By John Johnson, M.S., Th.D.
Integral learning implements the most optimal and cutting edge processes to support knowledge of the student’s self (his/her inner world) and combines that with the best of today’s pedagogy to support strong academic skill – always seeking to establish harmonious and meaningful relationship between both worlds. Integral learning is best supported when each student is core to the learning experience. In other words, each student and his/her relationship to the learning environment are foundational to what is being taught. This is important, if not critical, because historically public, and to a great extent private education in our country has completely ignored self -knowledge and has emphasized an “objective,” hence objectifying approach to the learning experience and to the student’s relationship to life in general. This has created an evermore objectified and alienating world rather than, as Thomas Berry, the leading ecotheologian of our time, orients us, a world populated by subjects. As modern education was fashioned by the industrial-scientific revolutions of the West, it is natural that it would be driven by standardized approaches to content heavy disciplines (such as math, science, history, statistics) that seek to gain ever more predictable control over a material world. The integral perspective does not deny the fruit of the scientifically explored world. It simply adds a subjective world, creating a sacred relationship to all of life, and to the learning environment.
As a consequence, the integral approach to education offers the learner more possibilities in terms of self-knowing, creativity, and innovation, than most public and private schools, including Montessori and the newest approach in public education – the charter school. Additionally, the integral approach includes the best of holistic education. In fact it offers ever more emergent levels to the usual holistic approach to education. Most holistic schools offer a flattened concept of the holistic model. As long as various aspects of the human experience (i.e. physical, mental, emotional, moral, spiritual) are included somewhere in the curriculum the school may be considered “holistic.” Integral learning deepens the holistic paradigm through a multi-dimensional deepening, a layering process not generally offered in most holistically oriented schools. It attends to each “Holon” (aspect of the holistic learning model) not through an integrative paradigm in a two dimension manner, but adds developmental strands, stages, and waves of growth. It should also be noted that by offering the most comprehensive and integrative approach to learning, the integral approach is not truly an “alternative” approach, in the normal sense that word is used in education. Instead it can be seen as an appropriate educational reform, a true 21st century school.
At Odyssey School we use various strategies to support an integral approach to learning. Each one of the following infra-structural pieces deserve an article dedicated to a better understanding of it and how it is applied at Odyssey School. I will simply name each at this time. The multiple intelligence framework; Mysteries Council; the Six Strands; the Essential Learning Skills; Positive Discipline and classroom meetings; Mind Gym; Compassionate Communication; independent research projects; centering; diversity of life studies; personal wellness studies; multi-age, continuous progress classrooms; peer mediation; a multi-sensory approach to reading and writing; goals notebooks; journaling and reflection; and student led assessment are all part of the Odyssey School integral experience and all of these attend to the “process” components of our curriculum. They also support each student in his/her self knowing, integration of body-mind-heart, and harmonizing inner and outer worlds through integrative, compassionate, and reflective relationships.
Content driven courses such as math, science, history, literature, etc. are essential aspects of the integral approach and at Odyssey School they are taught, as much as possible, within the relational context of the process elements and learning skills components of our curriculum. Our work with students has shown us that academic excellence is best supported in such a manner, with each student being supported to learn from a place of personal authenticity, at his or her optimal rate of challenge.