Toward a transformational education
An educator himself, correspondent Rozman discusses the direction education will take in the future, based on the ideas of the Master Djwhal Khul in the Alice Bailey books.
A growing number of books, some best-sellers, have been criticizing the United States educational system for being out of touch with the needs of students and society alike. The growing cry is ‘Back to the basics!’ to promote moral and intellectual regeneration.
As a college professor myself (political science), I have been mindful of a debate in academic circles involving those who seek some restoration of old methods and course content, and those who defend the products of reforms that have taken place. Some months ago, I attended a national conference convened by prominent figures associated with the design of college core curriculums, inspired by the promise that the approach would be futuristic, with a look toward the coming century.
The tone of the conference, however, was defensive: we should stop engaging in the self-flagellation we, as teachers, had been undergoing since the 1960s, when student demands for change and greater relevance led to sometimes wholesale upheavals in academic programs. We were told that some of the reforms were warranted, others were misguided, but balance had now been greatly restored and we should take pride in our accomplishments. Students were now getting a good liberal arts education, with a good grounding in the ‘classics’ to provide a rich historical perspective and awareness of western heritage.
Although I, too, felt we should take pride in what we were doing well, I also felt that we did not merit self-adulation and that we had hard work ahead of us to make the academic program one which could equip students for the next century and the New Age which is close at hand. I asked my colleagues to assess their visions of the future and then reflect backward to the present to determine to what degree the current course offerings and methods help make the visions manifest. One fellow professor responded by saying that what I was calling for was a ‘transformational’ education. When the discussion proceeded a bit further, another colleague frankly admitted that he felt unable to make the radical changes in himself that would be needed to promote any transformation.
The key to any true educational reform lies in the ability of teachers to change their own awareness and to teach from an enhanced level of understanding, otherwise the debate will be taking place between those who are committed to the existing order with minor reforms and those who want to go back to the fundamentals. The educational fundamentalists have their counterparts in the religious sphere, just as the educational moderates (or mild reformists) have their counterparts in many of the more reformist churches of this time. But no significant educational or religious breakthrough tends to take place because true transformation is not promoted as an alternative in either set of debates. If it were, we would come to understand the need to go ‘forward to the basics’ rather than back to them.
As the Tibetan Master Djwhal Khul (DK) observes in Alice A. Bailey’s Education in the New Age, "Education, up to the present time, has been occupied with the art of synthesizing past history, past achievement in all departments of human thought and with the attainments to date of human knowledge. It has dealt with those forms of science which the past has evolved. It is primarily backward-looking and not forward-looking".
The conference leaders also identified with the long-established approach of equating education with logical-analytic modes of teaching and learning, assuming that the basic foundation of education exists within this framework. But this assumption is inaccurate. We cannot go back to the basics because we have not yet reached the basics — if we define basics as the foundation of learning and knowledge. From this standpoint, the higher mind is basic to the lower concrete mind and should be recognized and utilized as such.
DK addresses this matter by saying that "The fundamental necessity which today confronts the educational world is the need to relate the process of unfolding the human mentality to the world of meaning, and not to the world of objective phenomena... Until the fact of the higher mind is recognized, and the place which the lower concrete mind should fill as the servant of the higher is likewise recognized, we shall have the overdevelopment of the concrete materializing faculty — with its aptitude to memorize, to correlate facts and to produce that which will meet man’s lower desire — but we shall not have a humanity which can truly think. As yet, the mind reflects the lower desire nature and does not attempt to cognize the higher." He adds that: "When the right method of training is instituted, the mind will be developed into a reflector or agent of the soul and so sensitized to the world of true values that the lower nature — emotional, mental and physical or vital — will become simply the automatic servant of the soul."
Just as the process of analysis involves the separating of something into its various parts and a focusing on their differences, a decidedly analytical approach emphasizes the divisions among humanity rather than the essential and basic unity. A focus on a world of differences is, by definition, a materialist approach, and the tendency to see things (and people, in particular) in terms of their separate identity tends to foster a competitive attitude, with most unfortunate results when carried to an extreme.
In assessing the pattern that has developed, DK observes that "Modern education has been primarily competitive, nationalistic and, therefore, separative. It has trained the child to regard the material values as of major importance... He is taught consequently to be a one-sided person..." He adds that "The realized goals which the institutional teacher has set before himself have been narrow, and the consequent effect of his teaching and of his work has been the production of a selfish, materialistically-minded person whose major objective has been self-betterment in a material sense... The natural idealism of the child (and what child is not an innate idealist) has been slowly and steadily suffocated by the weight of the materialism of the world’s educational machine and by the selfish bias of the world’s business in its many departments, plus the emphasis always laid upon the necessity of making money."
What steps can be taken to change the nature of the educational process, to make it transformational in character so students will realize more of their innate potential and society will be healed of its wounds? DK provides some insight when he says that "The true education is... the science of linking up the integral parts of man, and also of linking him up in turn with his immediate environment, and then with the greater whole in which he has to play his part."
Are today’s educators totally unaware of this reality? To the contrary, a growing understanding is evident in developmental education theory (the theory of how the child develops over time), and in the statements of some of the major contributors to this growing body of knowledge. One may cite the growing impact of ‘maturity’ theories, which view student development as holistic and interactive rather than seeing the student in terms of fragmented parts. The holistic approach embraces the position that intellect, emotions, values, self-concept, and inter-personal skills are inter-related. As we mature in one capacity, we may move forward in the other capacities as well. The process of maturation, it should be added, is an evolutionary process whereby the various capacities not only develop together but become increasingly inter-linked, so that the student experiences an increasing synthesis of emotional, mental and physical levels. The key to promoting a linkage with our outer environment is to first promote an integrated inner environment. Thus, the promotion of international harmony is a process of unfolding from within.
What process might be followed in promoting an unfolding from the inner to the outer? DK suggests that "First of all, in teaching children up to 14 years of age, it is necessary to bear in mind that they are emotionally focused. They need to feel, and rightly to feel beauty, strength and wisdom... After 14 years and during adolescence their mental response to truth should be drawn out and counted upon to deal with presented problems."
Does the current educational system approach young children in this manner to respond to their natural stages of development? Or do we overlook the student’s need to feel beauty, strength, and wisdom, and, consequently, promote an imbalance in student growth patterns which undermines the student’s future well-being? The fact that the educational establishment in our country has begun to recognize that the problems (imbalances) students bring to college can best be confronted during their earlier educational years is a positive sign — provided teaching methods are adjusted to correspond to natural stages of student development.
The task before us is, of course, challenging. L. Lee Knefelkamp, a recognized authority in developmental education, has observed in an article on "Faculty and Student Development in the 80s’" that "...we now suffer from more separation and fragmentation than ever before", and that "...our sense of mutuality has been severely shaken..."
The key to meaningful change is in recognizing that the student is an evolving being, and in designing the educational program to enhance the evolutionary process, rather than retard it. Recognition of the dialectical nature of growth and change seems the essential first step, with tasks designed to promote a hierarchical pattern of development. When a particular stage of growth is sufficiently developed, the nature of the tasks should change to move the student to the next higher stage.
Knefelkamp is thinking dialectically when she refers to developmental education as being "a sequence of irreversible stages involving shifts in the process by which individuals perceive and reason about their world", and when she says that: "The process of developmental change is seen as interactive; individuals encounter problems, dilemmas, or ideas which cause cognitive conflict that demands that they accommodate or change their way of thinking to a more adequate form."
William Perry, Jr., another recognized authority, employs a dialectical approach in his nine-stage model of development. The lowest stages are those of concrete learning and are called dualistic. Students on this level have difficulty with tasks that require recognition of conflicting points of view or those that require critical analysis, reflection, and comparative thinking. The student’s perspective broadens as he/she becomes a multiplistic thinker and is able to experience more of the field of diversity. Growth then proceeds to the relativistic level, where one has "begun to master the tasks of analysis and synthesis..." Such students have developed a significant 'capacity for empathy'.
At the higher stages of development, the student "gradually accepts the responsibility of the pluralistic world and acts by Commitment to establish and affirm his identity." At this level, the student seems to have entered the world of meaning, becoming a strong, active learner, with an increasingly strong self-concept and feeling of empowerment. The sense of responsibility and commitment seems to relate to a tendency toward service work, toward reaching out — in the spirit of goodwill — to give to others. The states of learning move upward from the lower levels of materialism (with considerable degrees of separatism) to ever-higher levels of spirituality (with growing degrees of inclusiveness), as knowledge leads to understanding and eventually to wisdom.
David Kolb introduces another important factor through his model of diverse learning styles, illustrating the fact that developmental education is not a single, linear process shared by all students. Rather, diverse pathways exist, regardless of which dialectical model we choose to employ. The teacher would do well to become acquainted with each major pathway, especially since particular disciplines and professions are favorable to certain learning styles but less favorable to others. Kolb suggests that diagnostic tests be developed to determine a student’s learning style. This corresponds to DK’s vision of the future: "A child’s note and quality will be early determined, and his whole planned training will grow out of this basic recognition".
A truly transformational education will break down the barriers established between organized education and organized religion. For much too long, education has been narrowly based and has greatly ignored the development of the inner subjective life. DK proclaims that spirituality will be promoted through the educational process and asserts that "enlightenment is the major goal of education." In the pursuit of this goal the teaching of the science of meditation will be "one of the major building techniques".
We in the field of education must be willing to apply relevant models for change. Kolb describes the learning cycle as moving from concrete experience, to observations and reflections, to conceptualization, and then to testing the implications of our new concepts in new situations. Developmental theorists have provided important new concepts and we are increasingly recognizing their truth. Knefelkamp has observed that "learning is an ego-threatening task," and I might add that this is true for students and for teachers (who must also be students), alike. Are we prepared to apply the new concepts in new situations?
DK addresses this question by saying that "...the required shift in objectives and change in methods will take much time. We shall have to train our teachers differently and much time will be lost as we grope for the new and better ways, develop the new textbooks and find the men and women who can be impressed with the new vision and who will work for the new civilization."
One thing is clear: we will transform the educational system in proportion to the degree we transform ourselves.
(* Parts of this article have appeared in two issues of Pathways, a magazine published in southern California)
From the January/February 1999 issue of Share International