Center for Spiritual Inquiry and Integral Education

R. Michael Fisher
Toward a Theory of Integral Education: Recent CSIIE Research
by R. Michael Fisher - Sunday, October 2, 2011, 10:03 AM

CSIIE Associates, under the leading-role of DIFS (R. Michael Fisher, as head researcher) have launched a research survey of various agencies and teachers who deliver some form of integral-based education. The study began as an idea for an article for Tikkun magazine, and an invitation from Rabbi Michael Lerner (Ed.) to spread the word of the work that CSIIE does. Lerner was responding to us based on our website launch. This is a very exciting opportunity, and so this blog is a quick summary of that research initiative and some early thoughts arising from it.

As head researcher, and department head of DIFS, it was quickly evident that my particular focus in the survey was adult (and higher) education, and so the key term being used is integral adult education (a term not used in the literature or on the Internet, interestingly enough). Because my own background since the early 1980s is teaching adults primarily, with a stint teaching adolescents and children off and on, there is my greatest interest in adult human development beyond the stage normally called "adult." Whenever someone reaches the stage of "adult" then what? Is that the end of the learning and growing journey? Certainly, most know that it is not but do we have categories for something beyond "adult"? I won't go into my theory of life-long learning other than to say there are a few distinct categories beyond "adult" that we can aim for in a life-long venture of growth and maturation. Most adults, in my view and theory, are about 1/2 way or less and as "adults" don't see that at a problem or as anything more, and they don't challenge their adult-only-status fixture because they often don't have a clue what is next.

Thus the 2 fundamental aims of adult education or higher education, as I see it:

(1) to let adults know, and young people coming to be adults, that there is no end point in growth or evolution of consciousness, there is a long way to go after "adult" in terms of maturity and,

(2) is to let all know that without maturity (beyond "adult") the world is largely going to remain in conflict, and highly divisive and ineffective in solving the worst global problems. Why? Because immaturity causes most of those problems in the first place, and immaturity is incapable of dealing with the conflicts created.

The first aim may meet with resistance from all sorts of quarters, because there is a large economic and political agenda to keep people below adult stage or at adult stage; the younger they are kept (as immaturity) the more materialistic they are, and that means they selfishly want to buy more 'toys' endlessly (good for capitalist exploitation), and uncritically aware of how they are being manipulated to stay immature. The resistance to the second aim of adult education overlaps the previous resistance for sure, however, it is even more of a turn-off to people, especially in a postmodern Western world (where I live and CSIIE operates its base). Why? Because there is this notion of recent ideology of pluralism (good and bad side), which suggests everyone is "equal" all the time and that there can't be anyone who is even capable of discerning the difference between "immature" and "mature" that would apply universally. This thought alone is anathema to their sensibilities and values (i.e., pluralism) and they'll accuse such an assumption as presumptuous and arrogant and they'll attack quickly any such kind of moral authority being suggested about who is to decide what is (and who is) mature and immature. Education systems, pretend today to play this pluralistic role on one level, but if you actually study their practices, they are in fact highly evaluative and discriminating of who is "intellectually" (and "emotionally" and "socially") mature and ready to go on to the next level and who isn't. It's ironic.

But these are preliminary issues related to CSIIE, and what does it mean to be an 'alternative' institute of adult and higher education today, in the 21st century, in a post-9/11 world. As found of CSIIE, in the name alone, I want faculty and staff and guests who teach and work in CSIIE to be dedicated to the aims of adult education as I specified above. At least, they ought to have some allegiance to them, and most basically some allegiance to the value and need today for "spiritual inquiry" and "integral education" and the way these two interrelate. I have found it is easier to get some universal agreements (not agreeing on everything) in CSIIE re: "spiritual inquiry" as a good thing. This is often juxtaposed and contrasted with an institution that is imposing religious or spiritual dogma. "Inquiry" is about continual self-reflective learning and teaching, and that's what all CSIIE faculty ought to have as an attitude of conformity to CSIIE, otherwise, why work at or with CSIIE? Go somewhere else and teach, I say. CSIIE has integrity of some basic foundations for aims, objectives, evaluations, values and ethics. Without agreements, there would be no integrity in the system, I would argue, and I'd also argue it wouldn't produce a lot of high quality results in research and education. Of course, I'm only speculating, and intuiting this to be the case.

So the recent research project to survey over 12 integrally-based adult education delivery organizations and teachers is very interesting. In this case, CSIIE is heading the field of these kinds of institutions in terms of wanting to collect data on what is happening in the field of integral adult education. and in doing so we show our interest in a holistic-integral embrace of what others are doing, and we are interested in comparing, and in pulling out the "best" of what each does and integrating it into CSIIE's theory of integral education. Now, as I said earlier it is easier to get agreements on "spiritual inquiry" as part of CSIIE's mission and activities, yet, not so easy in my experience to get agreement on what is integral education? The term "integral" is what often brings up the most challenges and differences, if not confusions and queries. I am totally okay with differences, confusions and queries about "integral" and is construction, history, politics, meanings, and stances. That is inevitable with such an overarching notion as it is, not unlike the concept of "holistic" or "transformation." Different schools of thought have made a lot of ink on paper to defend their own views of these terms and their implications for society as a whole and education in particular.

The study we are doing is about these various agencies and teachers of integral adult education and how they make meaning of that term, how they critique their own meanings (or don't), and what the results are, in terms of outcomes for students and faculties, and in terms of how to decide what is the "best" of such an education. What will CSIIE come to from examining all this data? How will we make sense of it? Is it even important? I know the CSIIE Associates take this seriously and are willing to put a lot of hours into the research data collection and analysis, then writing an article not too technical that will make the data relevant to the audience of a magazine that is highly read by a lot of intelligence and politically active people. CSIIE is really put on the spot. I love it. We need the challenge for ourselves to grow. And I invite all Faculty and others who want to join us in this research project to come forth with your offerings. And, yes, feel free to critique what we are doing too.

Back to the issue at hand, and a major part of this study, as far as I am concerned. What is a good integral education? -- in theory and practice?

I have prepared for this study, indirectly, by having studied and written articles on integral education (K-12, and post-secondary) for decades, and particularly in the last 10 years. My area of expertise is curriculum and instruction design, philosophy, and "integral" is my favorite topic, other than 'Fear' Studies (see DIFS). For the record, I have been involved in Environmental Education and Holistic Education since the late 1970s, as I was working on my BEd. after degree in Canada. I am a total advocate for progressive education, and that's why I am a supporter (and critic) of this field of progressive--and, Rabbi Michael Lerner is also a leader of Network of Spiritual Progressives, so he and I and CSIIE have a lot in common in terms of the agenda for progressive (rather than regresssive) thinking and actions and policy. CSIIE is a progressive institute. However, how "progressive" gets defined is also controversial the more on studies it, just as is holistic and integral education-- there are many schools of thought, and they don't often get along at all. In this current study, CSIIE is taking a research positioning, not an ideological one as much as we can help it, so that we gather data fairly from all the participants in the survey (and article). We are aware of the politics of representation and re-presentation of 'others' work, and we are still deciding how we'll manage all that, and what degree of "endorsement" for the article in its preliminary form is required by the participants who gave us data. We also know that not all of the 12 organizations and teachers will be enthused or cooperative, and in some cases they have told us already they are too busy and this is not a priority. Though, all have said it is a good project. What we've then decided to do is not use survey questions answered as the only way to glean their theory of integral adult education. We can search their documents created. We have a lot of reading to do.

As I end here for now, I want to say that we are heavily examining the vast amount of documents put out by the California Institute of Integral Studies (1968-) which is the longest running in North America as a institute of university status with a "current model of integral higher education" (Wexler, 2005, p. 29). I also want to cite the current President of CIIS, Joseph L. Subbiondo (since 1999), on his rationale for why CIIS exists, and I'd claim, in parallel at the general level, similarly I could have wrote these same words as Subbiondo (2005) about CSIIE. He wrote,

"Throughout history, colleges and universities have played a crucial role in providing society with a forum for cross-disciplinary dialogue on the vital themes of the day. For example, the peace and environmental movements in America had their formative development at colleges and universities as faculty and students reached across traditional boundaries. Such dialogue generated new imagination, energy, and action just when it was needed most. It seems fitting, particularly in these highly polarized times of 'blue and red' America, that colleges and universities offer integrated curricula for a holistic perspective and create a safe place for open dialogue. In this way, higher education can help a divided citizenry seek sorely needed common ground.

While most colleges and universities maintain that they strive to integrate knowledge, integration rarely occurs to any significant extent. Yet, the fact that the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, both noted leaders in transforming higher education, are currently cosponsoring the Integrative Learning Initiative, demonstrates that this core institutional aspiration remains alive and well in the academy. During my participation in the 2005 annual meeting of AAC&U in San Francisco, which drew over fourteen hundred faculty members and administrators, I attended several panel sessions explicity devoted to integrative teaching and learning. Judging by the packed rooms at the these sessions, I would arge that the pursuit of integrative education is gaining momentum..." (p. 18).

Subbiondo's notions of "holistic," "integrative" and "transforming" of course are still up in the air, as far as I am concerned, because I still am asking how do those terms related to "integral"? This is not well addressed in the literature and these post-secondary circles in my experiences and searches, albeit, I am no long- and exhaustive traveller in those camps. I've been way out on the margins of exploring integral adult education since 1989. My perspective may be slanted so far that it is inconceivable or just downright obnoxious to my colleagues. But we'll not know, until we have dialogues. CSIIE, as a vision, will take decades to grow and mature, and maybe someday it can be like a CIIS, very successful on many accounts. The work is slow and long and without a breath of rest, at least, I rest only so I can push that much harder the next day, as I well know what is involved in these ventures if they are not to shrivel up in only a few years. On that note, and with this information, I trust this will give all those involved in CSIIE, or thinking of being involved in CSIIE, a larger perspective to integral adult education, and the search for a 'best' integral adult education theory. I know there are and will be "many" such theories, and that's fine, but the integral attitude, and methodology, as I know it, is always looking for the 'best' of all those, and to discern that which is less integral from that which is more integral, and that is a basic criteria for less mature and more.

References CIted

Subbiondo, J. L. (2005). An approach to integral education: A case for spirituality in higher education. ReVision, 28(2), 18-23.

Wexler, J. (2005). Toward a model of integral education. ReVision, 28(2), 29-34.