5 abr. 2010

ENTREVISTA: EDUCACIÓN INTEGRAL

Pedagogía tradicional, moderna, postmoderna e integral, según Sean Esbjörn-Hargens*, en un dialogo con Realidades de por medio. Objetivos, fortalezas y debilidades de las distintas perspectivas. ¿Cómo educar en el siglo XXI? (Texto en inglés)

Associate professor and founding Chair of the Integral Theory Program at John F. Kennedy University (JFKU), Sean Esbjörn-Hargens explains that “Integral education strives to combine the strengths and insights of traditional, modern, and postmodern approaches”. However, this way of teaching and learning “is not just additive; it brings something new to the table”. The whole article proposes an interpretation about the central issue principally through the integral model approach (look at introduction to integral model before reading the article).                                       

Can you introduce your background on the topic?
Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies I have taken an interdisciplinary and holistic path so I have the experience of trying to create an integral education for myself for 10 years. In addition, for the last five years I have been a program director of an Integral program at holistic graduate university. Thus, now I’m in the process of creating more and more integral spaces for my students. While I have a lot of experience of and passion for integral education I have not studied educational thought in any formal way. In the last few years I’ve become more and more interested in the emergence of what is now being called integral education but I’m still in the process of learning a lot about the history of education, different philosophies of pedagogy, and the value and limits of previous approaches to education. I’m working with two other educators on putting together the first book on Integral Education, which has been a very exciting project, to say the least. We have had a great response from potential authors and SUNY Press (Center for Scholarly Communication for the State University of New York). Also, I have a daughter who just turned two and is attending a Waldorf-based preschool. My wife and I have done a lot of research on the Waldorf schools in our area and I have some friends who are Waldorf teachers. So all my answers should be understood in light of the above context.

In a simple, introductory fashion, how would you describe the ‘meta-narrative’ of educational thought over the last century?
My sense is that in Western countries you see an increasing mixture of traditional, modern, and postmodern approaches to education. Throughout the 1900s you can find many religious traditional, secular modern, and alternative postmodern approaches to education. Various forms of religious education were most popular it seems up till the 1940s. Then for the next 20-30 years modern forms of education became the mainstay. Lastly, in the 1960s postmodern approaches, especially in elementary schools (e.g., Montessori and Waldorf approaches) and liberal arts universities became dominant. So while these different worldviews have enjoyed prominence at various points over the last 100 years or at different levels of education – they have all been represented.

Looking historically, could we say that educational philosophies generally evolve out of the dominant  / leading altitude of development in a given culture? So for instance, we see the emergence of ‘holistic’ approaches to education with the first emergence of pluralistic worldview?
My research at this point confirms this view: that the educational philosophies of different worldviews have flourished the most during those cultural periods or contexts where such worldviews were favored. This is not a surprising conclusion but its implications are quite profound. For example, when we view educational thought through a developmental lens, we start to see the limits and gifts of these different approaches in a new light. No longer is it about one approach to education surpassing another in some one dimensional criteria. Rather, different approaches to education become more appropriate or effective within certain cultural or developmental contexts. This had radical implications for how we might begin to approach the education of our children and ourselves.

Can we chart the path of educational philosophies as having moved from traditionalist (amber) drive to instil essential truths and engender conforming believers, to an industrial approach to education seeking to create a compliant and effective workforce, to relativistic / postmodern (green) systems-oriented approaches which view education as the ‘garden’ for producing democratic societies?
I think we can and I think we should. This developmental lens shouldn’t be our only window to look out upon the variety of educational philosophies but it is a powerful one that cannot be ignored. Such a trajectory naturally raises the question of what’s next? Since a solid case can be made that what follows postmodernism is some kind of “integral” worldview then we have to ask ourselves “What is integral education?” Following many definitions of integral – integral education is at its most basic an approach to education that includes the best of all the major approaches to education without making any one of them totally wrong or without merit. All too often, various educational philosophies promote themselves by degrading others or pointing out what is missing in different approaches, while failing to see how their own exclusive focus is as blind as everyone else’s. Integral education by contrast strives to combine the strengths and insights of traditional, modern, and postmodern approaches. It is important to note however, that Integral Education is not just additive. It brings something new to the table – a meta view of the human situation and a deeper, more empirical understanding of how people grow and transform. Thus integral education  strives to foster contexts of growth and transformation that provide support and challenge to students in light of developmental understandings.

After reading one of your papers in the AQAL Journal, I want to understand better -  is it your view that the Locke / Rousseau distinction was a historic point of departure between educational philosophies? And could you explain a bit the difference between the perspectives on human nature / education of Locke and Rousseau in terms of quadrant orientation, altitude, style?

I feel the contrast that Locke and Rousseau provide is an easily accessible historical reference point for two competing views of education. I would caution against setting up a simplistic binary beyond providing an entry point for discussion. Both Locke and Rousseau are key figures in educational history and their influence can’t be overstated. And they don’t always fit into our categories of conventional and alternative. Nevertheless, I think a case can be made that each represents a historic point of departure between educational philosophies. Locke focuses on the Right Hand side. UR behaviours and LR external causes. He sees the UL of children as “blank” and in need of instruction. He is pretty amber-orange in his approach. He was a big fan of orange science and empiricism but approached that with a kind of fundamentalism associated with traditional worldviews. Rousseau focuses on the Left Hand side. UL expressiveness and LL support with internal causes of development. He sees the UL of children as “pure” and in need of protection from corrupt society. He is pretty orange-green in his approach. He was a big fan of individualism and the Romantic view of humans (i.e., humanist). These two differing perspectives on human nature and therefore education have been in contrast with each other for a long time. They emerged before each of these figures but each of these figures provides a clear historical face to look at straight in the eyes. In many ways they represent the war between amber-orange and orange-green. Between the Left Hand and the Right Hand of education (to play on Wilber’s quadrants).

We can see many educational movements evolving out of political and social philosophy – with educational objectives modified according to the beliefs and orientation of a given thinker. (Some examples include educational perennialism, Dewey, outcome-based education…) So is it accurate to say that the most prevalent paradigm (first tier?) in educational thought has historically been to view education as a method to produce a given kind of person as a final product? Is this one difference between traditional and modern educational approaches and postmodern / integral approaches – a focus on an outcome or product, vs. a focus on an experience of process, or development of a lifelong capacity such as critical thinking?

It is an interesting distinction/question you pose. In some ways both traditional/modern approaches and the postmodern approaches are interested in a product/experience. The former tends to highlight “product” and the latter “experience” but as I see it there isn’t much difference in what they are trying to do. The very nature of education has a teleological dimension: become a good citizen, person, human, expression of the Divine, etc. Education approaches tend to have a developmental sensibility within them but the big difference is often are we filling up a cup (Locke) or polishing an already beautiful stone (Rousseau). Thus in many ways both the mainstream and alternative approaches are very similar.

Philosophies such as Waldorf and Montessori have remained popular and demonstrate varying degrees of success, relative to the school and culture. What are the limitations of these approaches in your view?
I’m a big fan of both these approaches and am choosing to send my daughter to a Waldorf school. For me, one of the big limits is that both approaches tend to be very postmodern and unaware of their own shadow. They can be very anti-modernism and very dogmatic in their specific views (e.g., no plastic toys, no tv). So it becomes unbalanced and extreme. Thus, there is a lack of an integral developmental understanding. Obviously there is a lot of variation between schools and locations but I’ve seen this pattern in most places I’ve looked. Also it is interesting to me that both approaches best serve very young kids (5-10) and have not – in most cases – been developed to serve students in later years. I don’t think this is a limit – could even be a strength – but it makes me curious why there are not Montessori Jr. Highs or Waldorf High Schools etc. What is it about these approaches that don’t transfer so well to later years of education? Both Waldorf and Montessori have strengths and limits. Waldorf tends to have more standards that inform each school (an extensive training program) whereas Montessori tends to vary quite a bit depending on who is in charge.

How can we understand the movement in the US towards outcome-based education from a developmental perspective? Is outcome-based education simply the logical approach to education within a predominantly modern, scientific culture? Although there have been many education projects that change the modern educational structure, why do you think that the classic pedagogist institutions continue?
Great question. I wish I had a better sense of this dynamic. I don’t know enough to really comment other than to say that change in LR systems takes a long time. Systems – especially social ones – tend to be very conservative. So our educational system is a very amber-orange outcome-based approach.

What are the valuable aspects of each pre-modern (tribal), classical, and postmodern educational approaches that should be included in an integral educational philosophy?
A long list can and should be generated in response to this question. Just to give a flavor I would offer this: traditional education provides rules, order, clear boundaries, tradition, emphasizes discipline and effort, values authority…. All of these are valuable aspects of education, especially for younger students; modern education provides a level playing field – anyone can succeed if they work hard, rewards individual effort, demands evidence and excellence, encourages critical thinking. Postmodern education highlights diversity, thoughtfulness, the complexity of our world in its variety, an inclusion of feelings and interiors, a larger view (e.g., worldcentric+), non-dogmatic spirituality, etc.  So, how do we enact an approach to education that includes the healthy aspects of all of the above named aspects (as well as the many more that could be listed). Integral Education is an invitation into a fullness of being that is quite remarkable – one that fosters creativity and is committed to the flourishing of all.

In terms of international initiatives in education from bodies such as UNESCO, what kinds of educational projects and approaches are getting the most attention, and what trends can we observe?
I don’t know enough at this point to comment.

How do you understand the global picture of educational systems today? In other words, are there trends or general differences between educational approaches in different cultures / regions?
I have travelled in over 20 countries as an adult and lived in around 6 in Africa, Asia, and Europe. There is a lot of variety on the surface but my experience is that most of the approaches are either traditional (amber) or modern (orange) in their primary orientation. Only in the Western countries have I seen postmodern (green) approaches. I’m sure they are elsewhere but less visible for sure. It is not surprising from an Integral view that most of the expressions of education around the globe would be traditional or modern. Thus from this view there is more in common than not. How various communities carry out these two worldview philosophies can vary a lot but at the end of the day they often are text book case examples.

How do various educational approaches value creativity in learning?
That is a cool question. You should ask many integral educators that. My experience is that the traditional approaches value creativity in very narrow boundaries. Basically you can choose your color but you have to stay in the lines. So creativity is valued but it is a modulated/constrained creativity – what counts as creative is limited. Modern approaches open the door more and really let the individual come forward more. They prefer individual creativity especially in the areas of the mind – new designs, new technologies, new plans, new maps. Postmodern approaches are the most creative and often place creativity at the center of their approach and give students full permission to go where ever the Muse inspires. So basically there is a movement towards more and more creativity in this developmental progression of educational philosophies.

Does the value hierarchy of subjects (math, reading, science, arts) shift with a consistent pattern as educational philosophies and worldviews evolve? (Such as a consistently increasing focus on creative expression and individuality)?
I’m not sure. I would expect that there are some patterns. But I haven’t studied this aspect of curriculum or education across many contexts.

What are some projects or perspectives on education which you are most excited about today?

I’m most interested in what does an integrated curriculum look like. How can, for example, 30 courses work together – such as in the online program – to create an integral space and at the same time how can individual courses create integral spaces. So this creative relationship between individual courses and the overall curriculum is very interesting to me. Also, I’m engaged in developing a major research project to study how our Integral program at JFKU fosters development both horizontally and vertically. So I want to see what are the empirical (8 zone) results of integral education in a 3 year MA program. This feels very cutting edge to me. I want to take the results of our ongoing study and use it to make our program more effective at supporting transformation and translation.

In what way does our education affect /shape our attitude towards peace and war?
I think it is huge. I feel our education has a deep and profound impact (negative or postitive) on how we approach the big questions and issues of our days.

How can we bring compassion into our different ways of knowing and understanding … in other words, there is much discussion around education and compassion, but how can we systematize or integrate this?
This is where I think an Integral approach has a lot to offer. Just one example illustrates this. By having a more complete understanding of how cognitive understanding lends itself to interpersonal capacity to interact with different viewpoints, which lends itself to taking on those perspectives from an embodied place.

How does the variable of technology affect the outcome and modes of education today, and historically?
I suspect it plays a major role in some respects but don’t have enough of a background to really respond.

Can you describe what an integral elementary school classroom might look like to a visitor, and feel like to a student and teacher?

Since my focus has been on graduate level education I hesitate to respond to this. Though as a proud father of an amazing 2 year old I’ve been thinking about it more and more.

In your opinion, what should be the role of both the teacher and the student?
That is a big question. Let me just say I think it needs to be multifaceted and multidimensional. It should shift in important ways at different stages or phases of education and in some ways it should remain constant. I think this is an important task of integral education – to flesh out these different and similar roles across the spectrum of educational contexts and cultures.

Interview by Lauren Tenney

*Sean Esbjörn-Hargens Ph.D. is an associate professor and Chair of the Integral Theory Program at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, California. He is founder and Director of the Integral Research Center, which supports graduate and post-graduate mixed methods research. In addition, he is the founder and Executive Editor of the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice. Recently, he co-founded and co-organized the biennial Integral Theory Conference.
Sean is a leading scholar-practitioner in Integral Theory. He has worked cloesly with Ken Wilber for a decade operationalizing the Integral (AQAL) model in multiple contexts. He is a founding member of Integral Institute. He is currently the most published author applying the Integral model to a variety of topics: education, sustainable development, ecology, research, intersubjectivity, science and religion, consciousness studies, and play. His articles have appeared in academic journals such as the Journal of Consciousness Studies, World Futures, ReVision, and Journal of Humanistic Psychology. Sean co-edited Ken Wilber’s book The Simple Feeling of Being and has just completed writing a 800-page book with environmental philosopher Michael Zimmerman: Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World. Currently, he is co-editing an anthology on Integral Education and editing an anthology on Integral Theory.

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