Holisitc Education for Teachers:
Q: Why didn't I hear about holistic education
in my teacher training?
You almost certainly did hear about it obliquely,
but not by this name. "Holistic Education" as a term
has only been around for the last 20 years or so, but as a theory
and practice it has been around for more than 240 years.
If you heard about the education outlined by
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Heinrich Pestalozzi, or Friedrich Froebel,
then you heard something of holistic education. One of the reasons
that holistic education is not explored in depth by most teacher
training colleges is that the fundamental premises of holistic
education are so different to those of mainstream schooling -
it would be like having lessons for welding in a wood-working
class. However, holistic education is currently discussed more
in teacher training courses as the "crisis" in education
increases, and this increases the realization that alternatives
to what we have been doing in education need to be found.
Q: How is teaching different in holistic education?
In holistic education there is no curriculum
set by "experts" but rather it is developed by
the immediate stakeholdersteachers, students, and parents.
This ensures that what is studied is relevant and meaningful.
However, this means that teachers must be creative and responsive
to the individuality of their students. Teachers in holistic schools
cannot simply "deliver" a pre-packaged curriculum, which
is a challenge to some teachers but a great joy and inspiration
Classes in holistic schools are necessarily
smaller and there is more of an emphasis on the relationship between
the teacher and student. When mechanical learning ceases, mechanical
behavior (everyone doing the same thing at the same time, sitting
in rows, role playing, etc.) becomes less relevant. Without this,
relationships are able to be more authentic and behavior more
like that in 'real-life' becomes appropriate, so that the differences
between life-in-school and life-outside-of-school disappear. This
helps students see the relevance of their learning to their lives,
and helps generate an attitude of life long learning. It also
helps facilitate the teachers' learning of themselves, their teaching
practices, and their students' learning needs.
Q: What happens to the students after they have
been to holistic schools?
They continue their education as any other
student of their age would. Sometimes they have a different knowledge
base than their peers, but this is similar to a student who may
have gone to a school in a different country - it provides the
student with a different perspective that is usually more of a
help than a hindrance. Students from holistic high schools have
not, in the past, had difficulty getting into good universities.
Many university admissions officers have explained that the universities
appreciate the differences that students from "different"
Students from holistic elementary or middle
schools are often noted as having an easier time adjusting, socially,
to public high schools. The difference between what they have
learned, in terms of content, is similar to a public-school student
who enters the middle or upper grades from a different state that
has focused on slightly different standards. In addition, students
from holistic elementary schools have "learned how to learn,"
so whatever content their public-school peers may have acquired,
they are quick to pick up.
Q: Where can I read more about holistic education?
After several decades of teaching, Holistic
Education's director Scott H. Forbes wrote a book that examines
the writings of six original authors whom holistic educators most
often point to as the source of their own inspiration. This book,
Education: An Analysis of Its Ideas and Nature, is particularly
important to the field of holistic education because it develops
a framework for teachers and researchers to better understand
and talk about what has been seen mostly only through intuition
up until now.
Some of the initial and rigorous work about
the history of holistic education is by author Ron Miller. The
most well-known of his books, which has helped to establish the
field of holistic education, is: What Are Schools For? Holistic
Education In American Culture, published by the Holistic
Education Press (Brandon, VT). Other books by Ron Miller can
be found by doing an author search of the Paths
of Learning Education Clearinghouse.
In addition, we also consider books by Nel
Noddings (such as The Challenge to Care), Rachael Kessler
(The Soul of Education), and Jack Miller (Education
and the Soul: Toward a Spiritual Curriculum) to be important
contributions to the field of holistic education. For a more extensive
list of readings in this field, please review our online
Q: What networks exist for meeting more holistic
educators and researchers?
There are two annual conferences in North America
(usually held in the autumn):
- University of Toronto, Canada
- Guadalajara, Mexico
There are a number of groups within mainstream
organizations that now address this field:
AERA Wholistic Education SIG
AERA Spirituality in Education SIG
Holistic Learning Network - ASCD
In addition, there are also conferences
around the world related to this field, with a listing about
them being maintained by the Holistic Education Network of Tasmania
To read more about holistic education, HEI
also offers a web page with articles,
information about holistic
education research, and teacher
development opportunities that we invite you to explore.