Integral Education - More Commentary

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Earlier today I left the following comments on Adam Bohannon's blog, more commentary on education:

One thing I find interesting about all this is my romantic vision of what a college classroom was like back in the day, say 50 years ago. I liken this to, what in this context is a very contrasting style, Dr. Prins classroom. In his upper level courses he provides an example of the opposite, no media, no powerpoint, no chalkboard, just him lecturing. I was certainly interested in the content matter of a course such as Anthropological Theory, but nonetheless I found myself engaged day in and day out by the simple task of recording helpful notes based on no visual queues or presentations whatsoever. What happened to me in a classroom divorced of any sort of complexity is that I was driven to engage.

Mind you, this does not do anything to the dynamic his classroom creates, namely one in which his is the voice of God, if you will. He has the content and the answers, and yours is a task of decoding it all. But, I think when the circumstances are right and there is no oppression, this can actually be a good thing. Afterall, aren’t many of our professors our professors because of their proven knowledge, intelligence, wisdom, ability etc.? The tendency is to abuse the position of power, but I like to make room for the chance that a “traditional” approach can work.

Of course, this for me just goes back to the different types of students I mentioned in “Overthinking”. I think a traditional environment will be a successful one if the student profile is suited to it. I used to make a big distinction between Wesch’s style and Prins’ style: Wesch’s whole goal is to make the subject matter apply to the student’s lives, even if that means changing the subject, whereas Prins whole goal is to elucidate the truths of the subject matter, leaving it to the student to force the application in their lives. I suggest and hypothesize that there is a student profile, or level, that would actually thrive more in the second (Prins) style than in the first.

And all of this is simply my attempt to drive in the ideas of complexity, reality, and development into the dialog of education, hoping to broaden our perspectives and push the conversation to increasing the perspectives we take. Too often we end up just latching onto “better” concepts and then simply use them to disprove the previous “worse” concepts. This I think is destructive to what is our actual and shared goal, improved praxis.

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I totally agree. I would like to apply the same type of simple breakdown in the profiles of students to professors. In this regard there would be preconventional, conventional, and postconventional professors. Moving from preconventional to postconventional is a move of increasing perspectives. So, a professor at a postconventional level of teaching would be including more perspectives than one at a conventional level, and thus, I think, would be a more effective teacher.

Once again I am just trying to put voice, for the first time, to an outline of education using integral concepts. So far I have just suggested that we are all on a developmental continuum, professors and students. My assumption is that students and professors will be more successful when operating from a postconventional perspective-taking ability. However, much of the problems we experience in the classroom could be attributed to disparities between the perspectives of the students and professors, students and students, and professors and professors. I think there is ample evidence for a vast array of complexity in any given educational environment i.e. some students thrive while others are bored, some professors speak perfectly to 25% of the students but 75% are asleep etc. From that point, and depending on the perspective/level/stage/profile they are coming from, professors and students have a variety of reactions.

I think that there are patterns in both the reactions and the perspectives/levels/stages/profiles. However, most of what I encounter in the way of dialog has to do with "good" vs. "bad" professors, professors who care and those who don't, and students who are smart and care and those who aren't and don't. While I think there is truth to this, it is only partial truth at best. I think that we are all exhibiting patterned behavior due to our worldview. Our worldview is largely a reflection of the perspective we're coming from in the majority of the contexts we find ourselves in. We certainly still have agency; I don't mean this to propose a sort of determinism. So, if these things are even close to true, I do believe we have the opportunity to do better than the simplistic type of dialog oriented toward explanation mentioned above.

I think we can discover an integral practical education. I have started by proposing the three broad developmental stages: preconventional, conventional, postconventional. Wilber often correlates these with egocentric, ethnocentric, worldcentric in a broader perspective. For my purposes here, namely dealing with a specific context, a simple dialectic seems a helpful place to start. In that vein, these could be something like thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Nonetheless, I prefer preconventional, conventional, postconventional because of the directionality of it, oriented in a developmental line or spiral. More later...

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