David K. Scott was Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1993-2001.
This is an archive of the Chancellor's Web site during his tenure.

UMass Office of the Chancellor

General Education for an Integrative Age

by David K. Scott - accompanying PowerPoint slides


     In spite of all the difficulties and dangers in the world today, and perhaps in response to them, a movement is discernible towards transformation in nations and institutions. This movement seeks approaches which integrate different perspectives and ideas, in contrast to the extreme fragmentation and competition which continue to dominate much of our thinking. Although the times we live in are often referred to as the Information Age or the Knowledge Age, I believe that a better description of the new century will be—and must be—the Integrative Age. Key to our future will be the development of complete human beings with a greater sense of wholeness and connectedness.1-7 and a more integrative philosophy of knowledge, including cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual dimensions of intelligence and ways of knowing. My discussion of general education for the future, therefore, aims to define an epistemological framework appropriate to the times. An excellent analysis of issues confronting the design of education was given recently by Barnett in his book, The Idea of Higher Education, 8 which I have drawn upon in this essay.

     I start from the premise that the fundamental purpose ultimately of all education is to develop more complete and integrative human beings who will create a better and a wiser world. This idea was implicit in the founding principles of the Land Grant-Research Universities in the 19th Century. As policy makers responded to a nation in transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy, the need for professional education in a wide range of disciplines was recognized. At the time colleges concentrated on a few professions, important then and still today, such as teaching, medicine, law and theology, whereas the rise of science and the industrial age called for a much broader spectrum of disciplines. But the founding legislation of the Morrill Act in 1862 also stipulated that education in science, agriculture and engineering should be combined with a broad, liberal education in other areas, including humanities and classics. In response the first President of the University of Massachusetts wrote: “The course of study was to combine in one curriculum the mental, physical, esthetic and moral disciplines….with the practical application of the arts and sciences….in the provisions for the analyses of everyday problems.” The reinvention of this general structure for the times we live in today is the challenge before us.

     While the idea of melding liberal and professional education was bold and innovative in meeting the challenges of the mid 19th century, we are now dealing with a more complex transformation of society to the knowledge age, and it is incumbent upon educators to redefine the necessary characteristics of the educated citizen appropriate for our time. As David Saxon, the former President of the University of California, once noted, a liberal education has in fact always reflected the wisdom of society about the knowledge and skills required at a particular time in history. The ancient Greek world considered certain disciplines especially appropriate for study by free human beings because they were not connected to any useful end but valuable in themselves. In the Middle Ages, the seven liberal arts of the Trivium and the Quadrivium were the cornerstones of a University education. For several centuries afterwards, no one was considered educated unless steeped in the Greek and Roman classics. We are still less certain of the defining characteristics for education in the 21st century.

     In Section II, I outline some of the general challenges which our educational system must address. In order to set the stage, Section III describes the evolution of Universities in the Western World and the changes currently taking place, particularly the trend towards more integrative approaches to knowledge. Recent developments in theories of the mind, which reinforce the trend towards an integrative worldview, are described in Section IV. Finally Section V gives some directions for general education or integrative learning in the 21st century to meet these practical and theoretical considerations.


     Duane Elgin in Awakening Earth observes9 that we are rapidly approaching one of the great pivotal points of human history. The Earth is being severely wounded by humanity, while simultaneously the world is awakening as a conscious, global organism. These two facts seemingly pose a paradox, but in fact are intimately related. Pushed by a harsh reality, the human family is being challenged to realize a new level of identity, responsibility and purpose. To meet this need more rapidly is the most serious challenge for education in the future. And it is a need that must be met for more of the world’s population. One of the powerful, countervailing forces is the continuing population expansion. Up to the mid-seventeenth century the world population was less than half a billion but then followed a dramatic exponential increase to 6 billion over only a few hundred years (See Fig. 1). Our Universities were designed in a very different world long before this dramatic population explosion. We need a new learning ecology for a new world of learning, which must be part of the design of education in the future. This ecology will, of necessity, combine new technologies with new philosophies.

     Although it is commonplace to speak about the global village, the sobering reality is that fewer than 1% of the world population have access to a college degree. This dismal statistic does not augur well for creating a world of learning. In response to the population growth shown in Figure 1, we might well ask just how many Universities are necessary to maintain even the one-percent college going rate. In Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media Sir John Daniel projects10 that one new University per week would have to be built for the next 30 years. This expansion will not be possible in the current approaches to education. A scarcity of physical resources may limit the quality of the material environment in which many people live, but this deficit will eventually pale in comparison to the maldistribution of educational and spiritual resources. As Robert Fogel notes11 in The Fourth Awakening, critical spiritual assets such as a sense of purpose, self-esteem, a sense of discipline, a vision of opportunity, a thirst for knowledge and the struggle for self-realization are all transferred at a young age through education. Spiritual or immaterial assets must be integral to the design of education for the 21st century. Our current models of general education do not address these challenges well due to the existing extraordinary degree of differentiation, fragmentation and isolation. To understand this predicament as well as the path out, we must examine the evolution of Universities since their founding in the western world almost a millennium ago.


     An overview of the evolution is shown in Fig. 2. As society changed from an agrarian to an industrial age and now to the information age, our approaches to knowledge also evolved. For the first five hundred years, Universities were embedded in medieval culture where knowledge was largely based on faith and religion with scholars pursuing knowledge from a mixture of motives, combining rational and irrational, scholarly and superstitious methods of empiricism and speculation. But there was an emphasis on the integration of knowledge across diverse fields which was lost to some extent with the scientific revolution of the 17th century, and the rise of modernism and the enlightenment. During the 20th century, the fragmentation of knowledge reached its pinnacle in the relativism of postmodern philosophy. Over the same time span, the nature of Universities changed from the University of Faith to the University of Reason, the dominating paradigm in the modern University.12

     This fragmented approach to knowledge derives from our interpretation of the relationship of human beings to the universe, originating with modern science and the enlightenment (See Fig. 2). Richard Tarnas in The Passion of the Western Mind identified13 the prime cause in the Copernican shift of perspective in the mid-sixteenth century which displaced the human being to a peripheral position in a vast, impersonal universe with the ensuing disenchantment from the natural world. The Copernican revolution constituted the epochal shift to the modern age. Almost a century later, Descartes woke up in the Copernican universe and fully articulated the experience of the emerging, autonomous self as separate from the external world it tries to master. With the human mind distinct from the world, then the apprehended universe was ultimately the mind’s interpretation.

     Another century passed, bringing us to the mid-eighteenth century, when Kant, building on his empiricist predecessor, drew out the epistemological consequences. He deduced that all human knowledge is interpretive, and that the mind can draw no mirror-like knowledge of the objective world. Here become visible the roots of postmodernism; the world is essentially a construct and knowledge is radically interpretive. Every act of perception and cognition is congruent, mediated, situated, contextual, and theory-soaked. Over a period of 200 years the cosmological estrangement of Copernicus and the ontological estrangement of Descartes were completed by the epistemological estrangement of Kant, a threefold, mutually-reinforcing prison of modern alienation that has resulted in the fragmentation and relativism of knowledge prevalent today.

     Gradually, over the ensuing 250 years, this thinking permeated almost every discipline. Another century after Kant, the radical displacement of the human being from the cosmic center was reinforced by Darwin’s relativization of the human being in the flux of evolution—no longer divinely ordained, no longer the favored child of the universe. Tarnas concludes: “The world revealed by modern science is devoid of spiritual purpose, opaque, ruled by chance and necessity, without intrinsic meaning. The human soul has not felt at home in the modern cosmos: the soul can hold dear its poetry and its music, its private metaphysics and religion, but these find no certain foundation in the empirical universe. But the lesson of Kant is that the locus of the communication problem—the problem of human knowledge in the world—must be viewed as centering in the human mind. Therefore, it is theoretically possible that the human mind has more cards than it has been playing. The pivot of the modern predicament is epistemological, and it is here that we should look for an opening.” It is this opening which is both the opportunity and the challenge for a new philosophy of general education.

     The opening lies in the realization that postmodernism is a transitory phase; education will adopt a transmodern philosophy which will overcome the postmodern world view, not by eliminating world views as such, but by constructing a new world view through a revision of modern premises and traditional concepts. This constructive postmodernism, or transmodernism, demands a new integration of scientific, ethical, aesthetic, and religious intuitions.14 It rejects not science as such but only that scientism in which the data of the modern natural sciences are alone allowed to contribute to the construction of our world view. In spite of its fragmented approach, the postmodern movement has nevertheless created the necessary ingredients for a new intellectual vision, which I call transmodernism. In the words of Tarnas:12 “If the postmodern mind has sometimes been prone to a dogmatic relativism and a compulsively fragmenting skepticism, and if the cultural ethos that has accompanied it has sometimes deteriorated into cynical detachment and spiritual pastiche, it is evident that the most significant characteristics of the larger postmodern intellectual situation—its pluralism, complexity and ambiguity—are precisely the characteristics necessary for the potential emergence of a fundamental new form of intellectual vision, one that might both preserve and transcend the current state of extraordinary differentiation. In the politics of the contemporary Weltanschauung, no perspective—religious, scientific, or philosophical—has the upper hand. Yet that situation has encouraged an almost unprecedented intellectual flexibility and cross-fertilization, reflected in the widespread call for, and practice of, open conversation between different understandings, different vocabularies, different cultural paradigms.” This is the opening which will set the stage for a new design of general education.

     Widely different knowledge areas will communicate in new transdisciplinary modes,15-16 compared to the traditional interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches which essentially continue to link closely related areas of knowledge. Just as the University of Faith evolved to the University of Reason, the next phase will be the University of Communication, described by Heath17 and presaged by Peirce.18 As Fig. 2 also indicates, other scholars have described the transformation underway from various viewpoints. I call this University of the future the Integrative University for an Integrative Age, which will accelerate the evolving human capacity for integrative thinking.

     World society is undergoing a major transformation—an epochal shift—to an integrative age and to an age of communication. Figure 3 is a schematic of the percentage of the world population estimated to live within different dimensional paradigms throughout human history.9 The hunter-gathering phase marked the onset of human capacity for self-reflective consciousness, compared to the very limited perceptions which preceded this phase for millions of years. Then about 12,000 years ago the agricultural era began, followed by the industrial age in the 18th century; even today about 50% of the world population is in this phase. To a great extent our educational models derive from the industrial era, preparing students as if to work in a hierarchical, machine-like environment. Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, the information age greatly expanded the ability of societies to communicate globally. This transformation has accelerated the emergence of the integrative mind and world view. According to the scheme in Fig. 3, a sixth Gaian dimension of even greater integration and holism lies ahead, but will not become dominant until well into the 21st Century. These are the currents in our culture which have been enabled by advances in philosophy, knowledge and technology and which future education must take into account.

     Wilber has also discussed19 these levels of development, based on work of Graves, Cowen and Beck. Fig. 4 shows a more detailed idea for evolution of the levels of consciousness and the corresponding percentages of the population in the different stages. While the “truth-force” and “strive-drive” levels originating in the industrial era of scientific rationalism and materialism are still the dominant paradigm for more than 70% of the population and 80% of the power, higher integrative consciousness levels are emerging. The diagram is not meant to imply a linear progression from the bottom level of survival instincts to the top level of integral-holonic consciousness, but rather that the different levels are all necessary if we are to survive well in the complexity of the modern world. In earlier times a survival sense based on sharpened instinct and innate senses was crucial—and sometimes still is. More important for the future will be the holistic mind. A significant 20th century step along this path is labeled on the diagram as “human bond” reflecting greater awareness of ecological issues, explorations of the self and the capacity for integrating and aligning systems, all of which are present in the world today. These upper levels of human bond and flex-flow, which encompass whole view and integral holonic development, must increasingly become the focus of educational systems. While the earlier phases of evolution spanned millions and thousands years, the new phases are being established more rapidly. Only a few hundred years separated the industrial and communication phases, so that we might anticipate a more rapid transition to integral, holonic thinking.

     The dual challenge of opening access to education and simultaneously to more integral world views will be enhanced by the Internet, which is facilitating a convergence of the information age, the knowledge age, and the communication age into the Integrative Age. Brown describes20 these opportunities in “Growing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education and the Ways People Learn.” The Web is actually the first medium to honor multiple intelligences. Whereas the concept of literacy in the University of Reason grew out of our belief in text—a focus enhanced by the technology of the typewriter which prized a particular type of analytical and linear intelligence—the new media draw on abstract, textual, visual, musical, social and kinesthetic intelligences. New technologies also emphasize relationships between communities and networks of individuals rather a predominant focus on the individual. With these shifts we shall discover new protocols to help each other--the very essence of social learning and communicative theory. He concludes: “It is also the essence of lifelong learning—a form of learning that learning ecologies could dramatically facilitate. And developing learning ecologies in a region is a first, important step toward a more general culture of learning.”


     Given the epistemological and organizational landscape outlined in this essay, I now give a general prescription for the future. As I have noted, the term “general education” is hardly appropriate for the world in which graduates will live and work, and I have suggested integrative learning as the appropriate terminology.

     The Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, titled Learning: The Treasure Within defines21 four undergirding pillars for education: Learning to Know; Learning to Do; Learning to Live Together; Learning to Be. This structure can now be understood as the natural consequence of the evolution of knowledge and education outlined in this essay. Traditional educational models focus on Knowing and Doing in the University of Reason, with little attention to Living and Being. The vision for Land Grant Universities of melding liberal and professional education must be reinvented for the 21st century by melding “knowing and doing” with “living together and being.” Living together is an obvious dimension given our interconnected world. Quoting from the UNESCO Report: “The problem will then no longer be so much to prepare children for a given society as to continuously provide everyone with the power and intellectual reference they need for understanding the world around them and behaving responsibly and fairly. More than ever education’s essential role seems to be to give people the freedom of thought judgment, feeling and imagination they need in order to develop their talents and remain as much as possible in control of their lives…..” Our aim must be the complete fulfillment of the human being in all the richness of personality, complexity of forms of expression and various commitments—as individual members of a family and of a community, citizen and producer, inventor of techniques and creative dreamer. Education as a means to an end of a successful working life is a very individualized process and at the same time a process of controlling social interaction. As we said at the outset, there is a dual purpose in education: the development of complete and integrative human beings who will create a better and a wiser world. This philosophy has also been clearly articulated for many years in the work of Maxwell.22

     General education of the future should develop the full range of human potential, including cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual intelligences.23-25 The current models focus on one dimension of rational intelligence. Even entrance requirements to Universities create this bias early on. Modifying entrance requirements to be less reliant on SAT scores and to include characteristics such as “ability to overcome hardships,” “leadership potential,” or “ability to work in a team,” are first attempts to include these other dimensions of intelligence. Research is in progress23-25 to define measures of multidimensional intelligence. Imagine how our world might change for the better if the educational system selected students based on these multidimensional criteria, and then proceeded to develop this capacity further by integrative education. To some degree, the current paradigm prepares students for a world conceived as a rational hierarchical machine, flowing from 17th century science. However the best work environments of the future will be living, dynamic organisms rather than machines26-28 (see also Fig. 2), which in fact is the structure of the universe flowing from 20th century science.

     Today general education is usually covered in the first two years in order to provide a common base of knowledge for all students before they embark on the specialized, diverging paths of the major. As illustrated in the upper section of Fig. 5, this model emphasizes the explosion and fragmentation of knowledge, reflecting the developments over the last several hundred years as outlined in this paper. My central thesis is the need for integrative thinking in an integrative age. Therefore a better model is depicted in the lower half of Fig. 5, where general education is followed by specialization and completed by integrative learning, connecting knowledge across the disciplines in order to deal with complex problems in the world today. This model emphasizes the implosion rather than the explosion of knowledge. The opportunities for connecting different areas of knowledge in a grand unification or consilience29 have never been greater since the Renaissance. Various models exist to achieve this end, many of which are discussed in this volume. The essay by Jenkins describes30 some of the approaches under consideration at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. These approaches are harbingers of the design I imagine for the future. Perhaps the words of Frederick Turner capture31 the spirit we need for an integrative age and for the design of a new academy, and it is to this design that general education and educators must turn in the years ahead.

Our students should feel the fire packed into the atom, the inertia of the thrown stone, the stream eroding the valley, the field of flowers generically drifting with a little assist from herbivores and climatic change, the sense of social attunement and insight brought about by ritual chant or dramatic performance. They should see the earth’s spin toward sunlight, not the sun rising. Science teachers ought to be poets; it goes without saying that poets have to be scientists.”


     I wish to thank many colleagues who have contributed to ideas in this essay over the years. First I thank Barbara Burn for her unflagging dedication to general education in a global society and for many discussions with me during many travels. I also thank Susan Awbrey, Diane Dana, Diana Chapman Walsh, Katja D’Errico Hahn, Jon Kabat-Zinn, John Jenkins, Mark Kriger, Fréderique Apffel-Marglin, Vachel Miller, Gregory Prince, Phyllis Robinson, Otto and Katrin Scharmer, Peter Senge, Marcellette G. Williams, Fan YiHong and Arthur Zajonc for many recent discussions. Many valuable insights were provided to me by Jennifer Gidley for which I am most grateful also. Finally I thank Rose Mulherin for her work in preparing this and so many other papers for me, and Frederick Zinn for his work on the illustrations.


1. David K. Scott, Learning in an Integrative Age: The University of Communication, in the Sixth Olympiad of the Mind: The Next Communication Civilization. The International S.T.E.P.S. Foundation, edited by Epimenidis D. Haidemenakis, 2001.

2. David K. Scott and Vachel Miller, Filling in the Moat Around the Ivory Tower, in Learning to Serve: Promoting Civil Society Through Service Learning. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Norwell, MA, to be published in 2001.

3. David K. Scott, Spirituality in an Integrative Age, in Education as Transformation: Religious Pluralism, Spirituality and a New Vision for Higher Education in America, edited by Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr. and Peter L. Laurence. Peter Lang Publisher, 2000.

4. Vachel Miller and David K. Scott, Making Space for Spirit in the Department. The Department Chair: A Response for Academic Administrators, Winter 2001, Vol. 11, No. 3., p. 22.

5. Susan Awbrey and David K. Scott, Knowledge into Wisdom: Incorporating Inherent Values and Benefits to Construct a Wise University. in To Improve the Academy. New Forums Press, Inc., Oklahoma, 1994, p. 161.

6. David K. Scott, At Michigan State University, Science is a Liberating Art, in Michigan State University Alumni Magazine, Spring 1985, p. 15.

7. David K. Scott, Paradigms Lost and Regained, in Michigan State University Alumni Magazine, Fall 1990, p. 16.

8. Ronald Barnett, The Idea of Higher Education. Open University Press, Buckingham, 1990.

9. Duane Elgin, Awakening Earth: Exploring the Evolution of Human Culture and Consciousness. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1993.

10. John S. Daniel, Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education, Kagan Page Limited, London, 1996.

11. Robert William Fogel, The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2000.

12. Stephen Muller, The Advent of the University of Calculation in Universities of the 21st Century. Berghahn Books,Oxford, 1991.

13. Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View. Ballantine Books, New York, 1991.

14. David W. Orr, Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World. State University of New York Press, Albany, 1992.

15. Basarab Nicolescu, Towards a Transdisciplinary Education. Paper Presented at the Conference on Education of the Future, Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 4-8, 1993.

16. Michael Gibbons, The Production of Knowledge: the Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies. Sage Publishers, London, 1994.

17. Gregory Heath, The University as a Communicative Institution, EAIR Forum. University of Warwick, England, 1997.

18. Charles Sanders Peirce, From Pragmatism to Pragmaticism. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1981.

19. Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business Politics, Science and Spirituality. Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, 2000.

20. John Seely Brown, Growing Up Digital: How the Web Changes Work, Education and the Ways People Learn. Change Magazine, March-April, 2000.

21. Jacques Delors, Learning: The Treasure Within: Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century. Unesco Publishing, 1996.

22. Nicholas Maxwell, From Knowledge to Wisdom: A Revolution in the Aims of Modern Science. Basil Blackwell, London, 1984.

23. Daniel Golman, Emotional Intelligence. Bantam Books, 1995.

24. Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall, SQ: Connecting With Our Spiritual Intelligence. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000.

25. Howard Gardner, The Disciplined Mind. Simon and Schuster, 1999.

26. Peter Senge et al, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. Doubleday, New York, 1994.

27. Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science: Learning About Organization from an Orderly Universe. Berrett-Koehler, 1994.

28. David Whyte, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, New York: Currency Doubleday, 1994.

29. Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1998.

30. John Jenkins, Essay in this Volume.

31. Frederick Turner, Design for a New Academy: An End to Division by Department. Harper’s Magazine, Vol. 273, pg. 47, September, 1986.

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