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IONS Consciousness Research Sparks Innovative New Program for Cultivating Worldview Wisdom

As globalization, technology, and urbanization change the face of our world at a pace previously unimaginable, and as we gain new appreciation for the truth of our interdependence, we are confronted with challenges of unprecedented scale and complexity. Hard questions have emerged: What will help people thrive in a multicultural society with numerous, sometimes dramatically opposed, traditions, values, and goals? How can we work together to create well-being, loving relationships, personal fulfillment, and global sustainability?

Recognizing that addressing such questions places new demands on our psychological resources and requires core competencies not previously fostered, a growing number of educators are participating in the rise of what is being called the “Skills” movement. It is increasingly clear that separating training of the intellect from that of emotional and social intelligence is no longer effective, and that understanding ourselves as learners is as important as the information we acquire. Cognitive flexibility, comfort with unfamiliarity, appreciation for diverse perspectives, agility in the face of rapidly changing circumstances, an ability to hold multiple points of view simultaneously, and a capacity for discernment that relies equally on intellect and intuition are essential skills for success in the twenty-first century.

Less a product of what we know, these skills spring more from how we come to know what we know. They are the integral parts of a conscious worldview, one that is characterized by balance, compassion, an appreciation of differences, and the accommodation of new information. Until now, however, we have lacked an organized worldview literacy to identify and acquire these critical skills.

Worldview Literacy: A Pedagogy

Based on its decades of research into prosocial emotions and drawing on new developments in the theory of neuroplasticity, IONS’ has developed a unique, multidisciplinary program, a “science of peace,” that positions it as a leader on the forefront of new strategies for cultivating worldview literacy. It’s called The Worldview Literacy Project™, a large-scale initiative that will create educational programs and materials for K–12 students, teachers and administrators, parents, IONS’ community groups, and the public. Recognizing that youth are the seed-bearers of our collective future, IONS has focused initially on a K–12 curriculum called Seeds of Change.

To encourage schools to use the program, IONS designed the program to be compliant with California standards. Each of the fifteen 50-minute lessons includes pair dialogue, small group processes, and class discussions on questions related to worldview. Each will use a variety of experiential exercises to help students relate concepts to personal experience, try on new perspectives, and experiment with multiple ways of knowing. Students will learn that applying observation and discernment to both the outer/material and the inner/subjective worlds leads to a more complete, inclusive, and whole worldview.

Field-testing with Inner-city Youth

Since the fall of 2009, the Institute has been conducting a pilot test of the program in several high school classrooms in Oakland, California. At the onset of the curriculum, students were disengaged from the experience of learning as well as from each other. They were vocally opposed to sitting in a circle and to expressing their opinions aloud. Side conversations filled the space with constant chatter, and lack of interest was expressed openly, whether students put their heads down on the desk to sleep, rolled their eyes, or fished through backpacks for something else to do with their time.

Instructors persisted, however, using collaborative, project-based, and interdisciplinary programs that draw on everything from poetry to new science. Various forms of technology were used to help inspire students’ imaginations and encourage media literacy skills. A multimedia project, for example, encouraged students to practice moving from insight to action and to know themselves as “contributing citizens.” Through various exercises, new ways of thinking were introduced that allowed learners to connect and contextualize information and experiences and to think at a systems level rather than studying topics in isolation, which is the norm in most current models of education. In exploring their own as well as others’ worldviews, students were given opportunities to recognize tensions and polarities as creative possibilities instead of fixating on one “right answer.” As they gained a broader perspective and were encouraged to look at things from multiple angles, listening both to inner and outer guidance, their sense of awe, wonder, and curiosity were re-engaged and their sense of themselves began to shift, expand, and deepen.

Only eight weeks later, the scene looked entirely different. Students began to create a circle of chairs without instruction, make space for late arrivals, and encourage hesitant members to move in closer. Silence was no stranger as students wrote in journals and reflected quietly on quotes, ideas, and questions. Class discussions became lively and seemed to move organically between large themes and personal experiences as students made connections between concepts and reality. Many students quoted their classmates in writing exercises, acknowledging how much they were learning from the perspectives shared by their peers. Conversations that began with “This is just how Oakland is” transitioned into collective inquiries about “how Oakland could be.” Students signed up to be mentors, began community projects, and reported feeling excited about their future.

Moving Forward

Based on the success of these early classroom experiences, IONS is poised to take The Worldview Literacy Project™ to its next stages of development. Its goals for this project are many-tiered: publishing the curriculum and expanding its use; developing and implementing outcome measures; developing a “train the trainer” program for teachers; creating an interactive web program to connect students and teachers from throughout the world; and creating a multiplayer online game featuring collaborative challenges and adventures. Projects will be presented to both local communities and global audiences via The Worldview Literacy Project™ website. We imagine the site as a hub of new conversations and a model global classroom. With the support of members, donors, and grants, this core IONS educational initiative will continue to offer experiences and practices that stimulate dramatic worldview shifts and help to support a collective and meaningful global transformation.

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