Glossary Of Terms Commonly Used In Holistic Education

[This is not an attempt to define these terms but rather to show

the context in which they are used within holistic education.]


Holistic educators take very seriously the human love of beauty. The arts — graphic and performing — hold a central and exalted role in most holistic educational approaches. Imagination and creativity — the natural desire to give form to ideas and feelings — are highly respected and encouraged.

Source: Ron Miller


Contemporary atomism and can be characterised by the following principles:

· Reality is based in materialism.

· This reality can be reduced to logical components or atoms.

· We know through our senses.

· We can use the findings of empiricism to develop a technology to control the material world.

· It is possible to approach inquiry from a value neutral perspective.

Source: Jack Miller


Being sensitive and responsive to our own trust and deepest possibilities. The congruence of experience, awareness and communication. Living according to one’s values.

The most “essential attitude in the facilitation of learning is realness or genuineness.”

Source: C. Rogers

‘Holistic authenticity’ occurs when there is congruence between the inner and outer life — the Self and the self.

Holistic education requires the authentic presence of the teacher.

Source: J Miller


The awareness of transcendent meaning… The world in its grandeur is full of a spiritual radiance, for which we have neither name nor concept…Awe, then, is more than a feeling. It is an answer of the heart and mind to the presence of mystery in all things, an intuition for a meaning that is beyond the mystery, an awareness of the transcendent worth of the universe.

Source: A.B. Heschel

Constructive postmodernist education

A living process; it is negotiated not preordained, created not found… Learning and understanding are made (not transmitted) as we dialogue with others and reflect on what we and they have said — as we ”negotiate passages” between ourselves and others, between ourselves and our texts.

Source: W.E. Doll


Our taken-for-granted definition of what is really real. Epistemology is the way we explain the relationship between the knower and the known, between self and world, mind and matter. Epistemology is always a fundamental, defining element of a culture.

Source: Ron Miller


Virtually all natural hierarchies are composed of holons – wholes that are simultaneously parts of other wholes. For this reason, Arthur Koestler pointed out that the word hierarchy should really be holarchy. All natural hierarchies – that is, all natural holarchies are composed of whole/parts or holons, and they show increasing orders of wholeness, unity, and functional integration.

In a holarchy (or hierarchy) each successive holon transcends but includes its predecessors. Each senior element contains or enfolds its juniors as components in its own makeup, but then adds something emergent, distinctive, and defining that is not found in the lower level: it transcends and includes. For example, atoms contain neutrons, but neutrons do not contain atoms; molecules contain atoms, but not vice versa; cells contain molecules, but not vice versa.

Source: Ken Wilber


Holism asserts that everything exists in relationship, in a context of connection and meaning — and that any change or event causes a realignment, however slight, throughout the entire pattern. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” means that the whole is comprised of a pattern of relationships that are not contained by the parts but ultimately define them.

Holism, stands in stark opposition to the method of reductionism, which holds that analysis, dissection, and strict definition are the tools for understanding reality. Holism asserts that phenomena can never be fully understood in isolation; it asserts that reductionism can only give us a partial view of anything it dissects.

Holism cannot be pin down precisely, because by its very nature it embraces paradox, mystery, and outright contradiction.

Holism is not an ideology but a spiritual quest for compassion and peace. Holism treasures diversity, variety, uniqueness.

Source: Ron Miller

Holistic education

The concept of holistic education refers to a worldview or theoretical position that opposes reductionism, positivism, and the Cartesian dualism of self and world with an emphasis on the ultimate unity, relatedness, and inherent meaningfulness of all existence.

A sense of all in the presence of that which gives life. It is an attempt to return to the mysterious source of human creativity and authenticity for fresh inspiration. It seeks to enable the wholeness of the human being to emerge and develop as fully as possible.

Holistic education, in contrast to progressive education, sees the child as an emerging spiritual being within a larger planetary and cosmic ecology that extends beyond social and political realities.

In holistic education we must respond to the learner with an open, inquisitive mind and a loving heart, and a sensitive understanding of the world he or she is growing into.

Holistic education is a responsiveness to the wholeness of experience as we live it in particular times and places.

Source: Ron Miller


A holon is a whole that is simultaneously a part of another whole: a whole atom is part of a whole molecule, a whole molecule is part of a whole cell, a whole cell is part of a whole organism, and so forth. Each element is neither a whole nor a part, but a whole/part.

Arthur Koestler coined the wonderful word holon to refer to such “whole/parts.” Virtually all natural hierarchies, in any domain, are composed of holons, wholes that are simultaneously parts of other wholes. For exactly this reason, Koestler pointed out that the word hierarchy should really be holarchy. All natural hierarchies-that is, all natural holarchies are composed of whole/parts or holons, and they show increasing orders of wholeness, unity, and functional integration.

Source: Ken Wilber


Inclusive of the material universe and multidimensional life in all its expressions. And interconnected whole that encompasses everything that exists and everything that can exist.



Modernism is a potent brew of capitalism, antagonistic consumerism, reductionistic science, anthropocentrism, nationalism, militarism, rationalism, and hierarchical and patriarchical perspectives.

Source: Ron Miller

Omega point


The French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin developed a general theory of evolution that applied not only to the human species but also to the human mind and the relationship of religious experience to the facts of natural science.

One of his principal conclusions was that humanity was headed toward the unification of the entire species into a single interthinking group. He coined the word noosphere (from the Greek noos, mind) to refer to the cumulative effect of human minds over the entire planet. Just as the biosphere is the system comprised of all living things, so the noosphere is comprised of all conscious minds.

The fulfillment of this process Teilhard referred to as the Omega Point, the culmination of the evolutionary process, the end point toward which we are all converging.

Source: Peter Russell

Perennial philosophy

The common core wisdom of most of the world’s spiritual traditions.

Perennial philosophy holds that all things are part of an indivisible unity or whole. In brief, the basic principles of perennial philosophy can be identified as follows:

· There is an interconnectedness of reality and a fundamental unity in the universe.

· There is an intimate connection between the individual’s inner or higher self and this unity.

· In order to see this unity we need to cultivate intuition through contemplation and meditation.

· Value is derived from seeing and realising the interconnectedness of reality.

· The realisation of this unity among human beings leads to social activity designed to counter injustice and human suffering.

These principles have been articulated in different spiritual and intellectual traditions in both the east and the West. In the West the perennial philosophy can be traced to early Greek times.

Source: Jack Miller


Positivism is a deterministic atomism where cause and effect are rooted in the physical world and discoverable through scientific investigation. Empirical science is seen as the only reliable source of knowledge and we should clear away all ideas that cannot be verified through scientific investigation.

Logical positivism consists of two distinct worlds: on the one hand, there is the world of everyday existence; on the other, there is the world of scientific verification. In this latter world we supposedly have access to “truth” or, at least, “objective reality.” The former world is suspect, as we learn not to trust our everyday sense of how things are but, instead, accord scientific verification and a higher status as a source of understanding and relating to the world. In this view we are encouraged to deny our intuitive insight into how things are in favour of a more abstract view validated by mechanistic science.

Source: Jack Miller

Postmodern education

Knowledge is not seen as factual truth defined outside our experience, transmitted through the authority of teachers to their ignorant students, but as a mutual act of creation between person’s actively and sensitively engaging the world.

Source: Ron Miller

Postmodern epistemology

A postmodern epistemology has now emerged in science, philosophy, psychology, and numerous other fields of inquiry, informing us that reality is much more complex, multilayered, and ultimately indefinable than we have thought. The findings of relativity and quantum theory, systems theory and cybernetics, Jungian and transpersonal psychology, process philosophy and phenomenology, among other breakthroughs of the last few decades, have meant that “some of the most basic elements of our [rational] knowledge of the world are called into question: the nature of matter, the evolution of living species, the relationship between consciousness and cosmos, and the origins and destiny of the universe itself.”

Source: Ron Miller and Ervin Laszlo

Process education

To allow activity in the presence of knowledge, to let students discover meanings and form novel viewpoints, to develop a sense of shared pursuit of knowledge (which involves risking failure in front of students)… Moving within the multiplicity of complex and unpredictable events (prehensions) that constantly occur in teaching situations requires that the teacher relinquish long held notions of control, control of time and control of knowledge.

Source: Oliver andGershman


Between the 16th and 18th centuries there was a dramatic shift in the way people observed and thought about the Universe. This new system of thought was based on the philosophy of Rene Descartes who promoted a mathematical description of nature and the use of analytic thought – the Cartesian System. Descartes’ vision was to give a precise and complete account of all natural phenomena with absolute mathematical certainty.

Later Isaac Newton synthesised the works of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Descartes into a complete mathematical formulation of Nature – Newtonian Mechanics. Towards the end of the 19th century scientists believed that eventually all natural phenomena would be explained by reducing them to the motion and interaction of particles.

This reductionism led to the expectation that PHYSICS would eventually explain CHEMISTRY; CHEMISTRY would explain BIOLOGY; and BIOLOGY would explain PSYCHOLOGY.

Love, joy and courage could be reduced to chemical reactions within the brain.

Social justice

Holistic education is concerned with social responsibility. We want our students to think critically about social, political and economic problems. Students should be connected to the real-world.

From a holistic point of view, a viable democratic society requires both personal freedom and social responsibility; education for a democratic society means allowing children freedom to develop according to their own unique (and ultimately spiritual) destinies and to follow their own personal interests as well as challenging them to engage their social and political milieu critically.

Holistic educators believe in principles such as interconnectedness, unity through diversity, and the inherent spirituality of all living beings — thus all persons whatever their partial identities of race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion etc, should be treated with compassion, justice, and respect.

Holistic educators do not aim to reform social institutions, but to transform them such that human relationships, and the relationship between humanity as a whole and the natural world, are fundamentally realigned.

Source: Ron Miller


When we say that the human being has a soul, we are suggesting that some vital creative force lies behind the personality. The sophisticated sciences of biochemistry, neurology, and even genetics cannot explain this force: when they try to contain it within the boundaries of their disciplines they are committing reductionism. Instead, to recognise the wholeness of the human being requires us to acknowledge that our minds, our feelings, our ambitions, our ideals all express some living force that dwells mysteriously within the core of our being.

Source: Ron Miller


A spiritual epistemology calls for a compassionate, participatory way of knowing and acting in the world, engaging the whole self rather than just the calculating ego. Education’s task is to draw forth and cultivate this whole, connected self.

Source: Parker Palmer

The ultimate and genuine source of our identity — the primary whole, the Compleat context that gives meaning to our being.

Source: Ron Miller


Spirituality is not superstition, but an orientation to our existence that recognises wholeness, relationship, context, meaning — including the ultimate source of meaning.

Refers to levels of consciousness that perceive or intuit the vast wholeness and meaning of the cosmos [or kosmos], a wholeness unfathomable in terms of material reality, personal identity, or cultural ideologies.

Education for spiritual evolution is a creative, transformative, self-transcending engagement between person and world. There is a continuing element of uncertainty, novelty, and freedom in this process.

Spirituality is a living awareness of the wholeness that pervades the universe. It is the realisation that our lives mean more than material wealth or cultural achievements can provide; our lives have a place, a purpose in the great unfolding story of Creation, even if this story is so vast and so mysterious that we can only glimpse it briefly through religious practices or fleeting moments of insight.

Source: Ron Miller