(Cover Image & Source: Holistic Education @ Pragyan Niketan School)
…Eight years have passed since I first came to an idea and a goal to “open my own private school that promotes creativity and self-knowledge, but equally on secular and spiritual foundations, modern view of the ancient Greek schools like Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum”.
In those times, when I just started to write my first online blog (Croatian blog on Index.hr), I knew nothing how would this school of mine should really look like. I only knew that I was not satisfied with the modern education and the methods that are used in traditional schools today, and I wanted to change that somehow. In those times, that was just a simple philosophy that I liked to play with.
Few years later, after I had finished with my walking adventures which had a purpose to learn more about my homeland of Croatia (2012., 2013.), I started to write my own digital magazine (even do it looked more like a short e-books written in sequels, but with a typical magazine structure), in which I again wrote about my creativity school ideas, in a few short texts (which are now translated to English, edited and available to read in the Introductory part of the KISS school on this blog).
But even then I knew nothing of the subjects, methods and the structure of the education program that I would implement in this school of mine. First real ideas how to create this school came to me after my third walking adventure (Slovenia, Trieste region) in which I wanted that both Science, Arts and Spirituality could be somehow connected and taught about in the school, but with some modern approach. That was the time (Spring 2017.) when I divided my simple education plan in three general parts that I called Knowledge, Intelligence and Creativity. And just before I left my hometown of Zagreb, and came to Germany to live and work, I had an image that this school would be operated in a some sort of student campus that is a part of a modern eco village (which I wrote in the Croatian articles O podučavanju i prirodi ili kako sam zacrtao svoj životni put…).
This idea even came to a wider understanding, when I implemented some other concepts, like Spirituality, Sport & Recreation, Innovation, Criticism and Self-Criticism, in a school that I called KISS (short for Creativity, Innovation & Self-Knowledge School written in the article Stairway To Wisdom: Six Pillars To The Ultimate Spiritual Enlightenment…), in the area that today I know is called Holism and Holistic Education.
What Is Holistic Education?
“It is a philosophy of education 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 humanitarian values such as compassion and peace.” (Holistic education @ Wikipedia; quote by Ron Miller, Pioneer in Holistic Education)
“Holistic education is concerned with the development of a person’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative and spiritual potentials.” (Holistic education @ School Around Us)
In general, the basic purpose of this education is to teach people of the world in all of its beauty, to teach about different subjects concerning the whole human being (his physical, emotional and spiritual part) and his connections with the human society and the nature in general. To let students think “with their own heads” and to promote their own creativity in theory and practice, for the teachers to be more like their guides, advisers and friends instead of authorities that are trying to “put the rigid facts into their heads” and make them obey strict and rigid rules of standardisation, rules and methods used in the traditional education. To make them whole persons capable to be an important part of the developing society instead of a good “slave” workers and citizens in a world of constant competition, world of New World Order or Big Brother, where everything is concerned about the artificial and ephemeral values of money, materialism and consumerism.
Short History of Holism and Holistic Education
But when did this all came from?
When was the first time that people used this terminology of holism, when did they first used this holistic approach to educating students?
Is this something completely new or does this have origins in the ancient past?
“Holistic is a word that originates from ancient Greek and which means to encompass “an entire thing”. Ancient Greeks had created a civilisation that is the bedrock of all western thought; they indeed had a holistic view of human beings. While today we know ancient Greeks mostly because of the many profound philosophical works of thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; the ancient Greeks gave us much more than just inspiring philosophy. They were at the forefront of human thought more than 2,000 years ago. They also constructed beautiful buildings and theorised about how men should ideally live and be governed. So powerful was the impact of ancient Greece that works by the ancient thinkers, mathematicians and philosophers were unequalled in the west for over two millennia.
Ancient Greeks were driven by holistic beliefs and thoughts, and viewed an individual who excelled in multiple activities to be far superior to one who excelled in only one task. For instance, it was not uncommon for a top mathematician from ancient Greece to also be a top bodybuilder and a top athlete. They believed that being especially skilled in only one narrow activity and in no other was actually a symptom of vulgarity. It should, therefore, be said that ancient Greeks believed in and practised holistic education.” (Spirituality Through Holistic Education @ Otras Voces en Educacion)
Famous teachers and philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (to mention only the most famous), were a real pioneers of this type of education, at least in the “western world”.
“Plato is the earliest important educational thinker, and education is an essential element in “The Republic” (his most important work on philosophy and political theory, written around 360 B.C.). In it, he advocates some rather extreme methods: removing children from their mothers’ care and raising them as wards of the state, and differentiating children suitable to the various castes, the highest receiving the most education, so that they could act as guardians of the city and care for the less able. He believed that education should be holistic, including facts, skills, physical discipline, music and art. Plato believed that talent and intelligence are not distributed genetically and thus is to be found in children born to all classes, although his proposed system of selective public education for an educated minority of the population does not really follow a democratic model.
Aristotle considered human nature, habit and reason to be equally important forces to be cultivated in education, the ultimate aim of which should be to produce good and virtuous citizens. He proposed that teachers lead their students systematically, and that repetition be used as a key tool to develop good habits, unlike Socrates’ emphasis on questioning his listeners to bring out their own ideas. He emphasized the balancing of the theoretical and practical aspects of subjects taught, among which he explicitly mentions reading, writing, mathematics, music, physical education, literature, history, and a wide range of sciences, as well as play, which he also considered important.” (Philosophy of Education @ The Basics of Philosophy)
But even much before the Old Greeks, some sort of holistic education existed, in the Ancient China and especially Ancient India, where most of the knowledge about the world today was later transferred to western civilisation.
“The Gurukul model of education, which was prevalent in ancient India had the ‘Guru’ imparting knowledge to their ‘Shishyas’ sitting under a tree. Invariably, the pupil used to stay along-with the teachers. The teacher, (‘Acharya’ as known during those times) in the Vedic age was responsible not only in imparting knowledge, but also in molding the character and personality of the pupils of his ‘Ashram’. Education was considered to be the means to attain social efficiency and happiness, preservation and spread of culture, infusion and piety and development of best type of personality.
Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, one of the greatest thinkers of modern India emphasised the emergence of spiritual energies during successive stages of growth. In contrast to the dominant empiricist thinking of the modern age, the philosopher/ spiritual reformer insisted that human development is essentially “an unfoldment of inherent potentials”. The individual is seen as “an organismic whole which contains innate wisdom and motive force”. This spiritual voice requires careful guidance and cultivation by loving, alert adults. Truly, Indian approach to holistic education was a testimony of such unambiguous wisdom inherited from the concept of Gurukula.” (Holistic Education: Trends and Challenges by Samarjit Kambam @ E-Pao)
After that, some of the practices of the holistic education were implemented in the ancient education methods in the Ancient Egypt, as well as in Ancient Persia. But, unlike the Indians and Greeks, Old Egyptians were more concerned with education that looked more like today’s modern standardised education.
“Most of the education for both boys and girls came from their mothers and fathers. For boys, they learned the family trade. For girls, they learned the household responsibilities including cooking, sewing and in some cases, even taking care of the family business. If a boy was instructed in the art of building or sculpture, his father would hope that his talent was exceptional enough for him to be accepted as part of the tomb-builders. If a boy failed to learn his trade well, he would be sent out of the village and would have to set up his life in another town.
If a boy attended a formal school they began at the lower grades, what we might consider kindergarten. They would learn a number of lessons and these might include Egyptian literature. These were called ‘wisdom texts’ and included many of the lessons on the way to get a good position in life. The ultimate goal of the Egyptian student was to be good enough to be accepted in one of the high positions such as the royal palace, the temples or army, a government job, tax assessor or even medicine with the priests.” (Ancient Egyptian School For Kids @ History for Kids)
After that, during the Middle Ages where everything was connected with religion (in those times the most famous work was “De Magistro” of the St. Thomas Aquinas and the ideology of Perennialism), came the period of more open-minded Renaissance, in the work of French skeptic Michel de Montaigne in the 16th century followed by more radical approaches of John Locke in 17th and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century at the beginning of the Scientific Enlightenment period.
And while the Scientific Enlightenment of the 17th – 19th century, along with the Modernism and Capitalism of the 19th – 20th century made this what we call today traditional reductionist education, romantics like mentioned J. J. Rousseau and J. Pestalozzi of the 18th – 19th century, as well as the Transcendentalists of the 1830’s like R. W. Emerson and Progressive Educators of the 1910’s – 1920’s like J. Dewey promoted more open-minded and wider type of education, with more child-centred, personal growth and whole-person methods.
Then, at the beginning of the 20th century, came the period of more Radical Educators who created one of today’s most famous holistic orientated schools for children, Italian Maria Montessori and Austrian (born in nowadays Croatia) Rudolf Steiner.
Modern Holistic Schools for Children
“Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) was another very influential educational reformer, and his Waldorf Education model emphasizes a balance of developing the intellect (or head), feeling and artistic life (or heart) and practical skills (or hands), with a view to producing free individuals who would in turn bring about a new, freer social order.” (Philosophy of Education @ The Basics of Philosophy)
“Montessori, for example, spoke of “cosmic” education: Help the person feel part of the wholeness of the universe, and learning will naturally be enchanted and inviting. There is no one best way to accomplish this goal, there are many paths of learning and the holistic educator values them all; what is appropriate for some children and adults, in some situations, in some historical and social contexts, may not be best for others. The art of holistic education lies in its responsiveness to the diverse learning styles and needs of evolving human beings.” (A Brief Introduction to Holistic Education @ Infed)
In today’s world of modern holistic education we have four most common schools for children: Montessori school, Waldorf School, Reggio Emilia school and Sudbury Valley school. And as I mentioned before, the first two are the most famous.
In all of this schools the general holistic idea is that children, from preschool to high school education learn from all possible areas including science, arts, religion and spirituality, sports and recreation, in theory and even more in practice. Children are advised and guided to do whatever they want to do, to explore their own imagination, to create their own ideas, to choose those subjects that they like the most, and make something out of it. Children are working and playing in scientific laboratories, artistic workshops, sport venues, children are learning how to meditate, how to plant fruits and vegetables in the ecological gardens made by the methods of permaculture etc.
As far as for the grown up people or adults, and their holistic education and practices, there are different kinds of schools and centres for them, mostly divided into three basic categories:
Spiritual Centres (spiritual growth and education, meditation, transcendental methods, reading and studying sacred books, going on spiritual adventures and pilgrimages, using techniques like tarot, astrology, etc.)
Retreat Centres (meditation, holistic adventures, yoga, tantra, Pilates, wellness, alternative medicine…)
Holistic Centres (holistic education, social gatherings, solving environmental issues, perfecting communication skills, talking about philosophy, psychology, ecology, anthropology, living in eco villages outside of big cities…)
The Future of Holistic Education
As far as for the last mentioned topic, Holistic Centres, for me personally, they are the best approaches that we have today that can help adults to learn about the world and themselves in some different, holistic way. But today, they are more like Retreat Centres, used mostly to make people healthier and physically/mentally relaxed and being one with the nature, then to help them to learn about this world in theory and practice.
Instead of learning in a holistic ways that would be more closer to the children schools of Montessori and Waldorf type, where children are learning about all the subjects like science, arts and spirituality, they lack most of the parts of natural sciences (except of biology, and ecology), technical sciences (except when they are using techniques of modern architecture and applied design in creating eco houses), arts (except for decorating their facilities), and some parts of the spirituality.
Holistic education for adults, as well as it looks today, can not solve the biggest problem of the 21st century society, the progressive human ignorance that was made by the old fashioned and mostly obsolete traditional standardised education. And this private schools of Montessori and Waldorf are still too expensive for most of the people (especially for those living in the so called developed countries), so most of the poorer children have no chance to be educated in these types of schools. We have to create better holistic type schools for adults that had no holistic education when they were children, but with more open-minded approach, including all areas of human development and that are financially more affordable.
What do you think?
What holistic schools and centres for adults you know that are in your vicinity?
Write them in the comment section bellow, especially those that are in the central and northern part of Europe, ’cause I will be able to visit some of them, and maybe volunteer in some of them during my upcoming big spiritual walking adventure.
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