Integral Education - First Shot

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I recently left this comment on Professor Mike Wesch's Digital Ethnography blog:

I think it is right on that the situation often created in the classroom is one in which the students and professors are pitted against each other. It seems to be very difficult to create an environment that is conducive to both parties working together to learn. It also seems that grades are a very strong factor in creating this divisive atmosphere. And, it also seems that one way of curing some of these problems is to create a more fluid and circular communication/feedback system that functions to help shape the very structure of the class/education. But, what I find is often missing in discussions such as these is a sense of hierarchy. In this case, Mike's student is clearly coming from a postconventional perspective. I mean this to say that he is not simply complaining about his grade or complaining to get the professor to raise his grade, he is actively abstracting and making a commentary on the very structure of the education he is receiving. This is something far different from the student who comes to see the professor but is just complaining about the grade and perhaps projecting his own emotion about being wrong and wanting a higher grade, a preconventional student. With these two types of students it gets quite tricky because both the postconventional and the preconventional students appear to be the same, namely they both come in to talk/complain about their grade. However, these two are indeed coming from vastly distinct places. Between these two students, and in sharp contrast to, lies the conventional student who simply accepts the grade/situation/system/education regardless of how bad he does on the exam. Only, the conventional student you never see because he never comes into the office to complain.

With this simple breakdown it is clear that there are at least three distinct types of students in the class and it seems that a prudent pedagogy would attempt to create a healthy learning environment for all three. To the preconventional student the teacher would demonstrate the value of hard work, preparation, and most importantly the ability to succeed working within the structure. To the conventional student the teacher would help to break down the structure of the class, push the student to question the purpose of the education, and demonstrate the problems with grades. To the postconventional student the teacher would frame the class to create a healthy environment in which the student can follow his own interests, to allow the student to shape the class in a unique way, and to allow the student to generally flourish by providing support and guidance. It seems to me that the majority of professors teach to the preconventional student, a handful teach to the conventional student, and very few teach to the postconventional or a combination of two or more. With this outline it becomes possible to start to account for the distinct patterns that are available to us and convert them into useful educational strategies. And at the core of this idea is, at the very least, a willingness to entertain a simple and non-value associated (very important!) natural hierarchy.

Well, this is my first attempt at expressing some ideas about integral education. Upon discovering Integral Theory, via Ken Wilber, my first thoughts were in relation to applications for education. I was intrigued by the potential capabilities that an integral perspective could offer to teaching and learning. I wanted to figure out how I could more effectively teach, and by extension, learn. After spending the last year and a half of my undergraduate studies intensely involved in studying less common approaches to education, I was left with a lot of good ideas and few practical clues on how to better teach and learn. I read and became addicted to such people as Charles Weingartner, Neil Postman, and Marshall McLuhan ("Teaching as a Subversive Activity" being a particular favorite).

Anyway, what I found with integral perspectives is that I could finally account for what I felt very strongly, that in any given class I was in, I was teaching to or learning with a vast array of different types of people with a vast array of different intelligences and capabilities. When teaching, I found certain students would really respond to a "subversive" approach, whereas others just stared blankly. With a traditional lecture approach, some would engage, others would fall asleep. The major problem I had was that the only language I had to interpret this phenomenon was that certain students were smarter than others, came from different backgrounds (quality and primary schools and family), or were from entirely different cultures. So, an integral perspective encompassing stages and quadrants opened my eyes to a new language and approach. The comment above is a first approach at broadly defining three stages of the average college student.

I look forward to elaborating on this start and hypothesizing some practical applications for teaching and learning.

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