|A Holistic Education|
In Aldous Huxley's Island utopia, the school principal Mrs. Narayan explained their educational approach to the outsider Will Farnaby. Their philosophy avoided the fallacy of either extreme of the rational intuitive continuum. With a holistic education, the student's scientific and artistic possibilities were evoked. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 113)
"Every course the children take is punctuated by periodical bridge building sessions. Everything from dissected frogs to the spiral nebulae, it all gets looked at receptively as well as conceptually, as a fact of aesthetic or spiritual experience as well as in terms of science or history or economics. Training in receptivity is the complement and antidote to training in analysis and symbol manipulation. Both kinds of training are absolutely indispensable. If you neglect either of them you'll never grow into a fully human being."
There was a silence. "How should one look at other people?" Will asked at last. "Should one take the Freud's eye view or the Cézanne's eye view? The Proust's eye view or the Buddha's eye view?"
Mrs. Narayan laughed. "Which view are you taking of me?" she asked.
"Primarily, I suppose, the sociologist's eye view," he answered. "I'm looking at you as the representative of an unfamiliar culture. But I'm also being aware of you receptively. Thinking, if you don't mind my saying so, that you seem to have aged remarkably well. Well aesthetically, well intellectually and psychologically, and well spiritually, whatever that word means and if I make myself receptive it means something important. Whereas, if I choose to project instead of taking in, I can conceptualize it into pure nonsense." He uttered a mildly hyenalike laugh.
"If one chooses to," said Mrs. Narayan, "one can always substitute a bad ready made notion for the best insights of receptivity. The question is; why should one want to make that kind of choice? Why shouldn't one choose to listen to both parties and harmonize their views? The analyzing tradition bound concept maker and the alertly passive insight receiver - neither is infallible; but both together can do a reasonably good job."
"Just how effective is your training in the art of being receptive?" Will now enquired.
"There are degrees of receptivity," she answered. "Very little of it in a science lesson, for example. Science starts with observation; but the observation is always selective. You have to look at the world through a lattice of projected concepts. Then you take the moksha medicine, and suddenly there are hardly any concepts. You don't select and immediately classify what you experience; you just take it in. It's like that poem of Wordsworth's, 'Bring with you a heart; that watches and receives.' "
"In these bridge building sessions I've been describing there's still quite a lot of busy selecting and projecting, but not nearly so much as in the preceding science lessons. The children don't suddenly turn into little Tathagatas; they don't achieve the pure receptivity that comes with the moksha medicine. Far from it. All one can say is that they learn to go easy on names and notions. For a little while they're taking in a lot more than they give out."
"What do you make them do with what they've taken in?"
"We merely ask them," Mrs. Narayan answered, with a, smile, "to attempt the impossible. The children are told to translate their experience into words. As a piece of pure unconceptualized giveness, what is this flower, this dissected frog, this planet at the other end of the telescope? What does it mean? What does it make you think, feel, imagine, remember? Try to put it down on paper. You won't succeed, of course; but try all the same. It'll help you to understand the difference between words and events, between knowing about things and being acquainted with them.' "
" 'And when you've finished writing,' we tell them, 'look at the flower again and, after you've looked, shut your eyes for a minute or two. Then draw what came to you when your eyes were closed. Draw whatever it may have been - something vague or vivid, something like the flower itself or something entirely different. Draw what you saw or even what you didn't see, draw it and color it with your paints or crayons."
"Then take another rest and, after that, compare your first drawing with the second; compare the scientific description of the flower with what you wrote about it when you weren't analyzing what you saw, when you behaved as though you didn't know anything about the flower and just permitted the mystery of its existence to come to you, like that, out of the blue. Then compare your drawings and writings with the drawings and writings of the other boys and girls in the class. You'll notice that the analytical descriptions and illustrations are very similar, whereas the drawings and writings of the other kind are very different one from another."
"How is all this connected with what you have learned in school, at home, in the jungle, in the temple? Dozens of questions, and all of them insistent. The bridges have to be built in all directions. One starts with botany - or any other subject in the school curriculum - and one finds oneself, at the end of a bridge building session, thinking about the nature of language, about different kinds of experience, about metaphysics and the conduct of life, about analytical knowledge and the wisdom of the Other Shore."