So, what’s our larger, educational philosophy at Worldview Journeys? Why would we ‘journey into our worldviews’? What principles underly our tools and programs? And what’s the deeper purpose of education?
“We must develop the capacities that will enable us to recreate the world-system for the betterment of humanity and the Earth. Needed are world-centric ethical capacities and profoundly embodied situational awareness. Needed are collaborative and loving mindsets, able to deal with loss and tragedy, able to rebuild with resilience, able to innovate ceaselessly and with alacrity. Education must promote growth into new levels of maturity. We need a new kind of grown-up.”
The purpose of education
In our view, education is about much more than ‘job training’ and delivering good workers for the economy. This is what educational philosopher Zachary Stein (2019) refers to as the ‘reductive theory of human capital’. According to him, this ‘job training perspective’ is still the dominant paradigm in education, undergirding our educational systems at large.
In our complex, volatile, and fast-changing contemporary world, with its immense planetary challenges and its demand for large-scale systems changes, this view appears hopelessly outdated. Rather than aiming to deliver workers that neatly fit into our current economic systems, education should aim for creating the conditions that support people to develop into mature humans empowered to transform that very economy.
That kind of ‘whole person’ education builds forth on the notion of Bildung as developed by the German philosopher and educational reformer Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Because there’s no good English translation for Bildung, the term is usually left untranslated. Bildung concerns education aimed at the formation of independent, free, good, and healthy personalities, with a sense of history and culture, nature and society.
Bildung or ‘whole person development’
This kind of education explicitly involves not only the acquisition of general knowledge, but rather a general development of human qualities, such as, for example, the capacity for moral judgment, critical thinking, and perspective-taking. Von Humboldt developed this idea of Bildung in response to, and in contrast with, the Ausbildung or professional education that was the standard in his time.
Education in our eyes is also about more than classic didactic instruction, where a teacher delivers knowledge to a passively listening audience, often in the context of a fairly one-sided relationship. Rather than only transmitting knowledge, education should should stir reflection, (personal) exploration, and ultimately even transformation (below more on that!). It’s about offering powerful ideas, knowledge, and theories, and inviting learners to explore the value thereof for themselves, and in interaction with other learners.
It’s also about supporting people to explore new perspectives, to take perspective on their own (embedded) perspectives, and to potentially widen and expand their perspectives ~ making room to see any issue or aspect of reality from multiple angels, rather than being ‘locked’ into a one-sided, narrow view.
“The fate of humanity is entirely dependent on its moral development.”
The theory of transformative learning
Such a shift or widening of perspective is exactly what is aimed for in the pedagogy of transformative learning. Transformative learning can be described as bringing about change or transformation in a ‘frame of reference’ ~ the frames we use in our formation of concepts and meaning making. Mezirow, the founder of transformative learning, describes it this way:
Transformative learning is learning that transforms problematic frames of reference — sets of fixed assumptions and expectations (habits of mind, meaning, perspectives, mindsets) — to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, reflective, and emotionally able to change. Such frames of reference are better than others because they are more likely to generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action (Mezirow, 2003, p. 58).
Transformative learning thus supports learners to transform their mental models and ‘see things differently’. Interestingly, this is resonant with observations of how psychological growth happens, as described in the field of developmental psychology.
Transformation as ‘maturation of mind’
The field of developmental psychology has been studying the ways humans understand and construct reality for over a century. Although everyone makes meaning in unique ways, researchers have found striking patterns to the phases the human mind can go through over the life span. They observed how meaning making can become more expansive and complex, as well as less distorted, egocentric, and reactive over time (Kegan and Lahey, 2016).
This means that, as people mature, they become better able to take the perspectives of others, while, at the same time, becoming more aware of their responsibility for their emotions and life events (Berger, 2012). Maturation or psychological growth can therefore be understood as the transformation of one’s limited and problematic ‘frames of reference’, as described by Mezirow in his theory of transformative learning.
Transformation thus refers to a ‘maturation of the mind’, specified as a gradual expansion of one’s frameworks of understanding and meaning-making:
From a developmental perspective, real growth requires some qualitative shift, not just in knowledge, but in perspective or way of thinking. Growing is when the form of our understanding changes; we often call this “transformation.” Learning might be about increasing our stores of knowledge in the form of our thinking that already exists (in-form-ation), but growing means we need to actually change the form itself (trans-form-ation). Each moment of our development, then, is a potentially temporary form of mind that, with the right support, can become more expansive, leaving traces of the less-mature form behind like rings in a tree trunk (Berger, 2012, p.17).
Scientific insight into human development
A scientific understanding of human development and learning entails recognizing qualitatively different levels of development in the growth of human capacities. Consider concrete skills like learning to play the violin or ride a bike. In the learning process we move through levels or phases in a sequential and hierarchical way, meaning that the acquisition of more complex capabilities builds forth on, and includes, more simple ones.
These same levels or phases of development are observed in the realm of human judgment and meaning making (Stein, 2019). Consider the domain of morality:
Here Kohlberg demonstrated that moral judgments develop through a series of levels, where each level brings about an increase in complexity, depth, and integration. Using broad brush strokes, in the moral domain we begin as egocentric, only concerned about ourselves. Then we come to identify with our family or tribe at ethnocentric levels. Our circle of compassion and care expands once again as we reach world-centric levels, where we come to embrace all humanity in our moral considerations. Finally, at the cosmo-centric levels … , we identify with all sentient beings that have ever been or will be (Stein, 2019, p. 42).
These levels thus imply increasing inclusiveness, complexity, and capacity for action. This however does not mean that later stages or phases are univocally ‘better’, as new levels of complexity tend to introduce new problems and pathologies. Understanding these levels is important, so we can make sure our educational programs are ‘developmentally appropriate’ as well as genuinely supportive of development.
Principles for transformative learning
So if the purpose of education is a whole-person development, that includes a gradual transformation of perspectives and an expansion of meaning making, how can we support and facilitate this? Here we’ll describe the central principles our tools and programs are built with.
Worldviews as doorways or entrance-points
Exploring worldviews is a great way to support people to grow and mature, as it helps people take perspective on their perspective. Rather than being fully identified with and embedded in our worldview, we learn to look at it, exploring our frames of understanding and meaning making with some curiosity and spaciousness. Or as professor in developmental psychology Robert Kegan (1982) calls it, ‘we ‘make object what was subject.’
Exploring worldviews broadens one’s perspective, as it confronts one with the fact that there are fundamentally different views out there. It’s like how traveling to a foreign country and being confronted with another culture can make us more aware of our own cultural habits. This can help one appreciate to be part of a bigger and more complex world, and have the experience of being assisted by the perspectives of others, instead of ‘locked up’ in one’s own.
Exploring worldviews also supports people to become aware of the beliefs they’re operating from, question engrained assumptions, and author key ideas for themselves. This can empower people in their agency, giving them the sense they can create their own context and reactions, rather than just having them.
Exploring worldviews also enables people to see that any single perspective is limited, and that including multiple perspectives can open up new possibilities and creativity. This may help people respond better to complex problems. The capacity to take different perspectives is often seen as central hallmark of psychological growth. When we explore our own and others’ worldviews, we practice this capacity, and thus foster growth.
Including different ways of knowing & methods of learning
Objective + subjective + intersubjective = Transformative?
The modern sciences of learning tell us that learning is much more effective when we engage different modes of experience and knowing, and include relational and experiential learning next to more cognitive or theoretical forms of learning (Stein, 2019). Put plainly, we need to use head, heart, and hands.
Our programs combine at least three different ways of knowing: objective, subjective, and intersubjective. We often start with introducing powerful content, knowledge and ideas (objective), then offer possibilities to explore the value of this content for one’s own life and context (subjective), to then dynamically engage with, and dialogue about it with others (intersubjective). We use a range of different transformative practices and exercises to support this, from journaling and inquiry to ‘stream of consciousness duets’ and mindfulness.
Including different domains of reality
We also aim for a comprehensive approach that includes the major domains of reality. From as early on as Aristotle, there has been a philosophical attempt to classify objects and forms of knowledge in terms of basic categories. Think of the Beautiful, the Good, and the True. Or Art, Morals, and Science. Self, Culture, and Nature. Subjective, Intersubjective, and Objective. I, We, and It. First Person, Second Person, and Third Person.
Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrant Model builds forth on this effort and represents an elegant way to organize these general categories, by distinguishing between the interiors and exteriors of individuals and collectives (see the figure below). The realities disclosed in each of these Quadrants are inextricably intertwined and co-evolving.
Since all events can be looked at in terms of all four Quadrants, leaving out any of them will result in a partial perspective that lacks essential insight. We therefore use this model as a way to ensure a comprehensive approach; it’s like a basic mechanism for quality control. For example, when exploring worldviews we include a focus on self and awareness, on others and culture, on systems and nature, as well as on bodies and behaviors.
Use of technology as enabler for transformative learning
The technological and online learning revolution in education offers great benefits and new opportunities. Consider, for example, the development of Massive Open Online Courses, enabling people all over the world to receive education at prestigious universities or learn from their favorite experts. This revolution has dramatically improved the accessibility and affordability of high-quality education, which has consequences that are hard to overestimate in terms of its emancipatory, innovative, and transformative potential.
Simultaneously, it’s clear that learning “through screens” entails certain disadvantages and limitations:
“The modern sciences of learning, which are ignored in the design of most educational technologies, tell us that learning is optimized when it involves sustained interpersonal relationships, emotional connection, embodiment, and dynamically interactive hands-on experiences. … Technologies ought to help us customize learning and provide universal access to information through useful, well organized, and curated content. They should not be the primary locus of attention or main source of interaction and instruction” (Stein, 2019, p. 75).
We develop our programs with these considerations in mind. On the one hand, we focus on developing high-quality educational materials that can be used in, and scaled up to, a wide range of contexts. At the same time, we focus on interactive live sessions (either online or on site), in which participants dynamically engage with each other, having conversations, doing exercises, exploring practices, and going through a learning process together. We’re thus aiming to use educational technologies as an enabler for group participation and transformative learning.
Jennifer Garvey Berger, 2012. Changing on the Job. Developing Leaders for a Complex World. Stanford University Press.
Jack Mezirow, 2003. Transformative Learning as Discourse. Journal of Transformative Education.
Robert Kegan, 1982. The Evolving Self. Problem and Process in Human Development. Harvard University Press.
Robert Kegan & Lisa Laskow Lahey, 2016. An Everyone Culture. Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Harvard Business Review Press.
Zachary Stein, 2019. Education in a Time Between Worlds. Essays on the Future of Schools, Technology, and Society. Bright Alliance.