alternative education (3)

The Fearology Institute: Update

Students of Fearology... young and old, from around the globe... India, Africa, America, Europe, Canada... are leading the way to a 'new' way to critique, understand, and intervene in the global Fear Problem(s) of our times... 

Hello all who may be interested in The Fearology Institute (TFI) online higher education. I am pleased, as founder, director and main instructor, to share with you that we have five registered students taking the first course at TFI ("Expanding the Fear Imaginary")--and, some of these students are intending to take the full first-year program to train as a "fearologist." 

Since end of July 2018, the program at TFI is designed and slowly unfolding and evolving as I and the students learn about what it is going to become. There are no prior programs anywhere in the world on this new domain (field) of study and scholarship, that produce a professional certificate. I have designed "four core courses" and there are three streams of specialization students can pick after the first mandatory course (i.e., "Expanding the Fear Imaginary"). 

See my video "Introduction: The Fearology Institute" and/or you may find more info. on the program if you do a search (top right corner) on this FM ning site. 

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There are many approaches to thinking, writing and teaching. What I have learned over my 45 years of teaching, more or less, professionally, with then getting three post-secondary degrees in Education as a field, is that it is good to continually reflect not only on our thinking and content, but on how we design curricula, how we imagine the nature of the human being, and how we actually teach in diverse conditions and to whom. Most people as content-experts are not trained to think this way, educatively.  

I plan to write a few articles on adult/higher education and post them on the FMning, as it is especially important to examine how we teach about philosophy of fearism [1] (and the "Three Pillars" you've seen mentioned on prior blogs here). There is no doubt that I (like so many today) are very frustrated and critical of most public and generic education institutions, especially as so many of them have folded to economic efficiency (e.g., neoliberalism ideologies), and/or political regime's of authoritarian and repressive "revolutionary" even governments and their "reforms" they bring to higher education--but actually are "gutting" higher education and critical thinking all together. Then there is the ongoing critique I and many others educators have that the curriculums are so often reductionistic, parts-based, all about quantity, and the loss of a whole person being educated comes into question--and, many have called for a "spirituality" in higher education to meet the deeper needs and desires of our students, especially in very difficult times. 

Most of you who have read my work know that I am in favor of spirituality as a goal of education, and as a context for overall human development, especially at the higher levels of consciousness. In this regard, I acknowledge there can be many troubling views of "spirituality" that may or may not include typical "religion" or religious type approaches to education. My own interest is mostly reflected in the spirituality conceptualizations of the integral philosopher Ken Wilber. I thus, open this series of FM blogs with a republishing of one of my pieces on an old website at the Center for Spiritual Inquiry & Integral Education (for alternative online higher education I founded in 2009): 

Parker J. Palmer Reads Ken Wilber
by R. Michael Fisher - Friday, February 17, 2012, 10:36 AM

Back in 2009, when I served as Director of Research and Education for Gaia House Interfaith Center, I was deeply steeped in reading Parker J. Palmer's The Courage To Teach (1). There was a local group of people from Gaia House community (Hugh Muldoon, then Director, and Michael Batinsky, Board member and a few others off and on) discussing the "integrative education" work of Palmer and his critique of higher education and his invitation to renewal. Our group co-sponsored talks on the SIUC campus for students and faculty on changes needed in higher education, of which one of those sessions was particularly geared to Palmer's contributions.

Palmer has had a great influence on many thousands of educators from all levels, but he has written most particularly in adult and higher education. I came across his book in 1998 (first ed.) during my graduate research because he had a chapter in that book on the "Culture of Fear" in higher education and its deadly consequences. That was right up my alley, and I so appreciated Palmer was one of the first, at least the biggest well-known, higher educator to call out the "culture of fear" as problematic.

Two interesting bits of research lately have made me very encouraged that Palmer's work, which I have also been a big critic of (2) from an integral educational perspective, is extending beyond his typical spiritual-liberal "green meme"-centric positioning. The first case was discovering that he was invited to speak at the 2007 commencement for the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in 2007. I thought to myself, wow, Palmer has never in his writing and talks, that I know of, ever referred to "integral" (3) in the tradition of Integral Studies, and CIIS is the premier institute in North America if not the world on integral philosophy and integral theory. Ken Wilber, and other important integral thinkers have influenced CIIS and taught there, although lately Wilber specifically has distanced himself from it's ideological direction into aspects of what he would call political correctness via "extreme postmodernism" (i.e., his critique of the "mean green meme" which he argues resists and largely attacks the manifestation of integral consciousness) (4).

The second case, just this morning, was coming across Palmer's new book with Zajonc, The Heart of Higher Education (5). It's unclear who brought Wilber's work to Palmer, maybe it was his co-authors in this new book. It is delightful to see they engage and cite two of Wilber's books (albeit, his earlier works only), but they also engage and cite the basic characteristics of "integral education" as given by students and scholars of Wilber and other integral philosophers. They cite Esbjorn-Hargens, Reams, and Gunnlaugson (2010), and the new book on integral education in adult and higher education (6). This is not an insignificant connection, and alignment of strategic importance for CSIIE. It seems there is a next wave of potential here to link critical changes in adult and higher education with integral theory, and Palmer with Wilber, specifically. All that is good news to my researcher's ears. I look forward to reading Palmer and Zajonc's book. And of course this all is directly related to CSIIE's new pilot study on contemporary integral adult/higher education (for that report go to Dept. of Integral and 'Fear' Studies, scroll down for a free pdf copy). We at CSIIE have two articles as spin-offs from that report underway. It seems things are moving in a positive direction for our organization right now.

So what did Palmer and Zajonc (2010) say about Wilber's contribution to their own thinking about "integrative education" (their preferred term)? I quotes from their book:

"True integrative education must, therefore, make use of the extensive investigation of and insights into the stages of cognitive, affective, moral, and spiritual development of the human being throughout life as articulated by such researchers as William Perry, Jack Mezirow, Robert Kegan, Lawrence Kohlberg, Sharon Parks, and Ken Wilber." (p. 102). All those theorists talk about stages of development in sequencing, more or less, and that "each one of which changes the fundamental way in which they [we] make meaning of the world."

[Wilber's work offers] "grounding the recent origins of integral education in the spiritual philosophy of the Indian write Sri Aurobindo" (p. 10). From Esbjorn-Hargen's et al., drawing primarily on Wilber's integral theory:] "While eschewing a definition of integral education, they [Esbjorn-Hargens et al.] enumerate the characteristics of learning and teaching with that model:

- exploring multiple perspectives

- including first-, second-, and third-person methodologies of teaching and learning

- combining critical thinking with experiential feeling

- including the insights of constructive developmental psychology

- multiple ways of knowing

- weaving together the domains of self, culture, and nurture [sp. nature]

- recognizing various types of learners and teachers

- encouraging 'shadow work' within learners and teachers, an exploration of the nonrational side of the human self (p. 10)

I find Palmer has used "integrative" as many would use "holistic." That's a longer argument, and it is also one that needs to be clarified, because Wilber's integral philosophy (and other integralists throughout history) are not so easily put in a box (nor "integrated") into the "integrative education" worldview of Palmer, or "holistic education" (although, many integrativists and holists try to do so). I agree with Wilber's integral critique of both those views, while at the same time embracing their best aspects. Palmer unfortunately doesn't seem to make that distinction in his new book, and I'm frankly not surprised, because I don't think he fully understands integral theory yet but it is great he is beginning to engage it and publicize it more popularly than Wilber and other integral theorists could ever hope to do. I'm delighted in thinking how many Palmer fans are buying his latest book and getting introduced to integral education at the same time. Wow!

Whatever the case, this is a very small beginning of stretching the dialogue from the integrative, holistic camps into the integral camp. I've been waiting for such an opening for a long time. Which isn't to say it hasn't be tried or done somewhat effectively in the past. It has, as I think of particularly Ron Miller, and Jack Miller as holistic education leaders who have embraced and been influenced in curriculum and pedagogy by integral thinking (especially Wilber, Steiner, Kegan). Anyways, CSIIE has a foot in this door, since 2009, to keep the conversation going, and surely it will be contentious at times, but that's how we stretch and grow and it seems never straightforward, nor as simple as theory and intellects may want it to be. This is obviously then, an invitation to all kinds of people interested in Palmer's work and holistic education, to enter dialogue with the integral worldview at CSIIE. I for one, look forward to that and will encourage it where I can.


1. Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. [see 2008, 10th anniversary ed. also by Jossey-Bass].

2. See Fisher, R. M. (2010). The world's fearlessness teachings: A critical integral approach to fear management/education for the 21st century. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, pp. 13, 212, 225-28. My basic critique is his overly-simplistic definition of "fear" and his non-engagement with my work despite sending it to him many times, and having a few email exchanges.

3. Albeit, Palmer does refer to the "integral life" of the higher educator or teacher, yet he has not in the past integrated integral philosophy or theory per se in that construction and the practices that go with it; much to my disappointment over the years, I may add.

4. One of the places he published on this, of many, is in his book Wilber, K. (1997). The eye of spirit: An integral vision for a world gone slightly mad. Boston, MA: Shambhala, pp. 303-04. Another good place is in Wilber, K. (1998). The marriage of sense and soul: Integrating science and religion. NY: Random House, pp. 34-35, 43, 119-20, 135-36.

5. Palmer, P. J., Zajonc, A. (with Megan Scribner) (2010). The heart of higher education: A call to renewal: Transforming the academy through collegial conversations. San Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

6. Esjborn-Hargens, S., Reams, J., and Gunnlaugson, O. (eds.) (2010). Integral education: New directions for higher learning. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.



End Note

1. I am thinkiing of the educational (courses) and initiatives of late for The Fearism Study Center, and The Fearology Institute

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Education and the Fear Problem: An Investigation of “Truths”

 R. Michael Fisher

Technical Paper No. 71

 Editorial Note: The original plan was to publish this article with the Journal of Unschooling & Alternative Education. After submitting the draft, published here in full as Technical Paper No. 71, it was clear to me that the editor of that Journal and the philosophy he has toward critique and research, was not at all compatible with my intent to publish a piece that was investigative and revealing of a problem with educators, and in this case “visionary” educators. After reading the editors very harsh critique of my work in this paper and his common concern I was “unfair” (repeated three times in his letter response), it was clear to me that being fair or unfair is not the way to get to truth of the matter. After a phone call with the editor, and I appreciate his candor and his openness to discuss this article, that I just could not revise it and try to soft-sugar coat what I have been attempting to show is the case (now empirically) that educators as a whole (and now even so-called “visionary” educators) are just not very interested and not very competent to discuss the current 21st century Fear Problem. The editor’s approach to a politically correct and more institutionally restrained addressing of this problem, if not censoring “truths” I have come by hard-earned in this fearwork and critique I do, are not a hopeful sign that anything is going to change much. I would rather let history judge the worth of this article, than one editor or a scholarly reviewer (whom I also asked to look at the draft and he was more or less also wanting me to soft-sugar coat it)—but two other scholarly reviewers I sent the piece to were not of that opinion and thought it was a good study and critique that needed to reveal what it does about educators and the topic of fear. Therefore, after 3 weeks consideration, and even trying to re-write another version of this paper, much softer, I just felt I was betraying the essence of my creative and investigative journalism approach in this study. Of course, I am not saying at all that the study herein of 15 visionary educators is flawless and did all the right things so-called. That’s minor compared to the truth it reveals—and, of course, some may argue it is only my “truth” being shared, as they will not like my interpretation of the larger truth that is exposed in this piece. Also, to be clear, this editor is not the first in my 40 years publishing, to attempt to challenge my style of research, writing and my philosophy of truthing. To say the least, I don’t find many souls out there who agree with my approach. I have chosen to send a copy of this Technical Paper No. 71 to all “visionaries” involved in this study. Finally, I am gravely concerned with the losses of quality critique that are happening in academia and society as a whole because of a growing over-protected culture of fear and its tendency to censor sometimes raw “truths” that need to be seen so we stay in touch with reality. I am no support of unethical or mean behavior and treatment of others, but I also am not about to pamper adults who teach and write in the public sphere. I too am one of those and I am as accountable to critiques of peers and others, just like everyone else I critique in this study. Thanks to the participants who responded, in whatever ways they responded. I know they all are doing good work out there in the world. I also know we can always do better in some areas. The Fear Problem is one area that needs a lot of work by educators. Thanks to Dr. Ricci for being willing to chat with me, and discuss the problems of this study on the phone as well. -rmf

 Abstract – This article summarizes the results of an initial qualitative research Fear survey of 15 North American “visionary educators” in late-2017. The purpose was to determine how they think about and define the Fear Problem today in the field of schooling, unschooling and in society-at-large. The author argues that although the 20% of respondents to the Fear survey demonstrate a basic “in-touchness” with the Fear Problem, postmodern research perspectives on “fear” suggest the visionary educators have yet to keep up with the trends and complexity of how “Fear” is now a major shaping force of individual and collective domains of reality. The author suggests directions for improving upon the reliance on promoting love and hope as solutions to the Fear Problem, which unfortunately, characterized the visionaries responses.

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