A Trans-Disciplinary Approach
by Marcus Bussey
Neohumanism honors the multiplicity that is the sum of human consciousness. This has important implications for the way classrooms can be structured and curricula constructed. Traditional education has involved an attempt to strip learning down to its discrete parts and demystify knowledge. Neohumanism seeks to put the mystery back into learning by weaving the disciplines back into an holistic world view that engages the whole of the child’s spirit, mind and body in a quest of wonder and adventure.
Neohumanism has a clear structure and form, combining ethical observations about the role of humanity in the maintenance of life and the evolution of consciousness on this planet, and a deep understanding about the way the human mind functions and learns both as a culturally constructed entity and as a multi-layered consciousness. Thus learning becomes both a cultural experience and an introduction into the broader and deeper issues of our humanity and its rootedness in a vibrant universe.
The Neohumanist educational agenda draws upon both western and eastern principles as it develops a basis for a complete and transformative learning experience. Western educators have concentrated their attention on the cognitive, social and affective domains of learning but have shown little understanding of the role or nature of consciousness as a synthesizing guide to learning. Eastern education has a deeper appreciation of the spiritual dimension of learning and of the role of spirit in the child’s life, the focus of such a perspective has been moral and ethical, and consciousness has been treated as the phenomenal expression of the spiritual domain.
In bringing these two powerful traditions together Neohumanism provides a solid basis for education that is both instrumentally useful and profoundly meaningful.
A close reading of Neohumanism reveals the following features:
- Neohumanism recognizes that there are a variety of ways of knowing and experiencing the world that are steeped in valid and integrated knowledge systems, each with its own particular form of logic and expression, with no one way of knowing holding priority over any other;
- Neohumanism appreciates the role of culture in informing the learning of children;
- Neohumanism also appreciates the richness of regional cultures and promotes continuity in relation to these while acknowledging that change is one characteristic of our age, as it is of all ages, thus it blends tradition, continuity and change to deepen and enliven learning experiences;
- Neohumanism recognizes the role that cultural and social sentiments have in validating some forms of knowledge over others, it seeks to implement a PROUTistic consciousness that will instill justice and equality into curriculum;
- Neohumanism also recognizes that the Mind, as the site of consciousness, is not simply an abstract intelligence but a continuum of awareness that stretches from the crude physical body, through conscious mind finally reaching out toward divinity;
- Creative experiences are recognized as important tools in the strengthening and expanding of Mind, and in the establishment of a supportive learning culture;
- Mind has been severely limited by our culture’s promotion of individualism and materialism. Neohumanism recognizes that the practice of selfless service within the learning environment is an important tool in redressing this.
- Neohumanism links the continuum that is Mind with subtle energy centers in the human body which are called Chakras.
- Neohumanism furthermore links the happy functioning or balance (Prama) of Mind with strict adherence to a subtle moral code which includes Vegetarianism.
- Neohumanism recognizes that Mind is further balanced and purified through the practice of yoga Asanas.
- Neohumanism also recognizes that Mind benefits from the practice of the spiritual discipline of Meditation, and furthermore asserts that truly holistic outlook is impossible without this practice as it is the bedrock of consciousness;
- Neohumanism recognizes that there are subtle energies that both affect the individual and social mind in positive and negative ways, it furthermore recognizes that these energies, called Microvita, are influenced by the minds of those who meditate.
- Finally, Neohumanism also recognizes that relationship is central to learning. The teacher acts as guide and mentor for students. It is their integrity of life that establishes the culture within a classroom. Their example, their wonderment and their strength act as both catalyst and inspiration for learning. Each classroom has its own unique learning culture that is the product of the interaction of teacher and students but it is the teacher who is the unifying agent in the process.
These principles do not allow for learning to be considered as simply an academic or intellectual process. The power of the disciplinary approach, in which academic subjects are prioritized over other aspects of education, is undermined and shifted to the power of the spirit to penetrate and understand, weave and interpret complex learning experiences.
Academic discipline is set within a broad learning culture in which it is only one segment of a complete educational experience. This holistic approach moves academic learning from disciplinary, through inter-disciplinary to a trans-disciplinary position in which academic work is a necessary out-growth of classroom activity. The intellect is trained to be discriminatory and benevolent so that the technical expertise of instrumental rationality may be used wisely and with compassion.
From this perspective a total learning experience will involve the whole child. This may sound common place as such an idea is not new, having become the accepted agenda in broader educational circles for some decades now, but in our materialist and individualistic culture the whole child is seen to be an embodied intellect. It is rare for the whole child to be seen as an affective and social being, and even rarer for the child to be seen and treated as a spiritual being having a human experience.
Learning within the Neohumanist system becomes a cultural experience. The teacher develops spiritual culture within the classroom, not by lecturing about it but simply by representing it in their own lives: They Meditate and follow a moral life style which includes vegetarianism and yoga asanas.
This culture is confirmed at the systems level by the whole school meeting to sing and meditate at times throughout the week. Discipline is also premised upon spiritual values which includes respect for others and one’s environment with processes of conflict resolution being used to help students improve behavior and take responsibility for their actions. The cultures of schools themselves also act as behavioral modifiers in the lives of children, with the socialization of students into the mores of a Neohumanist school being a significant entry into a spiritual life style. The content of learning is situated in this broad spiritual culture. Creativity and story set the scene for formal learning activities and themselves play a large part in developing the holistic culture characteristic of the Neohumanistic classroom. Within this setting mathematics, language, science and social learning become extensions of the total experience of classroom life. They are made meaningful as part of each child’s journey towards empowerment within their personal and collective lives. No longer are they discrete disciplines, which often become honorous burdens in a child’s life, becoming instead part of the ebb and flow of classroom life, while keeping their own integrity as valid knowledge forms.
Finally, it must be appreciated that Neohumanism is a process of becoming truly human. P.R.Sarkar describes it as a mission aiming at the goal of spiritual perfection through the cultivation of spiritual practice. Teachers, students, school administrators or anyone else practicing Neohumanist principles are on a continuum moving from imperfection towards perfection. So although Neohumanist principles may be lofty and seem out of reach to us we need not despair of our ability to live up to them, as the purpose of Neohumanism is not to lower our self esteem but to raise our passion for life by empowering us through immersion in an ethical and spiritual process designed to put us in touch with our deepest Self while at the same time weaving an awareness of our relationship with the universe.