Jennifer M. Gidley

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Review of “Postformal Education” in “RoSE: Research on Steiner Education”

BOOK REVIEW by Normal Skillen, Teacher Educator, South Africa, published in “RoSE: Research on Steiner Education” Volume 8 Number 1: 115-117.

“Unless we resolve to rehumanise education so its core purpose becomes once again to develop whole human beings who care, who … respect life, who exercise wisdom and who have the courage to voice their truths to those who would corrupt our futures, then we should forget about the whole idea of education altogether.” Jennifer Gidley “Postformal Education”

So says Jennifer Gidley in the summary epilogue to this remarkable book. This quotation, quite apart from its passionate advocacy of educational reform, gives ample expression to the breadth of the author’s frame of reference. Here is someone who is aware of the noble heritage of education and is equally full of enthusiasm for the tremendous future potential it harbours. We can also hear that this is a radical voice.

The book delivers on all these counts. Anyone who opens it will be entering a multi-perspectival mindscape, a sweeping panorama of the postformal in all its guises. This could quickly become an academic labyrinth, were it not for the guiding intelligence of the author.

Rarely have I come across a book with such a copious scope of reference. The range of material that Jennifer Gidley has marshalled and organised into this book is positively breathtaking, sometimes totally overwhelming.

There are sections where she plies the reader with reference after reference, perspective on perspective, until the mind (or, at any rate, this mind) reels with alternatives. But she also has an extraordinary facility for pulling all these threads together and setting them in an ordered context.

This contrast between such far-reaching breadth of multi-perspectival detail and the need to know what it means in practical terms and where it is going sets up a tension that persists all the way through. This is the tension between map and territory. Now, we all know that “the map is not the territory”, and so – with her years of hands-on experience – does Jennifer Gidley, but her urgent awareness of all the avenues that are currently opening up in education has led her to devote quite a bit of this book to a mapping exercise. Considering the multi-dimensional implications of post-formal thinking, this decision on her part is fully justified. In doing so she manages to clarify the main features of post-formal consciousness, and makes it abundantly clear just how future-oriented they are. She also shows how they are characteristic of certain modern thinkers who have not hitherto enjoyed much attention, let alone high regard, in the context of traditional formal academic thinking. There are three of these in particular whom she places at the philosophical heart of all her deliberations. They are Rudolf Steiner, Jean Gebser and Ken Wilber. I will return to this point later.

As it proceeds, the book alternates between pure mapping and entering various theoretical and practical territories. Mapping pre-dominates in the early chapters, gradually giving way to more and more “territory”, and this is an exhilarating process, even if occasionally one expects to be entering a concrete territory and finds oneself still in a map. But I don’t wish to press this analogy too far.

If you are looking for a book which gives as thorough a survey of the global educational landscape as could be wished for, you need look no further. Jennifer Gidley can point you in whatever direction you wish to go, but she also takes you on her own direction.

It is actually impossible for a review to do justice to the way she does this. The scope of her research is awe-inspiring, and she has a highly developed ability to perceive trends and relationships where others have remained in the dark. One such example is her discovery that there are parallels between the work of post-Piagetian developmental psychologists (i.e. those who have gone beyond Piaget’s characterization of “formal operations” into “post-formal operations”) and that of researchers, theorists and practitioners of pedagogies which imply and prepare for the development of post-formal consciousness. Not only did she discover these parallels, but also uncovered the fact that these two fields of endeavour are largely unaware of each other. So in this book she has brought these two fields together, viewed them in the light of each other, and, in true Goethean style, an intensification (“Steigerung”) has occurred, which has provided the main substance of her philosophy of education. If the book succeeds only in making these psychologists and educational theorists aware of their common ground, then it will have done its job, but, in keeping with this Goethean intensification, Ms. Gidley takes things a lot further.

Through a long, exceedingly complex but well-presented sequence of interactive mapping of the features of post-formal consciousness onto the evolutionary themes (an exposition of the part played by the evolution of consciousness in the development of ancient and modern education is another main thread of this book) emerging from multiple strains of developmental psychology she arrives at four main principles, which form the core of her post-formal philosophy of education.

Part III of the book (the mapping/surveying having been accomplished largely in the first two parts) is then devoted to an exposition of these four principles. Here the “territory” finally comes into its own, and the power they have as emblems of possible educational futures is considerably enhanced by the fact that they are not just “the author’s ideas”, but have emerged organically out of the vast educational, psychological and philosophical terrain considered in the earlier parts of the book. The four chapters in which this exposition is presented constitute a comprehensive picture of what modern, future-oriented, creative and imaginatively experiential education could be like. Particularly striking is the fact that many of the features thus described have long been intrinsic to Waldorf education; for instance, the emphasis upon nurturing the “pedagogical voice”.

This points to another of Jennifer Gidley’s sterling accomplishments in this book – this returns us to the three thinkers mentioned earlier. She has succeeded here in considerably enhancing the claim of Waldorf education to be included as an integral part of modern educational discourse. She has also brought its founder firmly into the ambit of post-formal thinkers, showing his direct kinship with the work of Jean Gebser, Ken Wilber and many others. Although post-formalism, as she herself acknowledges, is still largely “ex-academy”, at least this is a step in the right direction.

Trans-disciplinarity is a key element of postformal consciousness, and obviously this is not without its problems. For instance, in speaking of the evolution of consciousness, as she does very extensively throughout the book, it is not always clear what this means. Are we talking about the evolutionary emergence of the faculty of cognition from non-cognitive antecedents, or are we talking about the gradual individualisation of universal Mind? I suspect that what Ken Wilber thinks about this would be very different from what it meant for Rudolf Steiner. But then, being able to hold and encompass the tension of contrasting worldviews is another leading aspect of post-formal thinking.

Given the vast scope of her sphere of reference and the fact that the evolution of consciousness and the post-formal principle of trans-disciplinarity are such important features of her whole epistemological framework, it is rather puzzling that one name, Owen Barfield, figures only very marginally in the book’s deliberations, and another, Henri Bortoft, not at all. Both these authors could be said to have written manuals of post-formal thinking, and there are quite a number of places in the text where a reference to either or both of these authors would have greatly enriched the context. This is not meant as a criticism or a complaint, I merely wished to register my perplexity at their absence in contexts where they would seem to belong.

Now I must mention one small gripe. In negotiating the trans-disciplinary boundaries as Jennifer Gidley has so skilfully done in this book, there is a strong tendency to be drawn to creative neologisms – my lap-top, for instance, does not accept “postformal” and “transdisciplinarity” as proper words – for you are continually entering realms where there are no readily available terms. Most of them, like the two examples I’ve just mentioned, work very well, but one or two cross the line from creativity into syntactic impossibility. One such is the use (following Gadamer) of the word “language” as a transitive verb. This is a bridge too far (Gadamer notwithstanding), and although it might seem like a pedantic quibble, I feel it is an ever-present danger to be aware of. It is really a momentary failure of critical and poetic sensibility caused, no doubt, by the constant tension of navigating the disciplinary borderlands. Having experienced such a usage one feels one might turn the page and find the author extolling the virtues of “edu-tainment”, in which case my next act would be to slam the book shut.

Thankfully, however, this is a momentary phenomenon, and the book is much more likely to be characterised by the brilliance of its formulations. Ms. Gidley writes very lucid prose, which rises at times to considerable heights of eloquence. She can turn up the radical heat when she needs to, and characterise with lyrical evocation when the context requires it.

To sum up, if you are trying to work creatively in education and you want to know who your allies are in the fight against the “audit culture” of modern factory-style education, then you need to read this book. There seems to be no corner of modern alternative educational thinking that Jennifer Gidley has not delved into.

Furthermore, she has organized all the various strains of modern philosophy, psychology and educational thinking into a large contextual framework, which gives direction, but—in true post-formal style—stops short of any definitive closure. Through all this also what sounds very strongly is her insight into and passionate respect for the integrity of the child. This book deserves to be read widely by teachers, educational academics and especially by policy-makers. Should educational policy change towards a more desirable direction, this book will no doubt have made its contribution.

To read more open access articles from this issue of RoSE Journal click here. Articles in are published in English, German and Spanish.


Review of “Postformal Education” in “Journal of Transformative Education”

BOOK REVIEW by Gabrielle Donnelly, Acadia University, Nova Scotia in “Journal of Transformative Education” 15(4): 377-379. A Journal of the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE).

Postformal Education skillfully navigates the urgency and challenges embedded in these times, as well as the tremendous possibilities present within education, offering a vision for a new educational philosophy to awaken creativity, care, and agency.

The book provides a robust and substantive dialogue among leading thinkers and theories on cultural evolution, integral theories, developmental psychology, postformal reasoning qualities, postformal pedagogies, and educational futures, drawing upon Ken Wilber, Rudolf Steiner, Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, Joe Kincheloe, Robert Kegan, Edgar Morin, and many others…

The book will appeal to educational philosophers and researchers, educators and teachers, developmental and educational psychologists, educational administrators, and anyone else with interest in transformative educational theories designed for the 21st century.

[Gidley] joins the chorus of voices calling for a planet-wide call to action to transform education and makes a distinct, inspiring, and significant contribution.


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.”


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