An Ideal Education

The School of Athens

  (Dora Polk, one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known!)

For a start, I believe that the best place to begin talking about an ideal education is with  the subject of philosophy because philosophy is the love of wisdom. And this reverence or love of wisdom is the necessary frame of mind, heart, & spirit if one is truly seeking an ideal education. By the way, some people speak of being educated but this is misleading because education is a life-long process and is never truly completed therefore we shouldn’t speak of education in the past tense. Moreover, at the risk of being overly simplistic, I firmly believe that wisdom must be our goal yet I realize that wisdom is fleeting, can come & go, and at best, we are given brief glimpses of it. Unfortunately in today’s chaotic, topsy-turvy world where many traditional values have been cheapened or dismissed, many, if not most people think of knowledge or only value knowledge in its lowest form which should more accurately be referred to as information.


For the sake of clarity, information is simply facts which are neutral or value free. Knowledge is the next rung up in the spectrum from information to knowledge to wisdom. Each level is built or based on the level before it i.e. necessary. I did a search on the Internet to help explain the difference between the levels of learning or knowledge and hopefully, the following will make the distinctions a bit more clear:


Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom

by Gene Bellinger, Durval Castro, Anthony Mills

There is probably no segment of activity in the world attracting as much attention at present as that of knowledge management. Yet as I entered this arena of activity I quickly found there didn’t seem to be a wealth of sources that seemed to make sense in terms of defining what knowledge actually was, and how was it differentiated from data, information, and wisdom. What follows is the current level of understanding I have been able to piece together regarding data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. I figured to understand one of them I had to understand all of them.

According to Russell Ackoff, a systems theorist and professor of organizational change, the content of the human mind can be classified into five categories:

  1. Data: symbols
  2. Information: data that are processed to be useful; provides answers to “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when” questions
  3. Knowledge: application of data and information; answers “how” questions
  4. Understanding: appreciation of “why”
  5. Wisdom: evaluated understanding.

Ackoff indicates that the first four categories relate to the past; they deal with what has been or what is known. Only the fifth category, wisdom, deals with the future because it incorporates vision and design. With wisdom, people can create the future rather than just grasp the present and past. But achieving wisdom isn’t easy; people must move successively through the other categories.

A further elaboration of Ackoff’s definitions follows:

Data… data is raw. It simply exists and has no significance beyond its existence (in and of itself). It can exist in any form, usable or not. It does not have meaning of itself. In computer parlance, a spreadsheet generally starts out by holding data.

Information… information is data that has been given meaning by way of relational connection. This “meaning” can be useful, but does not have to be. In computer parlance, a relational database makes information from the data stored within it.

Knowledge… knowledge is the appropriate collection of information, such that it’s intent is to be useful. Knowledge is a deterministic process. When someone “memorizes” information (as less-aspiring test-bound students often do), then they have amassed knowledge. This knowledge has useful meaning to them, but it does not provide for, in and of itself, an integration such as would infer further knowledge. For example, elementary school children memorize, or amass knowledge of, the “times table“. They can tell you that “2 x 2 = 4” because they have amassed that knowledge (it being included in the times table). But when asked what is “1267 x 300”, they can not respond correctly because that entry is not in their times table. To correctly answer such a question requires a true cognitive and analytical ability that is only encompassed in the next level… understanding. In computer parlance, most of the applications we use (modeling, simulation, etc.) exercise some type of stored knowledge.

Understanding… understanding is an interpolative and probabilistic process. It is cognitive and analytical. It is the process by which I can take knowledge and synthesize new knowledge from the previously held knowledge. The difference between understanding and knowledge is the difference between “learning” and “memorizing”. People who have understanding can undertake useful actions because they can synthesize new knowledge, or in some cases, at least new information, from what is previously known (and understood). That is, understanding can build upon currently held information, knowledge and understanding itself. In computer parlance, AI systems possess understanding in the sense that they are able to synthesize new knowledge from previously stored information and knowledge.

Wisdom… wisdom is an extrapolative and non-deterministic, non-probabilistic process. It calls upon all the previous levels of consciousness, and specifically upon special types of human programming (moral, ethical codes, etc.). It beckons to give us understanding about which there has previously been no understanding, and in doing so, goes far beyond understanding itself. It is the essence of philosophical probing. Unlike the previous four levels, it asks questions to which there is no (easily-achievable) answer, and in some cases, to which there can be no humanly-known answer period. Wisdom is therefore, the process by which we also discern, or judge, between right and wrong, good and bad. I personally believe that computers do not have, and will never have the ability to posses wisdom. Wisdom is a uniquely human state, or as I see it, wisdom requires one to have a soul, for it resides as much in the heart as in the mind. And a soul is something machines will never possess (or perhaps I should reword that to say, a soul is something that, in general, will never possess a machine).

Personally I contend that the sequence is a bit less involved than described by Ackoff. The following diagram represents the transitions from data, to information, to knowledge, and finally to wisdom, and it is understanding that support the transition from each stage to the next. Understanding is not a separate level of its own.


Data represents a fact or statement of event without relation to other things.

Ex: It is raining.



I’d like to now share with you some of my thoughts/experiences with philosophy.       I chose the picture of Raphael’s “School of Athens” also because I have more respect for the academic discipline of philosophy than I do for any other subject. Why? To begin with, I stumbled upon a coffee table size book on philosophy, years ago in the North Hollywood Branch Library and I kick myself to this day that I didn’t make a copy of this picture I saw i.e. it was an elaborate, black & white drawing of a tree which was labeled “philosophy.” And it had several dozen branches with labels like: history, science, physics, math, algebra, law, music, poetry, chemistry, etc. etc. etc.  This blew my mind because it made it so clear that philosophy is the tree of knowledge and every branch of knowledge that we can think of or have developed over the centuries, is an off-shoot or comes under the umbrella of philosophy. So, you can imagine how perturbed I get when ignorant people dismiss philosophy as a “useless subject” that is of no use in the “real world.” Moreover, I’d like to add that during the course of my life, at times when I’ve felt somewhat lost or my spirit was feeling low, I have always felt more comfort or solace from reading philosophy than I have from the relatively speaking, upstart pseudo-science known as psychology. To me, philosophy requires that we look long, deep, & hard within ourselves and within the great books for some guidelines or possible answers. Psychology, on the other hand, usually offers us quick & easy fixes and this smacks of shallowness to me and insults my intelligence. Of course we’d all like simple or easy answers when we’re hurting but if we truly want to get to the root of our problems, there’s no easy way around it i.e. we have to do the work necessary. In short, once a subject or academic discipline becomes established, it turns into a sort of science and breaks away from the trunk of the tree I refer to as philosophy. Philosophy is all knowledge and to seek wisdom is to trace the roots back to the branches of knowledge and eventually to the tree of knowledge itself i.e. philosophy. I am reminded of a quote by Leonardo da Vinci that I heard many years ago but haven’t been able to find again. It went something like “All knowledge is like a puzzle and the more pieces of the puzzle that you put together, the more you see the interconnectedness of all knowledge and as you begin to see the whole, you see life, reality, the world.” This is a crude paraphrase from memory but conveys nicely what I’m fumbling to express.


Philosophy is the golden key that opens the door to knowledge which in turn, can allow you entrance to the palace of wisdom, if you have proved your worthiness and have paid your dues. I am reminded of a quote by William Blake i.e. “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Sorry, it’s the literature major in me? Furthermore,descend from my Mt. Olympus of abstract or lofty ideals, philosophy is extremely utilitarian or practical. How? Two words i.e. critical & analytical thinking. I recall my ex-wife’s best friend who while in law school told us that one of the students in her class was a philosphy graduate and he kicked everyone’s ass intellectually. And, to be honest with you, if I were asked to sum up my whole philosophy of education or to give advice on the single, most important skill that students should acquire, I’d have to say that I can’t boil it down to a single intellectual skill, no, it boils down to two basic skills i.e. critical thinking skills & analytical thinking skills. By the way, have you ever wondered about the difference between being intelligent and intellectual? I never did until one day when my wife & I were visiting her best friend, the lawyer, and she had asked me a question but as I was responding, she rudely stopped paying attention and when I called her on it, her response was “Rob, I’m intelligent and I’m a good lawyer but I’m not an intellectual.” This really puzzled me because up until that point in my life, I had never really made any distinction between the two nor did I think there was any difference that is, until I read the following passage from the brilliant author, Richard Hofstadter and his book “Anti-intellectualism in American Life.”


“Intelligence is an excellence of mind that is employed within a fairly narrow, immediate, and predictable range; it is a manipulative, adjustive, unfailingly practical quality—one of the most eminent and endearing of the animal virtues…..Intellect, on the other hand, is the critical, creative, and contemplative side of mind. Whereas intelligence seeks to grasp, manipulate, re-order, adjust, intellect examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criticizes, imagines. Intelligence will seize the immediate meaning in a situation and evaluate it. Intellect evaluates evaluations, and looks for the meanings of situations as a whole. Intelligence can be praised as a quality in animals, intellect, being a unique manifestation of human dignity, is both praised and assailed as a quality in men.”


In my search for knowledge, and hopefully a little wisdom throughout the course of my life, I have stumbled upon several markers or major tools that have shown me the way. One such tool, reference, resource, or insight was when I came across the subject of Rhodes Scholars. But before I begin, I want to preface my remarks with a rebuttal of sorts to the often leveled dismissal of such ideas as useless. I argue that if the study of the Classics is such a waste of time, then why do the most powerful and wealthy people continue to insist on having their children educated in the Classics? I contend that it is not merely elitist though that does enter into it to some extent but most importantly, they believe in the value of a classical education because they know that it develops an excellence of mind second to none. I believe it was Mortimer Adler who said that studying the Great Books (Classics), is like a conversation with the greatest minds that have ever lived. And in that vein, I want to share with you some notable Rhodes Scholars to help establish the value of such “useless knowledge” according to some.


Here is a partial list of some notable Rhodes Scholars: Senator William Fulbright; Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State; Daniel Boorstin, U.S. Librarian of Congress; Stansfield Turner, U.S. admiral & C.I.A. director; Kris Kristofferson, musician & actor; Jonathan Kozol, teacher &  education critic; Lester C. Thurow, American economist & professor at M.I.T., Robert Reich, U.S. Secretary of Labor; Bill Clinton, U.S. president; Strobe Talbott, American diplomat, journalist, & U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; James Fallows, American writer with The Atlantic Monthly; E.J. Dionne, American journalist; Russ Feingold, senator from Wisconsin; Pat Haden, Rose Bowl winner, quarterback with USC; Naomi Wolf, author; & Rachel Maddow, (liberal) host on MSNBC.

I included this list of relatively, well-known people who had earned Rhodes Scholarships to substantiate what I just read in a cursory review of an article on Rhodes Scholarships i.e. Rhodes Scholars, once they graduated, pretty much had their choice of any profession they wanted & usually excelled in their chosen fields. In August of 1997, my son, Ryan, who was 11 years old at the time, and I, spent the month traveling around Europe. And one place we visited was Oxford University because I wanted to see first hand, this world-renown university that dates back to the 12th century. Unfortunately, the Rhodes House was closed for the summer and we weren’t allowed into the library. But, I did manage to talk to a person in their office and was told that basically, a Rhodes Scholar was a student who had earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and when they came to Oxford for their studies under the Rhodes Scholarship guidelines, it boiled-down to meeting with their don i.e. professor, once a week and they were given a reading assignment & had to write a paper on what they’d read, then deliver their paper orally in their don’s office. The don would critique their work and assign them another assignment for the following week. The studies were of the classics

Now, when you mention the word “classics,” you can run into a bit of controversy with some scholars so for the sake of brevity & argument, I will simply defer to the set of books published by Encyclopedia Britannica (best encyclopedia in the world, in my opinion) and under the supervision of Mortimer Adler, one of America’s great philosophers. The collection is known simply as “The Great Books.” And what is really great about these “Great Books,” is the stupendous two-volume Syntopicon which Mr. Adler compiled. In brief, this Syntopicon is a fantastic reference resource which cross-references the “Great Ideas” in the 54 volume set of “The Great Books.” In other words, you can select any topic or sub-topic, sub-heading, etc. that you can think of and then find every reference to it in the Great Books.


For example, let’s say that you wanted to write a paper on democracy. With the aid of the Syntopicon, you could look up what everybody from Plato to Freud had to say on the subject and you could cite your references down to the exact paragraph, line, & page from the pretty much, universally accepted, greatest minds of Western civilization. Speaking of which, I am reminded of a private conversation with a history professor of mine and when I told him that I was a philosophy major, he said, “It’s been argued that you can pretty much divide Western civilization between two men, Plato and Aristotle. By the way, I’m fairly sure that that is why Raphael chose to position these two, under the main arch & as the central figures in his masterpiece “The School of Athens.” My history professor went on to say that “These two philosophers had such an extensive influence on so many fields or academic disciplines from science, literature, history, politics, mathematics, etc. that this is why they are considered the two pillars of Western civilization.” And if you don’t mind my adding another interesting aside, at least, in my opinion, Socrates, generally acknowledged as the “Father of Western philosophy,” was Plato’s mentor/teacher, Plato was Aristotle’s mentor/teacher, and Aristotle, was Alexander the Great’s mentor/teacher. And, out of respect for his teacher, Alexander the Great had a special group of his men collect specimens of plants, minerals, animals, etc. from everywhere they roamed in their conquest of the then known world. Aristotle used all that was given to him in his creation of the world’s first encyclopedia. Food for thought, eh?


To return to the subject of philosophy, its most utilitarian value boils down to two skills the study of philosophy helps us to develop i.e. critical and analytical thinking skills. Moreover, I contend that these two skills are perhaps the most self-empowering skills we can aspire to.  More specifically, the development of our critical & analytical thinking skills is a way to develop our intellect rather than just our intelligence. Moreover, in today’s upside down world where “reality” resembles Alice in Wonderland’s absurdity, critical & analytical thinking is our shield & sword. We are bombarded from cradle to grave and 24/7 with advertising designed to deceive & trick us into buying products we don’t need. The Earth has only so much in terms of natural resources and we simply can’t sustain this endless obsession with purchasing ever more material goods. If we can learn to cultivate an interest in and an appreciation of the things of the mind and the spirit, we may be able to curtail our addiction to the electronic gadgets, fast cars, fancy clothes, etc. and learn to slow down & savor the simple beauty all around us and each other. The public relations & advertising industries were built by employing the insights learned from crowd or mass psychology. Freud is the name that first comes to mind when most people think of psychology and his nephew, Edward Bernays, was the father, so-to-speak, of the PR and advertising industries in America. Unfortunately for America, and because of America’s military superiority, tragically for many around the globe, the techniques & strategies developed by Bernays have also been utilized in manipulating public opinion to support one military invasion after another for the past hundred years or so. I hope it is becoming ever more clear how imperative it is for us to develop our intellect if we are to stop or at least slow down this campaign of plunder & profit for the elite masquerading as our leaders?


      In order to reach our goal of an ideal education, we must first become aware of some of the pitfalls of our public education system and Jonathan Kozol first comes to mind. I read his book “Illiterate America” over 20 years ago and was flabbergasted at what I learned. Please bear in mind that I’m not arguing that there is nothing right with our public school system. I have worked in this system for over 25 years off & on and I have met and worked with a good number of excellent, dedicated, compassionate teachers but we still need to analyse & criticize those areas that need improvement or revision if we are to progress.


If it is of any comfort to this man, he should know that he is not alone. Twenty-five million American adults cannot read the poison warnings on a can of pesticide, a letter from their child’s teacher, or the front page of a daily paper. An additional 35 million read only at a level which is less than equal to the full survival needs of our society.

Together, these 60 million people represent more than one third of the entire adult population.

The largest numbers of illiterate adults are white, native-born Americans. In proportion to population, however, the figures are higher for blacks and Hispanics than for whites. Sixteen percent of white adults, 44 percent of blacks, and 56 percent of Hispanic citizens are functional or marginal illiterates. Figures for the younger generation of black adults are increasing. Forty-seven percent of all black seventeen-yearelds are functionally illiterate. That figure is expected to climb to 50 percent by 1990.

Fifteen percent of recent graduates of urban high schools read at less than sixth grade level. One million teenage children between t velve and seventeen percent cannot read above the third grade level. Eighty-five percent of juveniles who come before the courts are functionally illiterate. Half the heads of households classified below the poverty line by federal standards cannot read an eighth grade book. Over one third of mothers who receive support from welfare are functionally illiterate. Of 8 million unemployed adults, 4 to 6 million lack the skills to be retrained for hi-tech jobs.

The United States ranks forty-ninth among 158 member nations of the U.N. in its literacy levels.

In Prince George’s County, Maryland, 30,000 adults cannot read above a fourth grade level. The largest literacy program in this county reaches one hundred people yearly.

In Boston, Massachusetts, 40 percent of the adult population is illiterate. The largest organization that provides funds to the literacy programs of the city reaches 700 to 1,000 people.

In San Antonio, Texas, 152,000 adults have been documented as illiterate. In a single municipal district of San Antonio, over half the adult population is illiterate in English. Sixty percent of the same population sample is illiterate in Spanish. Three percent of adults in this district are at present being served.

In the State of Utah, which ranks number one in the United States in the percent of total budget allocated to the education sector, 200,000 adults lack the basic skills for employment. Less than 5 percent of Utah’s population is black or Hispanic.

Together, all federal, state, municipal, and private literacy programs in the nation reach a maximum of 4 percent of the illiterate population. The federal government spends $100 million yearly to address the needs of 60 million peo ple. The President has asked that this sum be reduced to $50 million. Even at the present level, direct federal allocations represent about $1.65 per year for each illiterate.

In 1982 the Executive Director of the National Advisory Council on Adult Education estimated that the government would need to spend about $5 billion to eradicate or seriously reduce the problem. The commission he served was subsequently dismissed by presidential order.

Fourteen years ago, in his inaugural address as governor of Georgia, a future President of the United States proclaimed his dedication to the crisis of Illiterate America. ‘Our people are our most precious possession … Every adult illiterate … is an indictment of us all … If Switzerland and Israd and other people can end illiteracy, then so can we. The responsibility is our own and our govemment’s. I will not shirk this responsibility.’

Today the number of identified nonreaders is three times greater than the [6] number Jimmy Carter had in mind when he described this challenge and defined it as an obligation that he would not shirk.

On April 26, 1983, pointing to the literacy crisis and to a collapse in standards at the secondary and the college levels, the National Commission on Excellence in Education warned: ‘Our Nation is at risk.’  http://eserver.org/courses/spring97/76100o/readings/kozol.html


This simple, stark & ugly reality of our public school system goes a long way in terms of explaining how we, supposedly the beacon to the world, have people running for the highest office  in the land, who make such blatant & overt racist remarks. I have “friends” and relatives who make racist comments and yet are surprised when I tell them it offends me. So, it may seem preposterous for me to be arguing for the sort of ideal education that I am describing but I firmly believe that no matter what our economic situations may be, nothing less than setting our sights on the top of the mountain will do. I too, came from the wrong side of the tracks and was raised by a single parent, my mom. She worked two or three jobs and I raised my brother & two sisters. I walked to school (about a mile & a half) and got 40 cents a day for lunch which I shared with my friend. Yet my love of learning & reading always kept me dreaming and believing that some day I would make those dreams a reality.


I know this is very depressing information and it may come as somewhat of a shock to many but burying our heads in the sand won’t change the ugly truth. And knowing these things, makes me angry and ashamed especially when I hear ignorant people boasting that America is so superior to so many other countries. Yeah right, only to those most likely who graduated from one of the dismal, inner city public schools. Is it any wonder that FOX News attracts so many viewers and that their viewers can’t see through the smoke screen of fear & hate monger propaganda spewed out daily by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, etc.?


In spite of coming from such a humble background, I have pretty much educated myself and was told that in the sixth grade, I was reading at the 11th grade, sixth month level. Moreover, I have been an educator in various capacities and have had some students cry when I had to move on. I have traveled throughout Europe nine times and I have written over 2,000 pages of a major project that I am working on and I’m now writing this blog. So, according to most people’s value system in this predominantly materialistic & consumer driven society, I am not successful. Yet, for those who value the treasures of the mind and the spirit, I am wealthy beyond my fondest dreams and I want to share some of my wealth with all who value it. Let’s continue with John Taylor Gatto, another teacher who taught in New York City’s public school system and won the teacher of the year award two times I believe as well as New York State teacher of the year once. His seminal work, “The Underground History of American Education,” was another book that blew my mind and I made copious notes throughout it and used it in that major project that I mentioned above.

As I mentioned above, I studied Gatto’s book very closely. I made my usual notes in the blank pages during my first reading of it and as I went through it the second time for use in my major project which I’ve titled “Truth Against the World,” I began to suspect that he may be a closet fundamentalist so-to-speak. I may be wrong and I can’t point to any particular evidence of this but his general attack on what he refers to as the “utopian educators” e.g. John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, etc. is what makes me a bit wary. Generally speaking though, he taught me a lot about the history of our public education system of which I knew next to nothing about. I would add that he, in my opinion, goes far too easy on the Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, etc. types who clearly had a hand in shaping our public school system and the negative consequences their influence had on our society. I still maintain that a good, solid grounding in the classics is vital for students’ intellectual development and is not elitist and certainly not a waste of time as many would have us believe. Continuing, I want to introduce you to Henry Giroux, another excellent educator and one that I just stumbled upon late one night a few years back as I was watching Free Speech T.V.

The Business of Public Education

The assault by corporate America on public education has taken an ominous turn in the last decade. Funded by an array of conservative institutions such as the Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute, and the Olin Foundation, the corporate drive to undermine public education has enlisted an army of conservative pundits many of whom served in the Department of Education under Presidents Reagan and Bush. Some of the more well-known members of this reform movement include Chester Finn Jr., Lamar Alexander, Diane Ravitch, David Kearns, and William Bennett. Providing policy papers, op-ed commentaries, appearing on television talk shows, and running a variety of educational clearinghouses and resource centers, these stalwart opponents of public education relentlessly blame the schools for the country’s economic woes. Citing low test scores, a decline in basic skills, and the watering down of the school curriculum, Ravitch and others use such critiques to legitimate the ideology of privatization with its accompanying call for vouchers, charter schools, and the placing of public schools entirely in the control of corporate contractors. More specific reforms simply recycle right-wing ideology critiques calling for the replacement of teacher unions and “giving parents choice, back-to-basics and performance-driven curriculums, management ‘design teams’ and accountability.”

Underlying the call for privatization is a reform movement in which public education is seen as “a local industry that over time will become a global business.” As a for-profit venture, public education represents a market worth over $600 billion dollars, and the importance of such a market has not been lost on conservatives such as Chester Finn, Jr. and David Kearns, both of whom have connections with for-profit schooling groups such as the Edison Project and the North American Schools Development Corporation. At the level of policy, the right-wing assault by all reports has been quite successful. More than 28 states have drafted legislation supporting vouchers, choice programs, and contracting with for-profit management companies, such as the Edison Project and Sabis International Schools. But the public’s perception of such ventures appears to be less enthusiastic, and rightly so. Many firms such as Educational Alternatives Inc., which took over the Hartford and Baltimore public schools, have had their contracts canceled as a result of numerous complaints. The complaints range from the way in which such firms deal with kids with learning disabilities and engage in union busting to the charge that their cookie cutter standardized curriculum and testing packages fail to provide the quality of educational results that were initially promised by such companies.

But there is more at stake in the privatization of public schooling than issues of public versus private ownership or public good versus private gain. There is also the issue of how individual achievement is weighed against issues of equity and the social good, how teaching and learning get defined, what sorts of identities are produced when the histories, experiences, values, and desires of students are defined through corporate rather than democratic ideals.

Within the language of privatization and market reforms, there is a strong emphasis on standards, measurements of outcomes, and holding teachers and students more accountable. Privatization is an appealing prospect for legislators who do not want to spend money on schools and for those Americans who feel that they do not want to support public education through increased taxes. Such appeals are reductive in nature and hollow in substance. Not only do they abstract questions of equity and equality from the discussion of standards, they appropriate the democratic rhetoric of choice and freedom without addressing issues of power. The ideas and images that permeate this corporate model of schooling reek with the rhetoric of insincerity and the politics of social indifference.

Stripped of a language of social responsibility, the advocates of privatization reject the assumption that school failure might be better understood within the political, economic, and social dynamics of poverty, joblessness, sexism, race and class discrimination, unequal funding, or a diminished tax base. Rather, student failure, especially the failure of poor minority-group students, is often attributed to a genetically encoded lack of intelligence, a culture of deprivation, or pathology. Books such as The Bell Curve, and films such as 187 and Dangerous Minds reinforce such representations about African-American and Latino urban youth, as they perpetuate a history of racist exclusions. Similarly, such racist exclusions are being deepened by the informalities of privatization schemes in which schools mimic the free market, with the assumption that its regulatory and competitive spirit will allow the most motivated and gifted students to succeed. There is a shameful element of racism and a retrograde Social Darwinism that permeates this discussion, one which relinquishes the responsibility of parents, teachers, administrators, social workers, businesspeople, and other members of the wider society to provide young people with the cultural resources, economic opportunities, and social services necessary to learn without having to bear the crushing burdens of poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression.

Education in this framework becomes less a social investment than an individual investment, a vehicle for social mobility for those privileged to have the power to make their choices matter, and a form of social constraint for those who lack such resources and for whom choice and accountability betray a legacy of broken promises and an ideology of bad faith.

The privatization model of schooling also defaults on the legacy of schooling as a public good by undermining the power of teachers to provide students with the vocabulary and skills of responsible citizenship. Under the drive to impose national standards and standardized forms of testing, privatizing school advocates devalue teacher authority and deskill teachers by dictating not only what they should teach but also how they should teach. Such pedagogical approaches affirm teachers less as engaged public intellectuals than as depoliticized, deskilled clerks. The main role of the teacher turned classroom manager is to legitimate through mandated subject matter and pedagogical practices a market-based conception of the learner as a consumer of information. A different, but no less important and dangerous, strategy of the corporate dismantling and take-over of public education is the right wing promotion of educational choice, vouchers, and charters as a way of both opening public schools to private contractors and using public tax monies to finance the creation of private forms of education. Both approaches treat education as a private good, and both substitute the role of the student as a citizen for that of an educational consumer. But the real danger at work in privatization is not simply that students who transfer into private schools will drain money from the public schools, but that they will further a process already at work in the larger society aimed at eroding “the public forums in which decisions with social consequences can be democratically resolved.”

As schools struggle to raise money for texts, curricula, and extra-curricula activities, they often find themselves engaging in partnerships with businesses such as Campbell Soup, Pepsi, McDonalds, and Nike, all of whom are willing to provide free curriculum packages that shamelessly instruct students to recognize brand names or learn the appropriate attitudes for future work in low-skilled, low-paying jobs rather than learning how to define the meaning of work and struggle over what it means to subordinate matters of work to the imperatives of a strong democracy. For example, the McDonald Corporation provided a curriculum package for Pembroke Lakes elementary school in Broward County in which, as a Business Week article reported, students “learned how to design a McDonald’s restaurant, how a McDonald’s works, and how to apply and interview for a job at McDonald’s.” When one ten-year old was asked if the curriculum was worthwhile, she responded, “If you want to work in a McDonald’s when you grow up, you already know what to do….Also, McDonald’s is better than Burger King.”

Couched in the language of business competition and individual success, the current educational reform movement orchestrated by corporate capital in its now near global expansion must be recognized as a full-fledged attack on both public education and democracy. The goal of such a movement, as David Stratman has argued, “is not to raise the expectations of our young people but to narrow, stifle, and crush them.”

Educators at the public school levels are under massive assault in this country. Not only are they increasingly losing their autonomy and capacity for imaginative teaching, they increasingly bear the burden, especially in the urban centers, of overcrowded classes, limited resources, and hostile legislators. Progressives need to join with community people, social movements, and teachers in both public and higher education around a common platform that resists corporate power, the marketing of schools, the deskilling of teachers, and the reduction of learning to the dictates of selfishness and capital accumulation.

The meaning and purpose of such a debate has not been lost on students. During March of this year (1998), students from over 100 colleges held a series of teach-ins protesting the intrusion and increasing involvement of corporations in higher education. For those of us who work in such institutions, it might be time to take an object lesson from these students and provide an example through our own actions and the willingness to organize and fight against the current ruthless assault being waged by corporate America against schools and other sites that attempt to serve the public good  http://www.henryagiroux.com/online_articles/business_education.htm

Before I move on, I want to make a few comments on Professor Giroux’s essay. Tragically, corporations have grown far too powerful and are de facto ruling the world. You may dismiss this as conspiracy gibberish but I have been studying this for over 30 years and speak from my head & my heart. Note just a few of the more blatant examples of this: Supreme Court decision that corporations are people and money is speech; our being forced to bail-out the Super Banks & they weren’t held accountable and didn’t make credit available to help stimulate the economy; the biggest corporations spend millions on lobbyists and not only don’t pay taxes but get millions & billions in tax rebates; NAFTA allows countries to sue other countries if they interfere with business by enforcing environmental laws, labor rights laws, etc. That’s enough for now but my point regarding public education is that the CEOs of megalithic corporations can only see as far as the next fiscal quarter and profit margins for their board members & investors/stockholders. Their blind  obsession with profit and power is so destructive that they allow people to die because of exposure to their products. They allow monumental ecological disasters like the BP Gulf oil spill to happen. They start and perpetuate wars to confiscate the natural resources of other countries e.g. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. etc. etc. In today’s ever more fragile world in which we grow more interdependent e.g. the global economic crisis, the environmental crisis, the social unrest, etc. we need citizens who are more enlightened, not “dumbed-down.” Accepting the business mantra of the need to be more competitive, that means a more intelligent workforce, not a workforce of a tiny minority of highly-skilled technicians and an ever growing population of illiterate, permanently unemployable citizens who have little recourse but to turn to a life of crime in order to survive. Do you want to live in fear of constantly being vulnerable or at risk of being mugged or murdered? Your home being broke into? Afraid to leave the confines of a gated & guarded community? The so-called “conservatives” are always railing against paying taxes and especially taxes for redundant things like prisons but they have a solution for that, now they are using prison labor to enrich themselves while charging taxpayers for the cost of housing & guarding prisoners. Yeah, the “free market” is a wondrous thing.  I personally feel embarrassed each time I have visited Europe because America is the laughing stock of the world in terms of our cultural and intellectual ignorance. We are also feared because of our war mongering and imperial ambitions. I dream of an America that is respected and loved for its more noble, ideal, humanistic practices.


Instead of suppressing our students’ natural talents & love of learning, we should be doing everything in our power to foster the healthy development of their minds, their creative potentials, and nurturing their hungry spirits. When people feel they’re using their creative and intellectual faculties, they’re more content and fulfilled as Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers expressed in our right to pursue happiness. I have long argued that America would a lot better off if we followed the role models of Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries. Conservatives scream “But they pay such high taxes!” My reply is yes but everybody has a decent home to live in, top notch health care, plenty of food, a good education, etc. So what is left is all basically spending money for whatever luxuries you may desire or to travel, etc.

A significant factor in the corporate war on public education over the last decade is George “Dubya” Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law. I am not sure why Professor Giroux nor many others don’t highlight what to me is the primary lie behind this law that has so undermined our nation’s teachers and aided in the further erosion of our children’s education? You can look it up yourself, 60 Minutes, the CBS News program, broadcast an expose around ten years ago which revealed that this “No Child Left Behind” law was based on the deliberate falsification of statistics of a school district in Texas. They got rid of as many of the lower scoring students as they could by transferring them to other districts, not counting their scores, etc. in order to make their district’s academic scores look much better than they actually were and this was considered something of a Texas miracle and has helped tremendously in the promotion and calling for the spread of “Charter schools” and “school vouchers.” I don’t wish to dwell too long on this subject because I’m long-winded as it is but in a nutshell, charter schools are a scam for the corporate cockroaches who want to get their hands on the billions of dollars spent on public education. Like their desire to get their hands on the billions if not trillions of dollars in Social Security and Medicare. This call for the privatization of public schools under the banner of “accountability” would be laughable were it not so serious. Just as the banks were not held accountable even though they took our tax dollars and were considered “too big to fail,” and corporate investors like Mitt Romney who force companies into bankruptcy, take all the profits, & leave the federal government with the bill, aren’t held accountable. There are thousands of examples of how irresponsible corporate America is and has been and this is why it makes me nauseous every time I hear them declare that schools must be held accountable. There are some exceptions among the wealthy in terms of not being totally bankrupt morally but they are few and far in between. To sum up, if we are to ever be that “Bright, shining light upon the hill,” that so many propagandists for the power elite like to proclaim, we need to seriously cut back on the corporate takeover of America and the rest of the world. This is my mission in life and this is what I strive to do in my simple ways. It saddens me deeply that as I learned many years ago when I was a substitute teacher in L.A. and learned that the average high school graduate only reads at an eighth grade level, can’t make change when they work as cashiers, and something like three out of every five high school graduates can’t even handle a job at McDonalds & McDonalds has had to resort to putting pictures on their cash register keys. I dream of an America where the politics of fear & hate that perpetuates the military/industrial/congressional complex has been silenced forever by a truly, well-educated populace. I dream of an America that is truly magnificent, compassionate, & well-cultured.




By the way, I should point out that Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education has now publicly come out against standardized testing i.e. No Child Left Behind, and argues that it undermines teaching.  Again, I don’t mean to dwell so much on the negative aspects of education in the U.S., but I believe we need an overview of the factors which affect these vital institutions.We have allowed our public education system to decline and big business has played a significant role in this decline. It has become a vicious cycle of poverty, ignorance, & corruption and if we don’t break out of this cycle, I fear dire consequences for all of us. I will switch to some of the more positive or hopeful voices in a bit but I can’t leave the critical voices part of this essay without including my intellectual hero, Noam Chomsky. And for those of you who may not be familiar with Professor Chomsky, allow me to provide a little background. Noam Chomsky is credited with having revolutionized the field of linguistics in the 1960s and to my mind, completely demolished the arguments of B.F. Skinner, a leading behaviorist who, by the way, was a major influence on educational psychology/theory. I attempted a course in linguistics several years ago and dropped out because it was perhaps just too boring or over my head? Nonetheless, what first attracted me to Chomsky was his political writing and activism. He is a very humble man and is often introduced with a New York Times blurb i.e. “He is arguably the most important intellectual alive.” And Chomsky in his usual, self-deprecating manner, reminds his audiences whenever he is introduced with this praise, “But what they leave out is that the Times goes on to say, ‘Then why is he so often wrong?’ I want to add that this world renown champion of the poor, the disenfranchised, etc., has done more in service to humanity than any single individual I have ever heard or read of. You know he is striking at the heart of the power elite when he is not only reviled by the “conservatives” and is often dismissed, marginalized, ignored by the so-called Left or many liberals, progressives, and democrats because he doesn’t spare them in his scathing criticism. I have never read, heard, or seen anyone who could defeat him in a battle of the minds and his scholarship is second to none.  Lastly, in reference to the article by Professor Giroux, I want to sum it up in these perhaps, over-the-top remarks i.e. it really boils down to whether we are just going to acquiesce to the people who brought America to its knees economically with their unbridled greed for profit & power, or are we going to stand up, speak up, & take action to take back our country and make America a true democracy and positive role model to the rest of the world?

So long as we continue to dream and take positive steps towards realizing an ideal education not for just a chosen few but for all who are intellectually capable, the Don Quixote in me fights on. I firmly believe, to borrow a line from John Donne, “No man is an island.” In a nutshell, our lives are all interdependent & intertwined i.e. if we don’t care for and show compassion for all of humanity, the selfish, tiny elite who hold the reins of power at present, will have won. What kind of world do you want your children or your grandchildren to grow up in? A world where “dog eat dog,” “survival of the fittest,” are the core ideology and where the people have become so suspicious and fearful of one another that everyone barricades themselves behind the gates of their armed enclaves? No, I refuse to live in such a world and I know that the corrupt and powerful spend a good chunk of money to perpetuate this fear among us. Furthermore,  silly me, I prefer to live in a world where we can still stroll along the beaches of the wild, rugged Oregon Coast and not see oil derricks on the horizon. Or still enjoy the magnificent serenity of the California Redwoods, the Olympic Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, the breathtaking panoramic view of the Grand Canyon, etc. If we don’t draw a line in the sand so-to-speak against corporate crime, these precious treasures will be lost forever and we will be reduced to an artificial life lived in a skyscraper we never leave, I fear? And in contrast to this creeping fascism that is growing in the corporate boardrooms across America & the halls of Congress, I proclaim that the liberal arts liberate and the humanities humanize! Let’s now discuss some fine examples of true educators who inspire and lead by example.


Undeniably, Marva Collins is one of the rarest kinds of teachers i.e. she demands a lot out of her students but she also praises her students frequently with simple gestures, a smile, a pat on the back, etc. and this woman worked such miracles with her students that the Chicago Public School System accused her of cheating, trickery, etc. I first heard of Mrs. Collins around 30 years ago when I saw a story about her on the CBS News program 60 Minutes. And I was quite simply blown away. In brief, she was a teacher in the Chicago Public School system but finally tired of doing battle with them over her “unconventional” teaching methods and quit only to form her own little school in a poor, inner city neighborhood.

Marva N. Collins

Educational Program and Philosophy

My educational program and methodology is based on the Socratic Method. Socrates, an

Athenian philosopher and teacher, lived from about 470 – 399 BC. The Socratic method teaches

by using a series of questions and answers by which the logical soundness of a definition, or a

point of view, or the meaning of a concept, is tested. The Socratic method is based on logical

analysis, consequently, it develops superb reasoning skills in students.

I select reading materials that contain ideas that are abstract. These ideas may, and will, mean

different things to different students. There may not be one correct answer, but several

interpretations are possible. Socrates asks, in Plato’s Republic, what is “justice?” As Socrates’

queries of his students reveal, “justice” as a concept has several definitions. The purpose of

teaching, I believe, is not just to master factual material, but also to teach the student how to

think, and to encourage him/her to think, indeed. The ability to reason, to analyze logically, will

survive long after the student’s retention of memorized fact is lost.

Before beginning any reading selection, I first pre-read the selection (it is folly to attempt to

teach what one does not know) and I extract all of the difficult words. These “words-to-watch”

become the vocabulary words for the class to learn. Every student must be able to pronounce,

spell, and know the meaning of each of these words prior to starting the reading in class. It

makes no sense to delve into the selection if the students do not understand the words in the

material to be read. Otherwise, the reading will both tedious and meaningless.

Then, I refer to the title of the reading, and ask, “ What do you think this selection is going to be

about?” This process is gathering information from the title. Other questions that may be asked,

before the reading actually begins, include, “Is this story going to be about pain?” “A good

conscience?” “How do you know?” Next, identify the purpose for reading the selection. As the

reading progresses – readings must be done aloud, never silently – ask pertinent questions, such

as “What do you think will happen?” Predictions must use logic, reason, evidence, in order to

develop meta-cognitive skills.

Students are taught to examine their line of reasoning. What information from the reading

supports your response? This teaches the student the importance of factual responses as

compared to interpretative answers. Certainly, students will score higher on standardized tests

when they know how to think critically and analytically. Tests do not want to know what we

think; they measure the correctness of our factual responses. Thus students are taught to refrain

from making wild conjectures. Inquiry becomes a disciplined process in which students use prior

acquired knowledge and evidence to arrive at new insights and understanding.

In the Socratic method the teacher controls the rate and flow of information. Understanding takes

place during the reading, at each important juncture, not at the end of the selection. This method

encourages participation by all students, thus it alleviates discipline problems, and eventually

eliminates them entirely. When students misbehave, it indicates that they have not developed the

habit of “right” reasoning. My methodology is designed to teach that choices have consequences.

I use discipline, self-discipline, not punishment to engage the students in “right” thinking.

Ultimately, the teacher should increase reading longer amounts of text between stopping points.

This will increase the students’ ability to gain meaning from extended reading. Always stop at

points in the reading to ask questions, such as, “Why did you (the student) give the answer you

did?” And, “Can you point to the sentence, or paragraph, in the reading that supports your


Stop-points in oral reading should occur at logical places such as where the story changes and

especially at highly abstract passages. The master teacher never shies away from difficult reading

selections or passages therein. The class is only as good as its leader! Stopping at abstractions

allows for oral discussion, the refinement of ideas, and the use of vocabulary, and for guidance

by the teacher. Stop points also provide discussion time, increased verbal and writing skills, and

the development of critical thinking.

My educational program does not allow the inane use of independent seatwork, busy work

sheets, and workbooks. These so-called education tools do not connect ideas into a logical

thought process. They do not, and cannot, teach children how to read, or how to write. They

presuppose that the participant is already an independent reader, and is already imbued with

critical and analytical thinking skills, or that the student is able to grasp, without supervision or

guidance, the relevant points being made by the author. There are more reasons why I do not use

work sheets in my classes, and I do not permit their use by any teacher in my school.

Upon completion of a reading selection, students should write daily letters to the characters in

the selection, or to the author of the material. Students should write a critical review of the

selection. Which character did they identify with the most? Why? What did this character teach

them? What life-lesson, if any, did they learn from the reading? Why is this life-lesson important

to them? Again, workbooks and worksheets can never accomplish this. There is a difference

between “busy work” and “thought work.”

The direct teaching method reinforces skills learned in every reading selection. The child is

taught to refer to what has been learned previously to support an opinion. References come from

many different sources, from poetry, newspaper editorials, magazines, great speeches, novels, or

any other written material. Everything everywhere provides potentially excellent material for

developing reasoning skills. To illustrate, a piece of paper represents trees, because wood is

processed into paper. A piece of paper also represents the water that nourishes the tree, the

woodsman who cuts down the tree, or the trucks that take the felled tree to the processing plant.

Direct teaching expands the mind beyond the two covers of a book and the four walls of the

classroom. Textbook word-for-word, lock-step methods never make good critical thinkers. There

is a difference between word reading and word understanding. And, there is a difference between

knowing how to read, and loving to read.

My methodology of teaching has the advantage of establishing an intellectual environment that

promotes the gaining of textual information, conversational information, vocabulary building,

idea building, idea sharing and expansion, and it demands the attention of all participants. It

alleviates guessing. It teaches abstract thinking. Critical thinking involves a general attitude of

questioning and suspended judgment, the habit of examining before accepting. The teacher and

the student now have a common goal, which is the gaining of knowledge and information

sharing. Direct teaching does require new behavior by both the teacher and the students,

therefore it does require some degree of behavior modification. In my long teaching career, I

have learned that the benefits are worth the effort. Once teachers try the Socratic Method, or

direct method, of teaching, they will never again return to anything that cannot produce the

“magic.”  http://www.bridgeconsults.com/downloads/Marva%20Collins%20Educational%20Philosophy.pdf


I was hoping to find a brief outline of Mrs. Collins teaching methodology that I came across years ago but couldn’t so I decided to share this piece with you. I heartily encourage you to check out the movie that was made many years ago about Mrs. Collins life and struggle to teach the kids often discarded by our public education system and our society. Cicely Tyson played the role of Mrs. Collins and Morgan Freeman played the role of Mrs. Collins’ husband. In addition, I want to also share with you some of the notes I made in my copy of Marva Collins’ Way. Somewhere in perhaps my late 20s or early 30s, I developed the habit of making notes in the blank pages of my books. I either copy a passage verbatim or I paraphrase it and I’ll often write a person’s name next to the quote that reminds me of an argument we had on the subject or whom I’d like to show the passage to. Additionally, I add my own symbol system trying to convey the importance of the passage. Anyway, here are a few brief notes I made in my copy of this amazing teacher’s life story:


*she starts out with Emerson’s Self Reliance

*she strives to be sensitive to a child’s feelings

*the words & thoughts in your head, make you

*the most important thing is to build self-confidence

*people are looking for easy solutions

*until you reveal a larger world to children

*classroom discussion is the heart of the lesson

*Aristotle said “The heights of great men were not attained by sudden flight.”

*aphorisms help children remember ideas

*use lots of positive motivating slogans

*Without education, man is a slave, a savage wandering from here to there believing whatever he is told.

*My job as a teacher was to get their talents working. And that’s what I tried to do…..The great books were their greatest teacher…..I have found that great literature not only teaches students to read but makes them thirsty for more and more knowledge….We read to stretch the mind, to seek, to wonder, and then reread. We discuss the ideas contained in those books with others, and we temper our own thoughts.  The great books are great teachers because they demand the attention of the reader….To me they were beginning to sound like Rhodes Scholars—even when they were insulting one another.


Well, that’s enough for now on the marvelous Marva Collins but if you get a chance, look up the 60 Minutes story on her because it is truly enlightening and she, is truly inspiring. I have had only a handful of teachers who truly inspired me in my life but that was enough because I’m obviously still seeking knowledge. Tragically though, far too often children are exposed to teachers who have no business teaching because they don’t like kids, aren’t true lovers of learning, aren’t competent enough, etc. So, if you are a parent and want the best education possible for your child, I have given you some great resources to check out and there are more to come.


   Mrs. Collins has proved the power of hard work and frequent praise in grooming a student for success, so now, I wish to expand on the subject of hard work in the sense of not accepting the “common wisdom” of schools of education and the corporate world to “specialize.” Yes, contrary to almost all conventional wisdom on the subject, R. Buckminster Fuller, affectionately referred to as “Bucky,” by his friends, argued that we should strive to become “generalists” rather than specialists. And I wholeheartedly agree with this man who was also referred to as “The planet’s friendly genius.” I had the honor of attending a lecture given by Bucky at my alma mater, California State University at Long Beach, just several months before he passed away. And I was very impressed at the energy level and vitality of this great spirit, who, in his 80s, was jumping, pounding his fist, raising his voice passionately, etc. as he addressed us that day. To give you a brief background on this compassionate teacher, let me start by saying that most people have heard of or have seen a geodesic dome. Well, Bucky designed the original geodesic dome and he came up with his design by first creating a totally new geometric figure i.e. the tetrahedron. Do you know the last time a new geometric figure was created? Yeah, back 2,500 years ago in Ancient Greece. Oh yeah, and after Einstein published his famous Theory of Relativity, Bucky wrote to him and offered his interpretation of it and Einstein wrote back, “You are one of the few who have truly understood my theory.”


To give you a more succinct and insightful overview of this great man, let me leave you with this paragraph from Wikipedia:


Philosophy and worldview

The grandson of a Unitarian minister (Arthur Buckminster Fuller),[14] R. Buckminster Fuller was also Unitarian.[15] Buckminster Fuller was an early environmental activist. He was very aware of the finite resources the planet has to offer, and promoted a principle that he termed “ephemeralization“, which, in essence—according to futurist and Fuller disciple Stewart Brand—Fuller coined to mean “doing more with less”.[16] Resources and waste material from cruder products could be recycled into making more valuable products, increasing the efficiency of the entire process. Fuller also introduced synergetics, an encompassing term which he used broadly as a metaphoric language for communicating experiences using geometric concepts and, more specifically, to reference the empirical study of systems in transformation, with an emphasis on total system behavior unpredicted by the behavior of any isolated components. Fuller coined this term long before the term synergy became popular.

Fuller was a pioneer in thinking globally, and he explored principles of energy and material efficiency in the fields of architecture, engineering and design.[17][18] He cited François de Chardenedes’ opinion that petroleum, from the standpoint of its replacement cost out of our current energy “budget” (essentially, the net incoming solar flux), had cost nature “over a million dollars” per U.S. gallon (US$300,000 per litre) to produce. From this point of view, its use as a transportation fuel by people commuting to work represents a huge net loss compared to their earnings.[19] An encapsulation quotation of his views might be, “There is no energy crisis, only a crisis of ignorance.”[20][21][22]

Fuller was concerned about sustainability and about human survival under the existing socio-economic system, yet remained optimistic about humanity’s future. Defining wealth in terms of knowledge, as the “technological ability to protect, nurture, support, and accommodate all growth needs of life,” his analysis of the condition of “Spaceship Earth” caused him to conclude that at a certain time during the 1970s, humanity had attained an unprecedented state. He was convinced that the accumulation of relevant knowledge, combined with the quantities of major recyclable resources that had already been extracted from the earth, had attained a critical level, such that competition for necessities was not necessary anymore. Cooperation had become the optimum survival strategy. “Selfishness,” he declared, “is unnecessary and hence-forth unrationalizable…. War is obsolete.”[23] He criticized previous utopian schemes as too exclusive, and thought this was a major source of their failure. To work, he thought that a utopia needed to include everyone.[24]

Fuller also claimed that the natural analytic geometry of the universe was based on arrays of tetrahedra. He developed this in several ways, from the close-packing of spheres and the number of compressive or tensile members required to stabilize an object in space. One confirming result was that the strongest possible homogeneous truss is cyclically tetrahedral.[25]

In his 1970 book I Seem To Be a Verb, he wrote: “I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process—an integral function of the universe.”

He had become a guru of the design, architecture, and ‘alternative’ communities, such as Drop City, the community of experimental artists to whom he awarded the 1966 “Dymaxion Award” for “poetically economic” domed living structures.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckminster_Fuller#Philosophy_and_worldview


And here is a more specific piece related to Bucky’s views on education in general:

School is an ignorance factory

Fuller believed that school limits the mind and suppresses original thinking. He said, “What usually happens in the educational process is that the faculties are dulled, overloaded, stuffed, and paralyzed, so that by the time most people are mature they have lost many of their innate capacities.”

Although he received forty-seven honorary doctorates, including a Phi Beta Kappa key from Harvard, Fuller was self-educated. In avoiding the educational factory, he missed both the advantages and drawbacks of being part of a shared culture, but he also avoided majoring in a specific area that would have boxed him into a category such as architecture or engineering. Instead, he became what he called a “comprehensivist” — interested in just about everything.

Adam Trombly, who founded Project Earth with Fuller (see Adam Trombly’s February article), explained in a recent interview:

Bucky once said that those who are educated to death are only able to communicate that in which they were educated. One of the problems we’ve had in the US and worldwide is the complete failure of the educational system to educate members of the species. Education, as Buckminster Fuller pointed out a long, long time ago, is very controversial. He incorporated himself in the educational system, even though he was uncredentialed. He was a college dropout, and he didn’t encourage that in his college students. He once took hold of my head and said, “You must promise me that you will never allow this instrument to die of an overspecialized death.” He was a very intense man, and he was not always happy with the way that I lived my life.”



Obviously, Bucky Fuller, like Noam Chomsky, Marva Collins, Henry Giroux, Jonathan Kozol and others I will introduce you to, have/had very differing views on what an ideal education system would be like. And this is not merely an exercise in fantasy or some pie-in-the-sky utopian vision. No, there are concrete steps we can and must take to make these ideals a reality. One of the last books that Bucky wrote is Critical Path and in a nutshell, he laid out the dangerous crossroads that humanity is at. Bucky proved that there are enough resources on our planet to provide every single human being with proper housing, food, clothing, medical care, etc. and it’s only the robber barons or global pirates as I recall that Bucky referred to them as, that through their greed & lust for power over others, have caused most of the misery, suffering, & death of billions of people. Perhaps to illustrate how uncommon or how unfamiliar even college educated people are with great minds like Buckminster Fuller, please allow me to share a reminiscence with you. It was the summer of 1981 and I was taking a honors course in political science. And as was my habit ever since I had my intellectual awakening after discovering the academic discipline of philosophy, I would go to my professors’ office hours, or rather, to the professors who inspired me, to simply talk about subjects that intrigued me. I had mentioned my interest in Bucky Fuller during one of my visits to Professor Brown’s office one day and on another occasion when I returned to chat some more, his office partner was there and Professor Brown introduced me to his office mate with “This is the student I told you about who reads Buckminster Fuller.” I was a bit embarrassed at the attention and didn’t really understand at the time why it was so unique to be familiar with Bucky Fuller? I want to add though that reading Bucky is very challenging and I in no way, claim to fully understand or grasp all that he has to say. But every morsel of Bucky’s thought that I do get a bit of a handle on, is such a treasure for my mind & spirit to savor. I apologize but I stumbled upon another nugget/excerpt from Bucky himself that I must share with you before moving on:


The way the power structure keeps the wit and cunning of the intelligentsia—who are not musclemen, who cannot do the physical fighting—from making trouble for the power structure (if the intelligentsia are too broadly informed, unwatched, and with time of their own in which to think) is to make each one a specialist with tools and an office or lab. That is exactly why bright people today have become streamlined into specialists.
Nobody is born a specialist. Every child is born with comprehensive interests, asking the most comprehensively logical and relevant questions. Pointing to the logs burning in the fireplace, one child asked me, “What is fire?” I answered, “Fire is the Sun unwinding from the tree’s log. The Earth revolves and the trees revolve as the radiation from the Sun’s flame reaches the revolving planet Earth. By photosynthesis the green buds and leaves of the tree convert that Sun radiation into hydrocarbon molecules, which form into the bio-cells of the green, outer, cambium layer of the tree. The tree is a tetrahedron that makes a cone as it revolves. The tree’s three tetrahedral roots spread out into the ground to anchor the tree and get water. Each year the new, outer-layer, green-tree cone revolves 365 turns, and every year the tree grows its new tender-green, bio-cell cone layer just under the bark and over the accumulating cones of previous years. Each ring of the many rings of the saw-cut log is one year’s Sun-energy impoundment. So the fire is the many-years-of-Sun-flame-winding now unwinding from the tree. When the log fire pop-sparks, it is letting go a very sunny day long ago, and doing so in a hurry.” Conventionally educated grown-ups rarely know how to answer such questions. They’re all too specialized.
If nature wanted humans to be specialists, she would, for instance, have given them a microscope on one eye, which is what nature has done with all other living organisms—other than humans. Each has special, organically integral equipment with which to cope successfully with special conditions in special environments. The low-slung hound to follow the Earth-top scent of another creature through the thickets and woods . . . the little vine that can grow only along certain stretches of the Amazon River . . . the bird with beautiful wings with which to fly, which bird however, when landed and in need of walking, is greatly hampered by its integral but now useless wings.
Humans are not unique in possessing brains that always and only are coordinating and storing for later retrieval the integrated information coming in from each and all the creature’s senses—visual, aural, tactile, and olfactory. Humans are unique in respect to all other creatures in that they also have minds that can discover constantly varying interrelationships existing only between a number of special case experiences as individually apprehended by their brains, which covarying interrelationship rates can only be expressed mathematically. For example, human minds discovered the law of relative interattractiveness of celestial bodies, whose initial intensity is the product of the masses of any two such celestial bodies, while the force of whose interattractiveness varies inversely as the second power of the arithmetical interdistancing increases.
The human mind of Bernoulli discovered the mathematical expression of the laws of intercovarying pressure differentials in gases under varying conditions of shape and velocity of gas flow around and by interfering bodies. The Wright brothers’ wing foils provided human flight, but not the information controlling the mathematics of varying wing foil conformations. Bernoulli’s work made possible the mathematical improvement in speed and energy efficiency of various wing designs. Human mind’s access to the mathematics of generalized scientific laws governing physical phenomena in general made possible humanity’s production of its own detached-from-self wings to outfly all birds in speed and altitude, while being able to loan one another those wings and modify them to produce even better wings. http://www.maebrussell.com/Critical%20Path/Critical%20Path%20excerpts%201.html


With respect to the nuts & bolts or concrete steps we can collectively as well as individually take to empower ourselves intellectually, I have already provided you with insights from some brilliant minds. If you will take the time to read closely what these true educators have said, you know what you have to do. First and foremost, you must stop relying on others, especially the public education system. Some will try to tell you that “self-education” is no longer possible and is a romantic memory of a bygone era. I say B.S.! The  bottom line is that we must learn to trust ourselves, our innate wisdom, and our ability to inform ourselves if we are willing to do the work or develop the self-discipline. Ideally, for the most effective or significant kind of learning to take place, we must be in the company of others and feel free to express contrary ideas, and speak about controversial subjects with no fear of censorship or retaliation. But for those who either cannot afford the cost of higher education or can’t find the kind of stimulating academic environment I am referring to, you must fall back on your own resourcefulness.


In brief, if you are so fortunate as to have a friend or two who is also interested in expanding their intellect and thinking skills, set up a regular study group and follow Mortimer Adler’s Great Books Study Program. It provides you with many, thought-provoking questions and ideally, if you have the Great Books set published by Encyclopedia Britannica, it provides the exact pages to turn to. In lieu of not owning this amazing collection, either check the books out from your local library or purchase inexpensive, used paperback copies. Personally, I recommend purchasing your own copies so you can make notes in them for future reference. By the way, I searched for several years for the Great Books set and at first I was told for a set of used ones from an Encyclopedia Britannica salesman, it’d cost me $1,700.00. Eventually, I found a woman in Santa Ana, California who sold encyclopedias out of her garage, and got the set for $175.00, one of the best bargains of my life. Next in the self-education program I am outlining, find a copy of:


Problem solving and comprehension


Arthur Whimbey, Jack Lochhead

0 Reviewshttp://books.google.com/books/about/Problem_solving_and_comprehension.html?id=RAsRAQAAIAAJ

L. Erlbaum Associates, Sep 1, 1991 – Education – 366 pages

Books on the improvement of thinking processes have tended to be complicated and less than useful; the authors of this renowned text emphasize a simple but effective approach. The Whimbey method of teaching problem solving is now recognized as an invaluable means of teaching people to think. Problems are followed by their solutions, presented in easy-to-follow steps — this feature permits students to work without supervision, outside the classroom. The latest edition of this best-selling text covers two new topics: decoding complex instructions, and the uses of pair problem solving.



Excuse me if I have already mentioned the following anecdote but it is instructive. I had attended several community colleges and had never been required to write an essay exam. All my tests were multiple choice & true or false on Scantron forms. I was attending California State University at Long Beach and taking a course in World History. I studied for perhaps 40 hours for our first big test of the semester. We had read four or five short paperbacks and perhaps 200 pages in the textbook and the professor told us that he would choose 30 topics from all this material and we had to write an essay for ten of the topics i.e. a brief essay response for each of the ten topics we chose. I thought, my God, he could choose several hundred topics from all this material, how am I going to prepare for this test? I did my best but still received a D on the test. Many of my classmates did poorly as well and we raised hell so the professor said he’d allow us to retake the test a week later and that he’d keep the same topics for us to answer. He also suggested the “Remedial Learning Lab” in the college library for help. I went to the lab and in a provocative discussion with the supervisor of the lab, I came away with this advice i.e. buy the book above by Whimbey & Lochhead and try to find a study partner to do the problems with. I should add that this director of the learning lab had received a Jesuit education and had four years of Latin & three years of Greek under his belt. We got into an in-depth conversation when I told him that I was a philosophy major and why I was interested in studying philosophy i.e. to empower myself. And the greatest gift this scholar gave me was how to make “memory slips.” In short, narrow down the main ideas in textbooks, really quite simple because they are usually the headings of paragraphs or are in bold. Sometimes the main ideas are buried within paragraphs and they’re not always the first sentence or the topic sentence but with practice, one becomes proficient at zeroing in on the key ideas/information. Take several sheets of paper and fold into six equal parts (standard 8.5” by 11” paper). On one side, write down a main idea in the form of a question, and on the back, answer the question in short bits of information (you don’t need every “a” “or” “the” etc., just the key words because they will trigger your memory of the core concept. Don’t write more than four or five brief blurbs of the answer because the mind can easily become overloaded and works best with trying to retain no more than 4 or 5 pieces of info at a time. If an answer is too long, devise a way of breaking the question down to a few different memory slips but with the overarching question in mind. Carry these memory slips with you wherever you go and pull them out periodically when you have a few moments to spare and quiz yourself. If you get the answer wrong or only partially correct, give yourself an “X” on the back of the memory slip. If you get it right, give yourself a check mark on the back of the memory slip. Once you have four or five check marks in a row, you can be assured that you have it memorized and it doesn’t matter what order the question comes to you on the test. Well, I followed the director’s instructions and I aced the test the next week. What’s more, I applied this new tool to every course I took from then on and in whatever subject matter I was studying and my graves improved significantly. Best of all, it took so much pressure/stress of my shoulders because I was now confident that I could master any subject.


Finally, in terms of practical steps you can take to empower or self-educate yourself, I recommend printing a list of the basic, informal logical fallacies and referring to it often when reading editorials, opinion pieces, watching FOX News, etc. and you will begin to see just how often T.V. pundits, demagogues, politicians, preachers, advertisers, etc. commit these fallacies as they’re trying to deceive you. Sadly, I have had to pursue my program of enlightenment alone because I’ve never found a friend yet who gave a damn about their ignorance and was willing to commit to a program of study with me. Hopefully you are more fortunate but if not, don’t wait, dive in and you will become addicted to learning as I am. It’s a most glorious journey and it’s the only thing I never tire of.


Admittedly, I once again have probably written a much too long essay but I’m confident that those of you who are as passionate about education as I am, will invest the time in reading it through. I bring this up because I want to return to Noam Chomsky and some quotes I noted in my copy of his book Chomsky on Mis-Education. And for the record, in my opinion, Noam Chomsky is the scholar’s scholar. He meticulously footnotes his work and keeps himself informed by reading several of the world’s major newspapers and countless journals, government documents, etc. I like to tell people that Chomsky is a one man revolution and if you read all his books, you’d have one helluva political education. By the way, his work in the field of linguistics in the 1960s is said to have revolutionized the field. Here’s a taste of Chomsky:


*”Teachers who are paid to safeguard the ideological doctrinal system have little interest or incentive to teach students that the United States has systematically violated the Pledge of Allegiance, from the legalization of slavery, the denial of women’s rights, and the near-genocide of Native Americans to the contemporary discriminatory practices against people who, by virtue of their race, ethnicity, or gender, are not treated with the dignity and respect called for in the Pledge.”

*”Central to a pedagogy of lies promoted by the dominant ideology to prevent the development of a ‘critical comprehension of reality’ is the creation of ‘necessary illusions and emotionally potent oversimplifications….to keep the bewildered herd—the naïve simpleton—from being bothered with the complexity of real problems that they couldn’t solve anyway.’ That is why schools and universities try to block the development of a more critical education along the lines suggested by Chomsky, Paulo Friere, and Henry Giroux,…”

*In an era in which we are more and more controlled by ever increasing ‘manufacturing of consent’ through technological wizardry used by the media—ephemeral sound bites, metaphorical manipulations of language, and prepackaged ideas void of substance—it becomes that much more urgent to adhere to Chomsky’s proposal to develop a critical approach to education that would serve ‘the general public by providing people with techniques of self defense.”

*”The more there is a need to talk about the ideals of democracy, the less democratic the system usually is. This is well known by those who make policy, and sometimes they don’t even try to hide it. The Trilateral Commission referred to schools as ‘institutions’ responsible for ‘the indoctrination of the young.’”

*”In a free and democratic society, Dewey held, workers should be ‘the masters of their own industrial fate,’ not tools rented by employers.” (pgs. 10,11,12,17, and 47)


I was sorely tempted to share a lot more with you but resisted the urge. This should be enough to wet your appetite for more Chomsky. Pretty mindboggling isn’t he? And it’s clear just how far from actually educating our youth, our public school system is. I’ve even talked to people who claim to be liberals or progressives and yet they had never heard of Noam Chomsky. But, whenever I’ve been in bookstores in Madrid, Paris, Rome, etc., the small section of books they’d have that were in English was overwhelmingly Chomsky. He is much more well known outside the U.S. than in the U.S. and he has lived here his entire life. He has been marginalized and dismissed by many on the Left because he doesn’t pull his punches i.e. he levels his critical eye at whoever and whomever is guilty of lying, distortion, etc.


Okay, time to move on. This next gentleman  is Sir Ken Robinson. “….is a senior adviser for education policy at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, and a recognized expert in the development of creativity, education and training throughout the world. He has served as professor of education at Warwick University in the United Kingdom and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.” The following quotes come from a pamphlet titled “How Creativity, Education and the Arts Shape a Modern Economy.”

*…but the fact is if America wants to remain competitive in the global markets of the 21st century, creativity is not a luxury. America needs a workforce that is flexible, adaptable and highly creative.”

*Are companies today having a hard time finding these types of creative employees?

*Yes. In 2001, McKinsey published a study called The War for Talent. It asked 6,000 executives from 400 companies what they considered to be their biggest challenge as they face the future.

*The most important challenge they said was finding people who could make good decisions in times of uncertainty, who can adapt to new opportunities and respond creatively to change. Apparently they have real problems finding such people. Now these are among the top companies in America and can recruit the supposed cream of America’s education system. So even at the top end, the system isn’t keeping pace with what the economy really needs.

*The standards movement (No Child Left Behind) is killing innovation because its focus is very narrow, and its generating a climate of fear and risk aversion. In some ways, the standards movement is actually lowering standards….

*The fact is the educational system we’re all trying so hard to improve was developed in the 18th and 19th centuries to meet the needs of a different age—the age of industrialism….But America is rapidly becoming a post-industrial economy.

*All the evidence shows that if you have a broad curriculum, one that is infused with a more sophisticated conception of intelligence, kids are more motivated, more driven, have higher self-esteem and perform better academically.

Are you beginning to see the connections between the various educators I have shared with you? And by the way, and before I forget, it’s appropriate that Ken Robinson works/worked for the Getty Foundation because many years ago I saw an article in The Oregonian newspaper on Gordon Getty. I believe it said something like he was the richest man in the world and in a nutshell, he said that a liberal education was worth more than a million dollars and he was far more proud of his classical education in music theory and composing than he was of his wealth. Now of course, not many people can become a Gordon Getty but unless you have serious intellectual challenges, you can earn a classical or liberal education if you apply yourself. Believe it or not, I’m finally beginning to wind-down this lengthy treatise and that brings up another good point i.e. I guess because I’ve been told so many times that my writing was too long, I’m often afraid that no one will read my writing. We can thank television and the consumer society that chops everything into sound bites and images for the general public’s intellectual laziness as Chomsky mentioned earlier.


Another significant factor in earning or working towards an ideal education is writing. You may feel this is rather obvious but not really. I believe that I may have mentioned it earlier but perhaps not? I attended several different community colleges in the L.A. & Orange County area and every test I took was Scantron i.e. either true or false or multiple choice. I was told that I couldn’t take any of the literature or composition classes that I was interested in because I scored so low on the English Placement Test. And yet, I ended up earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and I’ve been a prolific writer for the past 20 years or so. I wrote to Noam Chomsky about this curious state and he said that when he was in high school, he failed grammar. I cracked-up because here’s the world famous linguist admitting that he failed grammar and he also noted that many of the rules of grammar are arbitrary and a pain in the butt. Alright, that was a preface to this article I have titled Learning to Think—the Write Way: Key to Education Is Putting Words on Paper, Experts Say by John Tagg, a San Marcos, Callifornia, free-lance writer and former speech and writing instructor at Cal State Northridge and UC Berkeley.


*”Writing is necessary for genuine learning.

“Writing represents a unique mode of learning—not merely valuable, not merely special, but unique.”

*The reason? John Dewey had it right, ‘We learn what we do.’ When we write, we do several things. We think, we formulate our thoughts into meaningful strings of words, testing them in the process, we record those words graphically, we read them back to test them again.

*”When we write we not only think, recall, select and verbalize, we visually reinforce the verbal choices which we have physically recorded. Hence writing is unsurpassed as a way of learning to think and a way of thinking to learn.”

*”The habit of good writing—the organization of ideas, the marshalling of evidence, the proper choice of words—is virtually indistinguishable from clear thinking.”

*”Perhaps more than any other form of communication, writing holds us responsible for our words and ultimately makes us more thoughtful human beings.”


I have often told students who were intimidated by a writing assignment to relax and that all writing is, is putting your thoughts down on paper. It gets easier with practice and just about every author in the world, makes mistakes and has to revise and rewrite sometimes several times before they are pleased with their results. Again though, because teachers are so overworked and have such huge caseloads of students, many if not most teachers will use Scantron tests because otherwise they’d be up to midnight every night grading papers. If we are serious about improving our public education system, teachers need to be paid much more than they are now and should have personal secretaries to help them with the administrative paperwork that the bureaucrats dump on them. This would allow teachers to do a lot more actual teaching. And perhaps then teachers could assign more writing assignments?


Before I begin to sum up, I want to share a personal anecdote and two more video clips with you. Back somewhere around the mid-1980s, I heard of this film called “Mindwalk.” It intrigued me so I drove a good distance to a small, independent, artsy sort of movie theatre to watch it. I was blown away by the grand scale of thinking & ideas it contained. And the next time I heard mention of this film was around 1994 when my wife and son & I moved back to Portland, Oregon. I was working for a private company that offered supervision & training services for adults with various disabilities. We had a regular monthly meeting and at one of our meetings, the owner of the company told us that she had taken all the supervisors on a retreat to a posh location on the Oregon coast and had hired a consultant to give a seminar. The consultant, from the conversation I overheard my supervisor and some other supervisors have, basically just showed this film “Mindwalk.” All the supervisors moaned when the owner mentioned this film and said they hated it and that it was so boring. By the way, speaking of boring, I got so sick & tired of hearing students make that complaint when I was a substitute teacher in L.A., that it became almost like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard to me after awhile. Then one day I saw the greatest quote on boredom on the wall of a classroom I was subbing in. It read: “The cure for boredom is curiosity and there is no cure for curiosity.” It was like I had been struck by lightning. From then on whenever students would moan “This is so boring” or “I’m bored,” I would recite this quote and tell them, in other words, there’s a million new tastes, sounds, thoughts, etc. out there and if you’re bored, it’s your fault or it’s because you’re lazy. I’d try to downplay or soft soap the laziness part and highlight some of the fantastic places to travel to, etc. Okay, back to my story. The owner upon hearing the moaning & complaining of the supervisors, asked for a show of hands of who enjoyed the film. Only the owner and me raised our hands and I remember the incredulous look of my supervisor as she asked me “Are you serious? You liked it?” So much for the superiority of that group of supervisors and by the way, my supervisor ended up firing me a few months later. She expected me to grovel over some petty fighting between two women I worked with and which I had tried to redirect politely i.e. because I had spoken my mind, I was going to be transferred to a very tough assignment and when I refused, I was fired. Oh well, I was obviously over-qualified for that position anyway. Here are the two clips from “Mindwalk”:


Anyway, I want to end with these two clips from the movie because I think they nicely connect some of the themes of this essay. Sometimes it amazes me how things come together so nicely almost as if it were predestined? The movie “Mindwalk” popped into my head as I was working on this essay and now, after having viewed the two clips from the movie, I did a  search of the term ‘holistic education’ and wasn’t even sure if such a term existed and lo & behold, there is and it dovetails nicely with all the teachers I have introduced in this essay i.e. today, more than ever, because of the serious crises facing humanity such as global warming & the possibility of a group of terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear weapon to name just two of the most critical problems, we must learn to educate our whole selves, not just the academic or intellectual aspect of ourselves. Compassion and creativity are more vital for our survival than any other time in history.


Let’s review briefly what each of these great minds taught us. Mortimer Adler showed us the practicality of a classical education i.e. it can train the mind to a degree not often attained by most people. Jonathan Kozol revealed just how pooorly America rates intellectually as compared to other countries and he pointed out in his book “Illiterate America,” which I read over 25 years ago,  “The term ‘functionally illiterate’ should not be applied to humans because machines function, the word doesn’t apply to us.’ Connect this thought to the discussion in “Mindwalk” where the woman is discussing how Descartes brought the notion of a mechanistic world view to the forefront and how it has dehumanized us. Then we have John Taylor Gatto who outlined are outmoded and Prussian military based educational system. Henry Giroux is/was a fan/friend of Paolo Friere and developed his theories of critical pedagogy from Friere’s groundbreaking work. Noam Chomsky of course needs little explanation because as I have already amply noted, “The New York Times said he is arguably, the most important intellectual alive.” Marva Collins’ work proves that discipline need not always be negative and that with a true love & compassion for students, mindboggling strides forward can occur. Bucky Fuller as some have described him was simply “the planet’s friendly genius,” and he proved that there is no reason outside of plain old greed, for any human being to go hungry, be without a proper shelter/home, be provided with medical care and a good education as well as meaningful work. He also counseled us to become generalists, not specialists in pursuing knowledge. Sir Ken Robinson amused and enlightened us all by showing how creativity is playing an ever more vital role in the workplace of today and his enthusiasm has inspired me to pursue some career paths that I have long dreamt of. And finally with the clips from “Mindwalk,” we can step back and take a look at the whole of education, where it’s been, it’s history, it’s future, and that by not looking at public education with a microscope but rather a telescope, we can begin to glimpse the wonderful universe of understanding that true wisdom affords us. Lastly, but certainly not leastly, I want to share a bit from Wikipedia on the subject of ‘holistic education’ and give you some more resources to check into for your own empowerment. And I am going to include one last video clip which I feel is very insightful and relevant when you reflect on the so-called “conservatives” and their efforts to destroy what little is left of our public educational system. Yes, it is a mess but that doesn’t mean we should scrap it completely and many of the desperate poor in this country depend heavily on it for at least some basic sustenance or food for the mind. Every now & then, a great teacher comes along and makes a lifechanging impact on a young student. One of mine was Dora Polk, a kindly little lady from Wales who openned my eyes to the many levels of reading in a single book.

“An informed citizenry is the strength of democracy…. a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” (James Madison)


Holistic education is a philosophy of education based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning. This is the definition given by Ron Miller, founder of the journal Holistic Education Review (now entitled Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice). The term holistic education is often used to refer to the more democratic and humanistic types of alternative education. Robin Ann Martin (2003) describes this further by stating, “At its most general level, what distinguishes holistic education from other forms of education are its goals, its attention to experiential learning, and the significance that it places on relationships and primary human values within the learning environment.” (Paths of Learning)

The concept of holism refers to the idea that all the properties of a given system in any field of study cannot be determined or explained by the sum of its component parts. Instead, the system as a whole determines how its parts behave. A holistic way of thinking tries to encompass and integrate multiple layers of meaning and experience rather than defining human possibilities narrowly

Key Historical Contributors

It is difficult to map the history of holistic education because many feel that the core ideas of holism are not new but “timeless and found in the sense of wholeness in humanity’s religious impetus” (Forbes, 1996).[1] On the other hand, the roots of holistic education can be traced back to several major contributors. Originating theorists include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Johann Pestalozzi, Friedrich Fröbel, and Francisco Ferrer. More recent theorists are Rudolf Steiner, Maria Montessori, Francis Parker, John Dewey, John Caldwell Holt, George Dennison Kieran Egan, Howard Gardner, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Paul Goodman, Ivan Illich, and Paulo Freire. With the ideas of these pioneers in mind, many feel that the core ideas of holistic education did not truly take form until the cultural paradigm shift that began in the 1960s.[1] After this, the holism movement in psychology emerged in the 1970s where, during this time, “an emerging body of literature in science, philosophy and cultural history provided an overarching concept to describe this way of understanding education – a perspective known as holism.”[2]

Significant forward motion was accomplished by the first National Holistic Education Conference that was conducted with The University of California, San Diego in July 1979, that included 31 workshops. The Conference was presented by The Mandala Society and The National Center for the Exploration of Human Potential.

The title was Mind: Evolution or Revolution? The Emergence of Holistic Education

For six years after that the Holistic Education Conference was combined with the Mandala Holistic Health Conferences at the University of California, San Diego, with about three thousand professionals participating each year.

Out of this came the Journal of Holistic Education and the observation that educators think they are teaching the basic three R’s: Reading Writing and Arithmetic. With Holistic Education the basic three R’s are Education for: Relationships, Responsibility and Reverence for all life.

Philosophical Framework

Any approach to education must ask itself, what is the goal of education? Holistic education aims at helping students be the most that they can be. Abraham Maslow referred to this as “self-actualization”. Education with a holistic perspective is concerned with the development of every person’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical, artistic, creative and spiritual potentials. It seeks to engage students in the teaching/learning process and encourages personal and collective responsibility.

In describing the general philosophy of holistic education, Robin Ann Martin and Scott Forbes (2004) divide their discussion into two categories: the idea of Ultimacy and Basil Bernstein’s notion of Sagacious Competence. [3]


I will leave you with perhaps FDR’s most famous quote “Remember, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And I hope that you won’t fall for the fear & hate mongers who call themselves journalists on FOX News. They seek to divide us so the rich can continue ad nauseam to rip us all off and pollute the planet. Join the good fight and persevere!

















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