Article Seven

Education Design for More Sustainable Ways of Being Together

Based on the topics explored thus far, this article will identify and describe four emerging themes to inform an education design prioritising human development and cultures of ongoingness. These four themes roughly align with the four quadrants of integral theory (see Article Ten).

An authentically sustainable turn in the human story will first require a deep understanding of the relational and phenomenological nature of the world characterised by interconnectedness. Everything that exists, does so in complex systems of relationships. Consequently, what and how we teach must reflect this reality. Second, the nature of these relationships must be explored not only in their immediacy but also as continually arising and reforming through time. This perspective exposes mutualism or ‘other-orientedness’ as an over-arching relational bend to life. Building on this, is the emerging awareness of our role as not only participants, but conscious collaborators in our personal, collective and ecological futures. This necessitates a sophisticated understanding of our intentional involvement in the physical world (exteriors) as well as the noosphere of individual and collective consciousness (interiors). Finally, these three themes must be embedded in a developmental understanding of transformation as a process of ‘becoming with’ others (sympoiesis) while being informed by a post-metaphysics approach to knowing, unknowing and intellectually humility. 

In the context of an integrated learning community, these themes expand along with human developmental stages and thus apply not only to students but to the continued growth of educators, parents, staff and communities. In this way, an education community can become a living and evolving system that grows with its members while valuing the health of each stage as contributing to the health of the whole. 

Stages of human development have been described in many developmental theories such as AQAL (Wilber, 2000), STAGES Model (2018), and Spiral Dynamics (Beck and Cowan, 2005). The following section will map how each theme might be applied in an education context across three generalized developmental stages. It is important to note that the values and priorities of each stage can be manifested in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Therefore, higher stages are not considered better than previous stages, they simply transcend and include previous stages. A healthy whole is dependent on the healthy expression of each stage and their continued  growth and expansion of individuals.  The application of developmental stages to education is a way of mapping the territory for healthy stage transitions, to avoid fossilisation and to discourage competition between stages. 

The three stages used here as examples are ethnocentric, anthropocentric and ecocentric. Ethnocentric includes the development of second person perspective and is manifested in strong group identification, tribalism and competition. Anthropocentric includes the development of third person perspective and thus is the beginning of objectively seeing all humans as connected, valuable and equal. Ecocentric transcends and includes these within a fourth person perspective. This perspective can begin to see the larger interconnected systems of which we are a part. This larger view can comprehend systems difficult to conceptualise in modern mechanistic ways of thinking. This allows for the engagement in complex phenomena distributed through space and time (hyperobjects) such as climate change, biodiversity decline, systemic violence and globalised economics.

Ethnocentric: group-centred, tribalism, social belonging (ages 6-12)

To assist in the transition into the ethnocentric stage educators might employ strategies that connect individual actions with whole class group outcomes (interconnectedness). Group projects can begin to develop collaboration skills. Assistance in navigating relationships and basic restorative processes in regards to conflict contribute to a sense of mutualism. Ceremonies and structured reflection can bring awareness and an appreciation of growth and transformation. Educators might use many aspects of learning (environment, curriculum design, etc.) to help students develop a healthy sense of self within the context of their groups of belonging. Belonging at this stage might include a class, the school, an interest group or even students nationally or globally. Ecological issues might be addressed in concrete local contexts and projects. Engagement with plants and animals at this stage might include classroom pets and community gardens.

Anthropocentric: human-centred, internationalism, human-rights (ages 10-18)

Moving from group belonging to a human-centred paradigm requires a healthy sense of self and security within one’s groups of belonging. In this transition, educators might organise curriculum, projects and environments to challenge learners to engage with humanity as a larger group or family of belonging. Similarities and differences across races, ethnicities and religions are explored and celebrated. Familiarity with different languages and customs as well as a deeper understanding of biology and genetics breaks down tribal differences as a source of competition. Ethics and universal human rights are explored. Partnerships with other schools, collaboration across national boarders and humanitarian service projects all contribute to a healthy human-centred stage of development. Group belonging is not relinquished but held more appropriately within a larger sense of human belonging. The interconnectedness of the human world with plants and animals can be engaged with in the larger context of bioregions and ecosystems while action is grounded in the local.

Ecocentric: integral, ecological, holonic, non-dual (ages 16-up)

The expansion from a human-centred way of being towards a more ecological way of being requires a departure from modernity without falling into the nihilism and extreme relativism associated with post-modernism. This transition requires the introduction of whole systems thinking (interconnectedness) and a relational and ecological understanding of life (mutualism). Learning activities and projects actively involve students in the exploration of the philosophical and ethical issues present. This foundation allows for the development of an active and collaborative role in creating shared futures and an understanding of the role we have in our own transformation. It is at this stage that the subjective and objective come together as complimentary ways of knowing. Larger and more integrated systems of meaning and purpose are explored and cultivated. Hierarchies are now seen more appropriately as complex holarchies. Engagement with the non-human world begins to integrate experience, participation and objective study.

This stage is often not acknowledged by secondary education even though there is growing evidence for the capacity for later adolescents to begin this transition. Compounding this is the trend for secondary schools to focus on university preparation and job readiness. Universities, under pressure to compete for “customers” and offer measurable career/income outcomes have little incentive to contribute to human development beyond the human-centred. 

Education Design

Prioritising the healthy expansion of consciousness in an education environment requires a critical review of all aspects of that system. Staff hiring, training and personal/professional development might include the use of tools and traditions such as Integral Theory, AQAL, the Enneagram or Jungian architypes. Pedagogy might be redesigned in terms of developmental frameworks such as Spiral Dynamics, multiple intelligences and emancipatory learning principles. Traditional school structures such as grade levels, centralised buildings, siloed learning by domain, standardised assessment and rigid teacher-led programming might be reconsidered. Finally, the transition to a transformative futures-oriented learning community requires strategic partnerships with individuals and groups (locally and globally) that reflect and demonstrate real world applications of the four themes of interconnectedness, mutuality, collaboration and transformation.

To reference these ideas for academic purposes see my published thesis at: