From the First Nations Principles of Learning: Learning is Holistic

From the First Nations Principles of Learning: Learning is Holistic

Learning is Holistic

Holistic is a rather strange word for us and rarely used however much we may crave it. Holism is not an ideology that competes with the Christian faith. Suppose you wanted to learn about the moose. You could certainly take a moose down to its components: its antlers, hoofs, and internal body organs. But as west-coasters, we all know that the moose cannot be understood in isolation. Moose compete with deer, are preyed upon by wolves, feed in wetlands, and are vulnerable to parasitism. Without this larger context, we’ll never understand the moose. Learning must indeed be holistic to be complete.
There’s something about breaking something down that to the western mind seems like knowledge. We feel like we’ve done our job. When it comes to anthropology, we might say humans are body, soul, and spirit. Our bodies are composed or organ systems, which themselves have tissues composed of cells. These cells carry out the functions of life at the chemical level. But we know intuitively that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And as such, the lesson seems complete, but strangely empty. We are products of our history, and each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to family, friends and their local community. Our function and purpose are conditioned by our faith, our relationship to the natural world, and our values such as compassion and peace with God and others. We long to be whole and integrated, so that the parts of our lives are meaningful in their greater contexts. I’m not just doing dishes; I’m loving my wife.

And so, it is with learning. That learning is part and parcel of life together with the physical, social and emotional world. This is why so many of us school at home. We do not want our children simply to know stuff. We want their knowledge to be connected to who we are as people living in families, churches, and communities. We want our learners to know who they are and who they are. We want them to know what they know, how they know it, and how they can, therefore, act in the world are not separate from it. We want learners to see themselves as interdependent rather than dependent, and as empowered agents of action rather than mere cogs in the wheel of some all-powerful system. We have heard about the “three R’s”, reading, writing, and arithmetic, but perhaps the real three R’s are relationship, responsibility, and reverence.