A Response to Social and Familial Dysfunction
from Holistic Education
There is widespread concern about the breakdown
of families and communities; about increases of neglect and abuse
of all kinds; about conflict, isolation; and about the psychological
consequences of these. Holistic education has long felt that it
should address these issues, and address them in a fundamental
way to give young people an opportunity to live without such dysfunction
in the families they create and the society they will inherit.
In brief, holistic education has contended
that education must deliberately help children learn about the
nature of society, themselves, and relationships. These are very
complex things, full of potential joys as well as sorrow. To not
learn about them and then expect to lead a successful and happy
life, is as reasonable as not learning about mountaineering and
then expect to climb Mt. Everest.
Parents, in the main, try very hard to teach
their children about their society, themselves, and relationships,
but the influence of parents is vastly overshadowed by popular
culture as promoted in the media and marketing. The media and
marketing portray (and in so doing unconsciously promote) relationships,
ways to resolve conflicts, and values that are at odds with what
most parents want for their children. Relationships which are
the greatest source of both happiness and misery for all of us
are too often portrayed superficially in popular culture, as caricatures
or comic book versions of real relationships. Adults in the media
who are presented as immature are seen as funny or endearing.
Children who are unnaturally precocious are seen as heroes or
The real sensitivities and depths of perception
required to meet the complexities of relationships are rarely
presented. Conflicts in the media are rarely resolved through
negotiation or developing larger understandings; force and violence
are normal, and are thereby normalized. If popular culture is,
in fact, the major source of most people's learning about how
to live life, it would seem we are being trained to have dysfunctional
families in dysfunctional societies. From reading our newspapers,
it would appear that the training is working.
Values are deliberately manipulated by marketing.
Children are "targeted" by experts; a phrase that should
itself be worrying. This is usually accomplished by targeting
the self-image of children, and this occurs at a time when the
sense of self is being formed and is at its most vulnerable. This
pressure on children's self-images leads to insecurity, and yet
we know from research that children need security for healthy
development and learning. We know from reams of research that
childhood insecurity often produces psychological wounds that
are very difficult to heal, and childhood pathologies (which are
on the rise) are a source of social and familial dysfunction in
Brutality, not just physical but emotional
and social as well, seems commonplace. Peer groups become enforcers
of values (like being "cool") that stem from the popular
culture rather than healthy traditions or forms of wisdom. As
a consequence, children learn to act for the sake of appearances
and not authenticity; for presentation rather than substance.
Such appearances and presentation are in themselves another source
of insecurity as they are always fragile and carry with them the
constant threat of exposure for the falsities they are. This is
a very dysfunctional position for children to find themselves
in and to try to maintain.
Holistic education has maintained that children
need to actively and deliberately learn about relationships and
values. Both must be discussed and examined in the classroom.
Relationship dynamics that emerge must be addressed, not for the
sake of "correcting" them, but for the sake of learning
about relationship. Values, all values, need to be explored and
questioned. Children should not be inculcated with values, but
they should be helped to find values that are deep and complex
and that will sustain them in the moral dilemmas that are part
of everyone's life. While both relationships and values are worthy
of study in their own rights, and not as adjuncts to other subjects,
holistic education has maintained that these lessons need not
be separate from lessons of literature, history, etc., but that
the various academic disciplines are wonderful areas for exploring
these dynamics in children's lives. Such an approach also keeps
lessons meaningful to children.
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is to bring about an integrated individual who is capable
of dealing with
life as a whole.
"a touchstone for all those...who dare to believe that
education, in the fullest and deepest sense of that word, can
lead to the awakening of true human intelligence."