To understand ourselves and our world as meaningfully as possible, we need to remain aware of and responsive to the interdependence of things. Yet, many educational systems today make this difficult to do, because they operate under an overarching framework that divides the process of education into distinct categories of study, often with very little focus on their interconnectedness. This framework is derived from the methodologies of science and technology and emphasizes our rational/analytical abilities over our aptitude for imaginative and intuitive insights. Consequently, it prioritizes prescriptive, standardized testing procedures over flexible, student-centered approaches to evaluation. In short, it does not give equal weight to encouraging the full powers of human consciousness, which clearly impedes its ability to sensitize students to the wholeness of life and our natural interdependence.
Of course, there are educational systems around the globe and many dedicated teachers committed to a holistic (wholeness-oriented) approach to education. However, given the current dominance of technology in the everyday lives of most people on our planet, these approaches are all too likely to be perceived as supplemental rather than foundational. So, it is crucially important to remind ourselves as often as possible about the shortcomings associated with the dominating influence of science and technology in our educational practices.
Consider, for instance, the message we send students when we educate them as if their rational/analytical faculties are separate, superior, and more relevant than their intuitive/imaginative abilities. This kind of hierarchical, fragmented approach to education implies that it is best (for both individuals and societies) to focus on objective subject matter rather than the subjective qualities of individual learners. And obviously, the widespread use of single-subject, prescriptive, standardized testing procedures reflects this approach.
But just as obviously, a fragmented approach to education gives rise to fragmented socio/cultural environments. When we think of our mental faculties as isolated mechanisms rather than mutually integrated capacities, it is not surprising that our attitudes and activities accept and even promote fragmentation in our socio/cultural interactions.
Although treating objects and ideas as separate entities is a basic aspect of scientific work, with obviously enormous benefits, the fact remains that fragmentation does not reflect the reality of universal life as we experience it, whereas wholeness and interdependence do. So, our educational practices are most in keeping with our basic reality when they are grounded in a mindset that accepts the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. As the celebrated economist and proponent of small-scale technologies, E.F. Schumacher, reminds us: “Our task is to look at the world and see it whole.” [See: A Guide for the Perplexed (1977/2004), p.15.]
In response to Schumacher’s remark, it may be tempting to ask: What can we do to get this task done? How can we go about seeing our world as a wholeness? However, such questions come from a mind immersed in the methodologies of science and technology. A mind immersed in the reality of wholeness is not immediately concerned about having a specific, ready-made plan; it is concerned with responding in a fitting manner to whatever is happening in the here-and-now, which implies that whatever planning needs to be done emerges, not as a prepackaged program, but in the context of being as fully involved as possible with immediate circumstances. It is by living in the here-and-now that we can best rid ourselves of conditioned patterns of behavior (based on past experiences and/or future expectations) that interfere with our ability to see ourselves and our world with genuine clarity.
Plans, like everything else, work best when they are grounded in the creative soil of our interdependence. Ideally, they are organic; they grow in response to the nurturing they receive, which is most appropriately a response to whatever conditions exist in the present—the “weather” of whatever is currently happening. In this sense, good educators are like good gardeners; they are attuned to the interconnectedness of things and ready to use their knowledge and expertise in a flexible way, in keeping with the many kinds of situations that everyday life gives rise to.
In his book, The Courage To Teach (1988), Parker Palmer reminds us that teaching is not primarily about “doing something,” it is about “being someone.” The same can be said about learning. What would our societies be like if learning was primarily about “being oneself” as one engages in activities aimed at acquiring knowledge and skills? If we educated ourselves in ways that prioritized our development as individuals living in an interdependent world, we would live in societies that value unity over disunity, and are therefore much less prone to the many ills associated with social fragmentation. Social fragmentation breeds fear, and fear is the first step along a path that takes us away from what is most comforting, reassuring, and insightful about being alive: a sense of belonging, of being at home wherever we are.
“We are at home in a universe that embraces both the smallness of “I”
and the vastness of all that is not “I,” and does so with consummate ease.
In this home, we know ourselves not as isolated atoms threatened by otherness
but as integral parts of the great web of life. In that knowing, we are taken beyond
fear towards wholeness.”
Parker Palmer, The Courage To Teach (1988), p. 85.
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Living in the middle of things involves a willingness