Connections are the Solution
to Life and Learning
By Wendy Priesnitz
“Only by restoring the
broken connections can we be healed.” ~ Wendell Berry
Life learning recognizes the connections among all
aspects of life and knowledge in a way that schooling, with its subjects
and classes and grades cannot. It is, in that sense, holistic...and, in
my opinion, is what makes it so effective and so important to healing the
The philosopher Aristotle introduced the principle
of holism in his treatise Metaphysics, where he wrote, “The whole is more
than the sum of its parts.” The actual term “holistic” was coined by South
African soldier, statesman and scholar Jan Smuts in the early 1920s. His
definition was, “The tendency in Nature to form wholes that are greater
than the sum of their parts, through creative evolution.”
For clarity, I prefer to use the word “wholistic.”
But either way, we mean the consideration of the whole and the interconnections
between the parts of the whole. Alternative medicine practitioners, for
instance, adopt a wholistic approach to healing, which emphasizes the emotional,
mental, spiritual, and physical elements of the patient, and treat the whole
person rather than just their symptoms – that is, they realize that a person
is more than the sum of their parts.
This idea of interconnectedness has been the foundation
of my company Life Media since my life and business partner Rolf and I launched
it in 1976. We promote a wholistic approach to family life, based on the
understanding that everything is connected and, therefore, alive – hence
our use of the now much-abused word “natural” as part of two of our magazine
titles (Natural Life and Natural Child) and word “life” in another (Life
As I write, I am conscious of the need – in our disconnected,
disjointed, and highly specialized society – to remind ourselves of how
the various aspects of life are woven together…education into health, shelter
and food production into recycling and parenting, and so on. And, within
education, the things we call “subjects” are not at all separate entities,
but interconnected parts of the whole of human knowledge and should not
stand alone with disconnected labels.
When we lose our understanding of the interconnections
among all the aspects of life – as I believe we have done – our personal
lives and our communities lose a great deal more. Our artificial distance
from Nature – as something out there, rather than something that includes
us – contributes to problems in many spheres, including economics, health,
environment, government, and education.
When Nature becomes an abstraction, it’s not just
our children who suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder.” Our lack of connection
with the natural world allows us to forget our place in Nature, our dependence
on it, and the interdependence of all its parts.
The interdependence between natural processes and
human ways of living has been called “ecological literacy” by systems theorist
Frijtof Capra and environmental educator David Orr. Lacking this ecological
literacy, we have created processes and ways of living that are destroying
the ecosystem’s ability to support human life. Increasing our ecological
literacy is allowing us to create the tools to make the transition to sustainability…providing
we also cultivate the will to put the knowledge into practice.
My hope is that we can learn from the despair of
climate change and economic disaster, and gain inspiration from Nature’s
respect for limits, from its resilience, and from its ability to regenerate.
There is hope in our understanding of the importance of interdependence.
And there is healing in nurturing the “green shoots” of our connections
and re-connection with Nature.
Perhaps life learning, with its awareness of connections –
that life cannot sensibly be divided up into arbitrary and disconnected
categories – will help light the way to a wholistic healing of our
society and our planet.
Wendy Priesnitz is the founder and editor of Life Learning Magazine. She is the
mother of two adult daughters who learned without school, has been an advocate
of self-directed education for over 45 years, and is the author of 13 books.
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