The “Whole Widget”: Integral, Holistic Education

By Kamran Tristan Matlock

Students are in need of an educational “whole widget” more than ever. Steve Jobs revolutionized the way classrooms learn with technology. Towards the end of his life, however, he clarified that technology should support, not lead learning. He believed the national education system was broken: it rattled with outdated parts, inefficient cogs and had a clumsy design. Such teaching models, he argued, were made up of cumbersome, inharmonious parts that hampered its ability to see into the future and prepare children adequately for what was next.

The current model favored by most US schools, and the one you probably grew up in, is the Transmission Model. Knowledge is defined as an objective, authoritative realm of facts existing separately from life’s experience and personal opinions. Teachers are supposed to “transmit” information to students, along with academics attitudes about learning and growth.

What Jobs unsurprisingly favored in lieu of the contemporary “PC” version of education was a “whole widget” system: a single sleek and intuitive arrangement that could prepare students for the future in an integral and holistic way. The Holistic Model perceives human existence and the world as infinitely complex and dynamic, so much so that any one worldview cannot grasp its entirety. A holistic educator draws upon many levels of understanding, technique and discipline to respond uniquely to each learning situation as it arises.

Although Jobs was visionary in many respects, it only takes common sense to realize a lack of professional talent in the US stems from the country’s broken public school system. Jobs exclusively invited high-performance, original-thinking professionals to his design table, but lamented that such individuals were rare. He knew from experience that the best and brightest of the STEM industries (science, technology, engineering, math) weren’t coming from American school institutions.

This is where the “whole widget” comes in. In his search for a complete gadget—hardware and software seamlessly interfacing with the internet and our personal and professional lives—he realized that technology, however embedded in our lives, is not sustainable beyond a supportive role. Nothing replaces human interaction, especially where learning is concerned.

Many schools, in fact, that value experiential, individualized, holistic education are already in place. Maybe you’ve heard of Montessori and Waldorf, but most charter, alternative and private schools doing the next big thing in education are off the radar. That goes doubly for higher education institutes.

Ever hear of the Ananda College of Living Wisdom, Maharishi Institute, Gaia or Naropa University? A few relatively small schools are making waves in the world of higher education. If innovators like Jobs aren’t around to change things from the top down, students will inevitably make change from the bottom up. Steve Jobs had a gift for tuning into the future needs of young people. In the end, if education can learn anything from him, it might simply be an ability to listen.