The opening sentence in John Miller’s book, The Holistic Curriculum is that holistic education attempts to bring education into alignment with the fundamental realities of nature. Nature at its core is holistic,interrelated and dynamic. As such we have much to learn about curriculum from environmental education, and the science-technology-society (STS) movement (each developed In previous posts.
However, curriculum, for the most part, has been broken into fragmented pieces, even within a single discipline, such as our own field of science. The National Science Education Standards reflect this compartmentalization of content (as shown below). Although in the text of the Standards, the authors emphasize that science should be taught by using an inquiry approach, the overriding outcome is the empahsis on discrete, non-contextual, standards, divided into these categories:
- Unifying concepts and processes in science.
- Science as inquiry
- Physical science.
- Life science.
- Earth and space science.
- Science and technology.
- Science in personal and social perspectives.
- History and nature of science.
I want to explore here the notion of holistic curriculum and teaching as an implication of the theory of the biosphere as developed by Vernadsky in Russia, and the Gaia theory by Lovelock in England, and Margulis in the USA.
My own experience in applying holistic ideas of Gaia, the biosphere, and curriculum came together in the development of the Global Thinking Project (GTP). We developed cross-cultural and holistic curriculum materials that focused on global thinking. Our strategy was to get students involved in real-world problems and to work together collaboratively within their own classrooms, and using the Internet, with schools in other cultures. The holistic ideas of Vernadsky and Lovelock were integrated into the GTP philosophy.
Both Vernadsky’s biosphere, and Lovelock/Margulis’ Gaia imply interrelationships, symbiosis, synthesis, a system, if you will. To apply these ideas to science teaching means designing lessons that help students think in wholes, to see and develop relationships among concepts and ideas, and involve and connect students to real problems and issues.
In the GTP, we traced the historical roots of global thinking to Albert Einstein’s statement shortly after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “everything has changed save our mode of thinking.” Although he didn’t say it directly, Einstein knew that humanity would have to learn to think in wholes. He knew that hardly anthing is independent and freestanding; rather virtually everything is part of some larger system. This would require a new mode of thinking.
And there were others who invoked the same message. Andrei Sarkharov, the Soviet physicist, advised his government that atmospheric testing of nucelar weapons must be suspended if humanity were to sustain itself in the “nuclear age.” At the same time, Rachel Carson warned all citizens that a year may come when appears a “silent spring.” Her book described the interconnections in the biosphere, and the deadly effects of some chemical sprays on the pyramid of life. And then there was the photograph of Earth taken by astronauts on their way to moon when they looked back at the “blue planet” and saw at once that the Earth was whole, and a new perspective in thinking was needed—global thinking.
The Global Thinking Project, which was an active project from 1990 – 2002, developed a web-assisted global communication and collaboration program enabling elementary, middle and high school students to pursue environmental studies that focused on problems facing communities around the world. The GTP was organized around seven “Projects” including: Project Hello, Project Green Classroom, Project Clean Air, Project Solid Waste, Project Water Watch, Project Soil, and Project Earth Month.
In Project Hello of the GTP curriculum, one of the first activities that students were engaged in was “Earth as a Living System.” This activity introduced the concept that the Earth can be viewed as a living organism (Gaia theory), with the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and heliosphere interacting to form a functioning whole. We went on to say that changes that affect any one of these subsystems (temperature of the atmosphere, for example) necessarily affect them all. Click on this link for the full details on the activity, and the materials you need to carry it out with your students.
I’ll explore holistic teaching in the coming days, and also make more connections to Vernadsky’s theory of the biosphere, and Lovelock’s Theory of Gaia.
Jack Hassard & Julie Weisberg. Environmental Science on the Net: The Global Thinking Project. 1999. Good Year Books
Nir Orion. A Holistic Approach for Science Education for All. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science & Technology, 2007, 3(2), 111-118
John Miller. The Holistic Curriculum. University of Toronto Press, 2007