which rejects many of the authorities as well as the values and perceptions of the immediate past. “Whose Values?” for holistic education, is a particularly relevant question. Today I will put forward the view of many holistic educators: that holistic education reflects and responds more fully than conventional education to a new and increasingly accepted view of what it means to be human as well as to much popular social criticism. For schools to ignore what seems to be a change in humanity’s view of itself is to risk having schools that try to prepare students for something they don’t  believe in; it is to risk having an educational system that is felt to be meaningless by the very population it wants to serve. For schools to have values and views of human nature different to those of its population is like asking a committed pacifist to attend a military academy. We see just this kind of dissonance frequently expressed in many of our schools whose populations come largely from some minority groups. These groups feel the conventional education their children are offered does not reflect their values and it ignores their views of who they feel they are. The large number of students presently disaffected with school must challenge us as educators to reflect whether these students feel a similar dissonance with the values and perspectives our schools promote. While some advocates claim that views central to holistic education are not new but are, in fact, timeless and found in the sense of wholeness in humanity’s religious impetus; others claim inspiration from Rousseau, Emerson, Pestalozzi, Froebel, and more recently Krishnamurti, Steiner, Montessori, Jung, Maslow, Rogers, Paul Goodman, John Holt, Ivan Illich, Paulo Freire. Still others feel that the views central to holistic education are the result of a cultural paradigm shift that began in the 1960’s. What is clear is that the values and the vision of humanity in the holistic education movement and which it promotes are increasingly popular. There are now at least seven thousand five hundred holistic schools 1  with more seeming to start every week. Unfortunately, the insights of this vision are often clouded by misty-eyed 1  A survey of alternative schools found almost 7500 schools but this writer knows of schools that are not in that list and there are without doubt many others. Jerry Mintz (ed.), The Handbook of Alternative  Education (New York: Macmillan, 1994).  Values in Holistic Education Scott H. Forbes 2 New Ageism, and a great deal that is valuable is dismissed because of this association. I will concentrate today on developments in the 1960’s and 1970’s that forced some of the ideas of holistic education onto centre stage because it was these developments that made the ideas so popular. The ecological crisis, the prospect of nuclear annihilation, chemical and radiation pollution, the breakdown of the family, the disappearance of traditional communities, and the disregard for traditional values and their institutions (e.g., the church), caused many people to question the direction of the modern western world and many of its central values. The consumer society was criticised in a way that seemed to be absent in the first sixty years of this century. 2  Even if some societies seemed able to continue their consumption from a local  perspective, the earth’s resources were beginning to be seen as finite; and a small  proportion of the world’s population consuming a disproportionate percentage of the earth’s resources was seen as unsustainable and destructive – ultimately it becoming a moral issue. Mechanistic utilitarian rationality (as scientific thinking was called by its critics) was acknowledged for its contribution to the creation of clever gadgets but blamed for uncontrolled economic and technical growth that seemed to swamp other human capacities. Because scientific thinking on its own lacked the non-rational (as opposed to irrational) or ‘supra-rational’ capacities of mind such as wisdom, intuition, appreciation for beauty and insight, it was seen as most commonly used to create  brilliant weaponry or unnecessary consumer goods. The ‘supra-rational’ capacities were seen as increasingly important in view of what unrestrained mechanical thought was producing. Small is Beautiful by Schumacher  3  and the works of Wendell Berry seemed to fly in the face of convention, yet made perfect sense to hundreds of thousands. The professional view of human nature was also changing drastically at this time. The Skinnerian view of a person as an electro-chemical stimulus-response machine (so helpful to the needs of governments during the war and so popular with those who saw conditioning of others as a solution to their own aspirations) was being rejected as only a very partial view of the mind. Behaviourism seemed more of a tool for exploiting people than for understanding them in any depth. In the wake of the many explorations into consciousness of the 1960’s, Freud’s very compartmentalised views of the mind lost popularity while Jung’s more open ended and mysterious understandings gained support. Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and R.D. Laing  became almost cult figures, and several new forms of psychology emerged that took the science of mind further and further away from the strictures of conventional measurable science. Gestalt therapy with its slogan “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” corresponded to the everyday common sense experience that many  people had of themselves. There seemed to be too much of us that is immeasurable 2 One commentator on the development of American culture said that “Americans changed from wanting to do good, to wanting to do well,” but this criticism could equally be levelled at many modern cultures. The great depression and the two world wars are seen as traumas that produced an extreme materialism in the survivors. 3 E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered   (London: Blond & Briggs, 1973).  Values in Holistic Education Scott H. Forbes 3and non-mechanical, if not ineffable. The view of mind as machine, while increasingly popular as a model of some thinking, especially that involving computers, 4  was seen as only a part of the mind’s functioning - usually the lesser part. Traditional nationalism and localism were also being challenged, and were seen as inadequate to meet the world’s realities. The ecological crisis is not a respecter of  political boundaries. The greenhouse effect, the depletion of the ozone layer, air and water pollution, radiation leaks, and the elimination of species and rain forests are  perhaps national or local in srcin but they are global in impact. People began to see that by serving national or local interests these problems could not even be understood, much less solved. The earth had to be seen as a whole, and Lynn Margulis’ and James Lovelock’s “Gaia Hypothesis” found wide and popular support. 5  Environmental interest went from being a gentleman/sportsman’s concern for conservation (usually to maintain hunting) to a critique of modern western thinking. The epistemology which claims to understand things by breaking them into their constituent parts was seen as not only unable to meet the problem, it was part of the  problem. Creating locally wanted conditions and looking only locally seemed often to  produce problems elsewhere that eventually became unwanted local conditions. “Wholism,” “whole earth ideas,” “wholefoods,” and “the whole child” described things that might not have always been fully examined but which seemed to many  people to make sense. People began to feel they needed to look at the global to see the local. Years after the Gaia Hypothesis, educators and ecologists like David Orr and Gregory Cajete suggested that seeing the interconnectedness of all things with nature as the foundation was the basis of a new mind that the world needed for its survival, and that the creation of this mind is the first responsibility of education. 6  Many people began saying that looking at “wholes” was necessary to understand other things as well; the economy (which had become global), human interchange (where satellites and computers had made the global village a reality), and cultures (which were increasingly international). It is not without reason that some nationalities like the French speak of cultural imperialism and find difficulty in countering a movement that is literally coming at them from all directions (even if the srcin seems to be Hollywood). The youth culture is global. The computer culture is global. Many modern cultural icons (such as media stars and products) are global. One doesn’t need to see the six foot tall blonde fashion models in Japan, or jeans-clad Marlboro-smoking teenagers in Mongolia, or Coca Cola drinking farmer’s wives in Uzbekistan to know this is true; the evidence is constantly before us. Many post-modern philosophers had been telling us we are socially constructed, but the society that was seen as constructing us had become an international one, and many of the values that were imbedded in this construction seemed alien to the places in which they were being lived. Many cultural institutions (like schools) assumed a local culture, but the culture of the young was not local, and the conflict between the young and the institutions that claimed to exist for them was painful for everyone. 4 A fascinating study of the way in which computer use has altered the way people see themselves can  be found in the book by Sherry Turkle, The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit   (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984). 5 James Lovelock,  Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979). 6 David Orr,  Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Post-modern World   (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992). Gregory Cajete,  Look to the Mountain: an ecology of indigenous education (Durango, Colorado: Kivaki Press, 1994)  Values in Holistic Education Scott H. Forbes 4 Looking at wholes (or what some scientists came to call the “systems approach”)  began to be seen as necessary for understanding even traditional disciplines. Respected scientists such as David Bohm, David Peat, Karl Pribram, and Ilya Prigogine were even insisting that seeing things as systems (or wholes within wholes) was a better way to understand their traditionally reductionist disciplines as well as most other things. They said that for the sake of convenience we can look at parts, but separated parts do not actually exist - there are no discrete bits of reality. Contrary to the way we had been thinking, we can’t understand the ‘more’ from the ‘less’ – the ‘more’ does not derive from the ‘less’. To understand anything necessarily involves understanding its relationships to larger wholes – the larger the whole and the more extensive the relationships that are understood, the truer the understanding. The extension of this thinking (and it extends by its very nature) to questions about general human existence resulted in these scholars becoming popular with readers who knew nothing of their professional disciplines. Many scientists in seeing the  particulars as inseparable from the larger context also felt they could not de-contextualize themselves; they as observers could not be separated from what they observed. In this many scientists found an interest in Krishnamurti who had for years  been exploring the relationship between the observer and the observed. Books and conferences linking science with religion appeared and became popular with people who before had not been interested in either of these subjects. People were excited by the possibility that two disciplines which had held truths that seemed mutually exclusive might be converging. Whether people were correct in thinking this is another question; but people felt new understandings were being reached that went  beyond the partial truths to which each discipline had previously been confined. The old dichotomies of head and heart, science and religion, beauty and function seemed to be about fragmentation and we needed to see things in larger wholes. ‘Truth’ needed to be unshackled from the claims of the traditional authorities. If education was to reflect this, then the traditional division between disciplines had to go, and the world needed to be understood from the largest possible wholes and not through the fragments. The extended seeing of wholes within wholes brought many to a religiosity that seemed inherent in the approach, and something that many holistic educators feel is fundamental to what they do. The largest whole; that which has relationships to everything; the ultimate ‘more’ from which all the ‘less’ derives was described as the absolute, the sacred or some form of ultimate order. There is remarkably little conflict amongst holistic educators on the details of this, itself an extraordinary break with tradition and something worth noting in view of the problems we have in our pluralist schools. The physicist David Bohm postulates an implicate order into which everything is enfolded and from which everything unfolds to be re-enfolded. 7  Many Depth Psychologists postulate a higher self which extends beyond the individual. While a few holistic educators refer to the soul or atman of traditional religions, most speak in terms of some universal order, or of common threads running through all religions, or archetypal mythologies, or what Aldous Huxley called “the perennial  philosophy”. 8  These timeless and perennially re-seen insights are said to have been 7 David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order   (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980). 8 Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy  (London: Chatto and Windus, 1946).  Values in Holistic Education Scott H. Forbes 5expressed differently in different times and places and so to have given rise to the different religions. These perennial truths are felt by some to be seen in their most unadulterated form in the religions of premodern cultures. 9  Hence the popularity of rediscovering indigenous religious traditions as though this was the finding of ancient lost religious truths. These rediscovered truths echoed the truths found in other areas: the oneness of all life (which seemed in accord with the Gaia Hypothesis); the importance of a person understanding his place in the community and the community’s place in the environment and in ever expanding circles to the environment’s place in the full order of things (which seemed to be in accord with systems thinking); and the emphasis on self knowledge (which seemed to be in accord with all therapeutic psychology). For many holistic educators, these perennial truths expressed in their general form rather than a particular cultural form was the key to the spirituality that they felt must  be part of every education. There is little argument in holistic education that there can not be an education of the whole child if there is no education in what is transcendent. And there is also little argument that cultural expressions of transcendence have been a source of millions of deaths in thousands of conflicts in history. The three hundred years of violence in Ireland between the Catholics and Protestants is just one example. For today’s pluralist world, arguments about whose expression of ‘truth’ is more correct are conflictual and might be in contradiction to the very ‘truths’ espoused. Many holistic educators feel that all expressions of ‘truth’ can only be partial and remaining with the most general expressions of ‘truth’ not only remains closer to the srcinal insight but helps people see for themselves beyond what is culturally bound to what might be timeless.   A sense of transcendence that remains generalised, inclusive, and therefore equally nurturing to all resonated with another pressing concern of the 1960’s and 1970’s – social justice. Religions (as particular expressions of transcendence) had frequently  been dominated by particular races, classes, castes, and/or gender as were most other aspects of most cultures. Particular religions (unless they made deliberate efforts to  promote social justice) were, therefore, seen as preserving the socially unjust social order. Some feminist historians and feminist anthropologists wrote convincingly that inclusiveness and equal nurturing had been characteristic of many cultures and religions in history and remained characteristic in some current pre-modern 9 The widespread assumption that some timeless wisdom can more easily be found in less sophisticated cultures has led many modern young people to seek meaning in their own lives in the native cultures of  North America, Africa, or Australia; a proposition that on the face of things seems ridiculous - how can a boy from Huddersfield find meaning in his life from the Arapaho? But this view that humanity has a common grounding in some universal truths is common and many books and movies with this theme are popular. For Example,  Black Elk Speaks  (Kansas: University of Nebraska Press, 1988). Contrast this with assumptions in “the white man’s burden” of not so very long ago. Even insights into how to raise our young are being sought from native cultures because of their supposedly superior wisdom. See Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept   (London: Duckworth, 1975) and (London: Penguin Books, 1986) and Forrest Carter, The Education of Little Tree  (New York: Delacorte Press, 1976).
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