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An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Holistic Education: An Analysis of Its Ideas and Nature - A Review

Patricia English
Former lecturer in Teaching and Curriculum Studies, Edith Cowan University

Not every doctoral dissertation accomplishes the difficult transition from scholarly tome to a highly readable, essential educational text suitable for undergraduates and graduates alike. Holistic Education - An Analysis of Its Ideas and Nature by Scott H. Forbes is a notable exception, and is likely to be of immense interest to educational leaders and administrators as well as concerned parents.

In the foreword to this book, John Wilson rightly states that Forbes provides us with "the best (perhaps the only) attempt to give the idea and practice of holistic education a serious philosophical underpinning". Forbes' book provides a solid philosophical foundation to holistic education, raising it above the level of attitudes, intuitions and the feel-good practices and theories that have arguably hindered innovative education in the past few decades. It will do much to counteract and ameliorate the tide of negative sentiment felt by students, teachers and lecturers reeling under the pressures of exponential social change and rampant economic rationalism. Practitioners who have been influenced by humanistic education can now avail themselves of this philosophical base to formulate and conduct empirical studies into aspects of holistic education.

The book is divided into three sections. Section I is concerned with a general overview of holistic education, while Section II deals with its philosophical precedents

Section III is concerned with examining what holistic education actually 'does' and involves a sociological analysis that draws heavily upon the work of Basil Bernstein. This section is primarily concerned with the examination of the three competence based modes of pedagogy identified by Bernstein, together with a well argued case by Forbes for holistic education to be considered as a fourth mode in the competence based pedagogic model. The sociological analysis in Section III is by far the most challenging section of the book, and I suspect Bernstein is an acquired taste. In any event, not everyone will be in agreement with all aspects of Bernstein's model. For example, I think perhaps that too fine a line was drawn in the comparison between competency based models of pedagogy and performance based models

Holistic education situates formal education within the need to learn more generally about life, including spirituality and fundamental human values, seen from a religious and/or psychological perspective. Forbes examines the goals of holistic education in terms of 'ultimacy', a term first coined by the theologian Paul Tillich. Forbes uses this term in two broad senses. It refers to 'the highest state of being that a human can aspire to, either as a stage of development (eg enlightenment) or as a moment of life that is the greatest, but only rarely experienced by anyone (eg grace), or as a phase of life that is common in the population, but usually rare in any particular individual's life (eg Maslow's peak experience)'. The adoption of the term 'ultimacy' was made on the grounds that it incorporates both an end-state and a process which can be used interchangeably or stand alone. The term encompasses religious as well as psychological perspectives and easily accommodates theories of human development.

Throughout Section l of the book, Forbes uses 'ultimacy' to discuss the goals of education and the importance given to it by the founding authors of holistic education. This concept becomes the linchpin in the following discussions on what needs to be learned, what facilitates the needed learning in the students, and the aspects of teachers that facilitate this learning.

Using the above intellectual framework, Section II is concerned with analysing the ideas of holistic education through an examination of six founding authors deemed to have made a unique contribution to its development: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Pestalozzi, Friedrich Froebel, Carl Gustav Jung, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Each author's work is examined in terms of ultimacy, competence, student characteristics and teachers' understanding in relation to the educational enterprise. The inclusion of Jung in this line-up may seem at first discordant, but when one considers the breadth and depth of his psychological contribution to our understanding of what it means to be human, it turns out to have been an extremely good choice indeed. I suspect that quite a few graduate students will be pointed in a direction that will prove fascinating and enthralling for them if they are looking for areas in which to conduct empirical research.

Forbes' writing style is scholarly without being pedantic, clear and concise without being patronising, and his tone throughout is one of moderate persuasion. It is a writing style that most students will find eminently readable.

There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that he has produced a book which will become a touchstone for all those researchers and scholars alike, who dare to believe that education, in the fullest and deepest sense of that word, can lead to the awakening of true human intelligence.

Holistic Education: An Analysis of Its Ideas and Nature
Foundation for Educational Renewal, July 2003


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