Book Review of
Holistic Education: An Analysis of
Its Ideas and Nature
HOLISTIC EDUCATION: An
Analysis of Its Ideas and Nature, by
Scott H. Forbes (Director of Holistic Education, Inc., Portland,
Oregon), A Solomon Press Book, 2003, Foundation for Educational
Renewal, ISBN 1-885580-15. Available online from www.Great-Ideas.org
Book Review by Patricia Enlgish
Not every doctorial dissertation, even one emanating
out of Oxford University, accomplishes the difficult transition
from scholarly tome to essential educational text, especially
one that proves suitable for undergraduates and graduates alike.
- An Analysis of Its Ideas and Nature by Scott H. Forbes
is a notable exception and likely to be of immense interest to
educational leaders and administrators as well as concerned parents.
Forbes' selection of material is as exciting and intriguing as
it is useful. Even better, it comes upon the market at a time
when students, teachers and lecturers are reeling under the pressures
of exponential social change and rampant economic rationalism.
In such a climate it is hardly surprising to find that there are
many educators who believe that these influences threaten the
very existence of education as a professional enterprise. For
these practitioners Forbes' book will do much to counteract the
tide of negative sentiment.
In the foreword to this book, John Wilson of
Oxford University, claims that Forbes provides us with "the
best (perhaps the only) attempt to give the idea and practice
of holistic education a serious philosophical underpinning".
If this statement be true, students of education can breathe a
sigh of relief because Forbes' book provides a solid philosophical
foundation which will raise holistic education above the level
of attitudes, intuitions and feel-good practices and theories
which have arguably hindered innovative education in the past
Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, practitioners
who have been influenced by the advocates of humanistic education,
and who have drawn upon their perspectives in teacher education
courses, can now avail themselves of a substantial philosophical
base upon which empirical studies into aspects of holistic education
can be formulated and successfully conducted.
Forbes defines holistic education in terms of
what it "does" and what it "thinks" and he
has organised his exploration into three major sections which
may be read separately, according to the purposes of the reader,
or read as an entire work.
This reviewer believes that the work is more
valuable when read in its entirety, mainly because of the organising
principle that dominates the structure of the book as well as
the clarification of terminology which is enunciated clearly and
fully in the opening chapter and which is employed eloquently
and consistently throughout each section of the entire work. The
book itself is divided into three sections.
Section I is concerned with a general overview
of holistic education, while Section II deals with its philosophical
precedents. (Please note that this section comes with a wonderfully
extensive appendix which is worth reading for its own sake).
Section III is concerned with examining what
holistic education actually "does" and involves a sociological
analysis which draws heavily upon the work of Basil Bernstein,
whom the author was fortunate to have as a discussion partner
during his term at Oxford. This section is primarily concerned
with the examination of the three competence based modes of pedagogy
identified by Bernstein, together with a well argued case by Forbes
for holistic education to be considered as a fourth mode in the
competence based pedagogic model.
The sociological analysis in Section III is by far the most challenging
section of the book, although some may say that Bernstein is an
acquired taste. In any event, not everyone will be in agreement
with all aspects of Bernstein's model and perhaps like me, some
will find themselves variously irritated and frustrated, challenged
and exhilarated, as much by Bernstein as by Forbes' exclusive
use of Bernstein's competence model as the dominant sociological
perspective in examining and evaluating what holistic educators
"do". For example, I think perhaps that too fine a line
was drawn in the comparison between competency based models of
pedagogy and performance based models, with the latter being assigned
to the worst practices of mainstream education.
I also felt that both Forbes and Bernstein were
a bit too hard on mainstream education as a whole, especially
when so many teacher education courses in Australia have tried
to accommodate not only the individual differences of students,
but also to design curricula which allow the maximum freedom of
choice and delivery.
To a greater or lesser extent, education at
all levels has been positively influenced by holistic perspectives.
On the other hand, perhaps I am being unnecessarily defensive,
because I realise, as many practitioners do, that government policies
make it virtually impossible to achieve a truly authentic, holistic
educational system and not solely because of economic constraints.
Besides, in a social environment heavily influenced by political
correctness, what government would be brave enough to introduce
an education system which encourages students to develop into
responsible, autonomous thinkers?
Almost everyone acknowledges that it is much
easier (and cheaper) to "dumb down" the educational
enterprise than it is to allow its citizens to develop to their
full potential as human beings. The real question for modern educators
though, is whether we are prepared to allow this to happen and
what steps can be taken to constructively prevent it.
At least in Western Australia, where there is
still a good deal of autonomy in schools (and this may apply in
other States as well) it might be possible - in view of Forbes'
establishment of a philosophical base - to utilize some of this
autonomy to trial holistic educational programs in government
Even if this does not eventuate, educators and
trainee teachers will find Forbes' book invaluable in clarifying
their own thinking about holistic education and in developing
the necessary intellectual philosophical understandings which
should underpin all educational innovation, whether that innovation
occurs within the broad spectrum of holistic education or outside
In his book, Forbes examines the goals of holistic
education in terms of Ultimacy (a term first coined by Paul Tillich)
and he uses this term in a broad sense to refer to (a) "the
highest state of being that a human can aspire to, either as a
stage of development (e.g., enlightenment) or as a moment of life
that is the greatest but only rarely experienced by anyone (e.g.,
grace), or as a phase of life that is common in the population
but usually rare in any particular individual's life (e.g., Maslow's
peak experience); and (b) a concern or engagement that is the
greatest that a person can aspire to (e.g., being in service to
The adoption of the term Ultimacy was made on
the grounds that it incorporates both an end-state and a process
which can be used interchangeably or stand alone. It is a term
which encompasses religious as well as psychological perspectives
and easily accommodates theories of human development.
Throughout Section l of the book, Forbes uses Ultimacy to discuss
the goals of education and the importance given to it by the founding
authors of holistic education. This concept becomes the linchpin
in the following discussions on what needs to be learned, what
facilitates the needed learning in the students, and the aspects
of teachers that facilitate this learning.
Using the above intellectual framework, Section
II is concerned with an analysis of the ideas of holistic education
through an examination of six founding authors deemed to have
made a unique contribution to the understanding and development
of holistic education, referred to throughout the book as The
Authors. The six authors selected are Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann
Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Carl Gustav Jung, Abraham Maslow,
and Carl Rogers. The work of each author is examined in terms
of ultimacy, competence, student characteristics and teachers'
understanding in relation to the educational enterprise.
The inclusion of Jung in this esteemed line-up
may seem at first discordant, but when one considers the breadth
and depth of his psychological contribution to our understanding
of what it means to be human, it turns out to have been an extremely
good choice. I suspect that quite a few graduate students will
be pointed in a direction that will prove fascinating and enthralling
for them if they are looking for areas in which to conduct empirical
The same may also be said for Section III where
the work of Basil Bernstein is used to conduct a sociological
analysis in which holistic education is examined in terms of what
Although, from previous comments, it may be
deduced that this reviewer is not a Bernstein fan, I defy any
educator not to be stimulated and provoked by this section of
the book. A controversial and contentious character like Bernstein
is just what is needed to refine our critical endeavours.
If teachers and students do not feel passionately
about what they are doing in the classroom, or whatever constitutes
for them the educational environment, then what hope is there
of ever changing or transforming our human condition? And, who
among us would want to argue that it does not need changing, and
perhaps, radically so?
In conclusion, I would like to say something about Forbes writing
style. It is scholarly without being pedantic, it is clear and
concise without being patronizing, and his tone throughout is
one of moderate persuasion; informed by intellect but not dominated
by it. It is a writing style that most students will find eminently
There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that
Scott H. Forbes' work will become a touchstone for all those researchers
and scholars alike, who dare to believe that education, in the
fullest and deepest sense of that word, can lead to the awakening
of true human intelligence.
B.A., Dip.Ed., M.Ed., (Sydney University)
Dip.Theol. (Melbourne College of Divinity), formerly Lecturer
in Teaching and Curriculum Studies, Edith Cowan University,