Section VIII: Reimagining and Reinventing Education

Track 4: (Bilingual) Teaching and Learning
(Mary Elizabeth Moore, Hengfu Wen, and Na Li)

Currently, schools focus on how to transfer information and skills that will help individuals operate successfully in our technologically complex society. But, we must continue to explore what true learning actually involves and what is most important to learn. This track will explore how to restore the development of moral feelings and potent knowledge as essential components of the learning process.

Track VIII on “Teaching and Learning” aims particularly to explore and evaluate Alfred North Whitehead’s concept of ‘learning cycles’ and to do so from different perspectives. Some papers in this track will not directly address Whitehead’s theory, but his “rhythms of education” form a base for discussion because the idea has rich implications for educational reform. Whitehead was convinced that students do not progress in a uniform, linear way devoid of growth spurts and delays. He proposed instead that the world is constituted by rhythmic processes and that learning takes place in cycles. Each single learning process passes through three phases which he terms ‘romance’, ‘precision’ and ‘generalization’ (Whitehead 1929/1967, 31). To ponder questions of teaching and learning, we will give focused attention in this track on rhythms and cycles of education.

 Presenters include: Hardin Coleman, Pamela Crosby, Christelle Estrada, Mary Elizabeth Moore (co-organizer), Callid Keefe-Perry, Robert Regnier, Franz Riffert, Adam Scarfe, Sinan von Stietencron, Jianjun Wang, Jonas Leander Weidl, Hengfu Wen (co-organizer), Howard Woodhouse, Li Yang.



Friday: June 5, 2015

2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Track & Class Sessions #1

Hardin Coleman, Christelle Estrada, Zhenxiang Zhou

4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Track & Class Sessions #2
Howard Woodhouse, Robert Regnier, Hongya Bai

Saturday, June 6, 2015:

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Track & Class Sessions #3

Dan Li, Yao Sun, Dekui Meng & Chunya Gao (together)

2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Track & Class Sessions #4
Hengfu Wen, Li Yang, Mary Elizabeth Moore

4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Track & Class Sessions #5

Xvsheng Qian, Xiao Xia Yan, Mengqin Cao, Jianjun Wang

Sunday, June 7, 2015:

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Track & Class Sessions #6
Jonas Leander Weidl, Sinan von Stietencron, Yingguang Sun

2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Track & Class Sessions #7
Callid Keefe-Perry, Jing Chen, Franz Riffert

4:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Track & Class Sessions #8 (Pomona College Classrooms)

Adam Scarfe and Brief Discussion of Emerging Conclusions

Workshop: Open Discussion of Possibilities for International Research Projects on Whitehead’s Learning Cycle Approach



Hardin Coleman

Dean and Professor of Counseling Psychology and Applied Human Development

School of Education, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts

Student Centered, Project- Based and Facilitated by Technology: Will It Happen?

The next five to ten years could see the acceptance of a revolution in learning, or not. The revolution would be the implementation of an approach to learning that is student centered, project based and facilitated by technology. This revolution could be seen as a return to one room school houses where the teacher differentiated instruction to meet the learning needs of each child, it could be seen as the introduction of gaming into the structure of the learning process, or it could be seen as the scaling up of the behaviors that you see in all great early childhood and elementary classrooms. This paper will discuss how learning in schools could be transformed to become truly student centered, how this approach integrates the development needs of the child, how this approach demands an expansion of skills for the teacher, and what will be some of the barriers for allowing this revolution to occur.


Christelle Estrada

English Education Specialist, Utah State Office of Education

Salt Lake City, Utah

Change the Brain, Free the Mind: Human-Centered Education


Framed by the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and based on Stanford’s Design Thinking process, the author argues that the development of both curriculum and instruction, even under the constraints of high stakes testing, is an educational imperative.  The mindsets, attitudes and skills for creative competence and empathy-based learning are what every child deserves, especially those who daily face the conditions of indifference and poverty.  Shaped by research in the emerging science of compassion and affective neuroscience, as related to the constructs of self and other, two brief case studies are used to illuminate the creative partnership that makes human-centered education possible: Utah’s State Office of Education, Stanford University, the Museum of Natural Curiosity, and Salt Lake City’s urban school district where 110 family languages are represented.


Callid Keefe-Perry

Doctoral Student, Boston University School of Theology, Boston, Massachusetts

Learning in the Rhythms of Life: US Public Education and Grace Jantzen’s Natal Epistemology

This paper explores present tensions in US public education, specifically around issues pertaining to the culture and systems that are supportive of high-stakes standardized testing (HST). The claim is made that the current ethos of dominant pedagogy is one which, in the very least, does not often allow for the flourishing of the whole child and can potentially be damaging to wide segments of the population. The situation is analyzed via a Whiteheadian lens and through the work of feminist philosopher of religion, Grace Jantzen and her concept of “natality.” Via these two interlocutors, the argument is made that current pedagogies are undergirded by epistemologies that are not conducive to the development of moral feelings, engaged student focus, or human flourishing.

The text begins with a brief overview of some of the criticism of current HST practices. Then, following the work of educational sociologists Bankston and Caldas, a proposal is considered as to why the current system is the way it is. Thirdly, research from the field of creativity studies is considered which suggests that youth capacity in regards to imagination and creativity is on the decline. While understanding that the US education system is not monolithic, the claim is made that even given its plurality, there is a problematic epistemological premise upon which nearly the whole of current US education policy is built. The remainder of the paper explores ways of articulating this premise.

 Drawing first from Whitehead’s notion of the “rhythm of education” and a number of essays in a symposium on Whitehead and education in Interchange, and then from several of Grace Jantzen’s essays on epistemology, the practice and support of HST is examined and critiqued. Particular attention is paid to Whitehead’s concepts of rhythm, imagination, aesthetics, and beauty and the ways that they might influence educational models. The argument is made that current systems which supports HST are not only problematic from a social perspective but also rest on an epistemological framework that is largely dissonant with a Whiteheadian vision. Similarly, Grace Jantzen’s work on epistemology and natality is considered, supporting the call for a reassessment of HST practices. Jantzen frames the issue around an understanding of knowledge she calls “mechanist” and “necrophilic,” contrasting it with a “natal” vision in which ethics and epistemology are irrevocably intertwined.

Noting the acute need for some kind of change given the conditions around HST addressed early in the paper, the piece closes with a restatement and amplification of (1) John Cobb’s 1998 call “to go beyond essays to practical proposals” for another educational model and (2) Jantzen’s hope for a more life-nurturing imaginary and epistemology.


Mary Elizabeth Moore

Dean and Professor of Theology and Education

Boston University School of Theology, Boston, Massachusetts


Cyclical Learning: Countering a Culture of Tweets and Linear Progression

 The dominant learning forms in contemporary United States culture focus on fragments of communication through social media or on linear achievement goals, both of which distort knowing and the processes by which people know. Cyclical teaching and learning can better attune to the natural human processes of knowing and the potential for developing human capacities, consciousness of social realities, and engaged wisdom in individuals, communities, and larger social groups over time. If education is to contribute to human knowing and thriving, educators need to explore the complementary relationship between cyclical learning and personal and social transformation. The significance (urgency) of cyclical learning is explored here in dialogue with Michael Polanyi’s theories of personal knowledge and tacit knowing, Bernard Meland’s understanding of appreciative consciousness, and belle hooks’ understanding of education as a performative act that practices and points toward freedom.


Robert Regnier

Professor and Acting Dean, Department of Educational Foundations, College of Education

University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Toward Eco-Civilizations through Gentle Teaching: A Whiteheadian Perspective

Pressed to transition from trajectories of potential self–destruction through climate change, nuclear weapons proliferation and global pollution, our planetary, cosmopolitan civilization is being lured to forge a new planetary “eco”-civilization. Movement toward an eco-civilization requires citizens and leaders learn to move from habits, expectations and analyses that contribute to these crises to develop new approaches that move beyond or end them.   Such transitioning requires educational methodologies that can be responsive to and discerning of potential for creating possibilities that will allow humankind to engage new prospects while preserving the most worthwhile resources from the past within the highest aspirations of achieving the greatest good.

To move beyond these crises, however, requires moving beyond the limitations of dualist mind/body and materialist based methods that continue to dominate teaching and learning. Instead, educational approaches need to appreciate the breadth and scope of cognitive and non-cognitive dimensions of experience in relation to the lure of gradations and variations of potential and possibility within the highest of aspirations and aesthetic sensibilities to create the most satisfying initiatives.

Gentle Teaching, as advanced by John McGee, is an approach to building “interdependence” that develops companionship and achieves quality of life in overcoming the marginalization of ableism by supporting of persons including those with intellectual challenges and complex needs. Interpreted through A. N. Whitehead’s notions of education, cosmology and civilization, this Gentle Teaching approach may offer a helpful way of conceptualizing teaching and learning to transition from current crises toward an eco-civilization.

This paper begins by introducing the notions of civilization, eco-civilization and education based on the work of A. N. Whitehead, reviews the approach of Gentle Teaching in term of purpose, goals, method and history of development, presents Whitehead’s notion of experience as formulated in his cosmology, and considers what Gentle Teaching may have to offer to development of educational approaches designed to move individuals and societies toward eco-civilization.


Franz Riffert

University Professor, Department of Education

University of Salzburg, Austria


Testing Whitehead’s Learning Cycle Concept Empirically

 Alfred North Whitehead (1925/1967, 1929/1978) has developed an alternative philosophic approach for a constructive post-modern society. One of Whitehead’s more practical ideas, which is based on this process metaphysics, is his concept of learning cycles (1929/1967). This concept consists not only of the sketch of a descriptive theory of learning, but also of an outline of a prescriptive theory of instruction.

This phased concept of learning and instruction – which ranges from a phase of romance to one of precision and finally ending in a phase of generalization, which in turn is again a new romance phase – will be presented against the background of Whitehead’s criticism of traditional concepts of learning; also some similar learning cycles concepts (Dewey 1916/1945, Karplus 1979, Lawson, 1995; Renner & Lawson 1975; Renner, Abraham & Birnie 1983 & 1985; Abraham & Birnie 1985 & 1988; Bybee 1989 & 2006) will be mentioned.

The focus of this presentation, however, will be laid on the efficiency of the learning cycle approach: since Whitehead was criticizing the linear accumulation of disconnected bits of information in traditional learning processes in schools (which leads straight to inert knowledge), the evaluation of the learning outcomes of the learning cycle approach is not an easy task. For instance each single phases of a full learning cycle have to be operationalized in respect to student and teacher activities in order secure implementation validity. Also an evaluation of the learning cycle approach can only be undertaken for a concrete field of application; in this case the application of the learning cycle approach to science classes (physics and chemistry) will be evaluated.

First a pilot study (Hascher, Hagenauer, Kriegseisen & Riffert 2009) – including only of one treatment (learning cycle instruction) and one control class (traditional linear instruction) taught by the same teacher (with a combination of physics and chemistry lessons) – will be presented: the design will be described and the results will be summarized. This pilot study was mainly aiming at testing the selected measurement tools. At the center of this efficiency study are the so-called Science Reasoning Tasks (SRT); the Science Reasoning Tasks is a group test developed by Michael Shayer (King’s College, London), Philip Adey and Hugh Wylam (1981) based on Jean Piaget’s clinical interviews. It has been implemented at schools in lage-scale studies in England (Adey & Shayer 1990, 1993; Shayer 1999). Since emotion plays a crucial role in Whitehad’s new learning theory, special emphasis also had to be placed on the evaluation of the emotional dimension of the cyclic learning processes, particularly in the romance and generalization phases.

Second a currently conducted one- and two-year field experiment (2014-2016) which is based on the results of the pilot study will be sketched: 13 (treatment and control) classes (N=182 students) and seven science teachers (physics and chemistry) participate in this study. Since the first post measurement will take place in May/June 2015, only a few results can be reported at present. However the design will be presented for discussion.


Adam Scarfe

University of Winnipeg, Canada

Whitehead, Waddington, and the Rhythm of Scientific Research

Conrad Hal Waddington (1905-1975), who is generally known as “the father of epigenetics,” was a Whiteheadian who endeavoured to put the latter’s formal metaphysical categories to use in biological research. Not only that, but Waddington also developed a fourfold extension of Whitehead’s threefold outline of the “rhythm of education,” applying it to scientific research. With it, Waddington sought to incorporate a phase of holistic reflection into the research process in order to lay bare the abstractions (i.e., the misplaced concretenesses) created as a result of mechanistic reductionism that is assumed in neo-Darwinist biology, as well as to assist the cultivation of what he called “biological wisdom”. In this paper, I present Waddington’s own model of the rhythm of research, its epistemological and ethical importance for 21st century biology, and how its themes reverberate back to the consideration of teaching and learning.


Sinan von Stietencron

Munich School of Philosophy, Munich, Germany

Philosophizing with Kids and Adults: Whitehead’s theory of learning as the natural path of inquiry

 „[…] we do not trust any recasting of scientific theory depending upon a single performance of an aberrant experiment, unrepeated. The ultimate test is always widespread, recurrent experience; and the more general the rationalistic scheme, the more important is this final appeal.“ (Whitehead, PR)

 Over the last 10 years, Munich (Germany) based Children Philosophize Academy has developed, applied and spread a method of group-oriented philosophical inquiry, which ever since has been taught to and is being successfully practiced by thousands of pedagogues in all types of institutions starting from nursery school to university. This form of inquiry is based on children’s experiences and questions and is led from there into higher forms of abstraction, often resulting in practical projects in which the children actively change their environment on the basis of their own thoughts and findings. The training for teachers aims for the development of an attitude (of awareness and openness towards the child’s own curiosity) based on guidelines, rather than teaching a rock-solid manual to pedagogues. It is being described as a method that feels completely natural once mastered by pedagogues and children.

Interestingly, the purely experience based development of this method of natural inquiry led to a result which highly resembles the learning cycle as described by Whitehead, as well as the anthropology, the underlying aims and attitude towards the student. Hence this approach is – even though not connected at first – one example of the ultimate test, that could be used to prove the accuracy of the Whiteheadian concept.

The presenter has been a trainer for this method for over five years, instructing teachers and pedagogues from various fields, as well as working with children in different institutions. At the same time he studied academic philosophy and is currently doing his PhD on process metaphsics at the Munich School of Philosophy.

 The presentation will present the approach of the Children Philosophize Academy, examine the mutual and rhythmic relation between theory and practice from the whiteheadian point of view and try to show ways for pedagogues to make use of the whiteheadian learning cycle concept in order to develop a more natural form of investigation with their students.


Jianjun Wang

Hunan First University, Changsha party school professor



 Jonas Leander Weidl

Munich School of Philosophy, Munich, Germany

Creative Advance through Rhythmic Learning


Whitehead’s Aims of Education can – this won’t come as a surprise – easily be read as a concrete application of his metaphysical conviction. In considering and appreciating the multifaceted development children are undergoing when learning the art of life he spells out what he has termed elsewhere the “Creative Advance”. The advance he speaks of in his metaphysical works is driven by the universal creativity and takes place through the heightening of intensity. The aim of this presentation will be to utilize the general concepts of creativity and intensity for their widespread application in education. Especially the interplay of narrowness and width, triviality and vagueness will form the general background against which we will think about how the creative advance of pupils can be nourished.


Hengfu Wen

Professor and Dean of Faculty of Education Science

Harbin Normal University, Harbin, China

Discussions on Constructive Postmodern Educational Thinking


Constructive postmodern educational thinking is becoming an important progressive force to deepen and promote educational reform and development. Therefore, education reformers who possess postmodern consciousness and postmodern thinking can ensure the advance and effectiveness of their reforms, which is considered as the important qualities and talent of those educators. Constructive postmodern education is under the guidance of process philosophy and constructive postmodernism; its starting point is to reflect and criticize the modernity of education; its goal is to enhance human’s postmodern quality, to cultivate postmodern persons and to build a better postmodern world of education. The important qualities and characteristics of constructive postmodern education include active thinking, organic thinking, ecological thinking, processes and event thinking, and complex thinking.


Howard Woodhouse

University of Saskatchewan, Canada

Emotion and the Imaginative Life in Whitehead’s Rhythmic Cycles of Growth


Whitehead’s account of the rhythmic cycles of growth as overlapping phases in the process of learning is distinctive in a number of ways.  Unlike Piaget who conceives of development as a linear path of development through discrete, structural stages, Whitehead allows for the learner to grow in different ways in various aspects of their lives.  Whitehead considers emotion as the core of learning without which ideas become “inert” because unrelated to the learner’s experience.  This contrasts not only with Piaget’s theory but with that of Bruner, who acknowledges the importance of emotion, but has little more to say about it.  In light of Whitehead’s emphasis on emotion, it is unsurprising that he considers the arts as the core of the curriculum because they enhance the growth of the imagination.


Li Yang

Professor of College of Educational Sciences

Harbin Normal University, Harbin, China

Another Alternative for Chinese Educational Research: Thoughts -based on Whitehead ‘s Epistemology


Essentialism brings disastrous historical results to Chinese educational research while anti-essentialism , though criticizing essentialism so much , provides very few practical theories which can contribute to the establishment of Chinese educational system . However , there are some reasonable elements in both . So a certain epistemology is badly needed which coordinates both and relieves Chinese educational research out of the present embarrassing situation . Whitehead’s epistemology elucidates the possibility of the coordination between mind and body , eternity and change , rationality and irrationality , facts and values . It is a processional and wholesome epistemology , more realistic and conclusive . Based on Whiteheadian epistemology , the Chinese educational research may be able , regarding to theoretical construction , to practice an open grand narrative , and emphasize the entirety of understanding . It will also stress the idea that to know something is to know both “ what it is ” and “ where it is ” . Much importance will be attached to the significance of becoming ; and , regarding to value-orientation , close attention will be paid to the synthesis of reality and meaning , the comprehensiveness of experiences . Methodologically , equal attention will be paid to qualitative research and quantitative research , taking into full consideration the complexity of the world . It is an adventure of ideas for Chinese educational research on its way of widening its own scope .


Key words : education , Whitehead , epistemology , essentialism , anti-essentialism


Track Presenters

Chinese Scholar Information