Educating the Whole Person

Aha! Blowing the Lid off British Education Part 2

We human beings are multi-dimensional creatures, ever-changing prisms of emotions and thoughts and desires. And like snowflakes, no two of us are precisely the same. As Aha! Blowing the Lid off British Education (1) argued, the education system fails to address this uniqueness. It also ignores most of who- we- are. Layers of mind, body and soul are sacrificed at the altar of a strictly cognitive knowhow. All of our interior levels and depths are utterly ignored and so are left untapped. In this way we never get to know who we really are or what we are capable of. This state of affairs can radically transform if enough of us challenge the system. All that is needed is insight into the different ways of being and ways of learning that can tap into all of our human dimensions, all of our potentials of consciousness. An Integral model of education does this by facilitating the waking up and growing up that can  reveal all human potentials. 

Integral uses AQAL. Part 1 of this education series touched on three elements of the five that together comprise the AQAL model. These were all lines (of intelligence), all states (of consciousness) and all types (of individual). Here the other two elements of AQAL are introduced: all quadrants (or ways of looking at the world) and all levels (of consciousness). Accounting for all five dimensions, quadrants, levels, lines, states and types would mean teaching the whole individual, the whole human psyche and spirit. Psychology combines the two concepts of psyche (mind) and logo (spirit). But spirit has become lost. For centuries (ever since Descartes declared that “Cogito ergo sum” – I think therefore I am), the educational establishment has seen fit to educate us solely from the neck up, addressing how and what we think. Thinking, in Western society, represents the pinnacle of all human wisdom. We are just disembodied, empty heads, tabula rasas waiting to be imprinted with scholarly ‘knowledge’ from our teachers. What tosh!

For knowledge, add something every day. For wisdom…subtract

A mounting body of research evidences the key role of ways of knowing (or epistemologies if you want the fancy word) that lie beyond the brain. These include embodied, intuitive and spiritual ways of apprehending the world; ways that open the gates to states of creativity, peace, happiness, bliss. The failure to address all ways of knowing ensures that teaching can never transform students. It keeps them stuck at conformity thinking and no expansion of their knowledge base is capable of propelling them to the higher, more aware levels of consciousness that alone can solve the problems of this threatened planet. As Einstein explained, you cannot solve problems using the same level of mind that created those problems in the first place. You must transcend the thinking mind. Were the student, whether adult or child, to be addressed Integrally, the whole fabric of traditional education would unravel. But then who would teach them Integrally, i.e. at the level of body, mind, soul and spirit, catering for all types of individuals with multiple intelligences and multiple states of consciousness? Current teachers? I don’t think so. They’re just as brainwashed as the rest of society. 

It’s time for teachers, parents and students to wake up to the veritable con that is the educational establishment. Current teaching defiles and degrades the multi-faceted richness of who and what we are. It is a choice whether to collude in the system or to work to transform it. Transformation at all levels of the system is the aim of the Integral approach. Teachers would become familiar with all quadrants and all levels of consciousness and understand how this knowledge can be used in the classroom in service of the potential of each unique student. 

All Quadrants

Take any event: any person, any institution, any doctrine, any situation, any system, any experience, any anything and look at it in four ways. Examine it through four different windows using the tools that are appropriate for that window. If you don’t look through all four windows, or quadrants, you will not get the full picture of anything.

In education, how we know what we think we know depends on which of the four windows we are looking through. Each is distinct, meaning that no one window can be collapsed into another, and each reveals a different facet of education. 

4 Quadrant Diagram 


The two windows on the left of the 4 Quadrant diagram address ‘interior’ facets of reality and the two on the right address exterior, or objectively verifiable ways of knowing. The four windows comprise:

  1. The interior of the individual - the upper left (UL) way of knowing.

  2. The interior of the collective - the lower left (LL) way of knowing.

  3. The exterior of the individual - the upper right (UR) way of knowing.

  4. The exterior of the collective - the lower right (LR) way of knowing.

These four dimensions are represented by four basic pronouns: “I”, “we”, “it”, and “its.” Each pronoun represents one of the domains in the quadrant model: “I” corresponds to the Upper Left (UL), “We” to the Lower Left (LL), “It” to the Upper Right (UR), and “Its” to the Lower Right (LR). 

(Please stay with me here. I know it sounds complicated but as you become more familiar with AQAL it will transform your thinking about yourself and the world and not just the world of education. What seemed before like a disparate mountain of unrelated knowledge will begin to slot into a structure that shows how all the pieces of the human puzzle fit together). 

Each one of us looks at the world from two ‘orienting’ quadrants (one primary and one secondary.) These native perspectives influence how we make sense of the world, how we perceive and interpret our relationship with nature, with one another, and with ourselves. These worldviews stem from those quadrants from which we primarily orient: personal (UL), cultural (LL), behavioral (UR), or systemic (LR).

Teachers would do well to become familiar with their own orienting quadrants, otherwise they will unwittingly impose these worldviews on students, many of whom will see things completely differently. As you read through the following descriptions of the four quadrants, you might like to reflect on your own biases. All you need is to be kind, non-judgmental and objective about yourself – yes, that’s all!

1. The UL: Interior of the Individual. The “I” Quadrant

Some researchers are interested in the ‘I’ space of the interior, lived experience of the individual. My own phenomenological study called for participants to describe their “Aha” moments of insight from this personal experiential perspective. 

We now appreciate that some people have a worldview that is heavily dependent on the UL perspective. They look out onto the world with a view to making personal meaning of it. Meaning is central to their whole existence. (This is the case with all of us to some degree but with ULs it is more pronounced). They tend to trust their own way of making sense of the world, based on their own experiences, so they rely on their own subjective truth. Desires, motivations and actions follow from what holds meaning and value for them. This means that before engaging with a group or learning anything new, or getting into any kind of action, UL people will ask themselves “Is this meaningful to me?” They see everything from a place of my views, feelings and thoughts, my personal meanings and internal experiences, what deeply matters to me. When they look at the LL (cultural or inter-subjective quadrant) they engage only when they have answered the question: What would be the meaning of getting involved with these people? When they look at the UR of action, they ask “Would taking this action chime with my values?”

As a primarily UL myself, perhaps this is why I never cared about the value of ‘x’ in algebra, or the hypotenuse in geometry because, out of any meaningful context, these things made no sense to me, held no significance whatsoever. 

Teachers can cater for UL students by allowing time for personal, reflective practices and by providing meaning and context in the pursuit of learning.

2. The LL: Interior of the Collective. The “We” Quadrant

The “we” quadrant reveals the inter-subjective nature of worldviews and the shared values of any group or culture. Those who make sense of the world primarily from the LL perspective cleave to the consensus of the group in the interests of social cohesion. They accommodate those ideas and beliefs that they feel they should hold to be in harmony with the group. Belonging to the group means taking a moral stance for mutual understanding and a sense of shared group values. These values centre around community and belonging, rituals, traditions, spoken or implicit ‘rules’, and sensitivity to the group’s needs. So they would ask themselves “What are my own values, goals and priorities based on those of my group” and “How can I best contribute to the group/culture/collective?”

There would not be much point in a teacher giving LLs personal reflective practices for example – they will want to discuss such actions with peers first and decide from there.

3. The UR: Exterior of the Individual: The “It” Quadrant

Now the “I” which was subject in the UL becomes an object in the UR. This is the “it” quadrant of traditional science.  The UR window yields scientific, objective data about the individual. 

People whose orientation to life is mainly linked to the UR have an empirical, experimental approach to life, a ‘suck it and see’ attitude. They like to indulge in observable actions. They would interpret the UL as ‘what do I need to do to deepen my awareness? They see and relate to everything from a place of words, deeds, actions and results. Their philosophy is “What do I need to do to improve my awareness/knowledge because once I try it, I’ll know if it works”. The taking of action allows them to derive meaning in their lives. 

So reflective practices in the absence of action and tangible results would frustrate URs.

4. The LR: Exterior of the Collective: The “Its” Quadrant

The “Its” quadrant is again objectively measurable but this time through the lens of the inter-objectivity of the system, or the infrastructure from a 3rd person perspective. This would include the study of both man-made structures like educational structures as well as natural environments. This scientific approach concerns itself with systems and processes, investigating how things work and why they work. 

Those who approach life from an “its” quadrant are concerned with how they fit into the structure of their team, organization, institution or whatever. They want to know how everything works in terms of rules, procedures and systems. They want to know how the group can be facilitated to produce effective collective results. They ask themselves what role they can play to best serve the system. It is through figuring out their role in the system that they will get to know what is important to them. When they find the right functional fit for themselves, they can relax and play their roles. They ask “How do my words and deeds affect the bigger system? My own vision will become clear once I see how it all hangs together”.

These people like books, diagrams and schematics of any kind to understand the big picture.

Understanding and applying this “All Quadrant” part of the AQAL map would produce great empathy. Having identified their own orienting quadrants, teachers could then seek to interpret the world through the eyes of those students who come from radically different orientating quadrants. Teachers would then not be just tangibly looking AT the student’s capabilities but looking AS the student; seeing the world of education through the student’s eyes, the outcome of which can be deep empathy and understanding.      

All Levels

Article 1 in this series on education addressed other aspects of the AQAL framework, including all lines of intelligence. There are considered to be at least 12 major lines of intelligence including cognitive intelligence, self-identity (or ego) development, emotional savvy and the most important of all – spiritual intelligence. It is now beyond doubt that these multiple intelligences undergo stages or levels of development as we evolve throughout the lifespan. 

This knowledge seems to have escaped the notice of the educational system. Accepted academic wisdom would have us believe that we have pretty much completed our developmental potentials by the time we’re around 21 years of age. Teachers since the 1970’s have been indoctrinated by the theories of Piaget (subsequent theories have also been influential but his are still seminal). Piaget devised a model of child development that portrayed a developmental climax at the ‘formal operational’ stage of thinking (such touchy feely language, eh? - completely meaningless to a UL like me). While younger children (7-11 years) tend to think very concretely and specifically (the ‘concrete operational’ stage), the ability to think about abstract concepts emerges during this formal operational stage. Instead of relying solely on previous experiences, children begin to consider possible consequences of actions. This is the kind of thinking that contributes to long-term planning. And that’s usually where it ends as far as the educational establishment is concerned. We are deemed to be fully developed humans when we can think, be logical and plan ahead. And so, of course, stay in our heads, usually worrying about the next exams to pass or the job to find to pay off the student loan for the lousy education. 

If experiencing “Aha” moments is how we wake up, transcending and including each level on the ladder of consciousness is how we grow up. Only the briefest overview of levels of consciousness is given here since further articles will explore this element of the AQAL paradigm in much greater detail. 

Potentials of Consciousness

It is so helpful to understand that individuals are at different stages or levels of consciousness. Stages are fluid and have the capacity to unfold across a spectrum of consciousness ranging in hierarchical order from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit. Each stage of development becomes a whole new way of looking at the world but it also includes those stages that went before it. Note that the spectrum of potentials of consciousness does not stop at mind!

Development also proceeds (unevenly) in each of our multiple lines of intelligence. Let’s take two examples: the cognitive line and the ego line (of personal self-identity). The cognitive line is necessary but not sufficient for all of the potentials of consciousness to be realized. It is necessary quite simply because we have to be able to think of something before we can comprehend it or take action based on it. It has to first be in our awareness. But cognitive development is not sufficient for the unfolding of all inherent potentials of consciousness. Lack of self-awareness in the ego line causes a contraction of self-identity, causing the person to be run by the shadow in habitual and unconscious pattern of reactions.

As mentioned earlier, cognitive development goes from concrete operational thinking (where children can only grasp what is materially in their environment) to formal operational thinking (where they can conceptualize ideas/ events/ phenomena not in their midst). In Integral terms, these are all 1st tier levels of cognitive consciousness. That’s where the story ends for most individuals in the Western world – stuck at the level of formal operational thinking, with its emphasis on rationality. So we move from being pre-rational from birth to around age 7, and then we ascend to the throne of rationality, forever to reign over us. And there the story ends. But a false cap has been placed on consciousness which in fact possesses an inherent impulse to evolve. Education should not only develop cognitive capacities but transform them to 2nd tier levels. 

Meta-awareness is the context in which the mind transcends to 2nd tier levels. Learning to take a meta-view of any situation objectifies it and allows us to manipulate it. This is because when we stand back from the situation and see it from a third-person perspective we are no longer identified with it. It is now seen as an “it” that is not part of ‘me’. We live in such a cognitive culture that we mistake what we think for who we are. We identify so closely with the thoughts in our heads that we believe we are those thoughts. Nothing could be further from the truth but we can only see this mistaken identity when we achieve post-rational, or 2nd tier cognitive capacities. 2nd tier thinking represents a transformational watershed beyond Piaget’s formal operational thinking.

2nd tier thinking transcends rationality. It is marked by the mind that can reconcile either/or opposites to arrive at a unified thinking. It stops thinking in either/ or terms to embrace notions of both/ and in any situation. The 2nd tier thinker has developed a whole new toolkit: the capacity to tolerate paradox and uncertainty without feeling insecure; the ability to withhold premature conclusions; the capacity for meta-thinking, i.e. thinking about thinking; and the ability to take multiple perspectives on any person/ event/ idea/ phenomenon. The outcome is an evolution to post-rational modes of thinking where we actually think for ourselves instead of slavishly following convention. 

In the ego, or self-identity line of development we develop from pre-egoic (where we have no real sense of ourselves as powerful individuals) to egoic where we have a story about who we are. People’s stories are mainly critical and self-sabotaging. But when a strong sense of self and life purpose develops, all this changes. The ego transcends to 2nd tier, post-egoic levels. These are described as trans-personal as we realize that our identity is not confined to our stories about who we are as separate human beings. A self-sense begins to expand beyond the personal, the “skin encapsulated ego", to encompass aspects, or even the whole, of humankind, life, the internal and external universe, and consciousness itself. In Integral terms, more and more of the self can be understood from a meta-perspective and in this way can be accepted and included in the whole spiral of ascending consciousness. 

Why 2nd Tier Levels of Consciousness are so Important

Our world stands at a dangerous crossroads that only a shift in consciousness can avert. Ascending the spectrum of consciousness to post-rational, post-conventional and post-egoic levels has been shown to correlate with a world-centric level of consciousness. As the spiral is ascended, worldviews become more accommodating and less reactive, with enhanced compassion and tolerance for self, the wider community and the whole world, culminating in care and compassion for the whole of creation. This is why encouraging not just the development but the transformation of students’ consciousness is so crucial. But it won’t happen when teachers themselves are ignorant of all the ways of knowing that are available to us and all the levels of consciousness that we may transcend and include. They’re too busy filling up our rational left-brain hemisphere and ignoring every other potential of consciousness.