“Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.” ~ Wendell Berry
By Wendy Priesnitz
Life learning (aka unschooling or self-directed learning) recognizes the connections among all aspects of life and knowledge in a way that schooling, with its subjects and classes and grades cannot. It is, in that sense, holistic…and, in my opinion, is what makes it so effective and so important to healing the world.
The philosopher Aristotle introduced the principle of holism in his treatise Metaphysics, where he wrote, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” The actual term “holistic” was coined by South African soldier, statesman and scholar Jan Smuts in the early 1920s. His definition was, “The tendency in Nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts, through creative evolution.”
For clarity, I prefer to use the word “wholistic.” But either way, we mean the consideration of the whole and the interconnections between the parts of the whole. Alternative medicine practitioners, for instance, adopt a wholistic approach to healing, which emphasizes the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical elements of the patient, and treat the whole person rather than just their symptoms – that is, they realize that a person is more than the sum of their parts.
This idea of interconnectedness has been the foundation of my company Life Media since my life and business partner Rolf and I launched it in 1976. We promote a wholistic approach to family life, based on the understanding that everything is connected and, therefore, alive – hence our use of the now much-abused word “natural” as part of two of our magazine titles (Natural Life and Natural Child) and word “life” in another (Life Learning).
As I write, I am conscious of the need – in our disconnected, disjointed, and highly specialized society – to remind ourselves of how the various aspects of life are woven together…education into health, shelter and food production into recycling and parenting, and so on. And, within education, the things we call “subjects” are not at all separate entities, but interconnected parts of the whole of human knowledge and should not stand alone with disconnected labels.
When we lose our understanding of the interconnections among all the aspects of life – as I believe we have done – our personal lives and our communities lose a great deal more. Our artificial distance from Nature – as something out there, rather than something that includes us – contributes to problems in many spheres, including economics, health, environment, government, and education.
When Nature becomes an abstraction, it’s not just our children who suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder.” Our lack of connection with the natural world allows us to forget our place in Nature, our dependence on it, and the interdependence of all its parts.
The interdependence between natural processes and human ways of living has been called “ecological literacy” by systems theorist Frijtof Capra and environmental educator David Orr. Lacking this ecological literacy, we have created processes and ways of living that are destroying the ecosystem’s ability to support human life. Increasing our ecological literacy is allowing us to create the tools to make the transition to sustainability…providing we also cultivate the will to put the knowledge into practice.
My hope is that we can learn from the despair of climate change and economic disaster, and gain inspiration from Nature’s respect for limits, from its resilience, and from its ability to regenerate. There is hope in our understanding of the importance of interdependence. And there is healing in nurturing the “green shoots” of our connections and re-connection with Nature.
Perhaps life learning, with its awareness of connections – that life cannot sensibly be divided up into arbitrary and disconnected categories – will help light the way to a wholistic healing of our society and our planet.
Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Life Learning Magazine. She is a former leader of the Green Party of Canada, is the mother of two adult daughters who learned without school, has been an advocate of self-directed education for over 45 years, and is the author of 13 books.