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Imaginative Education brings Ecological Thinking to Life

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By Dr. Jennifer M. Gidley 

Published on ImaginEd: Education that Inspires. 28th September 2016.

All education is the development of genius… The three factors of genius are the habit of action, the vivid imagination, and the discipline of judgment. Alfred North Whitehead 1916

When we offer children a lifeless, stale education, we not only destroy their vitality, but we dumb them down. Through industrial era excesses we have altered the biosphere to the extent that our planetary homeland may in the foreseeable future become inhospitable for human habitation. Climate crisis is recognised as a global geo-political issue. How can young people be expected to contend with such catastrophic futures? How can we turn around dead, stale thinking, awaken ecological thinking and bring education back to life?

Evolution of consciousness research tells us that 19th century mechanistic thinking is giving way to more life enhancing thinking. In the early 20th century Whitehead’s process philosophy, Einstein’s relativity and quantum physics turned Newton’s building block universe on its head. Is education keeping up?

A few well-known educational pioneers made significant contributions to overhauling the factory model of education and breathing life into it. The ideas of Maria Montessori in Italy, Rudolf Steiner in Germany, John Dewey in the USA and Sri Aurobindo in India are still alive today globally. But they have remained relatively marginalised. How can the best of these ideas be spread?

Several contemporary educational approaches can help to shift static concepts to living thinking. One of the most important is Kieran Egan’s imaginative education. I first met Kieran at the “Imagination and Education Conference” (2009) in Australia, after completing my PhD on evolution of consciousness and its importance for education. I became particularly interested in his five developmental stages of imaginative education: somatic, mythic, romantic, philosophic and ironic. It synergised wonderfully with Jean Gebser’s structures of consciousness: archaic, magical, mythic, mental and integral.

Australian advocate of imagination in education, Bernie Neville, compared Egan’s stages with both Gebser’s structures of consciousness and psychologist Robert Kegan’s orders of consciousness. I discuss this in detail in Postformal Education, in Chapter 9: “Pedagogical Life: A Sustaining Force.”

Other contemporary educators who believe imagination plays a crucial role in transforming education include Jack Miller from Canada, Ron Miller from the United States and Thomas Nielsen from Australia.

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Life and its metaphors are also emphasised in ecological, environmental and sustainability education. David Jardine talks about developing “ecological imagination” in young people. Similarly, ecopedagogy grew out of the First Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992 under the influence of Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy. In addition to its home in Latin America, ecopedagogy is thriving in Bulgaria through the influence of young sociologist, Stefan Grigorov.

Futures studies and foresight education, with their links to sustainability and citizenship education, play a vital role in ecological awareness. They help develop a sense of responsibility for long-term futures of life on our planet, the survival of our companion species and life itself. Futures education with young people may involve workshops in which the young people imagine possible, alternative and desirable futures, before creating the action plans that empower them to create their preferred futures.

We can also encourage life-enhancing values and increase vitality through promoting pedagogical life in simple practical ways. We can ground children in nature through gardening, creative handwork, and following daily and seasonal cycles, rather than mechanical clock time. In the 1980s I founded a school with a very innovative curriculum. I want to share two examples of how we used a playful, imaginative approach with young children to lay foundations for science theory in high school.

In the first project, with the help of an alternative energy expert, we designed and built a swing set that used the children’s kinetic energy to turn on a light bulb. At a time when renewable energy was still a relatively new idea, to the children this was pure magic. And yet it was a magic that they had created with their own energy, while they were playing! In a second project we built a stone mound with a water wheel on top that, when operating, poured water down through a sculpted waterfall into a pond nestled into a sandpit beside a see-saw (teeter-totter). When children rode the see-saw, their kinetic energy pumped water up, turning the water wheel and pouring water down through the flow forms. In both these projects the children were empowered to experience their own kinetic energy being transformed into another kind of energy. Through imaginative play, they were learning the fundamentals of physics, which they would later learn about conceptually in high school physics.

Finally, creative school architecture is an increasingly popular way to stimulate children’s creativity and imagination – to help them “to think outside the square”. Creative school architecture is iconic to Steiner/Waldorf schooling, but has now become a benchmark for top international schools in Scandinavia, Japan, Korea and elsewhere. Examples include a colourful kindergarten in Tromso, Norway (left) and Dae-Eun Elementary School, Seoul, South Korea.

colourful-kinder-in-tromso dae-eun-elementary-school-seoul-south-korea

To read more about Jennifer’s ideas on Imaginative Education:

The ideas in this short article are developed and discussed in detail, along with the latest developmental psychology and education research and practice, in Jennifer’s new book:

Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (Springer, 2016).

See also Jennifer’s Amazon Author page & Website.

 

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How do Screen-agers find their own Voice?

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By Dr. Jennifer M. Gidley

[This short blog is an entrée to Chapter 11: “Pedagogical Voice: An Empowering Force” in Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures. Available at: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319290683]

In this electronic age of ‘voice’-mail, ‘chat’-rooms, and ‘talking’ computers, perhaps the least valued of evolutionary forces is the human voice itself. Yet without its presence, little children cannot even learn to speak.

No matter where we live in the world today the human voice is mediated by technology. Children born in the last 15-20 years in affluent countries have never known a world without communication technologies of all kinds. Even in remote African villages, television has replaced the grandmother in the role of family storyteller, and the mobile phone is replacing face-to-face conversation everywhere. The number of mobile phones is approaching five billion globally and by 2020 is expected to exceed the number of humans living on the planet.

So what does that have to do with education or the raising of children? Even an education that is caring, lively and wise will fail in the long run if young people are not empowered to find their voices.

Marshall MacLuhan claimed decades ago that every advance in technology dulls a former human capacity. The increasing reliance of young people on the sound-bytes of the media and the truncated “spelling” of mobile phone text messages, as their primary modes of communication, dramatically limits the richness of their language development. Recent Australian Institute of Family Studies research found that Australian children are spending on average far more than the recommended 2-hour daily limit in front of screens.

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There is growing evidence that children who are overexposed to screen-mediated forms of communication from an early age become increasingly disconnected from the world around them and become disempowered. A growing number of kindergarten children have delayed language, arguably linked to reduction in real human-voice contact. We do not yet know the long-term effects of this mediated lifestyle, but we do know that “digital detox” vacations are an emerging form of tourism.

What we are witnessing is an educational time bomb that will explode in coming decades unless we rehumanise our relationship to voice and language.

By contrast, a live human educator telling children stories or facilitating Socratic dialogues with adolescents offers the rich nuances of voice, intonation, eye contact, gestures, facial expression, body language, emotional response and soul warmth. The mode and content of language that we expose children to not only creates the foundations of their language, but also their thinking-patterns and worldviews. Put simply, for young people, having a voice is empowering.

In Chapter 10 of Postformal Education called “Pedagogical Voice: An Empowering Force”, I introduce a number of educational approaches that empower children and young people. I use the term pedagogical voice to include postformal developments in language and linguistics, speech education, the range of voices of teachers and children, education in awareness of sound and silence, and the empowerment that comes with “finding one’s voice.”

The educational theories and practices that develop language awareness include postmodern and poststructuralist approaches; aesthetic, artistic and poetic methods; and critical, postcolonial, global and planetary pedagogies. This may sound very complex and theoretical, but in Chapter 10 of Postformal Education I also discuss practical ways to develop in young people critical thinking, awareness of the power that lies in language, and the empowerment that comes with finding their voice.

In our noise-polluted urban worlds it is a huge challenge to draw conscious attention to sounds in a practical way. You can start with an educational environment where spoken human language is valued over electronic voices for young children. Poems, singing, drama and natural conversation are all vocal methods that can greatly benefit the development of written language. We can also add chanting, oration, re-telling stories, tongue twisters and word play. Learning a second or third language is invaluable for enhancing sound awareness, and ability to see things from multiple perspectives, not to mention expanding awareness of the cultural other.

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All of these theories and practices, and more, are introduced and discussed in Chapter 10 of Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (Springer, Netherlands) published August 2016.

Both eBook and Hardback are available to purchase from August 2016.

See also my Amazon Author page.

Photo Credits: All images were freely available under the Creative Commons.

Wisdom Grows in the Presence of Creativity, Complexity and Play

Steiner School play cubbies Baltimore crop

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: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319290683]

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. http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319290683

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

How Can Education Resuscitate a Dying Planet?

Kids-At-Golden-Bridges-Farm-School-889x664

By Dr. Jennifer M. Gidley

[This short blog is an entrée to Chapter 9: “Pedagogical Life: A Sustaining Force” in Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures. Available at: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319290683]

There is only one subject-matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations. Alfred North Whitehead (1916)

We live in a world with a globalising culture that does not value life in its many dimensions: the environment, the health and vitality of its children and young people, or the wellbeing of socio-cultural life in general. Since the publication of La Mettrie’s L’Homme Machine (Man, the Machine) in 1748 mechanistic metaphors of human and nature have dominated science and philosophy.

In just a few years, public warnings about the increasing likelihood of severe effects of climate crisis have become much more insistent. While it is hard to imagine the environmental impact of the current sea level rise predictions, the social, cultural and especially psychological impacts will be far greater. We have altered the biosphere to the extent that our planetary homeland may in the foreseeable future become inhospitable for human habitation. How can children and young people be expected to contend with catastrophic futures?

If a more caring, life-enhancing consciousness could assist the restoration of our fragile planetary ecosystem how might educators achieve this?

In Chapter 9 of Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures, I introduce readers to the most life-supporting educational approaches today, followed by examples from my teaching experience and that of other alive and vital educators. I finish with some personal reflections on the importance of pedagogical life – a core value in my postformal education philosophy.

This chapter explores the creative use of the imagination in education as a way of enlivening thinking and breaking with outdated models from the past. I introduce several contemporary educational approaches that facilitate the enlivening of education. The first to be explored is “imaginative education” such as that developed by Canadian educator Kieran Egan, and Bernie Neville and Thomas Nielsen from Australia, to name a few.

Secondly, ecological, environmental and sustainability education are all playing an important role in developing in young people what David Jardine calls “ecological imagination”. Thirdly, futures studies and foresight education, with their links to sustainability and citizenship education, play a vital role in education. They help develop a sense of responsibility for long-term futures of life on our planet, the survival of our companion species and life itself. Futures studies education involves imagining possible, alternative and desirable futures. Philosopher of education Gert Biesta (2014) puts it this way:

“Philosophy of education must always make place for that which cannot be foreseen as a possibility, that which transcends the realm of the possible.”

In addition to cultivating the child’s imagination, we can encourage life-enhancing values in education and affirm and increase vitality and wellbeing through promoting pedagogical life in simple practical ways, such as gardening (as shown in the photo above).

All of these theories and practices are introduced and discussed in Chapter 9: “Pedagogical Life: A Sustaining Force” in Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (Springer, Netherlands) published August 2016.Both eBook and Hardback are available to purchase from 9th August 2016.

See also my Amazon Author page: www.amazon.com/author/jennifergidley

Photo Credit: Image from the Golden Bridges Farm School in San Francisco, from article published in Inhabitat (2 June 2016).

 

About ‘Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures’

Jennifer Gidley Postformal Education Final

My book ‘Postformal Education’ was published in August 2016 by Springer International.

Now available to purchase: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319290683#

TABLE OF CONTENTS (12 chapters)

Introduction
 

Abstract

The book I offer you is about radical change. It explains why the current education model, which was developed in the 19th century to meet the needs of industrial expansion, is obsolete. It points to the need for a new approach to education designed to prepare young people for global uncertainty, accelerating change and unprecedented complexity. Readers will become aware of the limitations of formal reasoning in addressing complex, systemic challenges. They will begin to appreciate the more complex, nuanced and paradoxical features of postformal reasoning and how such reasoning will help us to meet future planetary challenges with courage, imagination, wisdom, rather than relying on techno-fixes. A key question: “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?”

PART I: An Evolutionary Approach to Education

Cultural Evolution: Past, Present and Futures


Abstract

In this chapter a big picture overview of cultural history provides a context for understanding our present situation in relation to education. After introducing the concept of evolution of consciousness and discussing the research challenges, I take a transdisciplinary approach to evolution, to overcome some of the limitations of Darwinian biological evolution. Three theorists of cultural evolution are chosen—Rudolf Steiner, Jean Gebser and Ken Wilber—with the structural framework being provided by Gebser’s model. An overview of five major transitions of culture and consciousness are presented, the most recent being integral, which is emerging today. The purpose of the chapter is to lay the groundwork for creating conceptual bridges between cultural evolution and education as the book unfolds.

Psychological Development: Child and Adolescent


Abstract

This chapter focuses on the psychological, particularly cognitive, dimension of the evolution of consciousness. After introducing the concept of psychological development, I discuss some of the challenges in researching the evolution of consciousness from the psychological standpoint and point to the need for a transdisciplinary approach. I present an overview of child and adolescent cognitive development pointing to the limitations of Piaget’s model, and then introduce some evidence of widespread changes in thinking occurring across the knowledge spectrum over the last hundred years: megatrends of the mind. The purpose of the chapter is to create conceptual bridges between psychological development and the futures of education.

Evolving Education: Pre-formal and Formal


Abstract

In the first part of this chapter I make an ambitious attempt to present an overview of what education-as-enculturation might have been like thousands of years before we had formal schooling—even for the elite. I trace fragments of the evolutionary narrative that have been critically underappreciated—the apparent aesthetic sensibilities of some early hominins and humans. I then discuss the early introduction of formal elite schooling in Europe and a handful of other civilisation centres. I show that formal, publicly funded, universal school education began little more than two hundred years ago in Europe and was holistic, idealistic and evolutionary. Only after the Industrial Revolution did schooling begin to resemble factories. The purpose of this chapter is primarily to contextualise the futures of education within the broad macro-historical development from pre-formal, to formal to postformal education.

PART II: Postformal Psychology and Education: A Dialogue

Postformal in Psychology: Beyond Piaget’s Formal Operations


Abstract

I expect that this chapter will be the most challenging for readers with limited prior knowledge of adult developmental psychology. It has certainly been the most challenging to write—largely because there is so much material on higher stages of reasoning, yet so little coherence of it to date. In this chapter we explore a range of adult development theories created by psychologists who saw beyond the limits of Piaget’s cognitive model. I introduce the main researchers who have identified and described postformal reasoning qualities and reiterate the shift from formal to postformal reasoning. The postformal reasoning features they identify are listed, and from these I theorise and discuss twelve distinct postformal reasoning qualities. By the end you will have a coherent picture of how postformal reasoning is conceptually aligned with four themes distilled from the evolution of consciousness research.

Postformal in Education: Beyond the Formal Factory Model


Abstract

I first introduce three evolutionary waves of educational initiatives that have occurred over the last hundred years. Before identifying numerous postformal pedagogies—and showing how they align to postformal reasoning qualities—I discuss the educational theory of “postformalism” developed by Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg. I then introduce other leading educational innovators who are developing evolutionary approaches. Finally, I offer a more complex mapping of the relationships among the four evolutionary themes, the postformal qualities that relate to them and the diversity of postformal educational discourses. A major aim of the chapter is to map these different approaches, explore relationships among them and reflect this out into the broader education discourse

A Boundary-Crossing Dialogue of Postformal Futures


Abstract

This chapter offers a series of dialogues beginning with interconnections—and distinctions—between cultural evolutionary approaches and developmental psychology approaches. The second set of dialogues identifies and maps the convergences and divergences between postformal reasoning and postformal pedagogies, including an analysis of the extent to which Kincheloe and Steinberg’s core postformal characteristics align with my theorised postformal reasoning qualities. I then begin a more complex mapping of all of the above relationships to explore how the postformal reasoning qualities and postformal pedagogies intersect with the four evolutionary themes discussed in Chapter 5. Finally, I distil four core pedagogical values: love, life, wisdom and voice—the heart of my postformal education philosophy, which supports the development of higher stages of reasoning.

PART III: An Evolving Postformal Education Philosophy

Pedagogical Love: An Evolutionary Force


See also Blog Piece “What’s Love got to do with Education”

Abstract

In a world of high-stakes testing, league tables for primary schools as well as universities, funding cuts, teacher shortages, mass shootings in school campuses and rising rates of depression and suicide among students who miss out on university entrance, how do we decide what should be the core values in education? Because I believe it is the most important value that is largely missing from education today, I begin with pedagogical love. I discuss the philosophical background as to why love should be at centre stage in education. I follow this with an introduction to the contemporary educational approaches that support a caring pedagogy and some experiences and examples from my own and others’ practice, ending with some personal reflections on the theme.

Pedagogical Life: A Sustaining Force

Abstract

We live in a world with a globalising culture that does not value life in its many dimensions: the environment, the health and vitality of its children and young people, or the wellbeing of socio-cultural life in general. This chapter begins by reiterating the important evolutionary theme that would shift our thinking from static mechanistic metaphors to life-enhancing ones. I refresh the reader on the postformal qualities and pedagogies that support this shift before discussing the philosophical underpinnings of a life-promoting education. An introduction to the most life-supporting educational approaches today is followed by examples from my teaching experience and that of other alive and vital educators. I finish with some personal reflections on the importance of pedagogical life.

Pedagogical Wisdom: A Creative Force


Abstract

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? After a brief diagnostic, I reiterate the evolution of consciousness theme, the postformal qualities and the postformal pedagogies that I conceptually weave into my tapestry of wisdom. The main sections of this chapter explore the philosophical importance of wisdom, educational approaches that encourage and support it, many practical examples from educators of how to cultivate wisdom and some personal reflections on how I have worked creatively, complexly and multi-modally in my educational endeavours.

Pedagogical Voice: An Empowering Force


Abstract

No matter where we live in the world today, the human voice is mediated by technology. Children born in the last fifteen to twenty years in affluent countries have never known a world without communication technologies of all kinds. And yet Marshall McLuhan claimed decades ago that every advance in technology dulls a former human capacity. What human capacities are we in danger of losing in the age of screens? I propose in this chapter that even an education that is caring, lively and wise will fail in the long run if young people are not empowered to find their voices. I reiterate the evolutionary theme and related postformal reasoning qualities and pedagogies before the philosophical discussion. I then discuss the educational approaches that awaken voice and language awareness and share some examples from my own and others’ teaching experience, finishing with personal reflections.

Meta-Reflections

Abstract

I offer some concluding reflections here but not a lockstep short cut to what I have already said. Let me be clear. There are no short cuts to evolving education. Unless we resolve to rehumanise education so its core purpose becomes once again to develop whole human beings who care, who have and 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. Nothing less will suffice, if our young people are to become whole enough to navigate the complex futures they will ineluctably inherit.

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