Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Can Holistic Education Exist? (Part 2)

I'm not a very theological person, or a very philosophical one. But I do believe in the relative sanctity of language - the idea that words are meant to describe and detail things to some degree of precision and accuracy. This means that while common usage can shift meaning over time, the time period is normally a fairly long one. Words in general keep their meanings within a time-scale sufficient for one generation to (just about) communicate with the previous or the next.

For technical language, this span has to be a little longer, so that the discourse can extend back and forth through time in such a way that the foundations of a discipline can still be seen (or at least, alluded to reasonably). In this context, 'span' refers not only to a range within time, but also to connectivity (as in a bridge or a tapestry).

And here is Exhibit One: the word 'holistic'. Holism is a property possessed by things which are complete in themselves, and which if decomposed to their elements, would be of less value than the sum of those elements. The kind of value is not the point, although it helps to know what it is. The point is that the whole before decomposition was more valuable to the person doing the evaluation.

Take, for example, a marble bust and the bucket of tiny marble pieces resulting from demolition of that marble bust. To an evaluator who uses an aesthetic baseline, the whole bust has incalculably more value than the marble gravel. To a chemist looking for a source of granular crystalline calcium carbonate, the marble pieces may have more value in a catalytic or kinetic sense (although the mass of substance is the same). The hologram version (i.e., the bust), however, can be thought of as having less entropy. It took effort to get the marble to look exactly like the man whose head it represented. That effort gave the bust a value which is now lost. The chemist can use any other marble source; he need not use the bust.

The same thing applies to a cake, a book, a car – any whole that is made from smaller components which do not spontaneously combine, and which requires an ordering anti-entropic process to produce. The problem lies in the reverse process, from the information-deficient raw materials (materials which do not themselves contain a plan for further development) to the information-rich product (a product which was made through a process that required information). The problem is that when we have unformed substance (or uninformed substance), we do not definitely know what the final form should be, can be, or ought to be.

This is true of people who are being educated. Educaré is Latin for 'drawing-out', as wire is drawn out (whence 'ductility') from raw metal. But what do we want to draw out? The raw material itself offers no clue, and wire without form is merely wire. Of course, wire can have uses in itself, but it can also be made into much more valuable products through progressively more complex processing sequences. An holistic education would be one which could take into account the end-product. And that is something the wire does not define.

So is it all lost? Is an holistic education genuinely beyond us? It all depends. As a Christian, I'd defer to something along these lines. If there is a divine purpose, then that must inform us as to what we must be 'drawn out' to be. An holistic education in a Christian mission school must therefore be based solidly on at least this much.

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4 Comments:

Blogger P0litik said...

Is a holistic education then neccessary for one to fulfill this divine purpose?

We could simply stick to our Bibles and learn everything that is of spiritual importance there.

I'm not suggesting turning into a monk, but i think its just impossible to find a spiritual significance in all that we learn.

Thursday, September 27, 2007 3:46:00 am  
Anonymous ~autolycus said...

p0litik: You have the wrong end of the stick - the divine purpose doesn't need holistic education, but a truly holistic education must be aimed at a divine purpose. Get it? Tsk tsk, what did your TOK lecturer teach you...?

Thursday, September 27, 2007 4:13:00 am  
Anonymous aristoitle said...

Actually, when we speak of Holistic Education, I think we can conceivably refer to two things: execution or end product. As I see it, the two are not neccessarily interlinked.

In terms of execution, do we have to teach knowledge with regard to the whole, in order to qualify as being 'holistically educated'? Probably, if we are to take the definition strictly. Yet, with regard to the end product, I wonder if a monistic education could achieve the same thing.

Let's assume someone is taught monistically. He is taught each discipline on its own, since it makes little difference in a monistic world. Let's then assume that the holists are right after all. Cannot the sum of his knowledge in each discipline still contribute to him in a greater way as a whole than each one taken seperately?

Probably, and then the next issue would be trying to control and define this interaction. Does a holistic execution make this easier? Well it's moot, because by definition, teaching holistically, one would also have had to account for the individual's own interactions with knowledge taught - and the net product would thus always be the same as its execution. If, however, the significance of the whole arose incidentally, as is the case if monistic education took place, then a bit more care is needed. Still, assuming we knew what the end product was to be like, I see no reason why a rigorous process of trial and error shouldn't yield an optimum monistic style for a specific holistic product.

Of course, the nature of the product wouldn't be immediately apparent, like a litmus test or vigorous bubbling. Holistic education, or at least, most holistic educators, aim to prepare for life. So in the long run, across the course of the students' lives, at least some semblance of a trend can be identified, whether it be with regard to happiness or success or any number of other indicators. Given the aim to prepare for life, whatever benefits cannot be seen across the lifetime are by and large irrevelant.

So why not achieve a holistic product by first teaching monistically? It seems more practical, since if we were to do it holistically from the start, the student's whole would be difficult to determine or assessed during the short period at school.

Thursday, September 27, 2007 5:18:00 am  
Anonymous ~autolycus said...

aristoitle: You make awful assumptions.

1) That execution and product can be delinked. Accidentally holistic? Ha! If the execution and the product are delinked, the process is not a directed/directable one.

2) That the holistic product can be identified by trial and error using the wrong paradigm. That's like saying you don't know math. So you guess the answer until a trend in marks becomes apparent. But education is a deliberate directive process. Trial and error isn't.

3) That analysis of student outcomes is directly relevant to the outcomes of other students in terms of holistic solutions. By definition, each holistic solution is unique, so that's not likely. But if you want similar solutions, you must first be able to analyse students holistically enough. Haha... see the problem yet? What traits? How assessed? Etc.

4) Rigorous process. Tsk tsk. A rigorous process is replicable. A replicable process is non-unique by definition. Holistic development is unique by definition, since each whole person is unique. Hence...

Aiyoh, you ah.

Thursday, September 27, 2007 6:19:00 am  

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