Alfred North Whitehead was a philosopher influenced by science, art, religion, and the whole of life, who developed his philosophy in relation to many topics over a long period of time. He had many ideas concerning education, but he did not develop them into a single philosophy, therefore, much room is left for people later on to explore further.
“12 = 7 + 5” is one proposition made by two researchers (Bangxiu Xie and Jay McDaniel) among those who are conducting further exploration into education from a Whiteheadian perspective. This equation, read as “twelve can be seven plus five”, represents a system of Whiteheadian process ideas on education, including a set of 12 points on the philosophy of education, a series of 7 core values on the aims of education, and a pedagogical approach consisting of 5 essential aspects in curriculum and instruction in the classroom.
II. Philosophy of education: 12 Ideas for all levels
Jay McDaniel identifies from Whitehead’s philosophy twelve ideas that can help offer a general framework for thinking about education.
1. The Subject of Education. The ultimate subject in education is Life in all it manifestations: human life but also the life of the plants and animals, the earth, and the wider universe. The whole of nature is alive.
2. Creativity. Creativity is an essential dimension of life and it is found at every level of existence. The planets and stars are creative in their ways, and so are the quantum events within the depths of atoms. Animals are obviously creative in their capacities for innovation and adaptation. When educators stifle creativity, they are going against the very grain of the universe.
3. Collaborative Creativity. We are not skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the world by the boundaries of our skin; we are persons-in-community whose very identities are established in relation to others. Even if a person develops ideas in isolation, the ideas are a synthesis of countless forms of creativity developed by others.
4. Intellect and Feeling. The Western Enlightenment was mistaken to present the mind as if it were disembodied and disaffected, separable from feeling and movement. The intellect ought not to be separated from feeling. Even thinking is a form of feeling: a feeling of ideas. This includes even mathematical thinking. It is a felt exploration of pure potentialities.
5. Multiple forms of Intelligence. It is a mistake to reduce intelligence to science and mathematics, or even to book learning. There are multiple forms of intelligence: kinesthetic, empathic, mathematical, emotional, verbal, imaginative, and practical. All are important in different circumstances.
6. Aesthetic experience. Aesthetic experience plays an important role in education, because all experience is aesthetic. The very aim of education at its best is to provide people with ways of finding beauty in their lives and adding beauty to the lives of others. Even wisdom and compassion, even truth and goodness, are forms of beauty. Beauty consists of satisfying forms of harmony and intensity.
7. The Problem of Inert Ideas. The problem with education today is that it is focused on inert ideas. Inert ideas are ideas that are treated in isolation from their relevance to life and the world, and in isolation from their relevance to students. They are approached as commodities or as objects, but not as lures for feeling, understanding, and action. When ideas function effectively in education, they are alive with potentiality.
8. The Need for Romance. A good teacher must always remember that there are three phases to education: romance, precision, and generalization. The romantic stage occurs when students are introduced to ideas that engage them, that are interesting, that make them feel more alive. The precision can come later, but without romance where is no joy in education.
9. The Problem of Standardization. Education fails when it is locked into standardization when it should be focused on personalization. Each student is unique in his or her abilities, and in the particular forms of 'intelligence' that bring him or her joy and can help him or her contribute to the well-being of the world.
10. The Value of Learning by Doing. Education fails when it forgets the wisdom of the body, and when it forgets that, often, the most important kinds of learning occur through practice. Learning can occur from body to mind as well as mind to body. This does not mean that book learning is bad. To the contrary it is wonderful. But it's not enough.
11. The Problem of Disciplinary Fragmentation. In higher education today a central problem lies in the excessive specialization of academic disciplines. Often university professors assume that their primary goal is to introduce students into their academic guilds, forgetting the education is in service to life. While specialization can be valuable, it needs to be balanced by generalization, and transdisciplinary studies.
12. Whole Person Education. At every level education needs to be oriented toward the cultivation of whole persons who live satisfying lives and who, at the same time, can contribute to the common good of their communities and the world.
However, if education is to follow these twelve guidelines, simply reflecting upon them is not enough, the best way to further develop them is to try putting and embodying them into practice in the classroom. Bangxiu Xie is one person who is doing this. She has developed two ideas which are very Whiteheadian in spirit and which can be put into practice in many ways.
III. The Aims of Education: GTCCCHB
The first idea that Bangxiu Xie put concerns seven core values that can serve as the aims of education: GTCCCHB.
GTCCCHB is an acronym of 7 English words which embody seven core values in process thought, namely goodness, truth, compassion, curiosity, creativity, harmony and beauty. Here, as an organic whole, GTCCCHB refers to an ideal of education, that is, a type of process education, which aims at cultivating inside the students these seven qualities of value on the basis of process thought.
Process education is built upon the “process philosophy” of Whitehead, as enriched by traditional Chinese perspective. Process thought recognizes that the life of each human being is a developmental process, an ongoing process of becoming a good person with the quality of beauty, that is, a whole person. This process is not simply imposed upon a person from the outside; it wells up within an individual as his or her own innermost desire to become whole. Maybe there are two kinds of goodness: ethics and joy. Compassion and fairness and justice are ethical forms of goodness, and creativity and curiosity are forms of joyful goodness. They can go together, like yin and yang, to help form a whole person. Both are important, so it is crucial not to limit goodness to ethics alone. People can be “good” in an ethical sense, but lack joy in their hearts; and people can be joyful in their hearts, but lack ethical goodness. There is a capacity for goodness within each human life, and it comes from a lure toward goodness which is part of the universe itself. The lure toward goodness within a human being is, as it were, the song of the universe as present within the human heart. Process education seeks to help a student awaken to his or her potential for this goodness.
This echoes the goodness traditional Chinese culture pursues. The Western Inscription written by Zhang Zai (1020-1077), a philosopher of the Northern Song Dynasty, provides an image of the kind of goodness to which a person is inwardly drawn. Consciously or unconsciously, a person seeks to embody harmonious relations with him/herself, with other people, with the natural world, and with heaven. This fourfold harmony is not stagnant, but creative. To the degree that a person embodies it, he or she is self-confident, curious about the world, kind in his or her relations with others, capable of teamwork, welcoming of diversity, and creative in his or her interactions with others. He or she grows into an individual without being too individualistic, and becomes community-minded without being suffocated by relationships. In the words of process philosophy, he or she is a person-in-community and thus the kind of person who can help build a healthy society, an ecological civilization. An ecological civilization consists of local communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory and ecologically wise, with no one left behind. A person nourished by process education can help build and sustain this kind of civilization, wherever he or she happens to live. His or her aim is to live with respect and care for the community of life, him/herself, other people and other species much included.
Whitehead speaks of truth as “adequacy to experience” and “coherence of ideas.” No single set of ideas is entirely adequate or coherent; all are finite and fallible. It is important to recognize that how people think about things or look at the world can be distorted and confused, and that when people fall into distorted and confused thinking, harm is usually done to themselves and others. This doesn’t mean that they intentionally think in distorted and confused ways; to the contrary, they may be quite well-meaning. But it does mean that they should seek to think in truthful ways as best they can: that is, in ways that are conform to the disclosures of experience and the demands for coherence. This is in accordance with Zhuang Zhou’s proposition on “following nature and valuing truth”, where “truth refers to the utmost value of natural qualities,” for nothing but the free expression of one’s true nature can be touching to people. To “seek truth” means to pursue the spiritual state of expressing one’s true nature freely and turn the freedom of one’s personalities into reality.
Truth-seeking and questioning go together in a person’s life. They begin in childhood, with young children being given the freedom to question and to seek truth for themselves. Process education devotes itself to “truth” and “truth-seeking” in education, encouraging people to learn to be critical and self-critical, and to question existing assumptions, including those which are taken for granted by the whole society. In this sense, “truth” and “truthful thinking” are fundamental components in process education, for one of the key tasks of education is to raise and appreciate people’s capacities for questioning and truth-seeking.
Process education cares about the inner feelings and interactions of people. In process philosophy, feeling is a mode, in which things that actually exist in the world, i.e. wanwu in the universe, are interrelated with each other and trigger a kind of creativity in the felt correlation of the actual things. Experience is composed of feelings and creativity, the principal element of which is compassion, that is, being influenced by others, or feeling others’ feelings. Whitehead refers to “being influenced by others” as “prehending” or “prehension”: that is to say, if you are influenced by an other thing, you prehend it consciously or unconsciously. All actual entities are intrinsically correlated with each other through the process of feeling or prehending. An atom prehends other atoms, a unicellular organism prehends other organisms, and human beings prehend their living world.
In the context of school education and classroom teaching and learning, students prehend their teachers, and teachers prehend their students. They feel the presence of each other, feel influenced by each other and respond to each other’s influence. Their direct experience of the moment is partly composed of these feelings, and so feelings form the basic building blocks of the experience of both parties. Process education requires that both teachers and students cherish the compassion, feel each other’ feelings, and become an independent member of the learning community, in which when the teacher guides the students in learning, both the teacher and the students are actually participating in an adventure that involves them both, dancing in the various relations, appreciating and enjoying the feelings they feel themselves and others as being a part of the experience of learning with and from each other.
Process education inherently contains the appreciation and cultivation of curiosity, for curiosity is inherently contained in all complex forms of life in the perspective of process thought. Life and even the universe itself are composed of experiences or events, in the interrelations of which exists process, and from which communities of events are made. In a community of events, there always are events that come into being or disappear, and there always are possibilities that are actualized or terminated. The curiosity inherent in the organism or life community plays a vital role in deciding whether or not to actualize a possibility, for it can prompt the organism to choose to make true the possibility it is curious about and interested in while simultaneously terminating the other concurrent possibilities. In his educational literature, Whitehead compares curiosity to an impetus of creativity and discovery, for it can arouse students’ inner determination and courage to overcome difficulties, make them take the initiative in learning, take interest in studying and exploring, and thus experience the charm of discovering and the joy of creating. It is in this sense that process education lays emphasis on awakening, stimulating and cultivating students’ curiosity, and guides them onto the journey of curiosity.
Ronald Preston Phipps, a contemporary process thinker, holds that the journey of creativity consists of three fundamental forms: individual journey characterized by reflection and meditation, group journey characterized by team cooperation, and open and large-scaled international journey. Although team journey is of tremendous value, we can never underestimate the unique value of individual journey: the meditation, inference and deliberation an individual experiences in learning and studying are of vital significance to discovery and creation. Process education requires that conditions be created for students both to have the opportunity to join in team journeys and thus experience the pleasure of discovering new knowledge through cooperation and sharing, and to have room to go on individual journeys and enjoy the pleasant stages of thinking independently, studying alone and creating freely. This corresponds with what Whitehead put as the stage of “romance” in education. Only when a student is filled with curiosity can it be possible for learning to become an inner desire of his or her life; only when a student is lured by curiosity can he or she possibly conquer his or her self, go into the stages of precision and further of generalization of learning, and eventually achieve creative transformation and development.
In Whitehead’s process philosophy, “creativity” is of rich and profound connotations. It may lie in the subjectivity of a person as he or she responds to the circumstances of his or her life moment by moment. It may lie in the subjectivity of every other living being, an animal or a plant, as it responds to the circumstances of its life. It may lie in a momentary quantum event within an electron when a single pulsation of energy within the depth of an atom responds to the conditions which precede its occurrence. It may lie in the emergence of new events in the ongoing history of the universe, which occurs every time there is a perishing of immediacy in the old events. It may lie in the differences between things: the way in which each entity in the universe asserts itself as being this rather than that, even as it is connected to every other entity in a network of inter-being.
Creativity is neither good nor evil, and is sometimes referred to as a person’s freedom. Here freedom is not necessarily a positive word, just a descriptive term. It is the act of decision which occurs moment by moment, amid which one possibility is cut off and another actualized. The word “decide” originates from a Latin term meaning “cut”: that is, cut off other possibilities while actualizing one possibility. Imagine a man climbing a mountain, and he must decide, moment by moment, where to step. As he chooses to actually step on one rock, he automatically cuts off, at that very moment, the possibility of stepping on the others. He creates a single action and becomes that action in that moment. Yes, the particular step he takes is preceded by many other steps, and he may be in the habit of always stepping on a certain kind of rocks. But in the moment of stepping there is a decision made. This decision is his creativity. And creativity is not necessarily conscious. When we drive a car from one location to another, pressing our foot against the gas pedal and then the brake, we are making decisions all the time. But most of them are pre-conscious and habitual. The same goes for walking. This kind of decision-making is also found within other animals. As a rabbit is chased by a fox, it keeps making decisions where to run. It is from this creativity that the differences in our world emerge, whether happy or sad. A violent mob is creative, and so is a peaceful group of monks. Creativity in this sense is the sheer happening of what happens, as it happens, moment by moment. It is the becoming of what is becoming.
A case in point of education may be helpful for better understanding. Take a girl attending a class as an example. Suppose she’s been sitting on a chair in a classroom attending a class for an hour, her life of this hour is composed of a series of experiences just as what she has gone through within this hour: At one moment she might have been listening to the teacher, at another moment she might have been absent-minded (daydreaming), at one other moment she might have been thinking about her neighbor, and at still another moment she might have been expecting the class could be over soon so that she could go to have her lunch. Within the period of that hour, she is the moments of the series of experiences and feelings. They are the “building blocks” of her life in that period of time. At each of the moments, something inside her happens, which determines what she is to care about: to be attentive to the teacher? To be absent-minded? To notice the neighbor? Or to listen to her stomach growling out of hunger? Such actions are partly conscious and partly subconscious. These choices are decision making actions, and are creativity. It is this kind of creativity that process education focuses on and aims at directing into creative transformation and creative harmony.
The harmony that process education pursues is not the sameness or stagnation. On the contrary, as proposed in The Western Inscription, harmony constitutes a fourfold structure which is helpful for many reasons and is ever so significant for the sake of ecological civilization: that is, the harmonious relations with oneself, with other people, with the natural world and with heaven. This fourfold harmony is not stagnant, but creative. It loves to see diversity: diverse points of view, diverse personalities, and diverse forms of life, for it knows diversity helps enrich the world. It loves to see novelty: novel opinions, novel experiences, and novel modes of perception, for it knows life needs adventures. It has a sense of balance within itself, which is not stagnant or fixed but dynamic and changing as time goes by. It does not conceal amazement but welcomes improvisation and unpredictability. It is like the harmony in music, in which different kinds of musical instruments play together and produce a sound effect both in agreement and different, which somehow co-exists in the thinking and souls of both the players and the listeners. When playing their instruments, musicians may be performing according to the pre-composed music score, but they are also playing in an improvisational manner simultaneously. They are constructing creative harmony and creating a kind of novel harmony in the process. They are conducting improvisational creation.
This kind of improvisational creation also works in educational situations, say, when individual teachers and students teach and learn new knowledge and adapt to new surroundings. It may be conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional, but it is creative for sure. Teachers and students are constructing creative harmony while adapting to new situations in various creative ways. There even exists novelty in the kind of harmony of repetition superficially, like the rotation of the four seasons year in year out or the alternation of the sun and the moon day and night, like the repetitive appearance of the knowledge taught and learned and the time and again practice of different basic skills in the teaching and learning context. Therefore, creative harmony consists not only of improvisational creation but of repetitive novelty as well. All these are topics within the meaning of process education.
Beauty is the ultimate aim process education pursues. “Beauty”, in process philosophy, refers to the mutual adaptation of different elements in experiences or events, and is the natural performance of the harmonious aim peculiar to all things. Beauty inhabits in the harmonious whole-part relation, in which different parts collaborate and cooperate with each other to help achieve the harmony of the whole. The history of the development of human beings and of the world is in fact a process of seeking beauty, seeking the harmony of mutual adaptation of parts and the whole. As Jay McDaniel puts it, “beauty is Whitehead’s word for harmony with zest. It includes struggle and pain; it is not pure bliss. But it has a sense of peaceful adventure to it, a sense that, when it comes down to it, the meaning of life lies in dwelling musically in the world: listening to the voices of other people and the natural world, and responding with creativity of one’s own. Call and response, call and response. Listening and creativity: these are the Tao of sustainability.”
In the context of education, for most Chinese teachers and students, teaching and learning is like taking a walk in a forest, filled with pleasures and perils. The perils are the problems they face. A teacher’s task is to help students take that walk. The most gratifying moments for the teacher is when he or she watches them, step by step, walk out of their problems, confusions, frustrations, disappointments, indifference, lack of confidence, misery and even hatred, and make some progress everyday. Gradually, when things are going well, they feel appreciated, respected, successful, more important, and thus happier. And in the process of their transformation, the teacher him/herself is growing up with them, and sharing with them their achievements and happiness. Teacher and students share the journey of walking in the forest. From the perspective of process philosophy, this walk is filled with momentary decisions, each of which is irreversible but the best of which can help a student grow. The student is making decisions on how to respond to the teacher and what he or she teaches, and the teacher is making decisions, too. Teachers and students respond to each other’s decisions. Teacher calls, students respond. Students call, Teacher responds. Calling and response! Listening and creativity! A Tao of sustainability in teaching and learning! A Tao leading to creative harmony in which teachers and students walk together towards beauty.
Here, beauty is what’s glittering at the edge of our desires and luring us into the depths of things. It can be explicitly expressed in many different types of intelligence: mathematical, logical, linguistic, musical, rhythmic, physical, athletic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, natural and experiential. Each form of life, each form of intelligence has, or can have, its own unique beauty. Each person is a unique individual integrated with diverse forms of intelligence, a unique ecological community composed of different forms of intelligence. The role process education can play is to help students harmonize different forms of intelligence, construct and create sustainable creative harmony, undergo the possible depth of experiences, and actualize the highest ethical value – beauty.
With the above seven values embodied, process education means to raise the sense of “goodness” within students in the first place, support them to develop compassion, curiosity, creativity and harmony from inside out in their process of pursuing truth, and eventually help them seek beauty and grow into whole persons.
IV. A Pedagogical Approach: FEELS
The second idea Bangxiu Xie put forward suggests that the classroom curriculum and instruction of process education has five basic components: FEELS.
Process education should start from a person’s childhood and lasts for a lifetime. Family life and formal schooling are the two sides of one coin. On the one hand, parents and grandparents set good examples at home, on the other hand, the school offers healthy support via classroom teaching and learning. FEELS – a pedagogical approach based on process thought, put forward by Bangxiu Xie, may be helpful for schools to construct a healthy process education class, for it is not merely a means to actualize beauty, it is a form of beauty in its own right.
FEELS stands for five essential features of classroom pedagogy: flexibility of objectives, engagement of learners, embodiment of knowledge, liveliness of relational learning, and supportiveness of teachers. The purpose of these five features is to help students understand their own capacities for wholeness. Wholeness is beauty – that is, harmony and intensity as enjoyed in felt relations with their pasts, their futures, other people, the natural world, and the world of intellectual objects, including those “lures for feeling” which form language.
Flexibility of Objectives
In FEELS, curriculum is a verb rather than a noun, a process of seeking in conversation with others in a learning community. It is impossible to pre-determine how the curriculum can reach this “rightness of amount” in both form and state while simultaneously arousing creativity in teachers and students. This problem needs to be tackled through continuous coordination and interaction among students, teachers, and texts. Therefore, the curriculum must be rigorous with flexibility, seeking different options, relations and contacts; it must search consciously for various assumptions we and others hold, as well as for the channels needed to coordinate between these assumption in a meaningful and transformative dialogue. The dialogue between a reader and a text is a two-way process, with each party having its own voices. Certainty and uncertainty are mixed together in the dialogue. When a teacher sets up objectives for a class, the objectives can change with the progress of the teaching-learning process, for the classroom is a dynamic learning community. The objectives of curricular design must be flexible. Some of them emerge in the process of interactions between teachers and students, among students, and/or between teachers, students and texts, rather than prior to the interactions. The curriculum is not merely a tool for delivering knowledge, but also a tool for creating and re-creating self and culture.
Engagement of Learners
According to FEELS, everyone is a participant of the curricular reality; no one is a spectator. The curriculum is a process based on interactions in local contexts, a process of dialogue and transformation. A learner is already involved with the subject being studied, adding interpretative frameworks of his/her own, approaching the subject, not simply as a learner, but as a whole person engaged in the curriculum and in life itself, and interacting with the subject, exploring, creating and transforming cognitively and emotionally. With regard to the relationship between the learner and knowledge, there is no changeless knowledge or absolute truth. A learner is not a passive recipient or slave to the given knowledge, but rather an active creator of new knowledge, a flexible transformer and employer of knowledge learned, and a creative seeker of wisdom.
Embodiment of Knowledge
In FEELS, knowledge is embodied as a kind of wisdom in which the learners are engaged in the process of learning. The classroom is a public place to openly analyze and transform the existing experiences, where students and teachers explore various options, consequences and assumptions through mutual cooperation and interaction. This public exploration in the learning community takes place in a critical, serious, yet empathetic or compassionate manner. Points of view, proposed for the purpose of exploration, are components of the recursive process of the curriculum. The curriculum is not simply decided by authors of textbooks, but is rather to be created in the classroom community. Knowledge is not wisdom, but it offers the basis for learners to seek for wisdom. Wisdom is the mastery of knowledge or the means of mastering knowledge. When a learner gets rid of the textbooks, burns up the notebooks, forgets the detailed knowledge he/she is familiar with for the sake of examinations, he/she will still feel at home in venturing and creating new knowledge in the experience of learning based on the few principles. This is the time when the learner has finally owned wisdom.
Liveliness of Relational Learning
In FEELS, learning is not the passive reception of given knowledge but the most important and unique capacity of the human mind. The capacity of the mind represents the ability of a whole person with both intelligence and emotion to interact with the social surroundings in a reflective manner. The concept of social interaction, as well as the interactivity with others orienting to the self and community, is of great significance to learning, for people learn from others, learn through interactions with others related, learn together with others, and learn mutually from each other. Learners create and discover new ideas in the process of interacting with other people and with texts. Adventures go hand in hand with creative activities. As a kind of creative activity, learning is filled with adventures, enjoyment, and freedom. Creation, adventure, enjoyment and freedom are so closely related to each other that they are inseparable from each other. The process of learning and creating in relations is at the same time a process of making adventures, increasing enjoyment, and obtaining freedom.
Supportiveness of Teachers
In FEELS, education is a kind of art where teacher’s support is essential. Teacher’s support includes inducing, convincing, non-coercive, respecting differences and honoring others. A supportive teacher does not naturally own the truth, he or she is a learner him/herself, a person who enjoys venturing and creating, who is rich in imagination, who is good at inducing and inspiring, who is able to put forth original and alternative new ideas, who can discover and select the propositions that are meaningful to students and stir up their interests, who can encourage students not to blindly accept knowledge in books, but to be adventurous and come up with new questions. The teacher’s role also lies in listening to and hearing students’ voices, understand their needs, help them feel heard and understood as individuals who are worthy in their own right, quite apart from how well they do or how successful they are in class work.
Correlations of the Five Aspects in FEELS
As an organic whole, the role of FEELS is dependent on all the five correlating, interacting and collaborating with one another. These connections are not merely logical, but also experiential, involving emotion and feeling. Nevertheless, not all the five points are of equal value. Among the five aspects, the engagement of the learners is central, with the other four – flexible objectives, embodied knowledge, a lively relational learning process, and supportive teachers – all pointing toward engaged learners, helping and supporting them to be truly engaged with the relational process by adjusting the objectives of learning according to the specific situations and actual needs. As a result, learners will finally embody knowledge and skills in a way that enriches their experiences, increases their wisdom, and helps them find delight in their heart and soul.
Implementing FEELS in classroom teaching and learning may offer classroom projects and experiences which enable students to realize their individual potential and yet also work in teams, to develop a love of humanity and also a love of the natural world, to use individually acquired skills for personal enrichment and also for service to their local communities, the larger society, and the world. It does this through a variety of practical lesson plans that include the arts and sciences, the mind and body, reading and gardening, writing and discussing.
If parents and teachers can have some idea about the “12=7+5” process educational proposition, adhere to the philosophical view on process education composed of the twelve ideas, and help students practice the fourfold harmony forwarded by Zhang Zai in a spirit of creativity, curiosity and compassion at home and in school classes, so as to help them reach the educational objectives including the seven core values, namely GTCCCHB, cultivate their ethical beauty, and become whole persons who can add beauty to their own lives, to other people, to the society, and to the natural world. As educators, parents and teachers should not only effectively cultivate and teach their children and students with FEELS in mind, but also embody GTCCCHB in their own lives, so that they can become the living examples of process education, raise the sense of "goodness" within their children and students in the first place, support them to develop “compassion”, “curiosity”, “creativity” and “harmony” from inside out in their process of seeking “truth”, and eventually actualize the highest ethical value – “beauty”.
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