Jennifer M. Gidley

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Review of ‘The Future: A Very Short Introduction” in ‘World Futures Review’

The Future: A Very Short Introduction by Jennifer M. Gidley (OUP, 2017)

BOOK REVIEW by Jim Dator, Editor of World Futures Review

in the World Futures Review 2017 Volume 9 (2): 65-71.


In [the first] three chapters, [Gidley’s] summary of the long history of ideas about time, the future, preferred futures, utopias and dystopias, progress and chaos, to planning, she skillfully weaves many resources into a fluid, coherent narrative. She offers an excellent summary of a long and complicated story, endeavoring with considerable success to be global and multicultural, not just western-centric…

Gidley provocatively defines futures studies as “the art and science of taking responsibility for the long-term consequences of our decisions and actions today” (p. 136). This definition makes clear that futures studies typically are profoundly values-based… 

We all should give Jennifer Gidley a standing ovation. This is an absolutely wonderful source, as a basic textbook about the field, and as a very good short introduction about the futureS for everyone.”



Review of “Postformal Education” in the ‘Research Bulletin’

Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures by Jennifer M. Gidley (Springer, 2016)

BOOK REVIEW by David K. Scott, Former Chancellor at UMass (Amherst) in the Waldorf Research Institute’s “Research Bulletin” 2017 Volume 22 (1): 66-68.

Postformal Education, as a title, may appear forbidding. However, the reader will discover a book on transforming education, in which the word “love” appears 189 times and “wisdom” 279 times. By contrast, the word “test,” so prevalent in educational circles these days, occurs only 39 times! The contrast is reminiscent of a statistic from Darwin’s The Descent of Man, in which the phrase “survival of the fittest” appears only twice while the word “love” occurs 95 times, as noted by David Loye. We seldom mention the word “love” in the teaching of evolution or education more generally. The reason may lie 
in the author’s assertion:

“What masquerades for education today must be seen for what it
 is: an anachronistic relic of the industrial past.”

Her solution is an education based on four core values–love, life, wisdom, and voice. Without “voice” in an age of proliferating communication devices and social media, the first three will be harder to incorporate.

However, the transformation is far from simple. As the author writes,

“This book is not for the faint-hearted, or those wanting to tinker with the edges of the outmoded schooling model. It raises a planet-wide call to question how we think and how we educate. It charts a course toward
a post-formal education philosophy based on 
the most advanced developmental psychology and education research—as a foundation for educational futures. … If higher order, more complex forms of cognition do exist then how
 can we better educate children and young
 people so that more mature forms of reasoning appear at the appropriate life stage?…Put simply, we cannot solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s thinking.”

Jennifer Gidley is well equipped to assume this formidable challenge. She is an Australian psychologist and educator at the University of Technology, Sydney, and President of the World Futures Studies Federation, a UNESCO and UN Partner. Her speaking and research collaborations span many countries including Australia, Europe, USA, Middle East, and Asia, and she serves as a Fellow at the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris and at the Botin Platform for Innovation in Education in Spain. Her previous books include The University in Transformation, Youth Futures, and most recently The Future: A Very Short Introduction.

She is not only a theoretician, philosopher, historian, scientist, artist, poet, and sociologist but also an innovative practitioner. Creativity is her hallmark. Early in her career, she founded
 a modern, creative version of a Rudolf Steiner School in rural Australia, where she taught for ten years. Of this experience, she writes:

“I knew learning could be otherwise. As a responsible participant in their (and my) joyous learning of every imaginable subject through stories, drawing, painting, singing, movement, drama, music, poetry, mythology and play, 
I have guided numerous children from the
 age of five or six to puberty. And perhaps as
 a surprise to many mainstream teachers, the children also became literate and numerate 
in the process. But instead of just developing 
a narrow, functional literacy, they developed rich and broad literacies. They learned to read for meaning, to write creatively, to share, to respect nature, to imagine worlds beyond their immediate one, to have social confidence, a passionate love of learning and the courage to be the ones to change the world.”

Perhaps an apt subtitle for this path- breaking work is her phrase, “Megatrends of 
the Mind,” since the main thesis is that human consciousness and cultural evolution encompass several stages. While she does not go so far as to claim, as did Haeckel, that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, she draws on the work of many philosophers, sociologists, historians, educators, and scientists who have promoted this idea. The title of the book, Postformal Education, derives from the work of the educator Jean Piaget, who in the mid-20th century identified four stages of development, culminating in formal operations; many theorists now recognize additional stages of post-formal reasoning. Gidley also draws 
on the theories of evolutionary stages from Steiner, Gebser, Aurobindo, Wilber, Bohm, and Laszlo, among many others. The details differ, 
but they map an evolution through mythic, archaic, rational, analytical stages to an emerging integral, holistic perspective. Successive stages do not totally reject earlier ideas; rather they transcend and include. While the notion that human consciousness and culture have evolved is largely undisputed, the new revelation in this work is that now the evolution allows our active participation in a post-formal, integral, and planetary consciousness.

Gidley argues that our educational models, which she identifies with the mid-18th-century industrial expansion and a mechanistic approach to education, are overly formal and analytical. Now the evolution of human consciousness liberates us to address the complex challenges facing a very different, 21st-century world. While the tools and the theory are available, educators are paradoxically slow to incorporate the research. The message, in short, is: If we are to change the world, we must change our way 
of thinking. Just as we have moved in the past from pre-modernism to modernism to post- modernism, this book portends a transformation to trans-modernism.

Twenty diagrams in art, science, and spirituality enliven and illuminate the challenging and densely packed ideas dating back thousands of years up to the present and illustrating how many seemingly modern ideas have roots in antiquity. In earlier times these ideas were unexamined and natural. Now the collected research presented in this work enables us to understand the connections. The various stages of consciousness evolution were all necessary to bring us to our modern understanding. In addition, 40 tables summarize concepts and logical connections of ideas from many cultures and bring the text to life. The style, design, and construction of the book model its holistic, integrative content.

In a breathtaking voyage through the past, present, and future, this book synthesizes an extraordinary wealth of research and educational philosophy. It is structured into three sections, each with three or four chapters. Part I frames the book in the context of the evolution of consciousness. Part II gathers the existing research on higher stages of reasoning, revealing links between play, wisdom, imagination, ecology, holism, and love. The book stresses the well- established theory of multiple dimensions of intelligence although most current models of education focus on only one. Drawing on these studies, Part III articulates four core pedagogical principles central to a post-formal model of education—love, life, wisdom, and voice. Based on these four principles, education can prepare young people to become complete and whole individuals, more appreciative of multiple perspectives, more trans-disciplinary and connected.

Like a Greek Chorus singing stern warnings in unison, there is now a growing movement inside and outside the academy advocating a new educational model. In the words of Hegel, “The Owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” Philosophy comes to understand a historical condition just as it passes away. The book suggests we are at such a branch point in choosing how we want society and culture to evolve.

There are many nascent movements— integral and integrative learning, contemplative practice, meditation, and spirituality in education—giving intimations of the transformation advocated in this book. Presently, these movements are like separately flowing streams. This path-breaking work by Gidley 
leads to a convergence of the streams into one river, carving out a path for educating future generations to be more humane, caring, and committed to building a better and wiser world. She also shows that many of our problems may be interrelated. We do not ignore stress and teenage suicides in our schools and colleges, 
but we set up separate offices to address them. Perhaps the proposed transformation might serve as a universal solvent in an integrated approach to the education of mind, body, and soul.

As the Industrial Age was taking hold, there were counter-revolutions such as the Romantic Movement and the Transcendentalist Movement in the 19th century, each with intimations of an integrative and spiritual approach. Steiner based his philosophy of education on similar ideas, 
as did the Paideia principle in ancient Greece. Philosophers in the 16th and 17th centuries sparked the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment with ideas soon integrated into the general thinking and education. Now we have rigorous research from philosophers, scientists, psychologists, educators, sociologists, all drawn together in this far-reaching book. Perhaps we are on the verge of a new Enlightenment, led once again by thinkers from many disciplines. Can they all be wrong? When we think of the evolution of consciousness and culture, we also think of three great periods of human activity —the Agrarian Age, the Industrial Age, and the Information Age. The author cautions us that the Information Age, despite its potential for greater connectivity, is unlikely to be the harbinger of the educational revolution advocated in this book. Rather we should look at the next emergent
l level of consciousness as the sign of a coming Integrative Age. Let us hope it does not take decades to blossom. The Information Age could, however, serve as a catalyst to accelerate the transformation.

The words of the poet, Christopher Fry, came to my mind while reading this book: “Thank
 God our time is now when wrong comes up to meet us everywhere, never to leave us till we take the longest stride man ever took. Affairs are now soul size.” Gidley shows that the challenges we face in the world and education are indeed now soul size; she provides us with soul-size transformations. Everyone interested in a better future should read this book. It may inspire us to act before it is too late.

David K. Scott is a former Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Review of “Postformal Education” in ‘Policy Futures in Education’

Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures by Jennifer M. Gidley (Springer, 2016)

BOOK REVIEW by Daniella J. Forster, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

in “Policy Futures in Education” (2017) June.


Few books offer such a broad scope of transdisciplinary scholarship, nor attempt to defend an education which takes aim at ‘planet-sized’ problems. Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures is such a book.

Jennifer M Gidley creates a tapestry for ‘radical change’ in education… drawing conceptual bridges across traditional disciplinary boundaries to demonstrate how highly creative pedagogies can emerge…

The book is propelled by an urgent and passionate need to address the problem of human meaning-making and thinking that Gidley sees as underlying the large-scale issues facing humanity in environmental, psychological, socio-cultural and politico-economic terms…

Gidley’s book is an important provocation; a demonstration of the flourishing pluralism in alternative education, and a calculated disruption on behalf of young people so they ‘can be better equipped for complex futures’ (p. 91).

Finally, this text represents a timely wake up call for universities and university scholars to consider what these orthodox institutions could learn from risking engagement with the peripheries.”


Review of “Postformal Education” in the ‘International Journal of Children’s Spirituality’

Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures by Jennifer M. Gidley (Springer, 2016)

BOOK REVIEW by Marian de Souza, ACU & Federation University

in “International Journal of Children’s Spirituality” Vol. 22 (2), April 2017, pp. 179-180.


“This book certainly provides a valuable resource for educators who are looking for inspiring, novel and creative ways to address the learning and behavioural problems they face in everyday classrooms… 

It is filled with a broad and detailed overview of the concepts and arguments of many important and influential philosophers and theorists, which is accompanied by an abundance of thoughtful and innovative deliberations. 

It may be most appropriate for researchers, academics and post-graduate students in education, consciousness and cultural studies.

Accordingly, Gidley’s new book is a welcome addition to existing educational literature that is focused on forward thinking, sustainability and innovation, and with the needs of young people at its heart.”


Review of “Postformal Education” in the Journal ‘Foresight’

Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures by Jennifer M. Gidley (Springer, 2016)

BOOK REVIEW by Philip Hadridge, Director, Idenk, Cambridge, UK

in “FORESIGHT” (2017) 19 (1): 81 – 82.


Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures… explores the future of education pedagogy. Jennifer Gidley has produced a work that repays studying. It … sows seeds. There is much here to repay contemplation.

For Dr. Gidley, it is an invite to think about what comes after the still-dominant model based on the factory or warehouse. It is a book to stir up our thinking and the education system. It is unselfconsciously “about radical change”.

It takes a grand historical sweep. Dr. Gidley chronicles how Aztec culture was the first known one with mandatory education and how mass formal schooling has only been around for a couple of centuries.

Gidley works up to a comprehensive framework in the form of a wheel based around love, live, wisdom and voice (p. 179). This model resonates to the contemporary work of organization improvement more generally.

The book challenges the dominant pedagogy: the one that has served the elite of our elite institutions, even if not their children.”





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