The Difference between Change and Emergence in Human Development

What does emergence have to do with the education of children, families, and professionals? The current paradigm of learning is logical positivism—something is real, is knowable, if it can be measured, counted and replicated by following a stated methodology. There is a fixed reality and it can be found by using the scientific method.

Emergence is a (relatively) new paradigm. Here is a brief encapsulation of the dynamics of Emergence (capitalized now as it is the proper name of a well-respected paradigm):

Healthy initial conditions + open communication within the environment lead to greater complexity. Greater complexity leads to new healthy initial conditions.

Initial conditions refer to the moment of engagement. Consider your moment as read this. Scanning it at work? In the midst of a rock concert? Quietly concentrating while considering whether Summa is right for your family? Obviously, the conditions in which you engage this blog influence the value of your experience.

Open communication with the environment means the ability to interact with your world in safety and trust. It is a term coined by Noble Laureate Ilya Prigogine for his work with molecules. Prigogine found that molecules in a nurturing environment (initial conditions) select that which allows them to self-organize to greater complexity. Now, more complex forms of molecules emerged. We create open communication at Summa in the space between. Greater complexity means the ability to inhabit a greater variety of niches while bringing forth greater relevance, meaning, and growth—which, of course, is a new healthy initial condition.

Important points to note about Emergence:

  • There is no fixed, final body of knowledge. Paraphrasing renowned physicist/philosopher David Bohm, knowledge itself is emergent. This reveals logical positivism as severely limited which positivism did not predict.

  • Humans are open, dynamic systems continually emerging. (And so we wave goodbye to those who believe that early childhood is everything.)

  • Emergence is non-linear. The results of a given event become the initial conditions for the next event. As entropy only refers to closed linear systems, it is fair to say that the concept of entropy is, well, entropic.

  • Children are emergent beings with the ability to self organize to greater complexity. Dysfunctional behavior rises when initial conditions and open communication are thwarted. Certainly, they are not little vessels waiting to be filled with data.

  • Fixed notions of who the child should be, such as competitor in the global marketplace, undermine learning. Academic excellence thrives in Emergence.

Change that occurs accidentally, or as the result of restricted initial conditions and lack of open communication, leads to less complexity, to dullness, to flat-line.

The Space Between

Music lives in the space between the notes. If we don’t listen into that space we never hear the harmony, the subtle melding in which the richness emerges as our own inner knowing.

I have done this exercise with many: Standing in a field I point in a direction and ask what is seen. Most people name a specific object such as a tree, or a cloud, or a plant. Few, if any, see the space. Yet the space is the ground from which all objects take form.

Self-observation is central to self-knowledge. Conditioning in childhood demands that we see only part of reality—the part which corresponds to dominant cultural agenda whether dictated by family, school, religion, or media, and usually in combination of all or most of these. Self-observation allows us to see clearly who we are in any given moment and thus dissolves conditioning, dissolves the major impediment to self-knowledge. 

Self-observation occurs in the moment. Memory is not always reliable. Nevertheless, self-reflection, as the useful practice of journaling exemplifies, can provide insight into what has occurred and motivation to be more diligent in self-observing. And so before this writing can go any further I must ask you to recall interactions of the past 48 hours. Was there participation in the space between? How do you know? What allowed for it? When it wasn’t there what blocked it?

Let’s eliminate some mistaken notions about the space between. It has nothing to do with compromise or the trivial attempt to “agree to disagree.” Nor can the space between be lived when confusions and insecurities and incompatibilities are supposedly resolved by emphasizing differences and the letting each person go their own way.

Comments such as “we are wired differently” or “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” only create artificial boundaries. They invite isolation rather than connection.

Sometimes it is difficult to enter the space between with the people with whom we are closest. How do we invite as child who does not want to do homework in into the space between? Can we engage our lovers in meaningful dialogue about physical intimacy? Only if we self-observe can we know if are entering the space between.

Here are some blocks to the space between as known to me through self-observation and the feedback: 

What does happen in the space between? Inquiry, inquiry, inquiry. Self-observation—transparency and honesty. Appreciating and participating in differences as a way to understand one another and the wholeness of humanity. Never compromising to make peace but ever committed to remain engaged—to take the bet that wisdom emerges. This wisdom opens to self-knowledge, allows the notes each person sounds to be heard, and if you stay there, if you keep inquiring and listening and observing and participating in the emotions, no matter how challenging, these emotions may create the optimal opportunity, the environment, for self-knowledge.

Love lives in the space between. I am not referring to love, but to Love. I am not referring to affection, to kindness, to caring, to empathy but to Love—Love that arises in emptiness, Love that destroys conceptions, Love for which surrender is required and then takes more than you ever thought you had to give and yet would gladly give again and again.

May this writing serve to spark an interest to awaken the space between in all relationships.

Love and Wisdom

It is the responsibility of every educator to bring their understanding of love and wisdom to their practice. With that responsibility comes freedom; freedom to participate in wisdom-based relationships, freedom to create meaningful curricula and perhaps most importantly, freedom to nurture, deepen and expand their own love and their own wisdom.

If you need to ask why should you engage the responsibility/freedom of knowing and expressing love and wisdom than you are a teacher, not an educator. An educator “draws forth”; a teacher “trains, assigns, directs, warns and persuades.”

I am not going to tell you, or anyone, what wisdom and love is. That’s for each of us to uncover. I can, however, tell you some of what it is not for an educator. And I will.

Blocks to Wisdom and Love in Education

Block #1—Belief in Programs and Research 

Wisdom and Love never reside in a program. Wisdom and love are not guaranteed by inquiry, Project Based Learning, experiential learning, service based learning, wilderness programs, technology or whatever the next wave brings. Nor does the end of standardized testing, information about brain research, smaller class sizes, eliminating bullying, eating healthier foods, or caring for the environment bring forth love and wisdom.

More catastrophic, belief by the instructor programs and research destroys whatever opportunity there might have been for wisdom and love to emerge. Few circumstances objectify a student more than their teacher shifting responsibility for their development to a program, or to the results of a research study.

Block #2—Belief in Agendas

Belief in the educational agenda of the district, city, state, and nation reinforces the catastrophe. If an educator accepts Common Core, if they accept that the aim of education is to turn children into competitors in the global marketplace then they live as teachers. Wisdom, love, and relationship do not manifest.

Belief in agenda combined with belief in programs adds up to exalting students who “succeed” in these proscribed arenas. Others are left behind. The cultural priorities are reinforced. The blindness to racial and gender prejudice is reinforced. Emotional intelligence ignored, interpersonal dynamics suffocated. There is an agenda, a program to support that agenda, and those who fit the parameters are the bright ones. Repeating a judgment of overseers in American education dating back to the Revolutionary War, educate the bright ones, that is, the ones who exemplify the dominant cultural paradigm. The rest are only going to be tradespeople anyway. 

Block #3—Glorifying Skills and Talents

Every child has a gift, a unique combination of skills and talents that can bring success and happiness. Finding that gift and creating opportunities for its expression allow student and educator to thrive. Prowess at athletics, or computers, or chess, or violin, or any other skill or talent should be engaged.

Glorifying skills, however, teaches the child that their identity is the skill. Yet each of us is much more than any skill, no matter how abundant the reward for that skill. Consider the difference between introducing a student and then attaching their skill set to that introduction (I’d like you to meet Mary, our star female basketball player) and simply introducing the student (I’d like you to meet Mary.) 

The Big Block—Objectification

Believing in a program, buying into an agenda, and glorifying the skills and talents of students share in the most egregious impediment to wisdom and love in education: objectification of the student. No one is an “it”. No one can be known when they are viewed as competitors in the global marketplace, examples of a program, or superior because of their talent and skill..

We are NOT what we do. We are. What we do is secondary and the result of a complex array of factors that include natural skills, socio-economic background, cultural preferences (and biases), and family dynamics. Even if we could parse and organize these factors there yet lies a mystery as to the nature of existence and the conditions in which wisdom and love emerge. Objectification denies the mystery and ignores the socio-economic factors while pretending that we should be known and educated by what we do. And in so doing misses who we are.

The Importance of Educators

Natural Learning Relationships includes this maxim: Capacities are innate; development depends upon relationship. Without educators, without those willing to live wisdom and love in their learning world then the capacities for wisdom and love do not flourish.

A Final Note

And, as a final note, a quote from Goethe:


We only learn from those we love.

Spirituality and Holistic Education

Spirituality is integral to Holistic Education. For most, spirituality is either consigned to religion or ignored as essential to education. The question naturally arises: Is it possible to include a secular, non-sectarian, spirituality in education? And, as spirituality defies specific definition, is there agreement about what it is, and how to incorporate it.

Meetings with Remarkable Educators tackles these questions directly. Here is a brief sampling of insights that emerged during recording.

Tobin Hart, professor of psychology at West Georgia University, focuses on the challenges of bringing spirituality to education. His interview is a treasure chest of understanding. A brief excerpt:

It is so tricky, isn’t it [to bring spiritual and education together]. I mean, in a largely secular world to be able to talk about that. I think the thing though that is really common, and that folks can pretty easily get is that we have both moments, and feelings, and also values that are deeply meaningful…. And particularly when there's a spirituality that's really about things like authenticity, and individuality, and creative expression, and then there's a part of a spirituality that's also about interconnection, and receiving, and surrender and that kind of thing.

Tobin goes on to talk about “embodied spirituality”, and how that can be actualized in classrooms for all ages.

Josette and I have had the honor to facilitate Rites of Passage for children, adults, and whole families. We have always wished that they become incorporated in schools. Thankfully, Rachel Kessler led the way with the Mysteries program. She has passed away so you can imagine our delight in finding Shauna Sorce and her work with middle school children and Rites of Passage. She sees this a way to bring spirituality to education. The interview specifies how she does it. Here’s why:

I'm doing it because I didn't have a Rite of Passage as a teenager. I had this deep, heartfelt longing for a mentor or a guide…somebody that I could trust, and put my faith in, and believe in and go to 100%. And I didn't have that… I longed for some kind of an initiation…and a wise elder to guide me. And for lack of having that soul in me nurtured through school, or through home, I sought it out on my own, and it wasn't always in the safest or positive, nurturing ways.

Marni Binder, professor and educator of young children, spent 23 years teaching before she “realized something was missing.” I was surprised as she had already included profound commitment to social justice. Loved by her students, secure in her profession, she experienced an extraordinary transformation. Here’s a brief anecdote from her interview describing a moment of realization:

I remember being in a meeting with my primary teachers and our Ministry of Education in Ontario in Canada stated that we have to teach the whole child. I thought,, "Wait a minute." When I asked people if they could tell me, what they thought that meant? Really what they were talking about was integrating. They were talking about some of the domains, but the spirit of the child was missing. And so that to me, that piece of identity and soul, and who that child is, which is so wrapped up in the spirituality of that child, that was the missing piece.

She goes on to describe how she changed her practice based on this insight.

I could on and on. There’s Jack Miller specifying holistic pedagogy that has influenced literally thousands of teachers. And Paul Freedman speaking of spirituality as naturally emerging in children when the school creates the proper nurturing environment. In short, every interview contains insights, practical suggestions, real life stories, and appreciation for integrating spirituality and education.

We look forward to sharing these with you, and for your feedback. Meetings with Remarkable Educators is about connection and community. We wish you our very best.

The Secret of Their Happiness

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As you might expect, Holistic Educators face many challenges. So where did all the joy and laughter come from during these interviews? I didn’t encounter folks stressed or pessimistic about their efforts, their schools, or their future. Even though we explored many of the challenges, I walked away feeling from each recording feeling light, alive, and unreasonably happy.

So as I listened to the recordings while editing I selected comments that might reveal the secret to joy that they shared. In the end I believe I discovered the secret.

Debbie Millon and Marni Binder told of knowing that something was missing and that something needed to be found. They went back to school, sought Holistic Education colleagues, risked money and job status and seniority. I find it compellingly interesting that their fields of engagement are so different. Debbie is Head of School at Wingra; Marnie is both a professor at Ryerson University and teaches art through holistic practices.

That diversity of interest and expression can be seen everywhere in Holistic Education. Most see the importance of parents and parenting. Our very own Josette has taken this as her vocation. Like Debbie and Marni, knew she had to reshape the understanding of the possibilities in parenting.  Amazingly, parents who engage holistic child development can access greater cognitive and emotional understanding. The surprise: beyond that they can access wisdom. Wisdom-based relationship in families—amazing.

Then there’s Jack Miller telling us of his 12 years working with students and administrators in the frozen north of Canada as a laboratory in which the need and possibility of Holistic Education appeared. Phil Gang credits the inspiration and much of the material for his film Educating Eco-Sapiens, with creative revelations as he grieved the passing of his adored wife.

As for me, it’s been in my bones for the whole of my life. Circumstances eroded the buffers; expression instantly followed.  

This is a taste of some of the educators you will meet when listening to Meetings with Remarkable Educators.

And the secret? I guess my italics have given away it away. There is great joy in connecting to deeper meaning and purpose. That joy somehow includes a willingness to engage challenges as opportunities and the courage to fully live life.

Five Sad Sights

The Five Saddest Sights for an Aware Educator

  1. Overwhelmed teachers unable to develop relationships with each student

  2. Students ashamed of their grades and lying

  3. Teachers and parents colluding to spur student’s academic interest by rewards and punishments

  4. Fear and loathing as standardized tests loom

  5. Teacher initiative stymied

The Five Saddest Sights for an Aware Parent

  1. Physically threatened children

  2. Teachers heartfelt lament that they cannot organize curriculum to meet the child’s needs

  3. Students cliques on the playground

  4. Pedophiles ubiquitous presence in society

  5. Children craving junk (fast) food

The Five Saddest Sights for an Aware Independent School Administrator

  1. Parents clamoring motivated by fear

  2. Boredom during Board of Directors meeting

  3. Educator justifying non-relational behavior with student or parent

  4. The Fire Marshall frowning

  5. Students arriving unkempt, unfed, and unhappy

What Turns a Teacher into an Educator?

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Etymologically, a teacher is one who “points out”, who “says.” An educator is one who draws forth—a galactic difference. How does a person gain the escape velocity to leave the culturally sanctioned teacher and attain orbit as the freer Holistic Educator?

What happens? In most of the recordings for the coming podcasts I asked that question of the Holistic Educators. Their answers surprised me.

Several had been teachers for years in mainstream schools. They had tenure, decent incomes, pensions, and success in delivering the curriculum to students. In a word, they were set. And yet, they left that security, and incurring significant expense, went back to school to get advanced degrees in Holistic Education. They reengaged students as educators, often working in Independent Schools or Charter Schools. Why?

One educator said: “Something was missing and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I read that Holistic Education includes the spiritual nature of the child. Whoa! Can that be done without organized religion? And then I knew that I had been trying to do exactly that my whole career but was stymied again and again by the rules, regs, and tests I had to live by. That was it. I was done. I went home and told my partner. He just smiled and we took out the budget to reorganize our finances.”

Another said: “Intense spiritual practice removed the blocks. I looked around. There are many possibilities for adults but few for children. And yet all agree that wounding in childhood leads to problems for adults. I went where the need is greatest.”

There are other perspectives; you can find one in just about every podcast. But I cannot resist one more:

“I don’t know how, why, or when. But now I don’t know how I could have seen it any other way.”

On Imagination, Inspiration, and Transcendence

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Richard Lewis is a brilliant educator who has spent more than 50 years awakening, deepening, and using experiential learning to nurture the child’s natural capacity of Imagination. Listen to his podcast, #25, on Meetings with Remarkable Educators. It’s guaranteed to stimulate your imagination as well.

Natural Learning Relationships, the holistic appreciation of child development championed by Josette and me, holds imagination in high regard. Imagination is operative and creative throughout life; yet it is its moment of dominance during 8 to 12 years of age. We call that stage FeelingBeing and in FeelingBeing Imagination, Inspiration, and Transcendence from a trinity of optimal well-being and spiritual growth for the child.

FeelingBeing is the least understood of all the life stages. Perhaps the least understood aspect of FeelingBeing is its capacity to be inspired, and once truly inspired, to feel transcendence. Imagination is the natural capacity to form new ideas, images, or actions not present to the sense. Inspiration refers to creativity and appreciation of the sacred. Transcendence means lying beyond the ordinary range of perception. FeelingBeing children, then, have the capacity feel beyond themselves, beyond typical material perceptions, and into the subtle connections that all life shares.

To illustrate, here is a story of the great, great philosopher, humanist, and spiritual sage Martin Buber. This story shows the feeling basis of his profound insight into the sacred nature of relationship. Those familiar with Optimal Parenting know that I used Buber’s I-Thou philosophy to describe the spiritual development of children.

When I was 11 years of age, spending the summer on my grandparent’s estate, I used, as often as I could do it unobserved, to steal into the stable and gently stroke the neck of my darling, a board dapple-grey horse. . . . What I experienced in touch with the animal was the Other, the immense otherness of the Other, which, however, did not remain strange like the otherness of the ox and the ram, but rather let me draw near and touch it. . . something that was not I, was certainly not akin to me . . . and yet it let me approach, confided itself to me , , , placed itself. . . in the relation of Thou and Thou with me . . . The horse, even when I had not begun by pouring oats for him into the manger, very gently raised his massive head . . . But one . . . it struck me about the stroking, what fun it gave me, and suddenly I became conscious of my hand. . . . It was no longer the same thing.

Growing our Imagination is Powerful

by: Josette Luvmour with excerpts from the Richard Lewis interview 11/27/18

The man who has no imagination, has no wings.

~ Muhammad Ali

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The innate ability to imagine influences everything we do, think, dream, and create. Richard Lewis has worked in public schools for over 50 years to bring forth the incredible natural ability of imagination in children and adults. Moreover, he attracts a multi-talented group of artists to help him in this important work. Working with children from the youngest (in kindergarten) to the oldest (even adults), he said,

…the imagination is a natural act of being. It's not a segment of thought, but it might be the very nature of thought itself. And if that's the case, then it opens up a whole level of thinking by the child to see that they have a sense of control, a sense of empathy with their imaginative life.

A hidden gem in Richard’s interview is when he talks about teacher workshops in which he uses the same process that he uses with children to re-activate their adult imaginations. In his interview, Richard showed us how adults develop and grow beyond their fears. He said,

In the same way that the child is afraid, the adult is often afraid.

…sometimes they [teachers] get so excited. … that we can't stop them. It's almost as if they've rediscovered their own marvelous sense of childhood and it’s a way of perceiving.

I always comment on that and I say, "Well in a way it's that the link to childhood doesn't end. It's a continuous process." So that even though you were perhaps put in a position where you were being asked a question that I asked of children, that your ability to visualize and to imagine is still there, and it's still as powerful as ever as it was in childhood.

In my life, I have held many positions from mother, to teacher, program director, teacher-trainer, professor, and board member (to name a few). The job was always more interesting and fulling the more I allowed myself freedom to express my imagination.  Engagements that invigorate my imagination these days include my hobbies of seamstress, garden-maven, and caring for my two creative and robust granddaughters. I’ll grant there are many mistakes but with imagination, turning mistakes into new creations is satisfying.

Our ability to be imaginative doesn’t have to diminish as we grow older. From the fields of academia, to business, to parenting or teaching, and to the arts, imagination is essential to the emergence of great ideas. Rediscovering our imagination can happen in our relationships with the children and grandchildren we play with, and that may help each new generation change the world. What about you guys? What do you do with your imagination?