Thursday, June 18, 2009

Educating for change

Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont
Photo: Goddard College

When Barack Obama won the U.S. presidency on the platform of change, it signaled how potent the notion of transformation could be: People in the U.S. and abroad itched for something new, an overhaul of business and government that could herald a sustainable 21st-century world. The question now is how to get there. That question has sparked a trend in academic institutions toward educating for change. Universities around the globe have proven eager to integrate sustainability into their curricula.

A recent survey in The Chronicle of Higher Education found that substantially more professors are interested in transforming their students into "agents of social change" than in teaching the Western classics. Increasingly, colleges are focusing on social activism and business schools on social innovation. The biennial survey Beyond Grey Pinstripes, performed by the New York-based Aspen Institute Center for Business Education, reveals that business schools are determined to emphasize ethics, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

At the same time, transformational learning (also known as the Integral or holistic education movement) continues to blossom. The idea is to approach all subjects from a variety of perspectives so education can better reflect the interconnectedness of the modern world. Couple this with the rising tide of life coaches who work with individuals and corporations to inspire more meaningful ways of living, and you arrive at a compelling portrait of how critical change is to education in the 21st century.

Business schools

With the global economy in tatters, the business sector is under fire for short-sightedness and exploitation of the public good. Injecting more transparency into the system, along with increased regulation and emphasis on social and environmental return, now seems critical for future success. Business schools have taken the lead in preparing their students for such challenges. Many have started programs geared toward sustainability and reform.

Saïd Business School, Oxford, U.K.
Photo: Saïd Business School

Norwich Business School in the U.K. has launched an MBA program in strategic carbon management. The Waltham, Massachusetts-based Brandeis University International Business School recently announced a "Global Green MBA" to teach students to build sustainable businesses in a global marketplace. The Saïd Business School at Oxford University in the U.K. has welcomed the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship into its fold. INSEAD in Fontainbleau, France, the Ngee Ann Polytechnic School in Singapore and Keio University in Japan have followed suit with social-education centers.

With the slogan, "Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world," the Stanford School of Business in Palo Alto, California, perennially ranks as the most sustainably oriented MBA program in the U.S. Its Center for Social Innovation (CSI) focuses on how business can drive public benefit and redress global problems. The school enables students to take summer internships with social purpose, runs a popular Board Fellows program to match students with leading San Francisco Bay Area non-profits and in 2009 introduced a Social Innovation Fellowship that will provide financial and strategic support to students launching social-interest ventures.

Kriss Deiglmeier, executive director of operations at CSI, says even before the economic crisis, students were increasingly interested in aligning personal ethics with professional goals. Ninety percent of the student body now takes at least one course at the Center, and 20 percent graduates with certificates in corporate responsibility. "The world has changed," says Deiglmeier. "We have global problems that need to be addressed, and MBA programs have the responsibility to educate leaders so that they can be. Stanford is trying to lead the way."

Launched in 2003, The Presidio School of Management in San Francisco, California, has distinguished itself for its MBA in Sustainable Management. Here the emphasis is on teaching business with an eye to all forms of capital: human, natural and financial. Students learn about the "integrated bottom line," which incorporates issues like climate change, energy efficiency and social good into traditional subjects. The School offers both full- and part-time MBAs, as well as a five-month Executive Program that exposes executives to the field of sustainability and encourages them to rethink their assumptions. In all programs, teachers integrate traditional classroom lectures with innovative online learning tools.

"The reality is that issues like climate change, energy efficiency, social responsibility... these are things that every business has to navigate now, and those that understand it are at a great competitive advantage," says Diane Mailey, senior vice president for business development and planning. "Our curriculum is designed to prepare our students to be leaders for these 21st-century challenges."

Undergraduate programs

The New School, New York City
Photo: Grant Hutchinson

Liberal arts education provides students with a framework for understanding the breadth of the modern world and how to go about positively impacting it. History, philosophy, literature, music—all can both illuminate the past and enlighten one’s path into the future. Still, the notion of going out and making a positive change in the world can be ambiguous. These days some undergraduate programs are going a step further to make the idea of change concrete.

The New School in New York City, perhaps best known for its fashion design school, Parsons, aims to inspire its students "to bring actual, positive change into the world." In the case of the Eugene Lang College, that means preparing students for lives of social activism, whether they be political, artistic, academic or otherwise. The college emphasizes both the rigor of a classical education—as Dean Neil Gordan puts it, "I like to tell my students the most radical thing they can do is go into the classroom and read Homer"—and the importance of getting out and learning in the modern world.

The college runs a program in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where students volunteer in an orphanage while learning from a Eugene Lang professor about the history of the Khmer Rouge. Other examples include working with the homeless in New York while studying the economics of homelessness or with local synagogues while studying the history of anti-Semitism. "The tools of literacy, of writing, of communication, of historical awareness, of erudition, all of that is really important," says Gordan. "But that’s the theory; now the question is, What’s the practice? That’s why we put such an emphasis on education through civic engagement."

The School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C., was founded by Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s to encourage students to think beyond the U.S.-Soviet rivalry and become a force for positive change in the world. The college continues to thrive. Each year, 1,500 undergraduates enroll in a school intended to prepare them for a career in international service, whether it be in the public, private or nonprofit sector. All subjects are taught through a multi-disciplinary approach. Virtually every student on campus spends time abroad and has command of at least two languages.

Louis Goodman, the School’s dean, says, "This concept of change is something that’s always been attractive to students that come to our school. The difference is that there are many, many more students who are explicitly interested in what we’re doing each year. I like to call this new generation ‘pragmatic idealists.’ They are people who want to change the world but want to be pragmatic in their approach. It’s our job to show them how." In addition to its offerings at the bachelor’s level, the School of International Service has renowned master’s and doctoral programs.

The United States Institute of Peace works to promote international peace-building and conflict resolution in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in schools. The Institute has partnered with universities in Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq to create safe places for debate that model a peaceful society. At the University of Kabul, the Institute has sponsored Afghanistan’s first international peer review journal. In the U.S., the Institute works with universities and high schools to craft a strategy for teaching peace-building and conflict resolution. A major focus is community colleges, where 48 percent of American undergraduates receive their higher education, and where, thanks to the Institute, peace studies programs are blossoming.

"If you really want to create a culture of peace in this society, and you really want to change people’s attitudes, you should be going to a community college," says David Smith, senior program officer at the Institute’s Education and Training Center. "You shouldn’t just be focusing on people going into law and medicine. Teaching peace to the people going out as construction workers and mechanics and police officers and nurses, that’s how you’re going to change society, and community colleges are picking up on that."

Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Palo Alto, California
Photo: Institute of Transpersonal PPsychology

Transformational education

The practice of teaching personal transformation while exploring the mind, body and spirit used to be associated with crystal balls and incense. Now it’s a serious field. Think tanks and universities have injected academic rigor into an approach that merges East and West, the cerebral with the corporal. California is a hub of the movement. The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto uses integrative, whole-person learning to train clinicians, spiritual guides, wellness caregivers and consultants. Nestled in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Sacramento, California, Ananda College offers students a liberal arts education with an emphasis in fields like living wisdom and yoga philosophy. Alternative energy and sustainable living are also part of the curriculum.

Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco offers master’s and doctoral degrees in humanistic psychology, as well as concentrations in humanistic and transpersonal psychology, consciousness and spirituality and social transformation. The Great School of Natural Science in Stockton, California, instructs students in the natural science and philosophy of an individual life, based on the texts of John Richardson, distilled from Eastern and mystical philosophies. And for those interested in online degrees, the California-accredited Hawthorn University uses online resources and a full-time faculty to train students in holistic nutrition.

Outside of California, Colorado’s Integral Institute is a think tank where teachers cultivate solutions to distinctly 21st-century problems—like global warming and culture wars in political, religious and scientific domains—solutions that hinge on an integrated, post-disciplinary approach. At Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, students are encouraged to explore intellectual enlightenment without the pressure of grades. The school offers graduate-level concentrations in consciousness studies and transformative language arts, as well as undergraduate degrees in sustainable business and interdisciplinary arts. This September, the school will sponsor the Power of Words Conference, where leading thinkers explore how written, spoken and sung words can deepen healing and foster transformation. Organized by the Transformative Language Network, the conference will include Dovie Thomason, an award-winning Native American storyteller, and John Fox, the founder of Poetic Medicine.

In South Florida, the Barbara Brennan School of Healing teaches students the art of hands-on energy healing and personal transformation. Students can earn a Bachelor of Science degree or a diploma in Brennan Healing Science. In Warren, Vermont, the Yestermorrow Design/Build School aims to inspire practicing professionals and students in architecture to transform the world through better, more sustainable building. Classes aim to demystify design and construction so architects and builders can create more cohesive, inspired structures.

More untraditional are the Dance of the Deer Foundation, Star’s Edge International and the Celebrant USA Foundation. Dance of the Deer Foundation is a center for shamanic studies that leads participants on retreats and seminars around the world for lessons in healing prayers of the Huichol Indians. Star’s Edge International, based in Altamonte Springs, Florida, trains students in a self-discovery course dubbed "Avatar," a series of exercises that enable students to align their consciousness with what they want to achieve. Finally, the Celebrant USA Foundation in Montclair, New Jersey, trains students in the art of celebration. Certified "Life-Cycle Celebrants" use ceremony to mark the milestones and transitions in the lives of individuals, families, communities and organizations.

The California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, California, is a university that aims to connect the spiritual and practical dimensions of intellectual life. That means grounding the mind, body and spirit in scholarship, research and knowledge. The Institute trains the largest number of marriage and family therapists in the country and offers doctoral, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees in counseling psychology, transformative education, integral health and more. Regardless of subject matter, the emphasis is on post-disciplinary education: removing traditional academic pursuits from their silos and teaching them in the context of a complex, interconnected world.

Thus at the Institute, in place of the traditional English or history departments, one finds a department of philosophy, cosmology and consciousness and another in writing, consciousness and creative inquiry. "Our education is transformative," says the president of the Institute, Joseph Subbiondo. "It’s about changing yourself and changing the world through post-disciplinary study. We want to educate the whole person, and believe this sort of education is critical in the modern world."

Similarly, The Big Mind Western Zen Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, uses a blend of Zen Buddhist meditation and Western psychotherapy techniques to help students more deeply understand and appreciate their lives, the world and the relationships they pursue. Zen Master Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi, a New York City native, heads the program and orchestrates one- to two-day workshops as well as weekly sessions known as the Big Mind Big Heart approach to life. The goal is to teach students how to transform their lives and attain inner peace and heightened life wisdom. Big Mind Big Heart can also be used at home by way of DVDs, audio CDs, books and Zen Eye, an online download service that allows students to follow Genpo Roshi’s live lecture sessions on Zen, Big Mind, koans and meditation.

Nestled on 200 acres near the Hudson River in Rhinebeck, New York, the Omega Institute is one of the nation’s premier sources for wellness and personal-growth training. Each year more than 23,000 people venture to Rhinebeck for the institute’s workshops, conferences and retreats. A non-profit organization, Omega aims to inspire people to live healthier, happier, more meaningful lives. Attendees are encouraged to integrate body, mind and spirit, to listen to the needs of each and act in a way that begets wholeness and balance. The institute was founded in the late 1970s and has helped usher the integrative-health movement—and the ideas of personal transformation and individual consciousness—from the fringes to the mainstream. The faculty still includes co-founders Elizabeth Lesser, who wrote The Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure, and Stephan Rechtschaffen, author of Timeshifting: Creating More Time to Enjoy Your Life.

Life coaches

Like transformation education, life coaching has boomed in recent years. The practice aims to transform individuals and corporations into harmonious, inspired beings. The International Coach Federation (ICF) represents more than 8,000 professional coaches in 30 countries. More than 250 coaching schools have cropped up around the world, 44 of which are accredited by the ICF. One of the most popular is iPEC Coaching based in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, which offers classes in most major U.S. cities and teaches coaches how to unlock human potential through the Core Energy Coaching process.

Success Unlimited Network, or SUN, is a network of life coaches who help clients identify and pursue their life purposes. Clients are introduced to various games—like the Results Game, which helps them track their daily purposefulness, and the Well-Being Game, which introduces them to a simple process for monitoring fulfillment and satisfaction—that over the course of five-month programs help them transform their lives. Started in London in 1981, SUN is one of the oldest life coach programs around. In the U.S. since 1987, it offers face-to-face programs as well as phone coaching and cybercoaching. The Network also runs the SUN Coach Training and Certification program for aspiring coaches.

The Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, California, has a similar emphasis on personal transformation. As the world’s largest life coaching school, it has trained more than 20,000 coaches, including many former entrepreneurs and educators. Many graduates go on to executive coaching, working with corporations to make employees more content and productive. Others work with individuals, many of whom are looking to break free of the corporate mold.

Carrie Radovich, a life coach in San Francisco, tries to empower both. A former marketing and sales manager with Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago and Fortune magazine in San Francisco, she got burned out in the wake of the dot-com boom and realized she was more interested in developing people than companies. Now she coaches firms like American Express, Gap and Merrill Lynch as well as individuals searching for more meaningful lives. "This idea of people from an early age having an awareness that they want to be of service and don’t want to be a cog in the wheel, I’m amazed by it," says Radovich. "It’s typically the older generations, those in their thirties, forties and fifties, who feel stuck in corporate America. Even if they yearn for that same sense of purpose, they need coaching on how to get there."