Jennifer M. Gidley

Home » Postformal Education » Wisdom Grows in the Presence of Creativity, Complexity and Play

Wisdom Grows in the Presence of Creativity, Complexity and Play

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By Dr. Jennifer M. Gidley

 [This short blog is an entrée to Chapter 10: “Pedagogical Wisdom: A Creative Force” in Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures. Available at:]

The dominant 21st century worldview is replete with stupid, rather than wise values, signified by corporate greed, climate crises, environmental degradation and huge economic disparity. Is this what we want for our children and their grandchildren? What do we aspire towards?

While love brings the heart back into education, and imagination brings education to life, wisdom is the most cognitive of my core postformal values. Wisdom requires the head as well as the heart. Yet paradoxically, even a brilliant intellect—if it lacks heart and ethics—is not always wise. Wisdom is creative, complex and integrative. Wisdom does not follow the straight and narrow, but meanders, pauses, plays with multiple options and looks around corners—curious for surprises. So how do we educate for wisdom?

Wisdom has for millennia been a central concept in the perennial philosophies (or wisdom traditions), but it seems to have lost its way as an aspirational virtue. Yet wisdom has been attracting a resurgence of interest, particularly at the intersections between adult developmental psychology, holistic education and spirituality discussions.

And why is wisdom so important in education? Holistic educator Tobin Hart has focused on wisdom in education and describes it as follows in his 2001 book From Information to Transformation: Education for the Evolution of Consciousness:

“Wisdom is distinguished from bare intellect especially by its integration of the heart… We might even think of wisdom as the power of the mind to honor the insights of the heart… Such qualities as the ability to listen, empathise, and comfort with ambiguity are associated with wisdom.”

The adult developmental psychology research on wisdom tells us that it is closely linked to creativity, complexity, paradoxical thinking and intuition. Stage theorist Erik Erikson viewed wisdom as the highest of the three basic virtues to be developed by mature adults – the three are love, care and finally wisdom. Erikson regarded wisdom as the successful resolution of the growing tension during older age between despair and ego integrity.

In my chapter on pedagogical wisdom in Postformal Education I explore three innovative educational approaches that support the development of wisdom. In addition to educational theories that directly focus on wisdom, pedagogies that emphasise creativity and complexity also cultivate wisdom. I discuss these approaches both theoretically, and with practical examples from my own and other teachers’ practical experience.

Multi-modal approaches to learning are very important in developing the multiple perspectives needed for wisdom to grow—as are some surprising and unexpected concepts. In the serious business of education and learning, squeezed on either side by the audit culture and high stakes testing, such concepts as laughter, play, dancing and happiness seem remote. I discuss these “broad literacies”, including play, in some detail in Chapter 10. Such creative human literacies can contribute to a flexibility and lightness of cognition as facets of the core value of pedagogical wisdom. I describe the essence of wisdom as a kind of waking up:

“Wisdom is about waking up to multiplicity. Waking up—to our own presence and the presence of others. The complex wisdom embedded in the art of education demands being awake in every moment.”

Wisdom is a complex, elusive dimension but is attracting growing interest among adult developmental and transpersonal psychologists and educators working with postformal thinking.

These developments are all explored in Chapter 10: “Pedagogical Wisdom: A Creative Force” of Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures. (Springer, Netherlands) published August 2016.

Both eBook and Hardback are available to purchase from September 2016. Individual chapters can also be purchased online. See also my Amazon Author page:


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