"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything
without losing your temper or your self-confidence."
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
Prologue: The Greater Whole
Learning, Schools and Humanity
Aspects of Our Character
Levels of Humanity
Adding the Missing Layers
Institutions and Self-Direction
Towards Intrinsic Education
Embracing Holarchic Education
"Dealing with wholes requires specific methodologies. The kinds of methods required emerge from the qualities natural to whole systems. General Systems Theory and the Systems Sciences mark humans' developing ability to study phenomena in a holistic way."
About Holistic Knowing and Thinking
Intrinsic education relates to the whole person, as a complete, holistic, entity. It brings together all the systemic and extrinsic capabilities of the child, which comprise a collection of disjoint abilities, and evaluates how they contribute and balance as a whole. This form of education recognises that different parts of any complex whole always interact, mostly in nonlinear ways, they cannot be treated as independent variables. Holarchic education takes this a stage further and considers how each intrinsic whole relates to all the other intrinsic wholes which comprise our societies and environments. It applies the methods of 'holarchic valuation' to our schooling and considers how the education we give suits our needs as inhabitants of a complex planet, how our education relates to sustainability, to diversity, to tolerance, to balance and to wisdom in the way in which we approach others and view ourselves in context. It is a worldview that regards, from a complex adaptive systems science (CAS) perspective, the whole world as one, as a seamless totality.
In contrast to these two new modes of education, we have two further lesser modes that influence most of our current educational behaviours. One of these (which axiologists label a 'systemic' valuation mode, not to be confused with 'systems thinking' !), is bipolar education which is based upon dualism and clear distinctions. In this mode only two answers are possible to any question, 'true' or 'false', thus all issues are forced into one or the other of these categories. This mode, based upon Artistotelian logic, is deeply ingrained within philosophy and academia at all levels, and its net effect is to engender division and conflict. The second mode is extrinsic education, which allows for variability (measurement) in our answers, as in scientific formulae, but this mode tends to concentrate upon one issue at a time, single dimensions of reality treated as if they were completely independent from one another. This is the mode used within our academic specialisms, where each subject is treated separately and where different ideas and quantifications within each subject area also stand alone.
"I am entirely certain that twenty years from now we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive."
John W. Gardner, No Easy Victories, 1968
What is the purpose of education ? Why do we send our kids to school for a decade or more ? What is 'lifelong learning' ? In modern educational systems it often seems that all learning must relate to being 'employable', in other words that the whole purpose of our life is to make profit for someone else, i.e. effectively a form of 'economic slavery'. This view of 'education' as a form of vocational training (dog like) for lifelong toil (at public expense !), is anathema to any view of a child as a human being. Given a changing world, such specific training is more or less redundant, even by the time the child leaves school, hence the supposed need for 'lifelong learning', for 'workers' forever to be playing 'catch-up' to corporate whim... Such an obviously inadequate one-dimensional educational purpose must thus be strongly rejected, and we must re-evaluate both what we teach and what effect it has on the fitness of the child, and later adult, in our now global society.
"A wise system of education will at least teach us how little man yet knows, how much he has still to learn... If we succeed in giving the love of learning, the learning itself is sure to follow."
Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913), The Pleasures of Life
If we state that the purpose of education is to make us a better person, in other words it must fit in with the psychological structures and activities of each individual, then we can define 'better' in complexity terms as more fit. In this way we can then ask in what way does each of our school subjects contribute to improvements in the child's overall fitness, measured in terms of both depth and breath, and evaluated both historically and in terms of future possibilities. We can also ask which aspects of education are still missing, which aspects of the human multidimensional and multicultural personality are neglected in our approaches to teaching (pedagogies), both for children and adults ?
"Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know;
it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave."
John Ruskin (1819-1900)
Many of the more obvious abilities that we possess as children relate to explicit factors, e.g. we can climb trees, run, jump, throw and catch a ball. These aspects of our learning have direct relevance to operating in an external world. They include social skills and behavioural responses within our co-evolutionary environment. They can often be measured by simple stimulus/response pairings, i.e. they are easily visible objectively, e.g. toss the ball - did she catch it ?
But not all our abilities are quite so obvious, these more implicit skills include our cognitive functions, our emotions, our values, our sensory discrimination. Such functions also include our associations, our abstracting abilities, our imagination. This layer of humanity comprises most of what are called the 'higher mental functions', those abilities that set us apart from the lesser animals. Let us now look more closely at these issues, those abilities that we require to meet our metaneeds.
"Grub first, then ethics."
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)
For each individual, survival is a major need. Our abilities here concern what we have called the 'primal needs', the basic necessities of life, like food, water, air and warmth. These largely relate to the physical world, and we can imagine each individual needing to learn such survival skills in more primitive times. Today of course, although the need is the same, the abilities we require to just survive as humans within our societies are somewhat different, and lie largely outside what we consider as 'educational' priorities. It is assumed that parents or carers will do whatever is necessary to meet these needs in our children.
"Sophisticated readers will be well aware of the hazards of theory-making in this field. It is all too easy to be seduced by single principles, or by partial perspectives, including those congenial to our own cultural biases or ideological class interests. It is notoriously difficult to bridge between microsocial and macrosocial approaches, or between the materialist and idealist traditions. Above all, it is difficult to make a truly dynamic account of social and cultural systems, since most of our traditional concepts (individuals, institutions, cultures, societies, languages, discourses) are formulated in essentially static terms."
Jay Lemke, Discourse, Dynamics and Social Change, 1990
Education is not entirely however about the individual, it contains many aspects of cultural continuity, of sensitising the child to its social history, to other people, to the norms of behaviour expected, to the institutions and procedures necessary to live within its immediate social environment and political structures. A good education here would emphasise not only what these issues are, but would instil a critical sensibility to them such that both the good and bad aspects of current social behaviours can be understood, along with the long and short term effects of any alternative choices and possible improvements on the whole multi-level ecosocial system.
"There has been an unspoken agreement that economic growth and technological innovation exhaustively define progress. As such, ecological problems are addressed through a host of ad hoc measures... While such projects are to be encouraged, they all happen, apparently without contradiction, alongside programs designed to increase our nation's competitiveness in an extractive global economy. Such contradictions belie the attitude that ecological threats are not traceable to fundamental philosophical inadequacies, such as a human-nature dualism and a fragmented way of knowing that seeks dominion over our environment. Education is still considered a strictly social process that takes place essentially apart from and in opposition to the non-human environment... An ecological educational theory offers hope of reconnecting our many educational concerns while resolving contradictions that undermine the very purpose of education."
Paul Morgan, Reconceiving the Foundations of Education: An Ecological Model, 1996
Humans do not live, and never have, in isolation from the planet itself, nor from all the other creatures that exist therein, many of which are essential to provide those environmental services necessary to support human life. Thus our education needs to instil awareness of these issues, in the effects of pollution, resource usage and ecosystem diversity, those issues relating to the sustainability of our environment and of our lifestyles themselves. But we must go further, and determine if what we teach and how we teach it actually comprises the problem, in other words if we only have an ecological crisis today because of how we taught the earlier generations of kids who now, as adults, exploit our planet.
"Learning is weightless...
Treasure you always carry easily."
One of the chief differences however between humans and the other creatures on the planet
concerns our ability to divorce ourselves from the world around us, to exist in a 'fantasy' world,
a world of the shared mind. In this world, we invent ideas that have no physical reality, ideas
like mathematics, like religions. These abstract or spiritual ideas guide much of our educational
behaviours, we seem to prefer to teach in a manner that has as little connection to the pupil's physical reality as we can manage. The benefits and drawbacks of this divorce of 'know what' from 'know how' in teaching still needs considerable consideration and debate.
"What is learned in high school, or for that matter anywhere at all, depends far less on what is taught than on what one actually experiences in the place."
Edgar G. Friedenberg, The Dignity of Youth and Other Atavisms
Humans are complicated creatures, and our experiences involve many dimensions of knowledge. How we classify these is something of an open question, so our treatment here will simply highlight those aspects that seem especially important to us. We can evaluate educational ideas in terms of how far they focus upon, ignore, or even suppress these aspects of a child's personality.
"Conditional versus Unconditional self-worth: The essence of Brian's problem was his belief that his self-worth depended on being successful and fulfilling his image of a 'minimally ok' person. He knew that no matter how successful his business was, it could fail. He had seen it happen to others. Therefore, he could never feel that his self-worth was safe."
Tom G. Stevens, You Can Choose To Be Happy, Ch5, 1998
Being human is special. No other creature on this planet has such a wide range of abilities, such imagination, such creativity. Denying this worth is soul destroying, perhaps more than any other form of abuse. Being treated as if we were of no importance is the biggest insult that one person can give to another, and being regarded as 'worthless' unless we are 'successful' educationally or in later life, is little better. People that are treated worst than we treat animals will behave as such, a trained dog has greater potential. Central to any educational endeavour then is our commitment to bring out our children's potential and not to crush it, not to mutilate that spark that always exists when a child starts school - but which so rarely survives that experience...
"It is not possible to spend any prolonged period visiting public school classrooms without being appalled by the mutilation visible everywhere - mutilation of spontaneity, of joy, of learning, of pleasure in creating, of sense of self."
Charles E. Silberman, Crisis in the Classroom, 1970
What is of crucial importance to us is what defines who we are. Developing our potential relates to exploring what we can do, what we prefer and how we see ourselves in relation to our social environment. It establishes our uniqueness as a person, our ability to step aside from the crowd, to criticise the status-quo and to defend our own viewpoint. Self-confidence gives us the ability to stand up for ourselves, to be true to who we are, yet also to be open to change, to developing and refining our growing sense of 'self'. It relates also to taking responsibility for our own actions and for the effects of these on other people and on our environment.
In education this relates to listening to the child, allowing them to express their own point of view and avoiding the attitude that 'authority always knows best'. Children have different experiences to those of their teachers, the age-gap ensures it, so any teaching can be regarded as potentially mismatched to the real child. By paying attention to what they say a good teacher can learn as much from the children as they do from him or her, and this will in itself improve the child's self-confidence and self-esteem.
"Effective learning means arriving at new power, and the consciousness of new power is one of the most stimulating things in life."
Janet Erskine Stuart, Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart
Freedom means choices, and choices require that we have the power to make them. Every constraint that we impose on children reduces their power, their choices and their freedoms. Every form of external control that we permit disempowers us. Children are, naturally, often ignorant about the negative effects of their actions, we are right of course in stopping them putting their hands into a fire, or walking under a bus, but the ways in which we do this are often crass and bullying, and we far too often take the easy way out by using force and not knowledge to prevent what we fear occurring.
How we guide children is central in building their character, bullying builds resentment, and resentment builds hate. This is true regardless of who is doing the bullying: parents, teachers, politicians, bureaucrats or their own peer group. We must consider, when making any 'rules' just who they really benefit. It often is not the children ! Every rule prevents growth, it prevents experimentation, it prevents learning by trial and error, it prevents 'education'. It constrains the child's search space, their avenues of experience and thus in every case has a certain negative effect, regardless of what positive intentions may be behind it. Good intentions so often tend to lead to bad outcomes, especially when such knock-on effects are ignored.
"To associate with other like-minded people in small purposeful groups is for the great majority of men and women a source of profound psychological satisfaction."
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Beyond the Mexique Bay
Nobody wishes to be isolated, alone, ignored. We all crave respect, companionship, a place in our society. Whether we get this in terms of family, gangs, fan clubs or whatever matters not, the need for a commonality with other humans meets a deep need within us, a need that is largely destroyed by the 'competitive spirit', the 'me' against 'them' striving for superiority so endemic in much educational practice, as well as in life. Such behaviours ignore synergy, that mutual advantage within groups that is central to real achievement and which is recognised, subconsciously perhaps, whenever we associate with others.
By allowing children to work together on group goals we can try to avoid the more negative effects inherent in our sense of 'progress', our natural tendency to measure one child against another and to ignore the social dimension of learning. Ultimately every child must become a part of society, they will form part of many different social groupings over time, some obligatory, some voluntary, and bringing out those interpersonal skills needed to enable them to do this successfully is a role schools are well placed to undertake.
"The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things."
Plato (427-347 BCE)
Delight in the novel is seen in children everywhere. They enjoy being surprised, and this is of course central to the arts, that collection of one-off, individualistic creations, that forms much of the beauty in our world. Allowing our children to express themselves creatively, to produce their own forms of novelty, is one of the main reasons we teach the various forms of the 'arts'.
Nature contributes to beauty with its own selection of delights, in landscapes, seascapes and the extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna. New 'discoveries' are central to this aspect within education also, whether in the beauty of an elegant mathematical theorem or an imaginative new approach to what we thought we knew, those 'eureka' moments or 'peak experiences' that occur when we finally 'get it'.
"The child should love everything that he learns, for his mental and emotional growths are linked. Whatever is presented to him must be made beautiful and clear, striking his imagination. Once this love has been kindled, all problems confronting the educationalist will disappear"
Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential, 1948
Humanity is not however just about intellect, nor just the interplay of this with sensory experience. We have a third major aspect to our lives and that is our emotions. These form the basis of our value systems, and thus of our actual behaviour. What we do often depends more on how we feel than on what we think. Such drives are often subconscious and automatic, but nethertheless are vitally important to our motivations. Without positive emotional support from the child many of our attempts at education are likely to be just so much wasted effort.
It is rather sad that this aspect of education is so badly neglected, we often behave as if kids should not express any emotions in school, and we ignore all their values in favour of the ones 'educationalists' think important. Feelings are important however for learning itself, it has been shown that what we remember is closely tied up with our emotional involvement, we remember best what makes us feel good (or bad!) and we should take this into account in our educational theory.
"Children are notoriously curious about everything - everything except... the things people want them to know. It then remains for us to refrain from forcing any kind of knowledge upon them, and they will be curious about everything."
Floyd Dell (1887-1969), Were You Ever a Child ?
Very few children do not have curiosity, a desire for new knowledge. This relates to expanding our capability, learning new skills, new subjects, new possibilities. This not only concerns expanding our depth (detailed knowledge of a subject) but also our width (range of subjects), adding new metaneeds to our humanity, new emergent dimensions of being. It should be noted however that such growth relates also to the changing balances amongst our values, not just to adding new layers. Humans do not have fixed desires, but desires that vary with time, both in the short term (day-to-day needs) and over the longer term (the replacement of childish 'wants' with different adult preferences). Children are easily bored however, so this need for variety should be built-in to our educational structures in some way.
"The first duty of society is to give each of its members the possibility of fulfilling his destiny. When it becomes incapable of performing this duty it must be transformed"
Alexis Carrel (1873-1944), Reflections on Life
Growth is however not only personal, but when it occurs in conjunction with others it becomes social. This synergic dimension is often ignored and relates to those novel behaviours that are only possible if one is a member of a group, when we need other people to adopt other roles in order to help us enjoy new functions, i.e. by joint co-operative behaviours. Team sports are a good example here and this aspect brings in the values of trust and honesty. If we cannot trust people to do what we expect them to do, to contribute and play their 'part', or to tell us what they plan to do without deceit, then little or no social structure seems possible. Selfishness destroys cooperation and thus loses all the advantages of a shared existence. Exploring what we can do better with others than we can do alone is another essential aspect of education.
"Social capital refers to those stocks of social trust, norms and networks that people can draw upon to solve common problems. Networks of civic engagement, such as neighborhood associations, sports clubs, and cooperatives, are an essential form of social capital, and the denser these networks, the more likely that members of a community will cooperate for mutual benefit."
Carmen Sirianni & Lewis Friedland, Social Capital, 1995
Reciprocity is crucial in our social interactions, if we expect to be treated well then we must treat others well. This relates to empathy, sympathy, mutual help and the ability to put oneself in the other person's shoes, to see the world from their point of view. It relates to not hurting friends, to looking after siblings and the needy, to having a community spirit. Extending this to people we don't know, especially to those who have different beliefs, is much harder, but in a highly inter-connected world failure to do so engenders much destructive behaviour. This aspect of 'social capital' is important to any form of education that purports to go beyond the individual.
"The sentiment of justice is so natural, so universally acquired by all mankind, that it seem to be independent of all law, all party, all religion."
Equality of treatment seems to be a need close to our heart. This relates both
to democracy, one person one vote, and to equal opportunities for all. In other
words, no person should be privileged or disadvantaged by issues not under
their own control. Even children have a strong inherent sense of injustice, if, say, they are
punished for something they didn't do. This sense of fairness needs to be reflected in any
educational setting, both in the treatment of kids by teachers and in their attitudes to each other.
Punishments, if any, should therefore 'fit the crime', being appropriate to the scale of the so-called
'offence' and related to educational effects, not to irrelevant side issues.
"Character is a perfectly educated will."
To start to analyse the relationship between such aspects of our character and knowledge, we can, somewhat arbitrarily, divide up humans into several layers, of increasing ability and value, for example:
"A learned fool is one who has read everything,
and simply remembered it."
Josh Billings (1818-1885)
All these layers are needed for what we can call a fully human education, so let us treat them in turn and see how our educational systems meet these issues and what we can possibly do better.
"I dreamed a thousand new paths...
I woke and walked my old one"
Many of our more automatic responses are subconscious, we do not know how we execute them. For example walking, breathing, changing heart rates. These are innate skills, instigated genetically and sometimes honed by experience. Educationally our early years add many other skills, for example ball control, speaking, skipping, riding a bike. Our formal schooling can add still more, carpentry, cooking, writing and so on; even reading, spelling, adding up, reciting poetry, singing or playing music all qualify in terms of abilities whose detailed makeup is unknown and which usually appear on demand from some unknown source, i.e. they end up pre-programmed like those skills of a robot.
If therefore we already encourage such skills in our schools then we must consider whether the ones we choose to focus upon are necessary, sufficient or adequate. In other words we can ask which automatic skills does a fully developed human need during his or her lifetime, and is school to best place to acquire all these ? The answer to the last question must be a qualified no, there is certainly not enough time to learn all those skills we may need later in life in just the few years of our formal education, so we need to consider which skills schools are best placed to impart, and which are more appropriately learned in other ways, e.g. 'on the job'.
If we can only focus upon a few educationally targeted skills, then we should concentrate on the more general ones, i.e. those that are most useful in our social life and are available to everyone. The traditional reading, writing and arithmetic (the 3 R's) certainly will qualify here, they form the basis for enabling much of our later education, within and beyond school, and are of course central to day-to-day living and communication with others, but we can ask, what else should be included, and at what grade should these skills be taught ?
How are these sort of skills currently met in our educational systems ? Quite well in fact. Perhaps too well. Many of our educational techniques concentrate on such issues. Repetition, teaching by rote, is a major feature of early education and perhaps of too much later education also. This technique is similar to that used in artificial neural networks, i.e. provide enough 'worked examples' (trials) and the student (or brain) will be able to do the task eventually in his or her sleep... This is a 'practice makes perfect' form of traditional pedagogy, but has difficulties in dealing with anything really new.
"When you have to make as choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice."
William James (1842-1910)
Our second category concerns our ability to choose between two or more options. This requires some form of valuation, some way of rating the available choices and deciding to act out one of them. This may be as simple a form as random choice, but we will assume that we have an emotional drive towards one option rather than others, a bias or preference amongst the choices which prioritises one (at any particular time). In computer terms this would correspond to an 'If ... Then...' statement, a bifurcation in program flow. A collection of these would implement a flowchart or algorithm in computing terms.
Many of these choices will, over time, become implicit, they will merge into the subconscious and then act automatically in the appropriate circumstances. For example, suppose we are walking to school and come to a cross-roads. Our direction or choice is no longer evaluated, we simply follow the direction we always take, our choices have become routine, we are no longer even aware that we make them - we run on 'autopilot' or habit. In this sense the choice is part of the 'now', an instant embedded reaction to current events and context. This form of choice is learnt largely by a trial and error process, if we make the wrong choice then the feedback from our environment or teachers (failure) inhibits us making the same choice in future. The right choices are reinforced in turn by any successes.
"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Trade Mart in Dallas, November 22, 1963
The next category relates to instigating a new choice, to generating change rather than simply following already present options. This is a form of leadership, even if the only person we are leading is ourselves. In other words we are talking about autonomy, a goal driven (or teleological) person able to bypass to some extent our external conditioning, thus making deliberate choices. This brings in the concept of meaning or semantics, in asking what are we trying to achieve, and this is central to any educational stance. If we are to educate kids to instigate actions on their own, then we need to be sure which goals they should be encouraged to adopt as driving forces to their actions.
"Education… has produced a vast population able to read
but unable to distinguish what is worth reading."
G. M. Trevelyan (1876-1962)
Are we, in formal education, trying to achieve what the individual wants, what society wants, what politicians want, what humanists want, what money men want, what some other pressure groups want ? The answers to these questions strongly bias our educational practices and this deserves much thought. In truth, all of these aspects will have an influence, but for this level we should concentrate on the needs of the individual as a human being. Clearly we wish to go beyond the robot and computer metaphors here, we should not be trying to program kids to 'obey' their owners, or to act for the benefit of any 'owner', however defined.
We wish children to think for themselves, to pursue their own ends, to be autonomous. But we can surely then ask what ends will they already have, prior to formal education ? These will be limited, far fewer than are possible or desirable as adults (possibly largely restricted to what we have called 'primal needs'), so a major concern will be to expand this level, to introduce children to new issues, new thought patterns, new subjects, novelty. It is here that the experience of teachers and culture both come into play, since it is from these sources that children can learn about the possibility of new choices - if we can but allow them to make them !
"If leadership does not mean coercion in any form, if it does not mean controlling, protecting or exploiting, what does it mean? It means, I (think) freeing. The greatest service the teacher can render the student is to increase his freedom - his free range of activity and thought and his power of control.
The student should be taught how to organize his experience, how to relate the different parts of it so that altogether they will have meaning. This was well put in a recent article: “No event is isolate; its integration with other events, its adumbration into all life and the inherency of life in it, makes the truth."
Mary Parker Follett, The Teacher-Student Relation, 1928
"Plans - as if it were any use to have 'plans' in such an unaccountable world as this !
There are no plans any more - only events."
George E. Woodberry (1855-1930), Selected Letters
But before we can implement any new choice we may need to consider how to do so. This takes into account the intermediate steps. For example, to eat an ice-cream we may need to collect money, leave the house, travel to a shop, buy the product, unwrap it and so on. These pre-requisites constrain our actions, since if we cannot complete them then the choice fails. How do we teach such techniques today ? If we do so on the basis of formally specifying the steps (the algorithm), then we take away the initiative from the kids, possibly preventing them applying that technique to anything else in future. It would be better to allow them to discover how to derive such intermediate requirements, by analogy with what they already know, which is much more than teachers think they know !
Any form of planning however involves an orientation towards the future, a delayed gratification of some sort. We need to forego some immediate reward for the promise of a greater reward later, even to endure some short-term unpleasantness in the process. This is quite a hard thing to do, although creating the necessary chains of associations (linked actions) seems quite easy (neural associativity happens automatically). The problem relates to our tendency to discount future rewards as being of less value than immediate ones, the further off the timescale of the supposed reward, the less it is valued by both kids and adults. Thus focusing education on the far future (adult life) is a rather poor technique, remember: for a kid even a year is a very long time indeed !
"Much learning does not teach understanding."
Heraclitus, On the Universe, fragment 16, c. 540-480 BCE
For any new option there will be consequences, so we need to understand if these will be prove to be good or bad, we cannot afford to act out each option in order to learn by feedback - it may prove fatal. In traditional logic we accept that there are premises, starting points that outline our proposals. These can be evaluated deductively, with a view to establishing what follows, i.e. what conclusions we can draw from those particular premises. Yet we must be clear here also that all premises are simplifications, assumptions only. By isolating the issue we deliberately ignore the connections to other issues. The value of the conclusions is then only as good as the accuracy of those premises in isolation, and the assumptions that lie behind them.
In many real world cases we have no certainty in either the premises that we have available nor in the consequences that may result. It is very easy to leave out aspects of the problem that are significant (but which we don't understand) and, of course, many humans are rather poor at logical deduction, even with extensive training. Understanding the likely results of our proposed actions is thus fraught with many dangers and in fact books on logic are full of those 'fallacies' that are inherent in poorly constructed arguments, fallacies that abound also in every newspaper and form of 'persuasion' in today's world. Teaching 'critical thinking' is thus an important technique for later years of education.
"The shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap to a tentative conclusion - these are the most valuable coin of the thinker at work."
Jerome Seymour Bruner, The Process of Education, 1960
Going beyond the options that we know, or even that our teachers know, needs creativity, the ability to generate an option that has never existed before. It is often ignored that in any situation there are far more options possible than are ever made explicit. Too often scientists take the simplistic view that if they can find a single theory that fits the facts, then it must be 'truth'. Yet in most situations there are very many theories that will fit the 'facts', many alternative ways of describing the same situation, many alternative 'optima'. It often proves to be the case that we need to go beyond our 'standard' explanation before we can grow our knowledge in such a way as to move forward. Such creativity requires something extra, an openness to new views that our education systems should instil in our kids, but too often just destroy - based upon the stance that anything not explicitly in the 'textbook' is false...
"People are so apt to think that there are but two ways in which a thing can terminate. They are ignorant of the number of combinations which even a few circumstances admit of."
Sir Arthur Helps, Essays Written in Intervals of Business
Since in many situations there will be multiple possible options, then we need some way of deciding which is optimum, a way that goes beyond our (often false) subjective feelings and brings objectivity into play. This however requires us to recognise that in any complex situation, containing many variables, there will be many different balances of these variables (niches) that will all prove to be equally as good as each other. Thus the standard view that there is always 'one' solution, 'one' truth, 'one answer' is fallacious. There are many ways of achieving any end, thus many diverse ways of educating kids, just as there are many different ways for us to climb the same mountain...
Nethertheless, we must be aware that as well as some equally good options, there will be many bad options also present (the postmodern idea that all viewpoints are equally good is also fallacious), so we still need a technique or techniques to compare the options and choose whichever will be appropriate for our particular context. Thus we need to reject all those bad or inadequate options and then choose contextually between the equally good ones. Formally, this is the field of multiobjective optimization, but this is far too mathematical a technique for kids, or for use in daily life. There are simpler alternatives however, of which fuzzy logic is one.
"Every cause produces more than one effect."
Herbert Spencer, Essays on Education, On Progress: Its Law and Cause, 1861
Our actions impinge on our environment and on multiple other people, so in a Global world we need to evaluate the wider effects, the longer term effects, and the feedback from other groups and individuals to our proposed actions. This requires a tolerance to diversity and an openness to criticism. Consequences are not just individual, they occur in social and environmental dimensions also, i.e. at many levels. These dimensions may be mutually supportive (synergic) or may clash, leading to dysergies - apparent local improvements that actually prove to be damaging to overall social fitness.
Today, we need to become more aware of the many pressure groups, each attempting to influence what we teach, to bias our children's minds in ways that favour limited objectives, narrow worldviews, subsets of what a balanced education should take into consideration. Here we face a problem, in that taking this wider view is resisted within our educational set-ups. This systems viewpoint requires an interdisciplinary focus, a bringing together of all our specialisms to consider a problem simultaneously from all angles, and to look for an overall compromise result (since any 'preferred' dimension will almost certainly unbalance the whole).
"Workers of England be wise, and then you must be free, for you will be fit to be free."
Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)
Once we are fully developed humans we should be in a position to automatically take account of these wider implications, and this is the state we can call 'wisdom'. In valuation terms, we take an holarchic approach here, putting ourselves into the wider context of others, society and environment. We see how our worldview or viewpoint meshes with those of possible alternatives. We put, in other words, our personal biases into context, trying to improve our understanding of our viewpoint itself and those of others. This is a form of meta-criticism.
One aspect of this is the ability to dissolve boundaries, to see beyond the rigid classifications that other people apply to the world, those dualist 'us' and 'them' divisions, and the belief that we must adopt only those ideas currently entrenched. Getting beyond these 'norms' requires an openness that is still very rare, especially for teachers who are not generally encouraged to 'think outside the box'. How we can educate this ability, when the teachers are unfamiliar with it, and probably will resist it, is a difficult question. Like many aspects of complexity thinking it may need a 'quantum leap' in approach, a new paradigm of inclusivity to replace the old one of isolationism, and this will take time and effort.
"I am convinced that it is of primordial importance to learn more every year than the year before. After all, what is education but a process by which a person begins to learn how to learn ?"
Peter Ustinov, Dear Me, ch. 13, 1977
It should be clear that many of the areas we have mentioned are usually ignored or over-simplified, not only in our formal educational systems but in all our institutions and social groupings. So we must ask how we can change our overall focus, assuming that we agree that this is what, ultimately, is needed. We cannot expect individuals, whether parents or not, to have all the knowledge necessary to do this, so we seem to be pushed towards a social function - that of our formal educational systems. But before we consider this, let us review some aspects of our informal education, to put 'schools' into perspective.
"To waken interest and kindle enthusiasm is the sure way to teach easily and successfully."
Tyron Edwards (1809-1894)
Education is not only an issue that we deal with in schools, we start to learn as soon as we are born, in fact we learn at our greatest rate before we even start school. Additionally we learn much during the school years that is not formally taught, both inside and outside school. Indeed, we may well learn more informally during this time that we ever learn from formal lessons. All this learning is important, not only for what it teaches us that we can do, but especially for that it teaches us not to do - trial and error learning teaches us how to avoid failure. For many, school years is as far as their education goes in any formal sense, but we do continue to learn from life's experiences in this way for the rest of our lives.
Those of us that go further in deliberate learning, whether self-taught or within further education establishments, soon discover the limitations of their school education, especially in the extent that what we have been previously taught is, to put it bluntly, just plain 'wrong' - or at best 'misleading'. Despite the engendered belief that we now 'know it all', having passed the 'exams', we find that what we know is a trivial scraping on the surface of what we could know, and even of what we must know in order to make a success of any career or pursuit. Whether we can follow up on our ignorance, and belatedly learn the necessary knowledge, depends greatly on whether our formal education has prepared us for this task, whether it has given us the techniques and the confidence with which to ferret out relevant information for ourselves.
Mankind, as a species, has had a long history, and throughout that history knowledge has been accumulated. Passed on originally by word of mouth, by direct example (e.g. apprenticeships), or by stories; in more recent times this has taken the form of written records, formal knowledge stored in books, inventions that we can study, explicit historical pictures and films, plus many other sources.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
George Santayana (1863-1952)
This 'free' knowledge is what Korzybski called "manpowers of the dead" and it is the most powerful inheritance available to all educators, yet only the smallest fraction of this vast resource (added to by every human that ever lived) finds its way into our curricula. This knowledge relates to a massive repository of trial and error learning, in other words a way of learning from past mistakes, of gaining wisdom, without endlessly repeating those errors made throughout our history. We ignore it, or trivialise it into isolated, out of context, 'facts' - suppressing the very errors it teaches us (i.e. we learn the 'date' of a battle and disregard the political errors that caused ten thousand humans to mass murder each other...), at our collective peril.
"Fieldwork teaches that tradition is maintained by an intricate interplay among social, cognitive and material dynamics in a socio-cultural system, with all of these dynamics occurring simultaneously at a number of levels, and with interactions taking place across all levels."
Sander van der Leeuw, Socio-Cultural Traditions, 2003
Along with our more explicit formal knowledge we also have available the implicit knowledge embedded in our social structures. These forms of knowledge include our informal behaviours, cultural norms, our stories, spiritual legacy and myths, laws, language, attitudes, novels, entertainment contents, plus similar data, not forgetting the incredible resource that the Internet has become for both formal and informal knowledge. This can all be used to help understand how we behave in certain ways, which influences are important, why we believe what we do and to what ends our actions strive.
"We've known for years that teaching does not equal learning. But today we have a better idea of what's going on in Julie's brain. Julie's teacher spends a lot of time reteaching because she doesn't teach in ways that match how Julie's brain learns. This mismatch creates frustration, underperformance, and hopelessness.
Fortunately, new knowledge in neuroscience is redefining possibilities for education. There are five critical variables in the brain's learning process: neural history, context, acquisition, elaboration, and encoding."
Eric Jensen, How Julie's Brain Learns, 1998
A third resource comes from our genetic inheritance - our genes and physical development as implemented in the growth of our brain. This adds many instincts, abilities, biases, and constraints, and is sometimes studied in the field of evolutionary psychology. This type of knowledge is important not only in itself, but for the insight it gives us into the non-intellectual aspects of our behaviour, into the way our brain actually deals with information and how it changes epigenetically when we try to learn. It should be clear to teachers, but so often is not, that trying to teach in inappropriate ways is like trying to force a radio to behave as if it were a fridge, or more pointedly, trying to make a human being mimic a computer...
"A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car;
but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad."
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
Morality, is not just an 'optional' aspect of our reality, it is knowledge too. It relates to the social effects of our actions, the positive or negative effects of our behaviours on 'others' in our world, and on the effects of our emotions. Various forms of 'morality' are promulgated by religious beliefs, by media influences, by pressure groups and so on, yet we must be aware that these are generally small-minded, reducing all issues to simple good/bad judgements, completely out of context. They often neglect the overall effects of the suggested (or demanded !) behaviours, those real fitness effects in the multidimensional and multicultural wider world of their imposed 'moral' choices.
"Moral education can be understood narrowly or broadly. In the narrowest sense it refers to the explicit curriculum of the formal school. In a somewhat broader sense, it includes the implicit curriculum of the school; what is often referred to as the school ethos, the moral atmosphere, or the hidden curriculum. But in the broadest sense, one is remiss in not acknowledging that the school plays only a part in the moral education of our youth. Family is clearly the strongest and earliest influence, but peers, church, society, and the media also are strong influences.
The formal curriculum can support moral education in a variety of ways. First, it can systematically incorporate lessons about morality; e.g., through the historical study of notable moral events and decisions, through the literary study of moral heroes or villains or great moral dilemmas, through the theatrical depiction of great moral narratives or conflicts, etc. Second, lessons may be created which examine moral concepts and the classical thinking about them. Third, peer interaction around challenging moral issues can be woven into many classes. Fourth, courses specifically concerned with morality can be added to the curriculum. Fifth, service learning and other forms of institutionalised moral action can be made an explicit curricular requirement."
Marvin W. Berkowitz, The Education of the Complete Moral Person, 1998
Getting beyond proscriptive moralities, those fixed systems of 'rules' that are applied indiscriminately, regardless of consequences, means taking a critical stance. In other words we should enable the child to reason about morality issues, highlighting what these are and what alternative stances they may discover in the wider world. It is not the business of schools to impose a particular form of belief, whether secular or religious, but they do have a role in widening people's awareness of the world around them, and that world is awash with morality. It is in this world that our kids will live, and we fail them if they leave school unprepared in this regard, or just indoctrinated with the uncritical viewpoints of various external pressure groups.
"We [educators] teach them [pupils] to have clear, sharp ideas and become dissatisfied if their ideas are flexible and not sharply defined. Our goal is to teach them in such a way that they retain in their mind what we teach them, so they can tell us just what we told them. We are often especially gratified when a child can reproduce exactly what we taught several years later. But that's like having a pair of shoes made for a child of three and expecting them to fit when the child is ten years old. In reality, our task is to give them living, flexible ideas that can grow in the soul just as the outer physical limbs grow with the body."
Rudolf Steiner, The Roots Of Education, 1997
Knowledge of how the world evolves is another informal resource, predicting what will happen, how our environment will change, will give us added data on which to structure our behaviours, and an awareness that the world will not just 'stand still' waiting for us to act. In such an evolving world we cannot educate for simple static needs, frozen 'facts', we need to recognise that only adaptive activity is valid. In other words, we must educate for flexibility, for the ability to alter our behaviours dependent upon the local context, i.e. our specific and changing circumstances, for the ability to find out new data for ourselves, and to discard what we have been taught once it becomes irrelevant or is superseded by newer knowledge.
"The Subtle Signals of Change:
a) The subtle signals of a global network - that we are citizens of the planet, interconnected to people, places, and events;
b) The subtle signals of new ideas - replacing old, linear, top-down thinking with understanding of nature in terms of interrelationships and connectedness;
c) The subtle signals of human evolution - that we have the potential to develop toward higher levels of complexity and integration;
d) The subtle signals of spirit - our search for meaning, and through meaning, finding our own significance and value;
e) The subtle signals of community - opening ourselves to others, and collectively."
Irene Karpiak & Bill Kops, Toward a New Continuing Higher Education, 1992
There are many new ideas in the air today, not least is that collection of thoughts that comprise the complexity sciences. These more dynamic viewpoints explicitly treat change, they look to alternative possibilities, to evolution, to the effects on fitness of changing contexts, to the limiting effects of embedded dualist views and to the need for fuzziness and diversity in our treatment of both science and humanity. Incorporating such issues into education will not be easy, given the entrenched nature of older Newtonian ideas and their inflexible authoritarian structures. Yet such a move is essential if we are move forward, if our teachers are to learn those new forms of education that will be decidedly needed over the coming millennium.
"How to live completely ? This being the great thing needful for us to learn, is, by consequence, the great thing which education has to teach."
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)
Educators often claim to be preparing a child for adult life, completely ignoring the fact that the child already has a life, and is living it day-to-day, based upon a whole raft of personal knowledge. Education should not just be for an imagined future utopia, each kid is human too and so must be understood in reference to its current social life, what knowledge it needs to grow today, not just in respect to what somebody else believes it may, possibly, need in some arbitrary future world (a possibility that, in actual fact, so rarely ever becomes an actuality...).
"There is a grave defect in the school where the playground suggests happy,
and the classroom disagreeable thoughts."
John Lancaster Spalding (1840-1916), Aphorisms and Reflections
Education thus should be considered in relation to the child's current needs, building on its existing out-of-school education and not ignoring, denying or rejecting those foundations. This means engaging the interests of the child, motivating them by tasks that both educate and satisfy. This does not mean just letting them 'do their own thing', but relates to providing guidance on how to get from their current interests to those wider ones that we think they should be interested in pursuing, following their schooling.
"No man and no mind was ever emancipated merely by being left alone. Removal of formal limitations is but a negative condition; positive freedom is not a state but an act which involves methods and instrumentalities for control of conditions."
John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems, 1927
"Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates
in the form of inert facts."
Henry Brooks Adams, The Education of Henry Adams, 1907, ch. 25
To 'get to the point' we should focus more on essential information, relevant information, concrete information, not trivial dry academic abstractions; we should focus on principles not facts; on enablers rather than disablers. Education is about action, about allowing us to make changes to our lives, about allowing us to 'improve'. If it does not do this it is totally ineffective. Facts are simply options in choice space, ways of allowing us to make more effective decisions. If the choices they suggest are irrelevant to any of our current or future values then our education has been useless, And this is so regardless of the beliefs of the 'experts'. In a diverse world, it is quite inadequate for any 'educator' to try to impose their view of what is 'valuable' on everyone else (especially as each one of them has a different definition of what is 'valuable'). If they wish to claim such privileged status for any form of 'knowledge' then it is up to them to show (to the children) that that is the case, i.e. to educate them as to the value of such knowledge, not just to impose their views by some form of academic bullying.
"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Isn't it a pity that such a comment must be made ? What is it about 'schooling' that seems to make it so outside what people really, really, want ? We are, in theory, trying to improve other peoples lives, so why should they ever resist this attempt ? Answering these sorts of questions needs us to take a very critical look at education in practice, at how what we 'claim' to do educationally relates to our actions and motivations, to our behaviours when 'kids' are actually in front of us in the classroom...
"The aim of education is the knowledge not of facts but of values."
William Ralph Inge, The Training of the Reason, Ch. 2, 1917
This quote in itself highlights a major deficiency in educational practice, and that is the rather silly idea that we don't teach 'values', only 'facts'. Whether within science or elsewhere our values permeate our teaching. If we fail to understand this basic point, and take the view that the purpose of education is to produce some form of 'filing cabinet', then we allow ignorance to dominate our educational behaviour, we teach without understanding just what we are teaching, we are just as ignorant as the children we teach. Our inherent values structure all our actions, they determine what we teach, why we teach it, how we teach it. Our entire educational edifice is grounded on these largely hidden and uncritically accepted 'values'.
"Formalists think of teaching as an activity that promotes the transmission of cultural items and artifacts from one generation to another, and that in the process enables learners to acquaint themselves with the world. They assume that learners by nature are fundamentally flexible and changeable and that learners must always be prepared to adopt to the methods and principles of existing knowledge... In short, formalists seek to adjust the individual learner's self to the outside world. Learning becomes the means of assimilating to cultural heritage, of disciplining one's rational powers, and of cultivating one's intellect. Most formalists think that knowledge is a set of external abstract principles and facts that the teacher deposits in the minds of learners.
Informalists reject the idea of learning as simply an act of passively absorbing previous knowledge or of learning as an act of recollecting information obtained solely from teacher or text. Learning is a constant personal search through which learners reconstruct knowledge in the light of their own experience and self-interested involvement. Informalists assume that personal learner beliefs, desires, and intentions make the best determinants for what is to be learned by learners... Informalists assume that learners are naturally disposed to learn whatever relates to their interests, personal curiosity, and imagination, and that learners naturally resist whatever they feel is imposed on them from the outside.
An alternative to formalism and informalism is an understanding of knowledge production and dissemination as a set of processes of the creative extension of existing cultural achievements, an open-ended process aiming at producing novel synthesis of material and cultural artifacts, creatively transformed... The apprehension of educational processes in the exclusive terms of formalism or informalism invokes an unnecessary hermeneutical and practical constraint, namely, an understanding of knowledge acquisition and transmission through disciplinary objectivity or interdisciplinary subjectivity. To overcome this constraint, we need to develop a transdisciplinary, process-oriented concept of education based on the dynamic, unifying character of knowledge and consciousness."
Steve Mashalidis, Consciousness and Education: A Process Perspective, 1997
Embedded in educational history is the belief that children start off with empty minds, referred to by Locke as 'tabula rasa' or 'blank slate'. On this view they can be moulded to do anything, as if they were clay, formal education is thus like a die imprinting or inscribing knowledge upon the empty mind, i.e. behavioural conditioning. With more modern neuropsychological studies however we find that this belief is not true, education is not able to implant useful ideas of any sort, just to trigger the mind to construct them internally. This is an autopoietic concept, and means that what is already in the mind is crucial to what can and cannot be learnt at any stage, and is also crucial in determining how the knowledge presented will be interpreted - which may be in a way very different than that which the teacher intended.
"This view implies that we cannot directly 'cause' people to learn. We cannot pour in information. But we can try to create conditions in which students can make connections with their own personal histories (their structure)."
Joy Murray, Some Possible Implications for Education, 1993
If we are, nethertheless, insistent that children learn what we want them to learn, then we have to find a way to bridge this gap, to connect the external world of academia with the internal world of experience. That this is not easy is seen in the frequent difficulty for kids in understanding what the teacher is trying to convey, no amount of repetition seems to have any effect. The 'idea' cannot grow in the current soil of the mind, it cannot take root - since there is nothing for it to cling to, no context that can make it meaningful. At best, the idea can be repeated parrot fashion, on demand, but proves incapable of being applied to real issues.
"Learning. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious."
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
Much current education treats knowledge in a very abstract way, as isolated symbols to be manipulated in ways quite divorced from the child's everyday life. Since abstraction is an human generalising ability that must be grounded in experience, this technique of teaching abstractions divorced from experience is very counter productive, and makes education into something irrelevant to the child, hardly an effective way psychologically to convey (supposedly) important knowledge.
"The breach between learning and use, which is captured by the folk categories 'know what' and 'know how', may well be a product of the structure and practices of our education system. Many methods of didactic education assume a separation between knowing and doing, treating knowledge as an integral, self-sufficient substance, theoretically independent of the situations in which it is learned and used. The primary concern of schools often seems to be the transfer of this substance, which comprises abstract, decontextualized formal concepts. The activity and context in which learning takes place are thus regarded as merely ancillary to learning; pedagogically useful, of course, but fundamentally distinct and even neutral with respect to what is learned.
Recent investigations of learning, however, challenge this separating of what is learned from how it is learned and used. The activity in which knowledge is developed and deployed, it is now argued, is not separable from or ancillary to learning and cognition. Nor is it neutral. Rather, it is an integral part of what is learned. Situations might be said to co-produce knowledge through activity. Learning and cognition, it is now possible to argue, are fundamentally situated."
John Brown, Allan Collins & Paul Duguid, Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning, 1989
The 'know what' style currently in vogue today concentrates on 'outcomes-based' achievement or 'performance measures', with a strong focus on the 'social efficiency' of teachers in producing 'results'. Effective teaching 'skills' then relate only to the ability of the teacher to cause the kids to meet the laid down 'competencies' or 'standards' for each subject. This is a rather behaviourist form of education, in which the child's personality is irrelevant - as long as they pass the exams, i.e. they 'respond' appropriately to the 'stimulus' of the presented questions, then all is well and the teaching was a success. If the 'knowledge' is immediately then all forgotten, then so what ? Such short-termism confuses 'marks' with knowledge, it regards the teaching of subjects or abilities that cannot easily be measured as rather 'unprofessional' and usually non-mandatory, and encourages the deceitful bureaucratic or political manipulation of standards in order to meet 'quotas', at the expense of any more useful education.
"If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts,
but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
In a world that is extensively interconnected and nonlinear we must simplify if we are not to be overwhelmed. In science education this takes the form of mathematical equations, abstractions that are even divorced from the very language we use. The, oft-quoted, idea that 'numbers cannot lie' rather neglects the fact that the lie already exists in the taking of ideas out of context in the first place and presenting them as if they were the whole story. It is too often the case that the isolated examples used within science have little relevance to the real world behaviours of systems, in other words the formulae we teach only ever work for the classroom examples !
The success of what are called the 'hard' sciences, e.g. physics, chemistry, biology, relates to our ability here to perform some simplification in certain contexts. Such systems are amenable to mathematical treatments, but only in so far as we can ignore the wider issues. In many physical systems, for example, the interconnectivity is weak, so for practical purposes we can ignore 'higher-order terms', we can linearize the equations into a form understandable by children. In more complex situations however this does not work, and it is increasingly evident that most situations, even those in physics (areas of the subject ignored in the past) are not amenable to such simplistic and deterministic techniques. This proves especially the case when we come to the social sciences, where multiple simultaneous and strong influences are endemic to the very concept.
"But there is one blanket statement which can be safely made about the world's schools:
the teachers talk too much."
Martin Mayer, The Schools
Teachers are human too. And in common with all humans they have a tendency to hype their own abilities and knowledge and to conceal their limitations. This bias means that much of the 'soft' scientific education that we teach (together with non-scientific areas) is highly non-critical. Opinion and selective evidence infests such disciplines as arts, literature, history, psychology and sociology. In so many of these areas 'evidence' is vague, 'facts' are missing, ways of testing hypotheses are unknown. It is so easy in such circumstances to treat assumption as truth, belief as fact, and to make 'expert' opinion the criteria of 'excellence'. If other words, we educate not for 'knowledge' but for 'approval', for the ability of the student to please the 'teacher', to conform to the teacher's (or faculty's) in-built prejudices...
"I am inclined to think that one's education has been in vain
if one fails to learn that most schoolmasters are idiots."
Hesketh Pearson (1887-1964)
Teaching what we have always taught, e.g. the 'classics', regardless of modern contexts, reduces education to the static, repetitive, unimaginative, recycling of what is mere dogma. This idea that the 'old is always good' perverts the entire purpose of education, which is go beyond that which we know, to challenge our past and improve our future. Yet we must not think that everything old is bad, that is certainly not so, we should instead show our children how they may determine the difference. This means explicitly using historical beliefs to show how they are faulty, if they are; or why they are still valid, if they prove to be so. In other words, we learn from the past, we neither just regurgitate and glorify it nor ignore it.
"But, good gracious, you've got to educate him first.
You can't expect a boy to be vicious till he's been to a good school."
Saki, H. H. Munro (1870-1916)
Discipline means control, i.e. bullying, constraining, non-creative, 'seen not heard', authoritarianist, 'teacher can do no wrong' conformism. But nobody that conforms can grow, so this is anathema to education's entire purpose. If we educate in this way, we educate for hate, we suppress rather than empower children, we manipulate them towards ends that are not in their interests but in ours, we enslave them. How we choose to teach influences children just as much as what we teach. If we behave as if it is O.K. to bully people, to physically assault people, to make people feel bad, then those 'values' are taught to our kids - and far more forcibly than any of the trivial 'academic' knowledge that we intended to convey. Implicit teaching of this sort impinges on the subconscious, it takes hold far more firmly than the explicit teaching we set out to impart. We 'educate' (without knowing it) the ability to be control freaks, the culture of selfishness - and end up creating people with no feelings for others, arrogant people. Is this what we actually wish to achieve ? If a child cries themselves to sleep, because they fear school the next day, should we be 'proud' ?
"Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the author of things,
everything degenerates in the hands of man."
Jean Jacques Rousseau, Émile; ou, De l'Éducation, 1762, Book I, 10
The progressive or liberal style of education, part inspired by Rousseau, puts the child first. In fact the child is all, and the educators are regarded as obstructing the child's 'natural' development if they try to interfere with this, for example by imposing an authoritarian education. Thus all schooling must avoid 'depraving' the child by imposing destructive social attitudes on them, i.e. those prejudices and class structures that prevent them from being free - including the academic focus on streaming, examinations and grading. This does lead to a somewhat 'free-for-all' style of humanistic education in which the child seemingly tends to lack basic numeracy and literacy, and can end up unadapted for adult life (as politicians define it anyway !). Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, by neglecting the legacy of human history, the child fails to fully develop their potential to contribute meaningfully to civilisation, they remain locked in the past, repeating earlier mistakes, and are unaware of the full richness of human existance. Whilst many of the views promoted by supporters of this style echo our own comments on the primacy of the child, we must take a rather broader stance, and recognise that all styles are needed to achieve an optimum balance and we that must 'cherry pick' those good aspects of each, whilst avoiding their main drawbacks.
"It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education
than to have education without common sense."
Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899)
The latest style, to enshrine certain rights (e.g. to 'compensation') as able to over-ride common sense educational attitudes, simply promotes social wrongs, a blinkered 'responsibility free' living for kids, an interfering and destructive nanny state which is growth suppressing, because it neither allows nor permits any. This promotes a fantasy world protectionism, an attitude that denies responsibility, from children, teachers or bureaucrats, a silliness that actually prevents learning by trial and error, because no 'experience' that may be even slightly 'dangerous' is now permissible, since the self-acting 'victim' could then claim 'compensation' from people who have done no wrong to them at all ! A massive abuse of 'justice' results.
"It seems that children are small and weak only in order to learn these important lessons without any danger... What is there to be said for all the paraphernalia which surrounds the child to protect him on every side against pain until, having grown up, he remains at its mercy without courage and without experience, and believes himself dead at the first pinprick and faints at the sight of blood ?"
Jean Jacques Rousseau, Émile; ou, De l'Éducation, 1762, Book 2, 207
Additionally, to concentrate on individual children's 'rights' implicitly implies that nobody else has them. But they do, all the other children have rights, the teachers have them, so do parents and all others. So when a child is allowed to misbehave, because we cannot 'abuse' their rights then those same children are actively abusing the rights of all the other parties. So protection of one person's 'rights' abuses those of dozens, perhaps even thousands. Such a nonsensical small minded approach to behaviour is massively fitness reducing for the whole, likely leading to a complete social collapse in the long term.
"It was a formidable criticism when a student said 'They do not know I'm here'"
Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929), Life and the Student
Many politicians like to interfere with education, they like to try to impose their ideologies of how society should 'progress'. But progress for whom ? Imposed ideologies, without openness or diversity, do nothing to improve education, in fact they destroy it. Utopian views are based upon arrogance - "one size will be made to fit all", upon ignorance - "there is only one size", and upon intolerance - "I, and only I, know what it is". These dogmas are destructive on all levels to childrens' freedom and growth.
"Many of those who thought they understood human nature promptly turned description into prescription and set out a design of the perfect society... Yet the only lesson to be drawn from utopian dreaming is that all utopias are hells. All attempts to design society by reference to one narrow conception of human nature, whether on paper or in the streets, end in producing something much worst... A disadvantaged childhood does not condemn a person to a certain personality. Environmental determinism is at least as heartless a creed as genetic determinism..."
Matt Ridley, Nature via Nurture, 2003
One of the most destructive of such dogmas is the one related to the removal of 'privilege', the idea that some kids are thought (by outsiders) to be 'disadvantaged' and should be helped more than the others (whether they want it or not !). Whilst this sounds innocuous and 'egalitarian' in theory, its implementation in practice means actively hurting the rest, i.e. it is a destructive form of interference that glorifies the worst and hates the best in our educational world. It is a levelling exercise which tends to reduce all to the lowest common denominator (since the 'bad' are incapable of being made 'good' just by political edict or 'spin'...). It takes away any incentive to teach well, stifling teacher freedom, and helps to bureaucratise kids to little more than identikit commodities to be manipulated at will by those who set themselves up as 'Gods' - implementing abstract and impersonal obsessions.
"As our own specialized worlds focus increasingly upon a narrower view, we lose a sense of panoramic awareness, of how our view fits into the whole. Pathology arises as we feel separated and disconnected from our worlds. We fall into patterns of relationships which are (a) antagonistic or (b) controlling and submissive. Bateson (1979) refers to these patterns of pathologic relationships as symmetrical (e.g., individuals in competition for being in control or being 'right') and complementary (e.g., one individual in control and the other submissive). Both of these patterns of relationship tend to promote cascading effects of separation."
Jeffrey W. Bloom, Patterns that Connect , 1999
Much education is highly specialist, the 'experts' talk to nobody outside their field, they recognise no other form of knowledge as relevant to 'them'. Such isolationism is highly one-dimensional, it ignores the interconnections between fields, the interdependency of knowledge. It promotes an over-reliance on 'experts' who know and care nothing about the wider effects of their theories, it encourages bureaucratic testing based on isolated and over-emphasised criteria, and education based upon inflexible curricula and ignorant, unresponsive staff and administrators.
"In fact, a regressive custom seems to have developed which encourages scholars to adopt ideological positions on the various contending schools of thought. The circumstances under which students are professionally socialized encourage them to commit early in their careers to the models favored by their mentors, and to reject all others out of hand. Practitioners in these studies are sometimes not even aware of other legitimate perspectives capable of shedding light on their area of interest. As a result, the identical research problem is often organized and explained by competing scholars in mutually inconsistent ways and by incommensurable concepts and terminology. This means that research is seldom replicable across schools even within the same discipline, and the possibility of the interdisciplinary testing of common problem areas is virtually nonexistent."
Pat Duffy Hutcheon, Seeking Common Ground, 1996
Getting beyond this limiting mindset, the idea that narrow disciplinary expertise is all that an educator needs, is difficult. It needs a complete revision of our basic attitude to our world, a realisation that 'fields' are not separate, 'ideas' are not disjoint, that the world is one and that how we carve it up into 'specialisms' is completely arbitrary. It is in fact rather strange that whilst we, on the one hand, like to claim that a good education allows the child to apply the ideas widely, i.e. that knowledge is 'transferable', on the other hand we still in practice try to stop them doing so, by artificially walling off each subject (and even the ideas within them) from all the others !
In the modern world, teaching is not just about using teachers but takes other forms also. These include computers and various online resources, which can be employed in schools without teachers being either present or necessary, or can even be explored from home. This form of tuition however can become routinised if the 'programmed learning' is unimaginatively designed or even divorced from any faculty input, destroying any teacher independence and their ability to customise learning to the actual needs of pupils in their daily lives. It is also a highly static form of teaching, due to the very high maintenance costs associated with updating the rather inflexible nature of computer software.
"The idea of learning communities has also been discussed as an alternative metaphor to traditional instruction. What happens when groups of people gather together to provide mutual support for learning and performance? How would that work? Rather than being controlled by a teacher or an instructional designer, learners might 'self-organize' into functioning communities with a general goal of supporting each other in their learning. That is to say, the function of guidance and control becomes distributed among group participants. Specific roles of group members are not assigned but rather emerge from the interaction of the whole."
Brent Wilson & Martin Ryder, Dynamic Learning Communities, 1997
And even when computer assisted instruction is not so routinised and conformist, or in cases where the pupil is allowed to find out for themselves without knowing the required answer, the techniques often lack guidance, where, from the pupil's point of view (and perhaps also the teacher's) it becomes difficult to 'sort the wheat from the chaff'. The end goal becomes vague, with such techniques tending to isolate the pupil (even further than traditional 'lectures') from their peer group and any possibility of group learning - with the associated gains from collective wisdom. This aspect of the individualistic, 'divide and conquer' approach to education defeats one of the main aims of education in a civilised country - the wish to make the child part of the wider community and its values, and not just a walking academic 'encyclopaedia'.
"There is no fortress so strong that money cannot take it."
Cicero (106-43 BCE)
A new and growing trend in many educational establishments is the tendency of administrators to accept cash and 'free' services from business interests. In return however, the 'sponsors' invariably expect to exert monopolistic influences over the children and even the teaching staff. In many cases advertising materials are forced into the school, brainwashing the kids in favour of corporate products which have nothing whatever to do with education. In some cases these outside influences have even expected the faculty to act as unpaid salesmen for their range of products and tried to prevent any 'competitors' products being bought by the school ! The insidiousness of this commercialisation and manipulation of our educational systems should be clear, it is very much against both the public and student interests. The very idea that we should only teach in a way that makes the sponsor 'profits', and never criticise the 'hand that feeds', is so obnoxious to the whole idea of democratic education as to make it quite obscene that such practices are ever tolerated, let alone welcomed by so called 'support staff'.
"There is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. To begin with, it is a prison. But it is in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison, for instance, you are not forced to read books written by the warders and the governor... and beaten or otherwise tortured if you cannot remember their utterly unmemorable contents."
George Bernard Shaw, Parents and Children, 1914
What should we teach in schools, what combination of subjects is necessary for all, which should be optional, which ignored as irrelevant to the purpose of a 'school' ? Such questions are highly debated and we will attempt no clear answers here. Yet we can comment upon the overall focus of our curricula and how these relate to the world in which children actually live.
"Before we abandon the variety of courses typical of the 'shopping mall' high school, we should ask genuine and penetrating questions about the value of these courses. I've already offered three criteria for judging courses good or bad. I'd also ask, Are they interesting ? Are they challenging ? Do the teachers treat the students with respect ? Are the students likely to grow as whole persons - in other words, is it reasonable to predict that the students will grow socially, morally, and intellectually ? When I say that these questions should be asked genuinely, I mean that we should not decide a priori that the conventional academic subjects are superior to others. We should investigate. We should ask teachers to justify what they do in light of the criteria we establish, and we should continually ask penetrating questions about the criteria themselves.
Our children need to know something about the commitment required for intimate relationships, what it means to be a parent, what it means to make a home. They should become good neighbors, responsible pet owners, concerned guardians of the natural world, and honest colleagues in whatever activities they pursue. They should know something about the stages of life, the various approaches to spirituality, suffering and compassion, violence and peace. These are the common learnings teachers should include in their courses; these are the topics that arise in common human experience."
Nel Noddings, Rethinking the Benefits of the College-Bound Curriculum, 1996
Human life involves many subjects, so on what basis do we choose which we should teach in schools and which we should ignore ? And we do ignore many, despite our supposed commitment to 'educate'. The biases we adopt depend largely upon our philosophy, our worldview. If we are academically inclined we may favour the classics, if we are businessmen then trade-based subjects are promoted, if women then perhaps more social subjects are wanted, if kids then maybe none of the above !
If the purpose of our schools is to broaden the mind, then we surely need to introduce kids to as many subjects as possible. This contrasts with traditional education where we try to educate in depth in as few subjects as possible, sometimes as few as three - out of the hundreds (thousands ?) that are available. Yet many children are very capable of finding out things on their own, given a little help. If a non-curriculum subject takes their fancy, e.g. dinosaurs, then frequently their knowledge rapidly exceeds that of their teachers. But how can they possibly do this, without the 'expertise' of teachers ?
"Lessons are not given, they are taken."
Cesare Pavese (1908-1950)
We must at this point question the entire basis of 'teaching', for if the teachers don't teach them this knowledge then who does ? And why do they learn this more quickly and far better than anything that 'teacher' says ? Clearly, we have put the 'cart before the horse' in our educational theory. It is the kids that learn, not the teachers that teach. Thus the subjects that the kids want to learn must be primary. If we wish them, for whatever reason, to learn something that they do not spontaneously think is of interest to them, then it is the role of the teacher to 'make it so'. If they cannot engender interest, then either they are bad teachers, or (perhaps equally likely) the whole concept of the isolated academic 'subject' is faulty.
"However, the good news is that any subject, when presented in the right manner and under the right circumstances, when imparted for 'scientific' (inquisitive, introspective, thought-producing) means rather than for 'decorative' or 'test-motivated' ones, can and will be profitable to the vast majority of pupils and so advance them in their lives...
Dewey was one of the early advocates for demonstrating and optimizing the unity between the subjects taught in every level of school, and, given our present context, the meaning of this unity should be easily discerned: that all topics should ultimately blend together in their means for life-enhancement and moving learners toward inductive, creative thinking. Of course, this cannot be done in one fell swoop, especially after all of the 'academic separatism' that has prevailed for so long in our present system. However, carefully prepared and properly administered coordinated studies can move a student toward better comprehending the hub which holds all subjects of study together: that being life itself."
Douglas S. Johnson, Education as Real Life, 2001
To address this question, we must examine the issue of whether education should be divided into 'subjects' at all. Traditionally the question is never asked, it seems 'obvious' that we must have specialist teachers for maths, english, chemistry and so one (even if the extent of their 'specialism' often relates only to them passing the same very basic courses as the kids are expected to take...). But when we take a 'systems' approach to our world, then this requirement is less evident. Systems thinking recognises the commonality of behaviour at all levels, so once we understand these concepts we can apply exactly the same ones to physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology and the arts - one form of learning suffices for many different fields...
"The Council on Systemic Change recognizes that effective, lasting change must be systemic; that is, it must reflect the interrelationships among education's stakeholders and subsystems. We also understand that it is often neither practical nor necessary to change the entire system at once - only to ensure that its old and new components reinforce rather than undermine one another."
AECT, How Do You Transform Education Through Systemic Change ?, 1999
It should be noted that the use of the word 'systemic' in the educational literature does not always imply the employment of any 'systems thinking' principles, only that some 'whole' educational edifice is being considered. However the current approach, where the kid needs to learn essentially the same things in every field, using different technical terms, is shown as highly inefficient in our view, especially when the connections between them all is never made ! The flexibility of our new systems approach should be clear, the kid knows what they need to know to apply their education to any new field, all that is required is a translation from the general systems ideas, the basics of learning, to the specialist data of a particular subject. And what are these systems thinking ideas ?
"Schooling is the most conservative of social institutions. It takes about 100 years for scientific theories and ideas to affect the content, processes, and structure of schooling. But the pace of change accelerates. The 20th century has produced a radical shift in scientific concepts of nature, reality, and epistemology... and, since mid-century, the development of theories of chaos and complexity. While the popular concept of reality in the 20th century has been mechanical, the metaphor for the 21st century is likely to be organic. Public schools have not yet reflected this shift.
One key current scientific idea, emerging from research into what are described as complex adaptive systems, is that human learning is the leading edge of the evolutionary process. This suggests that a concern for learning is likely to become central to our concepts of social development and this will accelerate the transformation of what has been known as the school into a more responsive educational environment."
Ash Hartwell, Scientific Ideas and Education in the 21st Century, 1995
Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) are a modern development of systems theory, and recognise the power of self-organizing processes to achieve adaptation to changing environments, in contrast to the limitations of central control based paradigms. And what is 'learning' if it isn't adaptation to a changing environment ? Thus, we can expect the CAS idea to be central to the design of effective schooling and to the improvement of currently inadequate techniques. For this to work, we need to be aware that these ideas apply equally well to all the subjects in our curriculum, thus they give a common approach to teaching in any area. We can then discard the idea that we need to separate each subject and treat it as 'specific', with its own set of teaching criteria. Once we accept this we no longer need to divide up what we talk about into separate specialist 'lessons'. Within any teaching session, we can use examples from across the full range of human experience, especially focusing on our kids' existing knowledge base. Illustrating our educational themes by a range of such concrete, across the board, ideas then allows the child to gain access to their 'abstract' nature in a much more natural way - the same analogous way as that by which they gain knowledge by themselves when outside the school setting.
A complex adaptive system perspective recognises that human systems comprise collections of autonomous agents (the complexity) that all interact with one another. These interactions cause the agents to adjust their behaviours (adapt) to the contexts in which they find themselves. Each agent is a self-contained whole (a system) with its own functionality (set of values) and links to other systems at three levels. These are intrasystem (the interplay of values within a single agent mind), intersystem (the effects of one agent on others in their peer group) and hierarchical or interlevel (the top-down effects of the overall context, here teachers/school, on each agent's behaviour). We recognise also that the higher-level human system emerges from the bottom-up interactions of the individual agents, so our whole school social structure depends upon the beliefs of the agents, and constrains them in turn (two-way causation), e.g. if the kids believe that the school is a prison, then they will try to escape, forcing the institution to actually behave as a prison !
One of the educational implications of the self-organizing processes that drive CAS is that the end result will very likely be rather different than any of the participants expect. In particular, since the agents adjust by maximising their own values, then these will not necessarily be expected to match those of the other agents, including teachers - unless they happen to hold the same or similar values. Since traditionally the values of the 'educators' are quite distinct from those of the kids being 'educated', it is unlikely that any such imposed influence on the system of agents will perform as expected. Exactly how such a complex system will settle into any form of overall stability is unpredictable (due to the many circular feedback effects), but we can say that any mismatches between sets of the components will become a stress on the larger far-from-equilibrium system, and this will have the effect of driving it in some direction, i.e. it will not remain static and controllable.
Two other conditions affect the rate and likelihood of any successful outcome. One is the overall scope of the system. If this becomes too large, so that there are very many inherent influences and stresses, then the system will remain chaotic, it will never settle. If it remains small, then there will be insufficient perturbation to escape the inertia associated with the status-quo (i.e. too little variety and novelty) - this implies that schools should neither be too large nor homogeneous, i.e. the exact opposite of bureaucratic driving forces... The second condition relates to the degree of communication between the agents. Again if this is too small, then little will happen over the short term (the agents will remain static and isolated), if too large then any overall goal(s) will be lost in the collective 'noise' (chatter). Several other characteristics of evolving systems may be relevant (e.g. nonlinearities, diversity, hill-climbing), but in general all of these will be dependent upon the self-organized balance and commonality between emergent institutional control and autonomous personal direction, within the educational system.
"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945
Assuming that we wish our children to become autonomous and knowledgeable adults, with a good quality of life, and neither to leave them as ignorant animals nor to reduce them to socially manipulated robots (both of which would be serious devaluations of our human potential and thus extremely wasteful of resources), then how are we to organize our educational systems to achieve this in a 'systems thinking' way ?
"True education makes for inequality; the inequality of individuality,
the inequality of success, the glorious inequality of talent, of genius."
Felix E. Schelling (1858-1945)
Equal opportunity is by no means the same as equality of behaviour. Freedom or autonomy means the ability of people to "do their own thing", to be different from anyone else, to be individuals, to celebrate their self-worth and uniqueness. Thus our educational institutions need to recognise this vital point, and avoid trying to 'standardise' children to fit some small-minded bureaucratic or utopian ideal - complex systems can reach many more optima if the components remain diverse and free to act.
"If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces. then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning."
Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person, 1961
"Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning. This is done, not through an academic 'curriculum' that condenses the world into instructional packages, but through direct engagement with the environment."
Ron Miller, A Brief Introduction to Holistic Education, 2001
Holistic or integral education, like our own focus, emphasises the whole, the intrinsic person. It is a more informal methodology than ours, but with many common ideas, including the notion that reality is a seamless whole on many levels. In our own focus on intrinsic education, we regard the individual as a complex adaptive system, and this allows us to apply all the findings of the complex system sciences to understanding how this integral entity 'works', how it 'knows'. Additionally, the CAS ideas allow us to position this level in relation to all the others, and to adopt a common viewpoint on the way all the aspects of our world coevolve and adapt. In other words we relate the overall, holistic, levels to the component interactions from which they all emerge, thus bridging the gap between reductionist and holistic viewpoints - we position the systemic and extrinsic modes of knowing within those of intrinsic and holarchic wholes.
"To create alternatives that are truly nurturing for children and integrated with communities, we must be conscious of the values, philosophies, and beliefs behind the systems and within ourselves. Then, rather than defending one alternative as 'the answer', we can open to the idea that there is no 'one best system' - just a diversity of systems that match, or do not match, with the diversity of people in the world. Further, such awareness can also enable us to change our educational systems in more conscious ways that are aligned with how we ourselves are changing. This in turn helps keep us from getting stuck in a stagnated perception of what education 'should' look like."
Robin Ann Martin, Paths of Learning: An Introduction to Educational Alternatives, 2000
Not only do we wish to avoid standardised children, but we will also (for the same reasons) wish to avoid standardised schools. Just as a single company structure cannot meet all the needs of all the people (despite the 'delusions of grandeur' of certain directors, who try to impose those 'needs'...) so no school structure can be comprehensive enough to fulfil all educational needs - 'economies of scale' are only achievable by throwing out all the diversity, i.e. the educational value itself ! We need the flexibility to adjust our behaviours, structures and beliefs dependent upon the circumstances at the time, i.e. by using those CAS concepts. This freedom is the essential meaning of education within a democracy, the freedom of the people to learn what they wish to learn, when they wish to learn it, and how they wish to learn it - protected from the bullying of those with different views (whether those people call themselves 'experts', 'leaders', 'administrators' or whatever). This again relates to appropriate size, schools or groups need to be small enough to adapt creatively and contextually, yet large enough to contain a range of experiences and possibilities.
"Five Assumptions About Learning - All Wrong:
1. That people predictably transfer learning from one situation to another.
2. That learners are passive receivers of wisdom - vessels into which knowledge is poured.
3. That learning is the strengthening of bonds between stimuli and correct responses.
4. That learners are blank slates on which knowledge is inscribed.
5. That skills and knowledge, to be transferable to new situations, should be acquired independent of their contexts of use."
Sue E. Berryman, Cognitive Apprenticeship Models, 1991
Given that much of what we do, and the views we hold about it, are mismatched to the educational task we purport to undertake, being non-systemic delusions, then what can we do to improve ? Well, the multidimensional nature of both learning styles and educational methods that we have highlighted above suggests at least one major improvement is possible, and that is the removal of the dogmatism that is so rife within educational thought, the intolerance to other views, that desire to force (at any social cost !) our own view upon all and sundry, to wish to micromanage everything and anything that has the slightest relevance to the educational 'scene' and yet ignore the consequences - in other words the obsessive external 'control-freak'ery. We have seen that, on a systems view, this is not effective educationally (or otherwise) in any case, so there is no purpose in us ever continuing to permit this destructive and undemocratic behaviour.
A key enabler for this removal is to open up the debate, instead of allowing all the decisions to be made by educators, or politicians, or parents, or big business, we ask them all - and involve, horror of horrors, the children too ! In other words we establish partnerships of equals. After all, we all have had an education, or are 'enjoying' one currently, so we all have views to share on our experiences. And look, by doing this we have just created yet another complex adaptive system, which will self-organize to define just the educational CAS structures that we require ! If we can then avoid 'doing things' that prove destructive to any of these groups (stakeholders) then that in itself will be a major improvement - it is surely better to have no education at all than one that makes humans less 'human' than they were before they endured it !
"If we return now to look at the concept of intrinsic value in individual human lives we can see that such value inheres at once in both the uniqueness of each of us and in the sameness of us all which which lets us be both 'same' and 'other', able to be both a mirror and a source of new insights. Each of us is the manifestation of a unique view of the universe. There is no need to invoke some quasi mediaeval idea of supernatural spirit or disembodied soul. We just need to recognise that each of us is the universe observing itself from a particular view point and that much of what we regard as intrinsic, unbridgable differences between us is constructed: themes and ideas in the stories we tell to and about ourselves and each other."
M. Peaty, Human Beings have Intrinsic Value, 2001
Whilst we have promoted here the need for intrinsic education, we must remark that such a concept remains alien to the general approaches being taken in practice to educational reform today. Rather than accepting the need for a more holistic perspective to human needs, we seem to have drifted backwards in recent decades, with ever more focus being given to competing individual aspects, to specialisms rather than generalisms, to pressure groups rather than the children themselves. This in itself reflects a move away from the general tenets of democracy, those ideas of personal choice and self-control that were apparent in Enlightenment thinking, towards a view of humanity as mere commodities to be used by others as they will - a very disturbing and anti-educational stance indeed.
"It is only when you are constantly learning that you find truth, god or love; and you cannot enquire, observe, learn, you cannot be deeply aware, if you are afraid. So the foundation of education - is to eradicate, inwardly as well as outwardly, this fear that destroys human thought, human relationship and love."
Krishnamurti, Think on these Things, 1964
By adopting a CAS perspective we can restore some balance to our educational direction. This, by taking account of the intrasystem and intersystem connections, naturally adopts an intrinsic stance, allowing the individual to develop as a full human and not just as an instrument for political or corporate use. There are a number of ways to gradually introduce this perspective. Our original idea of discarding 'subjects' would be so disruptive to traditional thinking and institutions as to face massive opposition. Yet the systems concepts that we wish to introduce, those 'educational themes', could quite easily be a starting point for a day's regular lessons, with each specialist teacher then expanding upon how today's theme fits into their specialism, using the opportunity to give appropriate examples and introduce any specialist vocabulary or techniques. By joining together our subjects in this way, at regular intervals, and by taking those examples as far as possible from the child's own experience, we can ease systems thinking and cross-disciplinary behaviours gradually into our curricula.
"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing."
Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
When we look at our world today, with its endless conflicts and deceitfulness; with its short-sighted greed and exploitation of the environment; with its escalating divisions between the 'rich' and 'poor';
with its fundamentalist dogmatism; and with the use of technology, not to free people from work, but to enslave them to it for life; we must surely despair. The ideas of holarchic education (taking into account all the worldwide effects of our ideas and actions, at every level) are still so far from becoming reality, despite support from many concerned groups around the world, as to make our task seem insurmountable. Yet old dogmas can be overcome, history shows us this, we no longer believe today in a 'flat earth'. Need we then believe in forced 'education by numbers', those rigid and inflexible procedures into which our schools cram our kids for their 'brainwashing' - counting mere statistical 'processing' and ticking bureaucratic boxes as 'education' ? You decide.
"I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child's powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself."
John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed , The School Journal, January 16, 1897
There is much to celebrate in today's education systems, but much also to criticise. Here we have highlighted some of the latter aspects, mainly as a way to show how far we can and should go in order to bring 'education' in line with modern systems understanding and to overcome the worst aspects of its past dogmas. Like so many arguments in recent history, the dualism between the 'vocational training' and 'liberal education' views obscures the real issues which require more than just a balance between these two. For humans, 'living' requires more than just instrumental social service, and also more than just intrinsic personal needs, it is a complex dynamic state with many simultaneous levels, of which the economic and the academic are just two (both of which are actually in themselves multidimensional). Control (or discipline) on its own destroys the initiative and creativity of both kids and teachers, freedom (undirected) allows destructive forms of growth and in turn destroys the historical basis of wisdom and learning. Complex systems studies, in contrast, highlight the self-organizing fractal (holarchic) optimisation that occurs when systems are allowed to fully evolve, but yet are constrained by broadly based fitness considerations, in other words the 'edge-of-chaos' balance that gets the best of both worlds.
"Before you can change what you do,
you have to change how you think.
Before you can change how you think,
you have to change what you believe."
Lloyd Dobyns & Clare Crawford-Mason, Thinking About Quality
An earlier document "Complexity Theory: Actions for a Better World" complements this one, it expands and details the systems perspective proposed herein and highlights its effects on our current modes of belief.