Sunday, March 16, 2014

Education with an Holistic Perspective


Much of today's education is based on 19th century world-views emphasising reductionism, linear thinking and positivism that make it very difficult for learners to find meaning, relevance and value in school or life. In schools the result is often poor attendance, lack of motivation, lack of participation and poor behaviour - all of which make learning much more difficult.
Education should be meaningful for all learners. We need a learner centred education system built on the explicit assumptions of connectedness, wholeness and being fully human.
These are the attributes called for by the United Nations, and adopted by many preventative programs to combat depression, suicide and substance abuse by young people. They are the same attributes called for by UNESCO in its report Learning: The Treasure Within, for education for the 21st century that are critically important if countries in the Asia-Pacific are to have a meaningful place in the 21st century with healthy whole citizens.
The links on the right outline the need for a more holistic approach to education built on explicit assumptions of connectedness, wholeness and being fully human.

Section 1: Preferred Futures
Section 2: Paradigms or Memes: New Perspectives
Section 3: Living with Change
Section 4: Barriers to Life-long Learning
Section 5: A 21st Century World-View: Connectedness, Wholeness and Being
Section 6: What kind of education system is needed for the 21st century?
Section 7: What might a more Holistic Education look like?
Section 8: References & Reading

"A more 'soulful' education seeks to open the mind, warm the heart and awaken the spirit of each student. It would provide opportunities for students to be creative, contemplative, and imaginative. It allows time to tell old and new stories of heroes, ideals and transformation. It encourage students to go deep into themselves, into nature, and into human affairs. It values service to others and the planet.

A spiritualised curriculum values physical, mental and spiritual knowledge and skills. It presents knowledge within cultural and temporal contexts, rather than as facts to be memorised or dogma to be followed. It is integrative across all disciplines emphasising inter-relationship and inter-connectedness. It challenges students to find their own place in space and time, and to reach for the highest aspirations of the human spirit."

Education with an Holistic Perspective
  • is concerned with the growth of every person's intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative and spiritual potentials. It actively engages students in the teaching/learning process and encourages personal and collective responsibility.
  • is a quest for understanding and meaning. Its aim is to nurture healthy, whole, curious persons who can learn whatever they need to know in any new context. By introducing students to a holistic view of the planet, life on Earth, and the emerging world community, holistic strategies enable students to perceive and understand the various contexts which shape and give meaning to life.
  • recognises the innate potential of EVERY student for intelligent, creative, systemic thinking. This includes so-called "students-at-risk", most of whom have severe difficulties learning within a mechanistic reductionistic paradigm which emphasises linear, sequential processes.
  • recognises that all knowledge is created within a cultural context and that the "facts" are seldom more than shared points of view. It encourages the transfer of learning across separate academic disciplines. Holistic education encourages learners to critically approach the cultural, moral and political contexts of their lives.
  • values spiritual literacy (in a non-sectarian sense). Spirituality is a state of connectedness to all life, honouring diversity in unity. It is an experience of being, belonging and caring. It is sensitivity and compassion, joy and hope. It is the harmony between the inner life and the outer life. It is the sense of wonder and reverence for the mysteries of the universe and a feeling of the purposefulness of life. It is moving towards the highest aspirations of the human spirit.

The Holistic World View

The holistic world view has its roots in the new physics, systems thinking and ecology, holism and perennial philosophy. (See also Historical and Contemporary Influences on Holistic Education)

The New Physics - A Revolution in Physics...

drawing not loaded Between the 16th and 18th centuries there was a dramatic shift in the way people observed and thought about the Universe. This new system of thought was based on the philosophy of Rene Descartes who promoted a mathematical description of nature and the use of analytic thought - the Cartesian System. Descartes' vision was to give a precise and complete account of all natural phenomena with absolute mathematical certainty. To accomplish this he compared natural phenomena with machines. Descartes even drew parallels between a sick man and an ill-made clock.
Later Isaac Newton synthesised the works of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Descartes into a complete mathematical formulation of Nature - Newtonian Mechanics. Towards the end of the 19th century scientists believed that eventually all natural phenomena would be explained by reducing them to the motion and interaction of particles.

This reductionism led to the expectation that:
PHYSICS would eventually explain CHEMISTRY;
CHEMISTRY would explain BIOLOGY; and
Love, joy and courage had been reduced to
chemical reactions within the brain.

This view is still generally accepted even though we now know that the
application of Cartesian reductionism has severe limitations.

According to Paul Davies:

"The dawn of [the 20th] century heralded an explosion of ideas which shattered the cosy notions of reality that had endured for centuries. Many cherished beliefs and unquestioned assumptions were swept away. The old world view of a rational and mechanistic universe, ordered by rigid laws of cause and effect, collapsed into oblivion, to be replaced by a mystical world of paradox and surrealism."

The universe was no longer seen as a machine,
made up of a multitude of separate parts,
but as a harmonious indivisible whole;
a network of dynamic relationships that even included
the consciousness of the human observer in an essential way.

In atomic physics the sharp Cartesian division between mind and matter, between the observer and the observed, can no longer be maintained. In spite of this change to a holistic view within physics most contemporary thought is still based on implicit reductionistic and mechanistic assumptions of the 19th century (see below).
See also Newtonian and Quantum Thinking

Systems Thinking & Ecology...

Hol.gif (5979 bytes)
 According to Fritjof Capra, the Cartesian view of living organisms as machines, constructed from separate parts, still provides the dominant conceptual framework in biology. And much of psychology is based not only on the Cartesian world view but incorporates the basic concepts of Newtonian mechanics into most theoretical frameworks.

However the holistic perspective has not been entirely absent in these disciplines. A new way of thinking called "systems thinking" emerged during the first few decades this century in some schools of biology, psychology and in ecology.
Organismic biology for example emphasises the view of living organisms as integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of the smaller parts. Gestalt psychologists discovered that living organisms do not perceive things in terms of isolated elements but but in terms of integrated perceptual patterns. The famous saying 'the whole is more than the sum of its parts' was coined by gestalt psychologists.

Ecologists who focussed on the study of animal and plant communities observed networks of relationships - the web of life. They found a new way of thinking - thinking in terms of relationships, connectedness, context. According to Capra:
"We may call this ecological thinking, or systems thinking. It is based on the fundamental shift of perception from the world as a machine to the world as a living system. This shift concerns our perception of nature, of the human organism, and of society.

Systems thinking involves shifting our attention from the parts to the whole, from objects to relationships, from structures to processes, from hierarchies to networks. It also includes shifts of emphasis from the rational to the intuitive, from analysis to synthesis, from linear to nonlinear thinking."
(from Guide to Ecoliteracy, The Elmwood Institute)


Holism asserts that everything exists in relationship, in a context of connection and meaning -- and that any change or event causes a realignment, however slight, throughout the entire pattern. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” means that the whole is comprised of a pattern of relationships that are not contained by the parts but ultimately define them.
Holism, stands in stark opposition to the method of reductionism, which holds that analysis, dissection, and strict definition are the tools for understanding reality. Holism asserts that phenomena can never be fully understood in isolation; it asserts that reductionism can only give us a partial view of anything it dissects.  Holism is difficult to pin down precisely, because by its very nature it embraces paradox, mystery, and contradiction.

The Perennial Philosophy 

Perennial philosophy holds that all things are part of an indivisible unity or whole. In brief, the basic principles of perennial philosophy can be identified as follows:
  • There is an interconnectedness of reality and a fundamental unity in the universe.
  • There is an intimate connection between the individual’s inner or higher self and this unity.
  • In order to see this unity we need to cultivate intuition through contemplation and meditation.
  • Value is derived from seeing and realising the interconnectedness of reality.
  • The realisation of this unity among human beings leads to social activity designed to counter injustice and human suffering.
These principles have been articulated in different spiritual and intellectual traditions in both the east and the West.  In the West the perennial philosophy can be traced to early Greek times.   Source: Miller, Jack (1996) The Holistic Curriculum. OISE Press: Ontario

What are your assumptions?

1. (a) Thought is a product of brain activity.
(b) The universe is more like a thought than a thing.
2. (a) The universe does not exist for any purpose.
(b) Purpose is found everywhere within the universe.
3. (a) Most of the universe is dead.
(b) The universe is alive.
4. (a) Reality can be perceived through the five senses.
(b) There is an extra-sensory reality.
5. (a) Reasoning is the highest skill possessed by humans.
(b) Reason and intuition are equally valuable skills.
6. (a) We are probably the only intelligent life-form in the universe.
(b) There is probably intelligent life throughout the universe.
7. (a) We have a good understanding of our origin and evolution.
(b) We are only beginning to understand our origin and evolution.
8. (a) We are determined by our genetic inheritance and environment.
(b) We can transcend our genetic inheritance and environment.
9. (a) The only memories we have access to are our own.
(b) We are capable of collective or transpersonal awareness.
10. (a) Only the present moment exists.
(b) The past, present and future all exist at some level of reality.
11. (a) A coincidence is nothing more than a meaningless curiosity.
(b) A coincidence is a meaningful link between different events.
12. (a) A person who claims to have spontaneous spiritual experiences is probably mentally ill.
(b) Spontaneous spiritual experiences are the natural expression of the higher-self.
13. (a) Fulfilment is achieved when physiological and safety needs are satisfied.
(b) Fulfilment is achieved when physiological, safety, belonginess, self-esteem, self-actualization and self-transcendant needs are satisfied.
14. (a) Local events rarely have global consequences.
(b) Local events affect the entire universe.
15. (a) You can understand the whole by studying its parts.
(b) The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Most of the statements labelled 'a' are based on reductionistic materialistic
assumptions common in the 18th and 19th centuries.