A radical educator who walks the talk Features News - Sunday, October 29, 2006 Michele Lee, Contributor, Denpasar What is the best education system for children? Ask that question to parents, chances are you would get as many answers as parents interviewed. But pose the same question to Alan Wagstaff and his disciples, and they would firmly tell you that there is only one good system, and that is Holistic Education. Alan, a principal, teacher developer and international school adviser, came to Indonesia in early October to share his experience of 35 years in holistic education, a system designed to be a health-giving education, nurturing and balancing the human faculties of thinking, feeling and will. Each day of the five-day workshop began with reflective verses and five minutes of singing for personal enjoyment. On the day The Jakarta Post attended the event, the participants were singing Alleluia, while Alan enthusiastically guided everyone with his sonorous voice. Alan is a New Zealand native with a wife and two grown children who were themselves schooled in the holistic methodologies which Alan has been so passionate about for the past 35 years. "Balinese culture is vibrant with movement, dance, games, stories, myths, music, art, festivals, meditations, songs, architecture, costume, philosophy -- a smorgasbord of spiritual intelligence (S.Q.), intelligence quotient (I.Q.), emotional intelligence (E.Q.) and kinesthetic intelligence (K.Q.) opportunities and materials," Alan said when asked why he chose Bali to hold his Holistic Education Learning Program, known as HELP. Indeed, the content needed to fire such an education is more readily at hand in Bali than in most "western" style countries. Balinese people are renowned for their loving qualities and Indonesian parents have a deep instinct for "heart" in the upbringing of their children. Research is beginning to emerge concerning the negative effects of education without "heart" and E.Q. Indonesian and Balinese people surely recognize this form of education and it gives organizational shape to something they already know instinctively: i.e. the purpose of education is, and has always been, about a child's entry into the adult world as whole, confident and accepted. Alan strongly believes in the idea that education should be viewed as a vehicle for consciousness and is an avid supporter of integrative learning methods which incorporate spiritual intelligence, emotional intelligence, and kinesthetic intelligence. The big question that comes to mind is whether traditional schools can make a shift that will allow room for integrative learning? "This is a very difficult task. Traditional schooling is deeply subject-centered; e.g. some high schools have whole buildings -- or corridors dedicated to traditional subjects -- English, Social Studies, Math -- and the like. This is because the educational direction is dominated by university trained subject specialists. A subject as part of a curriculum grows to fill all available time. "Time wars" are on! This has led to the "overcrowded curriculum". When reformists look at mainstream education, the notion of fundamentally changing the architecture seems too big a task -- instead, the question is posed: can we do better at that which we are already doing? This is window
polishing, not restructuring. Mainstream schooling is, largely, subject-centered; its goal is subject expertise. "Success, in this system, is judged by subject examinations. Internationally, about 30 percent of school students succeed in mainstream schools and pass into tertiary education," Alan said. "My vision for schooling replaces 'subject centeredness' with `affirmation' and 'integration' as its main purposes," he added. For Alan, these are the two pillars of holistic education. If the child is not affirmed and integrated, he can not succeed in life. Alan has a clear vision of how a successful holistic educational program functions. The key ingredients involve incorporating SQ, EQ, IQ and KQ in as many learning contexts as possible. "Part of every day would be dedicated to the task of bringing these four cardinal aptitudes or intelligences to bear inside one learning context, with the aim that the students would see they were valued and would develop and integrate all four. Thus, in an English context carried by, for example, Celtic Stories, the students might: recite a Celtic blessing and listen to, act out and re-tell stories with a high `caring' content (S.Q.), learn and perform a complex Celtic dance, draw or construct a Celtic interlace pattern (KQ), sing and play Celtic melodies, draw pictures based on the stories they hear (EQ) and re-write the stories or things stimulated by the stories in the form of poems, plays, narratives, descriptions (IQ) etc." said Alan. During the seminar that ran from Oct. 2 to 6, participants the got to experience these four cardinal aptitudes firsthand, as they enjoyed learning a few Celtic songs and dances and listened to several classic Irish fairy tales. This gave everyone a chance to experience how joyful education can and should be. H.E.L.P! was also suitable for parents because, the values and ideas that were put forth are interrelated to parenting. "Holistic education confirms a parent's instinctive understanding that education is a sub-set of parenting," said Alan. "The types of activities central to this approach can easily be done at home; they fructify and deepen the parent/child relationship in ways that working on intellectual issues cannot do. Incidentally, research done in New Zealand by Russell Bishop at Waikato University shows that education devoid of these `relational' aspects is not -- perhaps even -- cannot be assimilated by our indigenous young people. These workshops are about experiencing holism as well as hearing about it. Music and painting are important languages of E.Q.; both are vital to primary school children in particular because this age group lives so strongly in the imaginative," said Alan. He believes that we should treat childhood as though it were a unique culture, and has created a distinctive theory about this. "We have the culture of infancy which is the signature of movement; the culture of childhood with its signature of imagination or subjectivity; and the culture of adolescence with its signature of argument. If we use that cultural signature in our teaching exchange, we are saying that it's OK to have invisible friends and imagination. This is an affirming act." In Alan's model of holistic education, he has formed tribes or impulses that represent different
consciousnesses for each year of a child's education beginning with Class one. For example, in Class one the children are introduced to the Fairy Tale World, because at this age they are still very much in the world of make believe and strongly relate to all things magical. These impulses continue to progress in line with a child's development. Class two is The Celtic World, while class six is `The Roman World' which represents material things and how we relate to them, i.e. money, business, law, etc. These impulses are not culture specific and can be replaced by alternative cultures that represent the same concept or gesture. "The progression from one stage to the next sets the trend for raising consciousness," said Alan. While some people in education feel strongly that a holistic approach to learning doesn't provide enough structure, making it difficult or almost impossible for children to achieve, Alan thinks otherwise. "In a well delivered holistic education there is more structure than in mainstream education. This approach has nothing to do with looseness or laissez-faire. Thus, the day is divided into two hour thematic integrative lessons, three standard practice lessons where the basics skills are honed to proficiency and a block lesson devoted to experiential education. The practice lessons are set up in a rhythm that promotes assimilation into the long term memory. In fact, traditional schooling, based on the 45/50-minute periods' is anti engaging and is unlikely to promote deep, higher order thinking and learning since by definition 'engagement' requires that students commit significant time to worthwhile activities." Alan's holistic education methodologies are quite foreign to most Asian schools, where mainstream or traditional education practices are still very much in place. The Post asked Alan what would be an effective way to promote or implement a Holistic Educational program in Asia or in other countries. "The only possible tools would be data or evidence. So parents in particular need to take a long distance look at the data on childhood and ask questions like: Are our young people fulfilled? Motivated? There's extreme data on these things ... like suicide rates. Parents also need to ask what does it take in Asia to get their child in tertiary education and what is sacrificed to other students in that process? If people are satisfied with that, then there's nothing I can do, but if they are troubled by those sorts of numbers as I am -- they will ask what else could there be?" he asked. Alan doesn't feel that we can overhaul the teacher's training programs at this point because he feels that this is `an impossible ask.' "What mainstream education is doing, and is doing very well, is that it is getting better at what it does." Instead, Alan is excited about the plans for the new Steiner-inspired school which is being built in Bali. He firmly believes that this will attract interest from educationalists from all over the world. It is the possibility of realizing this dream of creating a holistic school in Bali that gives Alan and other great educators like him, hope for the future of our children. The workshop that day concluded with a wonderful ballad writing activity. Here is the ballad that our group wrote:
A beach has many lovely things like seashells and clean water. I like to go out sailing but not without my daughter. The kites fly high down by the sea where children run and play. A digging in the sand we'll go on a bright and sunny day. The sand is softly under foot the wind upon my face. Water dancing like an artist makes me feel embraced.
Published on Aug 12, 2008