‘Integral education is a framework, a methodology, a community, and/or a stage or phase of human development that incorporate a range of educational themes concerning but not limited to principles and practices of “whole person” or “holistic” education.’ ~ Tom Murray
What is Integral Education?
As a philosophy of education, ‘integral education’ is often likened to a large group of educational models that are generally seen as novel, progressive, reformist and alternative. One way to characterise ‘integral education’ is in its openness to include a range of themes concerning education. These themes are underpinned by the philosophy of holism, that the “whole person” is acknowledged and appreciated in education, because all aspects of being are interconnected. There is no separateness. Thus, ‘integral education’ bears great similarity to ‘holistic education’ in terms of its ethos and the educational themes it is concerned with, yet it differs in that ‘integral’ also explicitly concerned with certain other more complex dimensions of being. The term ‘integral’ itself can refer to a multitude of things that are innate to human beings, the nature of consciousness and the world around us. It has origins in Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Alfassa’s yogic teachings from the early 1900s, Satchidananda Saraswati’s yogic teachings from the early 1970s and later in Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory philosophical teachings. Typically, ‘integral education’ applies the latter to educational contexts but is significantly informed by the former and is essentially an all-inclusive and equal approach that sees the interconnection and influences of everything in existence. ‘Integral education’ attempts to find the essence of all educational approaches so as to demonstrate their convergence.
‘Integral education’ endeavours to honour the complexity and multidimensional nature of the human experience. In spite of this interconnectedness of being, each dimension of being manifests in a spectrum of qualities and distinct characteristics. Thus, an integral approach also assumes the multidimensionality of existence. As such, environmental and social justice issues tend to come into the foreground of awareness through ‘integral education’. Furthermore, some have noted that there seems to be an inherent spirituality in these types of “whole person” approaches, due to the type of thinking at the core of a more “holistic” education. An integral approach assumes that the nature of reality is non-dual, multidimensional, holistic, and evolutionary: accepting an evolutionary perspective of life. Some of the educational themes that ‘integral education’ include but are not limited to creativity, adaptivity and individualisation, situated learning, empowerment and liberation, transformative education, service-oriented learning.
One way to operationalise integral in education is through an emphasis on integral development of students. The development of the “whole being” through integral approaches to teaching, learning and knowing that upholds “wholeness”. In the teaching and research at The Art of Integral Being, integral approaches are drawn upon to combine teaching and supporting learning practices that share the common thread of being open, culturally-responsive and judiciously creative in situ. These practices literally include the body itself as the site of direct experiences that students learn and know from within. As such, an integral approach is also body-oriented. Without undermining the role of education to harness the intellectual prowess of students—limiting education learning and knowing to intellectuality is a conservative and perfunctory aim for two main reasons. Taking an integral worldview, the first, education (should) and does in theory provide rich grounds for multifaceted modes of learning and knowing at a pivotal time in the lives of its (mostly) emerging adult students. The second, the lives of its students are not separate or detached from knowing and knowledge from their education. Students bring all of themselves (consciously or unconsciously) to their classrooms and to their academic work, as do teachers. And all of ourselves is continually lived out through all of our being. One can fragment their being or have their being fragmented, but that is to be disintegrated. Disconnected. Unaware. ‘Integral education’ is, in sum, the privileging of the integration of beings.
Integral development is not only the development of the “whole person” in education because students’ daily lives are inextricably linked to their academic lives. Integral development is also a matter of developing students’ capacities for sensing knowledge and then living with this knowledge as truthfully as they can, in affinity with what feels truthful to them.