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Saturday, June 24, 2006


Commentary: Holistic Education and Learning Context

Holistic Education and Learning Context:
The "Stop and Smell the Flowers" Model of Pedagogy

Sometimes the the forces of nature and God's Creation can have an overpowering and stimulating effect on the mind.

As a gentle rain fell, I decided that it would be good to spend time strolling around campus, enjoying the always-stunning landscaping of my campus. As I walked out of the Library with my umbrella in hand, a nearby cluster of flowers captured my attention. The interplay of the raindrops on the petals, the colors, the textures, the form of the flower -- all of these elements coalesced into a profound experience of the Aesthetically Beautiful.

In the core Humanities curriculum of my college, Art is one of the topics covered. But "good" art is what if it is not a representation and recreation of the Beauty as found in nature?

When we study art in college, we read about it, we look at pictures in books or projected onto luminescent screens, perhaps even venture to the local art gallery. This is all well and good. But if one of the goals for learning to appreciate art is also to learn to develop a refined sense of and appreciation for Aesthetic Beauty, then what restricts us from studying beauty as it is found in nature on the very confines of our own campus?

The Power of Context
Malcolm Gladwell in his wonderful book, "The Tipping Point" discusses the power of Context and the effects of Context on our attitudes, behaviors, emotions, actions, reactions, thoughts, etc.

Question: In Higher Education, why is our dominant tendency to ignore the Power of Context in favor of the artificially constructed contextual environment of the classroom?

This is not to say that the classroom is a wholly irrelevant and useless context; certainly it does tend to produce the desired effect of focusing the attention of the "Learners" on the "Teacher" (think about all of the assumptions about the nature of education implicit in that statement!).

But if a Teacher wants to cultivate in his students a sense of the Aesthetically Beautiful, what is wrong with beginning with an Authentic Experience of that which is truly Aesthetically Beautiful? (Recall the painting of a pipe labeled, "This is not a Pipe") Go out side in the Fall or Spring! Stop, look, smell, touch, envelop the senses in the Authentic Experience of Beauty!

Broader Implications
At this point it would be appropriate to back up one step before tumbling over the edge and descending down the slope towards an aphoristic/Nietzchean-style of writing.

The broader implications of this experience with the flower is that teachers, as the more experienced conversants in a conversation with less experienced learners (Paul Ramsden, "Learning to Teach In Higher Education, 2nd Edition") need to attend to the alignment of LEARNING CONTENT with LEARNING CONTEXT. My thesis is that the least friction between CONTENT and CONTEXT, or, to put it in a positive sense, the more that CONTEXT can complement CONTENT, the better.


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