THE NEW WAY: ‘HOLISM’ a paradigm to replace orthodoxy.

Humanity is marching off the edge of precipice. Can teachers do anything about it?


Are you as frustrated as I am when, attempting to relax in front of the TV evening news, the somber reporters incessantly exhort imminent calamity? Last night for example, there was the financial collapse of Europe, the extinction of the Black rhino (yet another species eliminated by human greed and lack of responsibility) and natural disasters as Mother Earth’s tears flood parts of Europe and Asia while her uncontrollable sobbing causes more earthquakes and hurricanes around the world. One crisis after another and yet here I am sitting apathetically in my armchair sipping tea as humankind relentlessly marches forward banging the same old drumbeat to the edge of the precipice. On the television the economic analyst is reinforcing the mantra that the only way out of the economic crisis is ‘growth’. I nod sagely but know in my heart, as we all do, that unremitting growth, chronic rape of Mother Earth’s resources and unrelenting consumption is precisely what has brought us to the brink and continuing this orthodoxy will push us over the edge. Economic growth is a dead-end street. We know more medicine does not make us healthier, more weapons do not lead to peace, and greater consumption does not lead to happiness: in fact the opposite. We desperately need a new paradigm, a change from the fundamental beliefs of scientific orthodoxy if we are not to plunge into the abyss. I believe teachers and educators have to lead the way.

Our fate need not be inevitable destruction if we are able to expose the falsehoods of orthodox beliefs and open our minds to a more holistic perspective of human development and learning. Conventional wisdom is largely based on the three main principles of materialism, reductionism and determinism. These principles in various forms have been ingrained into our subconscious over the last 300 years. We need to expose their limitations and be open to new beliefs and perspectives.


Materialism is based on the premise that ‘only matter matters’ and implies that life is a constant battle of survival of the fittest and the only way to progress is by exploiting and consuming resources provided by nature. Quantum physics refutes this perception stating that the fundamental building blocks of the universe are not physical ‘matter’ at all but an invisible energy field that shapes and connects ‘matter’. While the principle of survival of the fittest has enabled a small percentage of business entrepreneurs, bankers and the corporate elite to do very well, survival of the individual at the expense of the whole now threatens humanity. A holistic paradigm advocates living in balance and harmony with nature and recognizing the interconnectedness of all things. As teachers we already recognize that focusing solely on the high achievers is not conducive to a coherent classroom and fulfillment in our own lives synergies with the achievement and aspirations of others.


The dominant Western world view of reductionism is based on making distinctions and seeing differences, and advocates that entities are a sum of their parts. This has led to a pattern of thinking that assumes that the best way to see if something works is to try it. We live in a culture where evidence or so-called ‘scientific proof’ has acquired supremacy. Logic is given precedence over intuition, rational argument defeats opinion and academic research out-weighs experience. However as teachers our skepticism of reductionism is justified, as we know that when something ‘works’ in class this rarely means it will always ‘work’ in the same way in future classes. A holistic view of learning, on the other hand, recognizes the interconnectedness and synergy of our physical, mental and spiritual dimensions. Only by adopting a whole person perspective to learning and development can we truly comprehend reality and achieve our potentials.


Finally the orthodox doctrine of determinism stipulates the role of causality. Knowledge is seen as a commodity that can be categorized and boxed and then transmitted from teachers to learners, doctors to patients and so on. Medical science is a process for example that looks for physical symptoms as evidence of an illness and then seeks to intervene to administer a cure. Teaching however questions assumptions of causality, apart from the obvious fact that the condition of being a learner is quite different from being a patient; teaching is not an intervention (like medicine) but a process of symbolically mediated interaction. If teaching is to have any effect on learning, it is because of the fact that learners interpret and try to make sense of what they are being taught on a range of levels. Far from being a causal technology, a push-pull process, teaching is an open and recursive exploration and indeed, ironically, it is the very impossibility of limiting teaching to a definable box that makes learning possible.



Orthodoxy has created a top-down perception of reality that dictates basic principles that have been ingrained into our subconscious through the hierarchy of science. Holism advocates a more bottom-up created view of creation; a view in which we learn and create our reality through the way we engage with our environment and interconnect with experience.

The process of teaching challenges many orthodox principles and can lead to a new, more inclusive and interconnected perception of existence. I believe teachers have an important role in exposing the limitations of current doctrine and leading the way forward to new holistic beliefs and perspectives.


About Tom Godfrey

I am an ELT teacher and teacher trainer. I am Director of ITI, Istanbul a training institute in Istanbul. I am also founder of Speech Bubbles theatre which performs musicals to raise money for children and education.
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