Galileo Quick Reference Training Services 09

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1

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Thanks are due to:
Schumacher College, Dartington, for providing a haven to think and write, and for
inspiration and support that helped carry me through
Bill Scott, for his guidance and encouragement
Alan Reid, for reading the script and providing valuable comment
John Baines, for formatting the script
and especially my family, particularly Deborah for her constant love and support,
throughout what has been a long and challenging time for all of us 2

ABSTRACT
WHOLE SYSTEMS THINKING AS A BASIS FOR PARADIGM CHANGE IN
EDUCATION: EXPLORATIONS IN THE CONTEXT OF SUSTAINABILITY
The main research problem is why education as a whole, and environmental and sustainability
education in particular, are limited in their ability to make a positive difference to the human or
environmental prospect by helping assure a more sustainable future - and what bases and
qualities of change might lead them to become more transformative in this regard. The research
takes a systems view of the subject matter, and five nesting contextual levels are explored:
1. the nature of what appears to be an emerging postmodern ecological worldview (PEW)
and, by implication, the nature of paradigm change through learning;
2. the nature of whole systems thinking;
3. implications of 1.and 2. for change to the dominant educational paradigm;
4. the revisioning of environmental and sustainability education, seen as a subsystem of
education as a whole.
5. the nature of sustainability, which provides an integrative and overriding context for the
research.
The structure of the Thesis reflects these nesting levels.
The difference between ‘systems as discipline’, and ‘systems as worldview’ is elaborated, and
the historical and current bases of a more encompassing whole systems thinking that reflects
and articulates an emergent PEW and participative epistemology are explored. Whole systems
thinking is presented as a critical syncretisation of the worldview of ecological thought
(ecologism), of a co-evolutionary ontology, and the methodology of systems approaches. The
PEW is seen as manifesting a third order of change which transcends and subsumes the
antecedent yet still current cultural ‘moments’ of modernism (first order) and of deconstructive
postmodernism (second order).

A key three-part model of paradigm and experience is developed alongside Bateson’s theory of
staged learning levels, and these models are discussed as a basis for understanding
transformative learning beyond the limits of modernism and mechanism, of postmodernism and
text, and building on insights from revisionary postmodernism, systemisism, ecologism, and
complexity theory. These ideas are employed to explore the difficulties, implications and
possibility of intentioned paradigm change in education as a whole and in research paradigms.
This discussion is then applied in more detail to the area of revisioning environmental and
sustainability education, including implications for design and management.

Keywords: postmodern ecological worldview, epistemology, systems thinking, whole
systems thinking, holism, sustainability, complexity, paradigm and paradigm change,
epistemic and transformative learning, educational change and management,
educational design. 3

LIST OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ............................................................................................ 1
ABSTRACT.................................................................................................................. 2
WHOLE SYSTEMS THINKING AS A BASIS FOR PARADIGM CHANGE IN
EDUCATION: EXPLORATIONS IN THE CONTEXT OF SUSTAINABILITY .......... 2
PREAMBLE ................................................................................................................. 7
1.1 Aim of the Thesis 7
1.2 Summary of the argument 7
1.3 Some key ideas 10
1.4 My story 13
1.5 Framing the research - asking the questions 25
1.6 Achievement 26
1.7 To the reader 27
1.8 A last word 27
PART A – INTRODUCTION ....................................................................................... 28
Introduction 28
1 RATIONALE ..................................................................................................... 29
1.1 The focus and scope of the research 29
1.2 Relevance and significance 54
1.3 The context of the research 55
1.4 Research questions 57
2 METHODOLOGY ............................................................................................. 61
2.1 Placing the research methodology 61
2.2 Methodological issues 68
2.3 Reliability and validity 77
2.4 Organisation of the thesis 79
3 INTRODUCING THE FIELD ............................................................................. 83
3.1 Key concepts 84
3.2 The calls for new thinking 97
3.3 Systems thinking and changes in worldview 100
3.4 Paradigm change 106
3.5 Levels of learning 108
3.6 The educational context 111
3.7 Summary of research field 113 4

4 THE BASIC PROPOSITIONS......................................................................... 114
PART B - WORLDVIEWS IN CHANGE ................................................................... 117
Introduction 117
1 THE EMERGENCE OF THE POSTMODERN ECOLOGICAL WORLDVIEW . 117
1.1 Examining the concepts of worldview and paradigm 117
1.2 Modes of thinking and thought as a system 122
1.3 The nature of paradigm change and Bateson’s learning levels 127
1.4 The bases of the Western worldview 141
1.5 The postmodern condition, deconstructionism and revisionary postmodernism
147
1.6 The postmodern ecological worldview - looking at essential ideas 157
1.7 Evidence of the postmodern ecological worldview in cultural change........... 173
1.8 The manifestation of the postmodern ecological worldview in the sustainability
debate 179
2 SYSTEMS THINKING IN CHANGE................................................................ 189
2.1 Evolutionary change in systems thinking 189
2.2 Towards whole systems thinking 196
3 EDUCATION AND CHANGE.......................................................................... 203
3.1 Education ‘in’ and ‘for’ change 204
3.2 The ‘ecology’ of educational systems 206
3.3 The restructuring of education in the postmodern world 209
3.4 The limits to education as an instrument for sustainable development......... 220
3.5 Calls for change in education 222
4 ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION IN CHANGE............................................... 224
4.1 The limits of environmental education in relation to sustainability 224
4.2 Searching for systems thinking and for ecological thinking in environmental
education 231
5 A SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION................................................................. 234
PART C - WHOLE SYSTEMS THINKING IN EDUCATION AND LEARNING ......... 236
Introduction 236
1 THE EDUCATION PARADIGM DISCOURSE................................................. 236
1.1 Educational paradigm: modelling, maintenance and movement 236
1.2 A brief review of paradigm discourse in research and education 243
1.3 Limits and learning in paradigm discourse 247 5

2 EVIDENCE OF AND ARGUMENTS FOR A MORE SYSTEMIC EDUCATIONAL
PARADIGM ....................................................................................................... 251
2.1 Antecedents 252
2.2 Systemic views of a transformed and transforming education 254
2.3 The ecological education paradigm 263
2.4 Transformative learning, systemic change and sustainability 279
3 CHANGE AND MANAGEMENT ................................................................. 300
3.1 Theory of systemic management and change 300
4 SUMMARY .................................................................................................... 308
PART D – REVISIONING ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION THROUGH WHOLE
SYSTEMS THINKING .............................................................................................. 309
Introduction 309
1 ENVIRONMENTAL AND SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATION PARADIGMS ....... 309
1.1 Reviewing the paradigm debate in environmental and sustainability education
309
1.2 Towards a whole systems thinking paradigm for environmental and
sustainability education 324
1.3 Design and the learning situation 334
2 THEORY AND PRACTICE ............................................................................. 338
2.1 Looking at feedback 338
2.2 Towards the sustainable institution 342
3 SUMMARY ..................................................................................................... 344
PART E – CONCLUSION......................................................................................... 345
Introduction 345
1 PARADIGM CHANGE, LEARNING AND THE META-PATTERN ................... 345
2 ISSUES AND REFLECTIONS ........................................................................ 351
2.1 Issues 351
2.2 Reflections 355
3 FURTHER RESEARCH PATHS..................................................................... 356
4 CONCLUSION................................................................................................ 357
REFERENCES ......................................................................................................... 360 6

APPENDIX I - ELABORATION OF WHOLE SYSTEMS THINKING ........................ 396
Introduction 396
1 THE BASES OF WHOLE SYSTEMS THINKING............................................ 396
1.1 Systems thinking (and systemic thinking) 396
1.2 Indigenous worldviews and perennial wisdom 402
1.3 The Western organicist tradition, holism and ecologism 406
1.4 Complexity theory and holistic science 415
2 A WHOLE SYSTEMS MODEL........................................................................ 420
2.1 A triadic whole - Seeing, Knowing, Doing 421
‘Seeing’ domain 424
‘Knowing’ domain 424
‘Doing’ domain 424
3 WHOLE SYSTEMS THINKING AND SUSTAINABILITY................................. 432
3.1 Seeing - epistemology and perception 433
3.2 Knowing - the connective meta-pattern 437
3.3 Doing - Sustainable development: design and management 441
3.4 The whole systems thinker 450
4 SUMMARY OF APPENDIX I........................................................................... 452
APPENDIX II (FOOTNOTES AND DIAGRAMS) ..................................................... 453
PART A.................................................................................................................... 453
1 RATIONALE ................................................................................................... 453
1.1 The focus and scope of the inquiry 453
PART B .................................................................................................................... 454
1 THE EMERGENCE OF THE POSTMODERN ECOLOGICAL WORLDVIEW . 454
1.6 The postmodern ecological worldview – looking at essential ideas 454
1.7 Evidence of the postmodern ecological worldview in cultural change........... 455
PART C .................................................................................................................... 467
2.3 The ecological education paradigm 468
Essential management differences between mechanistic and ecological models of
education........................................................................................................... 476

7


PREAMBLE

Purpose: to provide a perspective which places the origins of the Thesis and the
nature of the inquiry into the context of personal experience.
1.1 Aim of the Thesis
The aim of the Thesis is:

To identify and clarify the nature of the shift of consciousness and cultural paradigm
that appears necessary to the sustainability transition, through first, an exploration of
the potential thought bases for this shift, and secondly, the development of conceptual
tools and models for thinking about both the shift and the kinds of change in our
collective view of education and learning that may be required to assist such a
transition. In sum, I seek to reflect and develop an emerging ‘theory of relation’ able to
transcend the dominant paradigm.
1.2 Summary of the argument

What is the nature of the change of consciousness that appears necessary to
the achievement of a more ecologically sustainable society? What changes
may be required in the way we view and practice education and learning if they
are to contribute fundamentally to such a change of consciousness?

These core questions have been at the heart of my professional practice and personal
interest for more than three decades, and continue to occupy my energies and inform
my sense of purpose. I see the questions as co-dependent, and paradoxical. This is
because learning is fundamental to significant consciousness change, yet such
consciousness change affects our view of the nature of learning, from a functional view
towards a transformational view. This Thesis is presented as a partial summary of my
own learning journey to date. I believe the Thesis as a whole goes some way to
answering these core questions and illuminating their relationship. There are of course,
no definitive or complete answers, but there are directions, concepts, and arguments,
which I hope, as presented here, may help others evolve their own answers and
practices in a spirit of collaborative movement through which education ‘can serve as 8

the core of a lifelong journey towards wholeness’ (Glazer, 1999, 3), and towards a
more ecologically sustainable future.

The key questions cannot be simply or briefly answered, not least because they
concern cultural, social and personal change that is at once fundamental, urgent and
contentious. Therefore an inquiry that is wide-ranging, yet coherent and creative is
required, and I have endeavoured to meet these demands. The broad scope of the
inquiry follows from the approach I have employed which is informed by a systemic and
co-evolutionary perspective whereby each identified focus is seen as influenced by its
wider context, which in turn becomes the next focus. Therefore, I look at but also
beyond my immediate professional field, which is environmental education, and view it
within the larger context of debate and movement concerning dominant paradigms
operating in education as a whole. This in turn is seen within the contextual framework
of cultural change represented in the discourse of modernism and postmodernism. It is
thus necessary to consider each contextual level to provide - as far as is reasonable
and manageable - a whole picture of constraints, movement and possibilities which can
then inform more detailed discussion.

Within postmodernism, I distinguish between deconstructionism and revisionary
postmodernism, the latter suggesting an emerging, fragile, yet potent ‘postmodern
ecological worldview’, which has profound implications for the visioning and realisation
of a more sustainable society and future. The current of gradual but hesitant cultural
change in Western society, through modernism and deconstructionism towards an
ecologically informed revisionary postmodernism, I view as a deep learning journey
through which earlier ‘moments’ and metaphors are not abandoned but become
subsumed within a larger framework of understanding and meaning. I argue that such
learning might either be contingent (by default, arising from our response to crisis) or
intentional (learning by design, and so involving educational policy, theory and
practice). I suggest the latter journey may be assisted and accelerated through the
elaboration, articulation and employment of what I term ‘whole systems thinking’, and in
this argument I echo a small but significant group of leading commentators concerned
by global conditions of unsustainability, inequity and environmental degradation, who
argue that these conditions can only be adequately addressed through a fundamental
change towards more relational thinking and an integrative consciousness which is
both critical and deeply connective. Essentially, this is a change in epistemology - of
knowing ‘more wholly’ - which is both inspired by and manifests the postmodern
ecological worldview, equivalent to what Gregory Bateson called a ‘recursive’ or 9

‘ecological epistemology’ (Bateson and Bateson 1988). I argue that ‘whole systems
thinking’ arises from a desirable syncretisation of the concepts, tools and
methodologies of systems thinking and the vision, values, and philosophy of ecological
thought - movements which are otherwise often perceived and practised separately, to
the detriment of both. These, and some of the other main roots and antecedents of this
holistic epistemology - systems thinking, indigenous thought, the organicist tradition in
Western science and philosophy, environmentalism, and the emerging complexity
sciences - are outlined and discussed in more detail in Appendix I.

In essence, whole systems thinking involves an extension of perception, a quality of
connection in our conceptual thinking, and integration in our planning and actions
towards healthy systems - given that, in Bawden’s words (2000a, 5), “actions are
invariably also interactions”. This triadic model of three interpenetrating dimensions of
worldview change - summarised as ‘Seeing’, ‘Knowing’ and ‘Doing’ - is a central and
recurrent theme in the Thesis. I argue that whole systems thinking both arises from and
can assist paradigm change at collective and individual level, and suggests a shift of
emphasis of cultural root metaphor from mechanism, and more latterly, text, towards
organicism or a living systems metaphor. The theory of staged learning levels towards
deeper learning developed by Gregory Bateson (1972) and echoed and adapted by
others, is employed to shed light on the nature of the learning experience that
paradigm change appears to involve, and this theory is supplemented with ideas about
learning emerging from complexity theory and the ‘biology of cognition’. The triadic
model of paradigm and experience is revisited and employed in Appendix I to illustrate
further this shift of worldview and a pattern of relationship between this model and
Bateson’s model of staged learning levels is suggested. In addition, the model is
employed and substantiated through discussion of aspects of sustainability.

Throughout the Thesis, an evolutionary and emergent view of paradigm change is
suggested as a more prevalent pattern of cultural change, in contrast to the Kuhnian
revolutionary view of successive incommensurable paradigms which tends to be
reflected in social science discourse (Kuhn 1962). The significance of this is that the
evolutionary view acknowledges the partial validity of multiple preceding views and
stresses the role of learning. Hence the methodology of the Thesis does not seek, for
example, to affirm the ecological paradigm by simply negating mechanistic and
dualistic thought, but by building from their partial validity. I argue that the three
components of any paradigm may be seen as ethos (the affective, belief and imaginal
dimension), eidos (the dimension of ideas and concepts) and praxis (the dimension of