Where does Krishnamurti fit in the history of holistic education?

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In the post What name should we give to Krishnamurti education? I explained that I have chosen to use the word holistic education, when referring to the understanding I take away from my engagement with Krishnamurti’s work on education. As indicated in the post, it is not simply that I like the word holistic education, there is also a case to be made for the suggestion that there is at least a family resemblance between Krishnamurti’s insights into education and those informing what Miller (2005/19) calls an ‘emerging holistic movement’ in education. In this post I will trace some of the historical connections between that particular movement and Krishnamurti.

Within the western cultural tradition, there have been educators for centuries who may be called holistic in their outlook, for example, because they consider the whole learner and not the intellect to be the subject of education. Thus, Forbes mentions Rousseau (1999) and Miller mentions ‘the Swiss humanitarian Johann Pestalozzi, the American Transcendentalists Thoreau, Emerson and Alcott, the founders of “progressive” education–Francis Parker and John Dewey–and pioneers such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner’ (Miller). Elsewhere Miller mentions ‘J. Krishnamurti in India’ and ‘Francisco Ferrer in Spain, and A.S. Neill in England’ (2005/19). And he writes that all these educational thinkers ‘insisted that education should be understood as the art of cultivating the moral, emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of the developing child’ (Miller).

Though it may be useful to detect similarities between such a broad range of educationalists, for our purposes it helps to home in on a more specific set of educational ideas, notably belonging to those who started to call themselves holistic educators in the late 1980s. Ron Miller (2005/19) writes that ‘the term [holistic education] began to be used around 1979, when a group of humanistic psychologists and educators held a conference in California (Harris, 1980)’. In the wake of this conference some of the most important further developments were the publication of John P. Miller’s The Holistic Curriculum (Miller 1988) and Ron Miller’s founding of the Holistic Education Review. And in the years since then ‘“holistic education” has become the subject of conferences, articles and books, doctoral dissertations, and a few teacher training programs’ (Miller 2005/19).

Within this more narrow definition of the holistic field, Krishnamurti has always had his place, by virtue of having influenced some of its educators. Perhaps the most explicit manifestation of this link between Krishnamurti education and the holistic movement can be found in the Brockwood Park Education Conference of 1999. Speakers at the conference included both Ron and John P. Miller as well as Scott Forbes (1999) and in his talk John P. Miller discusses the legacy of Krishnamurti with regard to holistic education. He mentions the importance of self-awareness and freeing ourselves from conditioning, avoidance of dogmatism, and the development of attention. And he ends with the eminently holistic theme of ‘integration’, ‘to view life holistically and see things in their totality’ (Miller 1999). According to Miller, Krishnamurti ‘provides a powerful holistic vision for education that has influenced educators for the past half-century, (Miller 1999).

Thus we see that it is no historical anomaly to set up a conversation between Krishnamurti’s work on education and the notion of holistic education, to the extent that the movement that self-consciously calls itself holistic acknowledges Krishnamurti as one of its inspirations. Elsewhere we will see in more detail how the holistic movement of the late 1980s is situated within the wider field of alternative education. And in yet another post we look into some of the characteristic themes in holistic education, and show that these can also be found in Krishnamurti’s work. Together the posts in the Krishnamurti and holistic education category should show that it is valid to claim that Krishnamurti education is a form of holistic education. What exactly the nature is of this holism is a question that runs throughout the entire website.

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