Q: Welcome, Professor Miller. A lot of your research and interests have centered on exploring holistic education and the various ways it can be implemented in the curriculum. Where does the term “holistic education” come from and when did it start?
JM: The term holistic education came into being in the1980s. There were two crucial events that formalized the field. First, in 1988, Ron Miller started a journal called the Holistic Education Review. Second, my book, The Holistic Curriculum, was published in the same year. And that was really the beginning of this as a field of inquiry. “Holistic” comes from “Holism,” which is the theory that “parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independently of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole (Oxford English Dictionary).”
One of the main features of holistic education is to see that we are not separate. The first people who taught holistically were the indigenous people, because they have always focused on how things are interdependent.
I’ve been connected with the Equinox Holistic Alternative school in Toronto since 2009. It’s a public school that took my book as a guide for a holistic curriculum of connectedness.
Q: What do you think are the advantages of holistic education versus a more traditional approach?
JM: Students become more integrated. When they go to school, they don’t feel peer pressure to act in a certain way. Holistic schools still must meet the curriculum guidelines, but the students can also find themselves and see themselves as whole human beings.
In the holistic curriculum, one principle is Balance, based on the Taoist model, the Tao Te Ching. It involves the balance of two complementary energies, the Yin and the Yang, which exist at all levels of the cosmos – the universe, the earth, cultures, and within us. Our North American culture is very Yang, which is rational and materialistic. In holistic education, we try to get a balance in learning that has both Yin and Yang. When they’re in balance, then there’s harmony and well-being.
Q: What strategies can we deploy in the delivery of holistic education?
JM: The Inclusion idea in holistic education is that a school should not stereotype children, and that they include in their teaching strategies three basic approaches – Transmission, Transaction, and Transformation. Transmission is the one-way transmission of information to the student, either from a teacher or from a text. Transaction is more interactive, where students can think about problems, and interact with the teacher and other students. There is more dialogue and problem solving. Transformation recognizes the inner life, the soul of the child, which needs to be nurtured through the arts, contemplative practices, and the loving presence of the teacher. In the holistic classroom we use all three approaches to reach the whole child.
Q: We’ve talked about how the holistic education model benefits students. Do you think it holds any benefits for teachers as well?
JM: It is important that teachers feel whole. If a teacher is in touch with their whole being, including their soul, then that will radiate to the students and ignite that inner place in the student. This deeper place is the source of creativity and compassion.
Central to holistic education is that the student sees the connectedness, that they’re in relationship with the Earth, with other human beings, and with all forms of life. When this happens, students can be well and whole.
A holistic, contemplative education includes being in touch with that deeper part of ourselves by using various practices to nurture the soul, the divine spark, our Buddha nature. These include meditation and mindfulness practices, which allow us to experience that inner connection at different levels, particularly the spiritual level. It is also about love. When we are in that contemplative space, we can feel the loving connection. It helps us to be more of a loving presence to our students.
Q: As we’ve been talking, I notice that a lot of the theoretical framework around holistic education seems very similar to Heartfulness. Do you see any similarities between the two?
JM: Yes. Both emphasize the importance of the heart and the soul. Both focus on developing a deep acceptance of ourselves and our place in the universe.
Holistic education enables connections at various levels. Examples of connections that are internal to the individual include the thinking connections (intuitive and rational thinking), and the body-mind connection – learning to be at home in our bodies and loving our bodies. Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi help us get in touch with our bodies. Lastly, we have soul or heart connections, which I mentioned earlier.
Then there are external connections, which include subject, community, and Earth connections. Subject connections focus on showing the relationship between various domains of knowledge. Students can see how subjects are connected. Next are community connections, where the classroom and the school form a loving community. The idea is that students are in this loving place where they’re learning and growing. Finally, there are Earth connections, getting a sense of our place on the Earth and caring for it. For example, in Japan and South Korea, there is the school forest movement in which some schools have a small forest on school grounds. The students care for the trees and they can go there to sit and relax in a quiet outdoor space.
I mentioned the importance of love. In my book, Love and Compassion: Exploring their Role in Education, I discuss eight forms of love,and how these dimensions of love have the potential to improve education. The first is self-love, which is deeper than self-esteem and involves developing our sense of who we are in relation to the universe. Then there’s personal love and its different forms, including friendship. There’s impartial love, which is the love for all beings, which people like the Dalai Lama talk about. Another important form is love of learning and developing curiosity. Love of beauty is another form. Seeing beauty in nature and in our lives is just such an important and wonderful thing. Then there is non-violence. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi saw non-violence as a way of love in action. Being present is another form of love. For example, sometimes another person is so present to us that we feel loved. The teacher’s presence is a vital to holistic education. And finally, there’s cosmic love, where we feel connection with the universe.
Q: Fascinating, thank you for sharing your thoughts to aspiring educators like myself, with your framework of inclusiveness and connectedness for holistic education. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
JM: Holistic education includes inquiry, as both science and spirituality involve inquiry into the nature of things. While science uses more formal ways of investigation, meditation is also a form of inquiry – an inquiry into our body-mind experience. It’s very important that spirituality is seen as an inquiry into who we are, investigating our place on the Earth.
Finally, this work should be joyful and come from a place of joy.
Q: Thank you once again, for taking the time to share your work with us.