Holistic Education Column
Education and Parenting
The search for authenticity, personal growth and spiritual experience that began with the “human potential movement” of the 1960s and ‘70s gave rise to a new educational paradigm that was at first called “humanistic” or “transpersonal,” but which is now widely known as “holistic” education. Writers such as George Leonard (Education and Ecstasy, published in 1968), Joseph Chilton Pearce (Magical Child, 1980, and several later books), Thomas Armstrong (The Radiant Child, 1985), and James Peterson (The Secret Life of Kids, 1987), among others, made the case that we could begin to develop the vast untapped potentials of human consciousness in the early years of life. Education, rather than forcibly instilling a specific body of knowledge, should begin with a deep respect for each child’s experience and creative powers.
Holistic education incorporates new understandings about the brain and the processes of learning, such as our growing awareness of multiple intelligences. This way of teaching also recognizes that learning needs to connect the individual in meaningful and caring ways to the complex world we live in; holistic educators are concerned with ecological understanding, social responsibility and democratic ideals. In the articles that we will present in this section, we will explore all of these perspectives and explain what they mean in the classroom and for all our interactions with young people.
Progressive educators in public schools have tried to implement many of these approaches over the years. Still, public schools are burdened by political, economic and cultural expectations that reflect more traditional and authoritarian definitions of education. And they are burdened by conflicts over budgets, textbooks and values as well. Holistic education is rarely practiced thoroughly in public schools. This is why a number of alternatives, such as Montessori and Waldorf schools, democratic schools, and homeschooling are growing in popularity.Given the politics of this time in our history, these alternatives fall into the category of “private” (i.e. nonpublic) education. But the holistic education movement is not ultimately seeking privatization; we are not interested in dismantling democratic institutions. One of the most difficult but exciting challenges of this movement is to imagine an entirely new system by which a democratic society nourishes the potentials of its young people and invites them into participation in the larger world.