What’s love got to do with education?

  • Author Dr Jennifer Gidley
  • Source Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures
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What’s Love got to do with Education?

 By Dr. Jennifer M. Gidley

 Dear friends working in Steiner schools,

I want to let you know about my new book: Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures. It is drawn from my Steiner-inspired PhD on evolution of consciousness and its implications for education. One of the main purposes of my book is to present Steiner philosophy and pedagogy in a way suited to the 21st century.

This short blog piece is extracted from the book.

            In a world of high-stakes testing, league tables for primary schools as well as universities, funding cuts, teacher shortages, mass shootings in school campuses, and rising rates of depression and suicide among students who miss out on university entrance, how do we decide what should be the core values in education?

            I believe the most important value that is largely missing from education today is what I call pedagogical love. In Chapter 8 of Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures, I explain why love should be at centre-stage in education. I introduce contemporary educational approaches that support a caring pedagogy, and some experiences and examples from my own and others’ practice, ending with some personal reflections on the theme.

            Why do we want to educate with and for love? We live in a cynical global world with a dominant culture that does not value care and empathy. We live under the blanket of a dominant worldview that promotes values that are clearly damaging to human and environmental wellbeing. In many ways our world, with its dominance of economic values over practically all other concerns, is a world of callous values.  

            Canadian holistic educator, John Miller points to the subjugation of words like love in contemporary educational literature in the following quote from his 2000 book Education and the Soul: Towards a Spiritual Curriculum:

“The word ‘love’ is rarely mentioned in educational circles. The word seems out of place in a world of outcomes, accountability, and standardised tests.”

            British educational researcher, Maggie MacLure speaks about the obsession with quantitative language in education in the UK: “objectives, outcomes, standards, high-stakes testing, competition, performance and accountability.” She argues that the resistance to the complexity and diversity of qualitative research that is found in the evidence-based agendas of the audit culture is linked to “deep-seated fears and anxieties about language and desire to control it.” In such a context, it is not hard to imagine that words like love are likely to create what MacLure calls ontological panic among the educational audit-police.    

            In spite of these challenges several educational theorists and practitioners emphasise the importance of love—and the role of the heart—in educational settings. If young people are to thrive in educational settings, new spaces need to be opened up for softer terms, such as love, nurture, respect, reverence, awe, wonder, wellbeing, vulnerability, care, tenderness, openness, trust.

            Arthur Zajonc has developed an educational and contemplative process that he calls an “epistemology of love.” Mexican holistic education philosopher, Ramon Gallegos Nava, refers to holistic education as a “pedagogy of universal love.” Other important contributions to bringing pedagogical love into education include Nel Noddings extensive writings on “an ethics of care”, Parker Palmer’s “heart of a teacher” and Tobin Hart’s deep empathy.”

            All of these theorists and more are introduced and discussed in Chapter 8 of Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (Springer, Netherlands) published August 2016.


Both eBook and Hardback are available to purchase from September 2016.

See also my Amazon Author page: www.amazon.com/author/jennifergidley