Holistic Education Column
Education After the Big Bang
Cosmologists tell us that the universe came into being as a result of an unimaginably powerful release of energy—the “big bang”—that provided the fuel and materials for everything that exists. Some holistic thinkers have poetically reflected that we humans, like every other entity in the cosmos, are made of this “star stuff” and are thereby indivisibly connected to all of existence, a tiny but integral part of the vast process of cosmic evolution.
This perspective suggests a way of thinking about education that is radically different from the authoritarian models that dominate our culture today. If the big bang produced us, if each human life is an expression of that tremendous creative power, then we are not merely citizens or subjects of a particular society at a particular point in history, but cosmic energy being propelled through space and time toward an unknown destiny. Education that seeks to harness and mold this energy for limited, short-sighted ends, such as fitting people for their places in the industrial economy, does not serve our ultimate purpose but hinders it.
Holistic education is based on the notion that there is an active creative force within each person, and that this force has an intrinsic purpose and direction. Religions, philosophies and cultures are attempts to describe this creative potential, that is, to define human nature and shape individuals accordingly. But most of these attempts represent partial, and therefore inadequate, understandings. The big bang is within us, working through us, but we cannot fully grasp it culturally or intellectually; ultimately, we can only surrender to its power.
Perhaps this is just using scientific-sounding language to express a nameless mysticism. Could the energy of the big bang be the One that so many cultures through history have called God? It actually does not much matter what we call it. Holistic educators generally consider our approach to be “spiritual,” although we cannot precisely describe what this means. Montessori’s vision of spiritual reality, and her model of “cosmic education,” is quite different from Steiner’s elaborate picture of the spiritual worlds, and his model of Waldorf education—and there are other holistic models with still different understandings. But all begin with a basic reverence for the creative potential of each child—the big bang manifesting a new portion of the cosmos in every human soul.
Holistic education is a larger perspective—the largest perspective we are capable of imagining at this stage of our evolution—that puts all of our cultural assumptions about education, all of our political struggles over schooling, in their proper place. Holistic education is concerned with a much grander reality than standardized test scores could ever measure, and with more essential elements of our being than “what every third grader needs to know.” Holistic education is about keeping our eyes on the prize, as they used to say in the civil rights movement. A school, or a nation of schools, is not successful by turning out young people who can dutifully fill in the correct blanks on the SAT, if the process of learning crushes their emotional, psychological, and spiritual potentials. What is the point of acquiring skills for lucrative careers if our life energy is thwarted by depression, addiction, consumerism, fear and violence?
When we say that new “paradigms” are taking shape throughout our culture, we mean that we are adopting larger perspectives to more fully understand the ultimate goals of our daily strivings. Healing no longer simply means taking drugs to repress symptoms, but finding ways to achieve balance between body, mind, spirit and one’s environment. We are no longer content with foods that are processed, adulterated, packaged, and shipped long distances because we understand that real food connects us to the living world. And in education, the new paradigms show us that force-fed, assembly-line learning does not nourish our creativity and aliveness but stifles our truest selves.
The cosmology of the big bang is more than an arcane scientific theory; it challenges the dominant perspectives, the dominant paradigms, across all areas of modern industrial culture. It challenges our assumption that we can manage and control nature for our convenience and gratification, by revealing that a power far greater than we know is at work in every speck of the universe, in every cell of our bodies. We need to treat nature’s generative power with respect, with reverence. And this must apply to every child who comes into our classrooms or into our lives.