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A New Culture Needs a New Education

Susan Notes:

It is good to consider what
education can be. Can and should. Ron
Miller has a new book: The Self-Organizing
a stirring manifesto for
educational transformation.

by Ron Miller

Our future will be made by our children. Let's
give them everything they need... LP

The transition to a postmodern culture will
bring about significant changes in all areas of
society. Our ways of thinking about healing,
spirituality, food, community, the natural
world, and even economics and business are, in
a broad sense, turning from the materialism and
reductionism of the industrial age to a more
organic, holistic, person-centered and locally
rooted worldview. It is no accident that modern
educational institutions are similarly being
challenged by alternative ways of teaching and

The system of schooling as we know it, with its
grading, testing, standardized curriculum, and
control over students' use of time, reflects
the mechanistic worldview of the age now
beginning to decline. Parents and educators who
are beginning to question this worldview have
turned to diverse philosophies and methods,
from Montessori and Waldorf schools, to
democratic schools, home education and
community learning centers, among others.

This is a confusing time in education. Public
schools are driven into even further
standardization and desperate competition by
the so-called No Child Left Behind policy of
the federal government. Conservative
politicians called for privatization and
voucher schemes. Some see charter schools
(publicly funded but independently run) as the
ideal model. And well over a million families
are keeping their children out of school
altogether, for all sorts of reasons.

Until this generation, most parents simply sent
their kids to the neighborhood school, but now
we are faced with a dizzying array of choices,
with little understanding of their
philosophical differences. In this article I
will provide a brief overview of the field of
holistic education and list some of its
distinctive examples.

Simply stated, holistic education is an effort
to cultivate the development of the whole human
being. Where conventional schooling views the
child as a passive receiver of information and
rules, or at most as a computer-like processor
of information, a holistic approach recognizes
that to become full person, a growing child
needs to develop--in addition to intellectual
skills -- physical, psychological, emotional,
interpersonal, moral and spiritual potentials.
The child is not merely a future citizen or
employee in training, but an intricate and
delicate web of vital forces and environmental

Ultimately, holistic education reflects a
spiritual rather than a mechanistic worldview;
it recognizes that in the growth of every
child, some mysterious life force is unfolding
and seeking expression. This force might be
understood in religious or quasi-religious
terms, as in Waldorf education, or it can be
seen in a more naturalistic sense, as a
biological urge -- a worldview that makes sense
to many progressive and democratic educators.

In any case, a holistic approach to education
respects this life force and seeks to nourish
it. Clearly this worldview is very closely
aligned with the impulse behind organic
agriculture, natural medicine, ecological
awareness, and other areas of the emerging
"green" society.

A holistic education is usually characterized
by several core qualities. First, it encourages
experiential learning. There is more
discussion, questioning, experimentation, and
active engagement in a holistic learning
environment, and a noticeable absence of
grading, testing, labeling, and comparing.
Learning is more meaningful and relevant to
students -- it matters to their lives.

Second, personal relationships are considered
to be as important as academic subject matter.
These learning environments strive to cultivate
a sense of community and belonging, and
qualities of safety, respect, caring, and even
love. Third, there is concern for the interior
life, for the feelings, aspirations, ideas and
questions that each student brings to the
learning process.

Education is no longer viewed as the
transmission of information; instead it is a
journey inward as well as outward into the
world. Fourth, holistic education expresses an
ecological consciousness; it recognizes that
everything in the world exists in context, in
relationship to inclusive communities. This
involves a deep respect for the integrity of
the biosphere, if not a sense of reverence for
nature. It is a worldview that embraces
diversity, both natural and cultural. Holistic
education shuns ideology, categorization, and
fixed answers, and instead appreciates the
flowing interrelatedness of all life.

These core qualities are practiced in diverse
ways. Montessori schools provide a carefully
designed, multiage "prepared environment" that
encourages children to explore and experiment
according to their own pace and interests.
Waldorf teachers lead classes through a
curriculum meant to respond to the stage of
soul development of each age group, using
stories and arts.

"Democratic" or "free" schools, and many
homeschoolers, seek to remove all adult
obstacles to children's curiosity and
spontaneous community. Progressive educators
encourage young people to examine the world
with a critical eye and a commitment to social
justice. And there are a few holistic schools
based on particular spiritual traditions
(Quaker or yogic, for example) that bring
centering practices such as meditation into
their classrooms.

— Ron Miller
Green Living Journal



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