JVER v25n2 - Spirituality, Work, and Education: The Holistic Approach

Volume 25, Number 2

Spirituality, Work, and Education:
The Holistic Approach

Richard D. Lakes
Georgia State University


Progressive vocational educators believe that youth must appropriate a set of humanizing values devoted to sociotechnical reform. Yet we forget about the inner work necessary to build democratic organizations: caring people are essential to a viable and vigorous public life. I turn to holistic education for insight into how vocational educators might think about good work and educational reconstructions. By profiling the thinking of Matthew Fox ( 1995 ) in The Reinvention of Work, and Parker Palmer ( 1990 ) in The Active Life, we learn that spirituality leads to self-discovery through vocation.

When I taught vocational carpentry at a public high school in the late '70s, a monochrome of battleship gray paint enveloped the machines and shop floor telegraphing working-class obeisance to the logic of capitalist production. Students learned a static menu of manual skills and were ensured steady employment in routine and stationary jobs. Within the past two decades school reformers appear to have rescued secondary vocational education from its obsolescence by overturning the modernist project that viewed workers as widgets trained alike in the standard array of occupational subjects. Thankfully, we are presented with new languages, inventive discourses in a colorful postindustrial landscape that signifies a glacial shift in the meaning of learning and labor ( Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996 ).

The notion of "knowledge workers," desirable feature of employability these days, suggests educators had better prepare individuals for changing job tasks, communication in groups, team building, and allied decision making. New technological processes involve workers in sharing and disseminating information throughout the firm--at least in a few enlightened places. Some are specialists employed in so-called high performance fields as technicians and managers involved, inspired, and challenged to gain knowledge in self-managed work teams. Work redesigns appear to facilitate organizational learning under postindustrialism. In these places freedom of information is necessary and accessible in order to ensure quality control measures. The learning organization requires open access to lines of communication and expansive types of knowledge for experimentation and innovation--productivity enhancing activities.

Yet critical viewpoints have surfaced in the literature on democratic education that question whether participatory practices in capitalistic firms indeed are flourishing and to what extent sociotechnical learning is a reality there ( Kincheloe, 1999 ; Lakes, 1994 ; Wirth, 1983 ). Recently, Bettis ( 2000 ) argued that the rhetoric of postindustrialism is not fully operational in daily instructional patterns at schools. While appropriating the language of cooperative teaming, for instance, teachers remain atomized professionally, isolated behind closed doors, engaged in classroom practices few others would perceive. In fact, educational reformers of late have diverted attention away from progressive practices and turned instead to high-stakes testing of pupils on core knowledge subject matter ( Kohn, 1999 ). Advocacy of a neoconservative restoration in education presently is on the rise.

Then, what is to become of the latest neoliberal reform--vocational and academic integration? Certainly a constituency of corporate, business, and educational elites continue to remind us that workplace readiness means teaching kids a host of front-line, sociotechnical skills. Integration efforts in education hold forth promise that students gain know-how in technological understandings, systems thinking, basic skills literacy, and human relations factors--all competencies noted, in 1992, in the US Department of Labor SCANS report. Additionally, curriculum revisions in this arena continue to valorize the longstanding vocational practice of project-based learning. Grubb ( 1995 ), Kincheloe ( 1995 ), and Wirth ( 1992 ) firmly locate integration efforts in the Deweyan camp, a very loose coalition of left-leaning experiential pedagogues directly opposed to the sit-at-your-desk-drill-and-skill folks. When engaging students in career studies, however, integrationists can gaze admirably beyond classroom walls at for-profit workplaces. Through examples of living democratically, as citizen-activists, teachers might redirect their view toward communities and neighborhoods that are greening America ( Bowers, 1995 ; Orr, 1992 ; Smith & Williams, 1999 ).

I have written elsewhere about the usefulness of engaging students in social projects tied to green neighborhood renewal and community development ( Lakes, 1996 ). Furthermore, I have suggested that community service in non-profit organizations might lead youths to new workplace values modeled by employed adults in places where justice and equity are encouraged and nurtured ( Lakes, 1998 ). The formation of moral vision devoted to designing, planning, and executing projects for social change in peer-led learning communities gives voice to teens devoted to critical literacy. Progressive vocational educators believe that youth must appropriate a set of humanizing values devoted to social, cultural, and political reform instead of marketplace dictates glorifying corporate greed and the business rhetoric of success ( Rehm, 1999 ). Yet, at times, we forget about the inner work necessary to build democratic organizations. Caring people are essential to a viable and vigorous public life.

In this essay I turn to holistic education for insight into how vocational educators might think about good work and educational reconstructions. Miller ( 1999 ), spokesperson for the holistic education movement as publisher and editor of Holistic Education Review , suggests that due to a paradigm shift, modernism no longer applies to a new culture flirting with postmodern themes of globalization, human potential, ecological awareness, and social change. According to him, there are four basic principles of holistic education. First, human beings are complex creatures with multiple layers of meaning: biological, psychological, ecological, ideological, socio-cultural, and spiritual. Second, there are stages in a child's development; and, transcendence is a long process of unfolding. Third, holistic education is linked to the world of cultural struggle, social justice, democratic action, and sustainable living. Finally, holistic education cannot be reduced to any single technique. It involves cultivation of social relationships through dialogue, connection, and authenticity.

The emerging literature on spirituality in work illuminates each of the principles just mentioned and is a worthy topic for consideration in the pages of this journal. Many educators I know are distressed by the cultural turn toward partiality in human development, spiritual bankruptcy, paralysis by fear, and emotional turmoil. In the remainder of this essay I will highlight the thinking of Matthew Fox ( 1995 ) in The Reinvention of Work , and Parker Palmer ( 1990 ) in The Active Life . Each author honors the restoration of spirituality; the importance of acknowledging inner selves and practicing respect; reawakening and revealing knowledge; and, altering one's perception of the materialistic world. The discovery of meaningful work is shaped by group creativity and personal fulfillment--transformational aspects of human growth that allow for hope and imagination.

Matthew Fox

Fox ( 1995 ) Episcopal priest and director of the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality, desires a holistic approach to work, a view that leads toward a radical restructuring of living well. "A spirituality of work," he notes, "is about bringing life and livelihood back together again" ( p. 2 ). Fox draws upon the thought of twelfth-century Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen for clarification here. Good work, she said, results in "a flowering orchard permeating the universe and making the cosmic wheel go around" ( p. 2 ). This statement refers to our ability to create beauty through meaning, not in debased, inhumane, or profane ways.

Fox ( 1995 ) distinguishes between work and job, noting that in the latter sense all manner of labor is justified and legitimated resulting in wasteful and profligate employment. In the name of jobs-at-any-price, for instance, we "tear down rain forests, kill endangered animals, sell drugs, or make armaments" ( p. 3 ). Fox believes that green thinking must inform the way to conceptualize job creation and global development. In other words, "we cure the crisis in work by treating the root meaning and purpose of work. We make jobs by strengthening our view of work" ( p. 3 ). While modernization ushered forth expansion, progress, and markets, Fox reminds us that there is a terrible price to pay; the system no longer is working to feed, clothe, and shelter human life on the planet. The modernist view of jobs separates us from responsibility to interact with and serve the community. Thus, we are faced with a deeply troubling spiritual and moral crisis today.

Fox ( 1995 ) offers the entrepreneurial notion that new employment goes hand-in-glove with the downsizing of military and defense industries. Environmental ethics must dictate the future of job creation: "tree planting; soil preservation; water purifying; air cleaning; recovery of streams in cities; and recycling of wastes" become means for innovative cottage industries to spring forth in local arenas, "small and people owned" concerns ( p. 9 ). Here the author is referencing microeconomic ventures best espoused by Schumacher ( 1973 ), among others ( Henderson, 1996 ), who favor human scale of ownership. Fox continues:

Schumacher believes that one of the great evils of current economic theory is the idea that bigger is better. The truth is that impersonal bigness disempowers the worker, leaving him or her out of touch with the decision-making level of the work world. Americans of late are beginning to grasp this fact as we wake up from the greed-driven eighties to a nightmare of unemployment, loss of tax base, widening gaps between the wealthy and the middle class, and increased poverty. ( p. 222 )

Consequently, smallness is one pathway toward the reinvention of work. Human scale projects become devoted to solving environmental issues derived from resourcefulness of spirit. Instead of exploiting the planet to support wasteful and greedy cycles of production/consumption/obsolescence, holistic practices turn toward ways of living and working that honor renewal and rebirth, sustainability and stewardship.

Fox ( 1995 ) celebrates the notion of Earth as Gaia, a living organism, to sketch for the reader a paradigm shift in thinking about good work. Under the machine era, humans overpowered and controlled nature. Efficiency, the rallying cry of industrialism, was bereft of redeeming human worth. Confined in dark, satanic mills laborers rarely gained "awe, wonder, and mystery that form the basis for a sense of the sacred" ( p. 84 ). Now that the machine age is coming to a close, Fox claims, and the planet has suffered a host of environmental and spiritual deprivations the culture is turning toward holistic rebirth in a green era. "The earth is alive," he remarks, "things do have souls...and participation and creativity mark the key paths by which we learn and relate deeply to reality. Because the green era is cosmological, it will honor inner work and connect us to the inner work of the universe" ( p. 87 ).

The new era is characterized by a search for meaningful existence, a mystical feeling that approaches joy at work. Still, we have few inner roadmaps, Fox ( 1995 ) cautions, to guide us on the journey toward satisfying work. "We have a fix-it model in our machine culture but no health model" to tell us how to recognize engaging and enchanting work ( p. 94 ). Yet, as humans, we do have a right and a need to find joy in work, the author insists; "if joy is good enough for God and powerful enough to have been the cause of the universe, then clearly joy is integral to our work, too" ( p. 95 ). Thomas Aquinas, thirteenth-century philosopher and theologian, taught that creation exists because of love, Fox says, and any activity must be virtuous for individuals to be devoted to their work. Aquinas taught that zeal, moreover, gives rise to beauty when engaged in "the goodness in things" ( p. 96 ). Joyful, loving work becomes a calling, purposeful and creative vocation integrated fully into society.

What about education in the green era? Fox ( 1995 ) views holistic learning in new times at "wisdom schools" versus modernist "knowledge factories" where compartmentalized subjects are parceled out in piecemeal fashion. Wisdom schools teach students about the postindustrial workforce, about compassion in service to others. Yes, compassion is the driving force in preparation for work, Fox argues, because it is constructive, community-building, life affirming. He explains:

Compassion will be manifested in persons volunteering to teach literacy to adults, in persons teaching about our bodies, our diets, and our health care. Compassion can be brought to an analysis of the economic relations between rich and poor, and it can offer solutions for bridging the economic gaps between us. Compassion can take young artists and imbue them not only with the techniques of their craft but also with the reasons why they love their craft in the first place. Compassion will commit itself to inventing work. ( p. 175 )

Wisdom schools help students to get in touch with their feelings and emotions--their inner realm--so that one may recognize ways of fashioning a pathway of ethical and moral purpose.

Fox does not stand alone in advocacy of the spiritual dimension in learning. For example, Purpel ( 1989 ) wants us to view teachers as prophets, individuals who enable children and youth to develop skills and knowledge in the quest for "justice, community, and joy." "Educators who accept the concept of their profession as having a prophetic function," he charges, "must then affirm a set of sacred and moral principles--a mythos, a set of metaphysical or religious assumptions--or commit themselves to that which has ultimate meaning to them" ( p. 105 ).

It should be noted that those desiring compassion and community often utilize storytelling as a pedagogical method for heartfelt learning. In Teaching for Social Justice , co-editors William Ayers, Jean Ann Hunt, and Therese Quinn ( 1998 ) serve-up a rich collection of vignettes illuminating how public actors gain the strength and courage to articulate a standpoint. Myles Horton and the well-known Highlander School of residential workshops linking a broad spectrum of labor and civil rights radicals still informs empowerment pedagogy in America. So Horton is featured in this book: he "taught through stories," we are told ( p. 155 ). But lesser known figures offer insights into their personal and professional struggles as well. "My gay story could not have been told before the 1970s when the contemporary lesbian and gay community began to take form," one contributor remarks, "just as that community is strengthened every time someone tells her or his story." "In the classroom," he continues, "I want to create a community in which students can tell their own stories and trust that their differences will be heard" ( p. 130 ).

Fox ( 1995 ) would agree that transformative teaching authenticates voice and affirms positionality through stories, dialogue and discourse. There are spaces in his wisdom schools for silence and solitude as well. Meditative practices challenge youth to reach deep inside for guidance, to "put their inner houses in order" ( p. 180 ). Fox desires adolescent rites of passage, for instance, vision quests drawing out the contemplative, spiritual side of character and identity. Sweat lodges are a tribal experience with major benefits to today's youth: "they face death together, chant for their lives, pray through their bodies, and sweat out emotional, bodily, and spiritual toxins" ( p. 180 ). A sabbatical for young people, Fox offers, would help them engage in growth through inner directedness. Finally, Fox wants meaningful rituals (under caring adult leadership) that teach the next generation about spiritual service to the planet. Persons in the green era become what he terms "spiritual warriors," who are "dedicated to bringing about the environmental revolution" ( p. 189 ).

Parker Palmer

Palmer ( 1990 ) a writer, teacher, and activist, travels widely in public talks on education, spirituality, and social change. Foremost, his message emphasizes the contemplative life by celebrating transcendental practices aimed at self-knowledge and heightened awareness. Yet the author does not view a quest for spirituality as personal solitude steeped in monkish traditions and ascetic ways. Instead, he advocates a balance between contemplative values and worldly actions. Palmer terms the tension between internal and external realms the "tug-of-war" that draws people to different callings. While some folks favor pathways to self-discovery, most seek recognition, status, even virtue, in vocational pursuits. The difficulty with this latter orientation is that the active life can "degenerate into a narcissistic celebration of self" ( p. 8 ). Palmer rightly is concerned about the transformational aspects of human growth in a world filled with fear, uncertainty, and death.

The balanced active/spiritual life is buttressed by a three-legged stool of "work," "creativity," and "caring." Work, necessary in order to earn a living and survive, is an action driven solely by external forces. Creativity takes its form from the inner choice to transgress the bondage of materialistic life. In other words, born of freedom an action can be creative as well. Caring nurtures and protects life, freely chosen it empowers others with "the knowledge that we are all in this together, that the fate of other beings has implications for our own fate" ( Palmer, 1990, p. 10 ). Caring entails not just personal acts of kindness, Palmer notes, but group struggles for social justice.

The active life entails the three forms of action just mentioned, each may be coterminous with another--but they may stand alone as well. "Work can be creative, creativity can be caring, and caring can be a quality of work" ( Palmer, 1990, p. 10 ). The problem arises when one or two legs of the stool are kicked out from under us: we lose a sense of centeredness that diminishes the quality of people and place. "The joys of action are known to everyone who has done a job well, made something of beauty, given time and energy to a just cause," Palmer writes. "Take away the opportunity to work, to create, or to care--as our society does to too many people--and you have deprived someone of a chance to feel fully human" ( p. 10 ). The emptiness of living an active life without a tripartite integration of work, creativity, and caring is visible throughout the culture, reified as symbolic violence. The spiritual crisis in American life stems from the negative way we treat humans. Collective judgment by parents, teachers, friends, bosses, and colleagues represents a vast population of walking wounded. Failures are injurious "shadows which do damage to others" ( p. 11 ).

Palmer ( 1990 ) offers a Taoist tale best illustrating the possibilities of transcendence from shadow to light, pursuing balance and integration--a holistic endeavor of work in the active life. "The Woodcarver" is a story of master carver Khing who made a bell stand of precious wood that is admired by all ( p. 56 ). When finished with the commission, Khing is asked by the Prince of Lu to reveal his trade secrets. The woodcarver replied that he has no trade secrets, only that he fasted seven days "in order to set my heart at rest." After three days of fasting, Khing "had forgotten gain and success"; after five days he "had forgotten praise or criticism"; after seven days he "had forgotten my body." "All that might distract me from the work had vanished," Khing noted, "I was collected in the single thought of the bell stand." Then he went to the forest to select a tree for the project, and "when the right tree appeared before my eyes, the bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt." Thus, Khing could commence the task of shaping the stand. Yet, the Prince of Lu, unable to fathom how one could just divine a project, asked for a further explanation of the process. Khing replied: "My own collected thoughts encountered the hidden potential in the wood; from this live encounter came the work which you ascribe to the spirits."

Palmer ( 1990 ) offers this story as a model for what he terms "right action," a simple parable that exhibits transcendence-in-vocation. For instance, Palmer likes the idea that the woodcarver fasted in order to rid himself of internalized oppressions and personal limitations. In other words, while given his marching orders from the Prince, Khing finds release beyond the simple directive to perform a task or duty. The worker takes "an undesirable impetus to action" and "transcends its original constraint" to create something of beauty and truth ( p. 59 ). Another way of looking at work, Palmer instructs, is to rise above the fear one faces in receiving challenges, external barriers to accomplishment. Fasting is just a metaphor for revisiting authentic motives in performing good work. Reject appeals to status and material gain in completion of a job; remember to be true to self.

Additionally, Palmer ( 1990 ) relishes the notion that Khing demystified his craft and rejected specialized knowledge only a few can claim above all others. In essence, the woodcarver challenges the notion of expertise by claiming humility: he's only a workman; he has no trade secrets. Hence, the quality of his actions must be viewed as non-elitist and populist--community-building values necessary for the restoration of democratic work. In this broader sense, the revitalization of society celebrates human agency and power to engage actively in life. We can "co-create the world with the gifts we have been given" ( p. 65 ), Palmer charges, hoping to end the inertia of self-doubt and inferiority so destructive to empowerment and potential. To clarify, Palmer points out that we tend to place greater emphasis upon acquired skills, often through formal education that costs us time and money, instead of upon natural gifts that can be discovered as "birthright competence." He explains at length:

It is important to realize that the woodcarver's native gift may not have been the obvious one--his capacity to employ woodworking tools with consummate skill. Even if he had been born with the manual dexterity that woodworking requires, his skill with those particular tools surely took him years of practice to perfect. A careful reading of the story shows that the woodcarver possesses several other gifts, all of which are essential to the mastery he demonstrates: the capacity to wait patiently for insight to emerge, the capacity to trust in the outcomes of an uncertain process, the capacity to take risks even under pressure, the capacity to speak his truth even when it is not what people want to hear. Any of these may be his birthright gift, without which his technical ability to carve would make him no more than an average artisan. ( p. 67 )

The point here is that satisfying work means creating spaces where one's natural gifts bubble-up to the surface.

Yes, Khing took seven days "off" from the project in order to meditate, and slow his work down. While most of us are not entitled to perform at that pace, more humanistic organizations recognize a period of time away from the office (retreat, leave, or sabbatical) restores energies and refocuses vision. True, Khing faced workplace pressures to deliver an acceptable bell stand--apparently under penalty of death. Contemporary fast paced, frenzied labor filled with deadlines and timelines indicates that stressed-out employees do not enjoy freedom of action any more than medieval artisans. Do the job right and deliver it on time was the Princely command. Which leads Palmer to examine "The Woodcarver" one more time for spiritual understanding.

Too often we are focused upon the ends or results of a project, systematically denying that the means offer clues to a course of action as well. That said rationalized templates are placed upon humans who then are viewed as subjects unable to act upon their history. Palmer ( 1990 ) claims meaning in "the organic realities of ourselves, the other, and the adventure of action itself "( p. 75 ). As in Khing's relationship to the forest and the trees, forging genuine understanding requires active engagement in holistic encounters. In the progressive project-oriented classroom, for instance, "authentic teaching and learning requires a live encounter with the unexpected, an element of suspense and surprise, an evocation of that which we did not know until it happened. If these elements are not present, we may be training or indoctrinating students, but we are not educating them" ( pp. 74-75 ). A result-oriented society produces failure (look at high-stakes testing) so that when engaged in the active life a host of dysfunctional traits and false values allay fears that somehow we fell short of our goal, were unable to accomplish what we felt was achievable. The woodcarver showed that authenticity in action meant faith in oneself and others, and trust in the process of creation, in acquiring knowledge, in contemplative wisdom that is honorable, and decent, and kind. Although results cannot be foreseen or predicted, Khing was acting with integrity and respect for nature, organically, in wholeness freed from manipulation and control. Perhaps teachers need to view their encounters with students in similar fashion.

While most American public schools deny to future generations the deep and underlying value of spirituality and transcendence, some democratic teachers affirm the potential for building community through recognition of the inner realm that connects us all to loving, caring, and respectful selves ( Beyer, 1996 ). We can offer stories and poems that enable students to discover truths and perspectives from a variety of traditions. Holistic studies hardly are a curricular staple in the schools. But progressive classroom practices can be built upon Fox's and Palmer's spiritual foundations of integrated work.

Eastern Influences

Holistic education is rooted in a number of historic social reform movements beginning with transcendentalism and romanticism in the late nineteenth century, progressive education in the early twentieth, environmentalism in the 1960s, and transpersonal psychology a decade later. The latter movement is responsible for introducing Eastern ways of enlightenment, like Buddhism, into the mix.

The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche ( 1999 ), exiled Tibetan Buddhist teacher and director of the Nithartha Institute in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, has written about the foundations of Buddhist educational thought. Foremost in his work is the notion of a "full understanding and realization of the basic mind" ( p. 51 ). Pathways to enlightenment require meditations and studies which lead to reflections of the mind, resulting in glimpses and recognitions of "our own face, our true nature, our original purity" ( p. 52 ). Of course there are different types of Buddhist practices outside of Tibet; each strand interprets Buddha's message in different ways. Still, the basic message is embedded in one teaching, one dharma. What follows is an example from nature:

Water, genuine pure water…has no shape or color. Water is totally free from shape and color. But when you pour genuine pure water into a container, that container must have a shape. The container has a size, too, and sometimes a color, as well. The individual who holds or looks into this container of water also sees reflections in the water. His or her hands and face reflect in the water. In a similar way, when we pour the genuine teachings, the genuine wisdom and knowledge, into different containers, they begin to take on different aspects. …Yet water cannot be preserved without a container. Water cannot exist without the container. If you break the container, the water is gone. It's gone. ( p. 54 )

What this means is that although the genuine teachings of Buddha are beyond form, color, culture, and language they need a vessel--educational institutions--in order to preserve and transmit meanings--as well as teachers and practitioners who "continue a living tradition of wisdom and knowledge" ( p. 55 ).

The Dzogchen distinguishes between wisdom , which comes from the heart (e.g., compassion and love), from knowledge , which comes from the brain (e.g., conceptual and intellectual and philosophical understandings). Buddhist education attempts to link both aspects, to "getting in touch with these two sources," because both qualities are within us, ready to be developed, revealed, uncovered, discovered. "In Buddhist culture," he explains, "the educational institutions of the past, all the way up to the institutions of the present, are basically there to teach us to rediscover ourselves, to rediscover this heart of enlightenment, rediscover the awareness which contains these two key qualities, knowledge and wisdom" ( Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, 1999, p. 57 ). Consequently, Buddhist education reveals that balance is the pathway to spiritual growth: one cannot have wisdom without knowledge, or knowledge without wisdom. The heart cannot operate without the brain. Otherwise, according to the Dzogchen, we only have one good eye, unable to see everything clearly. And, along the pathway we will stumble, unable to recognize the road, and the next destination in our journey.

Some contemporary authors on workplace spirituality often infuse Asian teachings into their writings. For instance, Pascarella ( 1998 ) acknowledges an Eastern mindset in reference to current management seminars on leadership development. Of particular interest to him are aspects of shared oriental/occidental ontology, including the search for meaning, unity in mind and body, dissatisfaction with materialism, and cooperation over competition. "New Age thinking," he writes, "is challenging our culture and offering us alternative ways of living and thinking" ( p. 59 ). Of course, a paradigm shift is necessary to overcome our Western rational tradition of truth-seeking, to "help us dislodge science from its pedestal as the only means of knowing" ( p. 59 ).

Organized religion champions its own truths. Evidently, we exist as fractured selves, unable to fathom the matter of existence, blinded by centuries of scientific method upon which we defer authority in matters of the universe. To deny spirituality is to operate under the thumb of scientism. Guillory ( 2000, p. 32 ) tells us how spirituality can become a meditative tool for "an internal source of inspiration and creativity," useful at sites where ethics and values are integrated into workplace operations. Empowerment is the slogan for organizational change these days. Davidson ( 1998 ), too, honors the Eastern traditions that guide us on the journey to seek truth. "Wisdom is knowing how little you know," he writes; "Zen practitioners call it 'beginner's mind,' which is truly open and fresh, willing to remain innocent and receptive to life, not attached to our knowledge" ( p. 36 ).

Nonetheless, Briskin ( 1996 ) rightly cautions that the new movement toward Eastern traditions of spirituality may be misguided by managers. In his words, the "spirit and soul will be talked about but split off from the actual conditions of the workplace" ( p. 186 ). The forces of late capitalism are implementing modern technology, say, to perform electronic eavesdropping and computerized surveillance of personnel--aggressive tactics which introduce fear and uncertainty in the workplace ( Howard, 1985 ). Business types appropriating New Age wordings such as "creative adaptation" ( Guillory, 2000 ) forget that, given the harsh realities of work, new organizational metaphors only produce a semblance of freedom and liberty.


In a remote Sri Lankan village, in 1958, a mobilization effort of high school students serving at two-week labor camps, organized by their teachers, gave life to the popular movement of Sarvodaya Shramadana, meaning self-reliance among the poor ( Lean, 1995 ). Remarkably this notion of postcolonial liberation (inspired by Gandhi) grew into widespread ideological purpose: rejecting the role of outsiders associated with Western-style development, indigenous peoples would create and build self-sufficient enterprises. Certainly the labor camps provided much needed help in terms of local revitalizations, particularly improvements to infrastructures such as water supply and sanitary waste removal. But the camps served to unite villagers as well. In Rilhena, after an initial series of community meetings about their needs, and the short-term project of well-digging completed, the people gained confidence that "working together strengthened their esprit de corps and encouraged them to go on to the next step in Sarvodaya's program--the establishment of mothers', young, children's, farmers', and elders' groups that cut across caste, class, and political party. These groups went on to found their own independent Sarvodaya Society, with the legal power to own land, obtain loans, and set up economic enterprises" ( p. 38 ).

Postcolonial movements identify the road to material improvement as just one element in the integrated approach to human growth and learning. Grassroots groups such as neighborhood associations, production cooperatives, and ethnic coalitions initiate development not merely to seek economic and political justice; social and cultural, religious and spiritual empowerment are equally important. The spiritual side of work life is not to be overlooked here. In the case of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, for instance, local labor projects are halted three times daily for meditation and chants, as well as time set aside for voicing concerns and issues among the participants. Community building with those who eat, work, and pray together changes the direction of camp initiatives from "for-the-people" to "by-the-people" ( Lean, 1995, pp. 40-41 ).

The spiritual theme of Sarvodaya--holistic growth in humans through balanced work, family, and community--resonates in the so-called First World as well, among activists who organize for environmental justice, decent housing, adequate health care, quality schools, crime-free neighborhoods, and sufficient jobs ( Shuman, 1998 ). Each project builds effective and viable activism in a long-term, capacity-carrying mode so that further development efforts are possible. Neighborhoods nowadays are collapsing for any number of reasons, including social and environmental degradations as well as patterns of deindustrialization and corporate flight. Can we envision a new model of work and learning to accompany the shift in thinking toward environmental stewardship, voluntary action, and social justice?

Fox ( 1995 ) and Palmer ( 1990 ), among others, believe that we are on the cusp of a spiritual era whereby greater numbers of people are claiming personal and social responsibility for healing the fissures in self, community, and globe. What does this mean for vocational education specifically? It is important to teach how and why environmental thinking embodies the principles of holistic learning and living. That is, students have to be prepared to distinguish between good and bad work. More importantly, they must decline the latter, as Schumacher ( 1979, pp. 118-119 ) insisted, "be encouraged to reject meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking work" where humans become "the servant of a machine or a system." Young people, he continued, "should be taught that work is the joy of life and is needed for our development, but that meaningless work is an abomination." Good work is a metaphysic that attends to the needs of the soul, the inner realm. We need green enterprises--progressive schools based upon holistic principles--which sanction balanced, life-affirming activities. But first we must convince those who embrace the technocratic fix in education that " world-class standards" will never heal the culture. Our watchwords are compassion, kindness, and caring.


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RICHARD D. LAKES is Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University, 30 Pryor St., Suite 450, Atlanta, GA 30303-3083 [E-Mail: rlakes@gsu.edu ].

Dr. Lakes teaches in the Social Foundations of Education program unit. His research interests are community youth development, critical pedagogy, and vocational education.