Drawing out Potential

Part 1 of the “Aha!” Blowing the Lid on British Education Series

In a 2012 speech to Tory party conference David Cameron announced that he wanted the school system to support and draw out the potential in every student. That’s a laugh! The system hasn’t a clue what potential means and it does not offer education. Education is from the Latin educare, meaning not only to bring ‘up’ but also to bring ‘out’ (i.e. draw out the potential of the individual). The system is too busy stuffing in largely useless information to draw anything out. It might be forgivable if we didn’t know any better, but we do. Many studies show how effective and enjoyable it is to educate the whole person. The whole person inherently possesses multiple lines of intelligence including cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, social intelligence and so on. There are reckoned to be around 12 lines of intelligence and yet the educational system persists in addressing only the cognitive line and can’t even get that right.

Cameron wishes that every child in the land could attend the kind of school he did. Oh really? The products of a privileged education may well end up in powerful positions in society and they be cognitively brilliant but they often remain stunted in so many other ways – psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. All of our psyches feature 'shadow' aspects; emotions that we hide away or project onto others instead of owning them as part of ourselves. We either pull in the shadow by repressing it in ourselves or push it out on to the other person or situation. Public school often means boarding school. It’s very hard for a child to be sent away from home at a young age and not be affected by feelings of abandonment that affect their self-worth. Public school breeds shadows of guilt, shyness and self-loathing that disconnect these people emotionally from themselves and others. The result can be a total lack understanding of or empathy for themselves and those around them. The inability to feel Lack of empathy happens to be one of the markers of psychopathy. Are these the qualities we want in those who ostensibly run the show - the politicians, academics, bankers, the military? 

State-educated children fare no better. They leave school with no awareness of having any potential, far less the means to tap into it and manifest it. That’s because the school system is institutionally and catastrophically broken and is letting down every single one of our children, whether privately or state-educated. I’m being polite in not using another six-lettered word for ‘broken’. Because it is not fit for purpose, the system is failing to produce the global citizens our fractured 21st century world so desperately needs.

The educational system is either unaware of or ignores the whole ontology (nature of being) of the human being — body, mind and spirit. The brightest stars who ever graced our planet did not illumine the world through only the output of their cranium. They didn’t abandon rational knowledge, they included and then transcended it to reach higher levels of consciousness. Einstein for example was a cognitive genius and a mystic. To get to grips with education we must have an appreciation of the whole human being, wherein lie all the potentials for multiple intelligences and multiple levels of consciousness. Only an Integral view can achieve this because only Integral leaves nothing out of the equation of the human story with its unfolding and evolving potentials. None of the potentials of human consciousness is excluded. In my own fields of psychology and human consciousness, all current understanding from both the western world and the world of eastern mysticism is brought together. 

Integral embraces all ways of being and living, individually, socially and spiritually in a universe that is seen as evolving, and consciousness with it.  It is embraced in an “AQAL” framework that accounts for all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states and all types of conscious intelligence. Any educational system that does not address all of these is by definition partial and reductionist, failing to address all of the potentials and capabilities of its’ students. Reductionism impedes the transformation of consciousness to higher, more aware, more intelligent, more empathic levels. This is both a scandal for education and a disaster for the wider world. Higher levels of consciousness bring about the evolution of the wisdom and compassion that is vital for the continuance of our complex, interconnected, warring, globalizing planet. 

The integral approach to intelligence

Many teachers are ignorant not only of their students’ intelligence but their own. That’s partly because nobody taught them about multiple lines of intelligence. The western world reveres but one kind of intelligence and that is the cognitive line examined in IQ tests. And yet all of the dozen or so lines of intelligence available to us can not only develop but are intrinsically disposed to evolve to higher levels of consciousness. Emotional intelligence, personal intelligence, social intelligence, musical intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence (bodily awareness as in sport and dance), moral intelligence are just some of the capacities we possess, to some degree of development, all the way up to the most important line of all — spiritual intelligence. That’ll have David Cameron choking on his cornflakes, but it’s true. 

As individuals, we are not and cannot be equally developed in all lines. This is why it is perfectly possible to be brilliant as a thinker in the cognitive line, and hopelessly underdeveloped in social intelligence, incapable of communicating with others effectively; think the ‘Nutty Professor’ or, indeed, any of my old mathematics teachers. Or you could have someone with highly developed social skills, but the morals of an alley cat; think Tony Blair, for example. 

We have known about multiple lines of intelligence since the 1980’s, so why have they never been applied in the education system? The system addresses only one or two of these lines and the rest are left to rot. No wonder so many children are totally disengaged in the classroom. A child with great sporting skills who struggles with mathematics or English will be sent out into the world by an institution which has not only failed to recognize his potential but has made him feel like a failure in life. The system feeds you into its sausage machine and you come out the other end a chipolata, a mere chip off the old block of your unlimited potential. Everyone interested in true education needs to wake up. It’s been out there for years that development means recognizing all of our native potentials in order to evolve into our fullest expression of being. Are we still living in a day and age where schooling is simply about churning out the kind of workers the state needs at a given time? I hate to use the ‘c’ word but the clear empirical proof for multiple lines of intelligence exists. So why are these intelligences not being addressed in the educational system? Can it possibly be ignorance and not conspiracy?

All States

As well as different lines of intelligence, studies evidence different states of consciousness.

There are five, yes five, empirically verified states of consciousness:

  1. The gross, waking state.
  2. The dream, or hypnotic state.
  3. The subtle state of deep, dreamless sleep.
  4. The ever-present witness, or mirror-mind.
  5. The causal state of ever-present unity consciousness, or non-duality.

Our culture denies subtle and causal states by reducing all states of consciousness to the gross, waking state. From birth we are indoctrinated to identify only with the gross, or material body. The gross waking state is, of course, important and teachers would do well to note whether pupils are well nourished or well slept. And as adults we are aware of affective (or emotional) states, and altered states induced naturally through dreams or artificially through alcohol or drugs. But what of all the other states available to us? 

With pitifully few exceptions, the other four states of consciousness and the means of accessing them are utterly ignored by the educational establishment. Not for them the adoption of imagination, fantasy, meditation, movement, metaphor, drama, humour and all the other ways in which we may engage our right brain hemisphere and thereby access more subtle levels of big-picture, intuitive consciousness. The failing educational system restricts learning to a rational, logical, left-brain “what you see is what you get” agenda. Nothing new or creative is encouraged, just the same old regurgitation of the same old facts that do nothing to expand the student’s consciousness. Everything is designed to close consciousness down and with it our hopes of evolved world leaders. Einstein entered many states of consciousness brought about by fantasy, dream analysis and meditative practices to achieve levels of creativity and brilliance that far transcend rational thinking.  Can this neglect of different states of consciousness possibly be the result of ignorance or is it connivance? 

There is so much evidence now for the benefits of meditative states of consciousness: increased creativity; more focus and attention; enhanced problem-solving skills; decreased stress; the development of thinking in multiple perspectives (rather than the black and white, right or wrong, dualistic rational state to which the establishment is in such thrall); not to mention the self-awareness, emotional stability and insight into one’s own, idiosyncratic life purpose that comes with silent, reflective and fantastical practices. Every single human being is of intrinsic value to him or herself and potentially to all others in the universe.  Education could help draw out the individual’s unique life purpose and with it an ascent to a higher consciousness that would benefit the whole planet. Knowledge of life purpose is a knowing that transcends cognitive understanding. This inner knowing is beyond words and concepts to describe it because it comes from the soul level of the individual. In this realm of consciousness lies the pure self, the Self that is primary and prior to social conditioning. Connecting at the level of soul means being able to tune into inner energies or intuitions that have been there all along but have become lost along the way. It’s a re-collection, a re-cognition, a re-connection to your source. From this place you re-call who you truly are, you call it back and with it comes the confidence and motivation to overcome the conditioning that enslaves you to society and its rules and values. The need for such development of potentials applies equally to teachers as pupils. How developed are teachers, in the personal, or ego line of development? Are they sufficiently self-aware to know where they are in relation to their students? Are they able to adopt multiple perspectives in any situation? Do they know the limits of the so-called knowledge they impart? Are they able to change state when the energy in the classroom calls for it? Do they understand that children learn in different ways depending on their visual, auditory and kinesthetic preferences? These skills and more are vital if children are to be in a state that is even receptive to learning. 

Applying the integral approach

It would be so easy to operationalize age-related state changes in the classroom. Just because I’m calling some states of consciousness ‘meditative’ these should not be seen in a dogmatically religious way. We could just as well talk about silent mind, or centering practice or some such term. The important thing is for teachers to introduce the means of shifting consciousness. Such practices might include 5 minutes of centering practice (or creative fantasy for the little ones) at the start of the lesson. Children could have a few minutes (again, length of time contingent upon age) of pranayama or transformational breathing and meditation. A little yoga or qi gong could get their energies flowing. Research by Integral author Willow Dea in the U.S. shows that even teenagers like these practices. Teenagers report that they enjoy feeling relaxed or ‘chilled’ and get more involved in the lessons. They also learn at a faster rate, get ill less often and are generally happier, more focused and more motivated than pupils who have experienced no such meditative training. So it makes sense to teach the teacher about states of consciousness. When the learner’s state is more open and receptive to learning, the teacher’s job is easier and more fulfilling. As well as being aware of lines of intelligence and states of consciousness, teachers should be aware of different types of individual. 

All Types

We are not all motivated or excited by the same things, nor do we see the world in the same ways. Repeated research over decades has provided assessment instruments like Myers-Briggs that evidence this. If you are an introvert, you will trust what goes on inside your own head, and the way you, personally, make sense of the world. Your idea of ‘chilling’ will be to spend some down time alone, doing your own thing. If you're an extravert, you will not trust your own inner maps of reality but will look to the wider society for comparison and confirmation. Your idea of relaxation is to socialize with others, finding out what they have to say about things. The Enneagram is a brilliant tool for understanding ourselves and others as one of 9 primary types. Teachers would understand what sparks passion, anger, fear or disengagement in different individuals if they were aware of types. 

Research shows that we do not all learn in the same way. We have an intrinsic preference for visual, auditory or kinesthetic cues. Do not expect a kinesthetic child to sit on his backside for hours on end admiring your charts (visual) or attending to your lecture (auditory). He will switch off unless you, as a teacher, are astute enough to know this and change his energy state. Knowing personality types means not only knowing which intelligences children will learn through but even more importantly, where their values lie. When children are treated as the individuals that they are, when their own lines of intelligence, talents and values are acknowledged, and their own ways of learning are catered to, they feel included and connected in the inter-subjective space of the classroom.
By focusing on only the IQ of cognitive intelligence, by allowing teachers to languish in ignorance of other intelligences and the effects of states of consciousness on learning and by treating all pupils the same, teaching has become a doctrine and has lost its spirit. How can education (drawing out potential) succeed when the establishment addresses one or two lines of intelligence out of twelve, addresses one state of consciousness out of five, and lumps us all into the same category?

An integral education makes sense of these complexities and more. The next excerpt will address quadrants and stages of consciousness. An understanding of Integral’s AQAL model would not be complete without them. The integral paradigm is being adopted in fields internationally so we now have integral politics, integral medicine, integral economics and integral sustainability and many more besides. The founder of the integral paradigm, the inimitable Ken Wilber (www.kenwilber.com), argues that nowhere is the integral paradigm more needed than in the education of our children, addressing all of their capacities and potentials as whole human beings. Instead of this we have an education system that focuses on a miserly few of these potentials to give a fragmented perspective on what education truly means. If you want global citizens who have had all dimensions of their being addressed in the service of greater understanding and increased global consciousness, you will need to get integral in your teaching.

David Cameron said he wants the school system to support and draw out the potential in every student. As admirable as that may be, let us think about how we can effect not just a change in our education system but a transformation to a higher level of awareness which is marked by the wisdom and compassion of love. Only an integral approach and not political spin will achieve this.