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An overview of radical education in actionA paper prepared by John Heron for the Committee of the Institute for the Development of Human Potential, London, 1985.


The Institute for the Development of Human Potential was founded in early 1977 in London, England, by David Blagden Marks, Tom Feldberg, John Heron, Kate Hopkinson, and Dr Frank Lake. It was set up to launch two-year part-time courses, throughout the UK, leading to the award of a Diploma in Humanistic Psychology. The Diploma signifies that its holder has a thorough grounding, theoretical, experiential and practical, in humanistic and transpersonal psychology.

At the time of writing (June 1985), six IDHP courses are running. The one in London and the one in Leeds are based outside existing educational institutions. The other four are based as follows: one at the University of Surrey, one at Cornwall Technical College, and two at the University of Bath. Courses are only based within existing educational institutions provided that this does not involve any interference with IDHP ideology and methodology; and courses so based receive only the external IDHP diploma, and no internal diploma, certificate or degree. Including the courses currently running, a total of some 17 two-year courses have been put on since 1977, distributed between London, Leeds, Surrey, Cornwall, Bath. This represents a very considerable body of experience of radical education in action, which has not hitherto been reported on in the educational literature.

Each course prospectus is a contract to which each participant is asked to assent and subscribe. The contract has the following non-negotiable parts: the overall objectives of integrating personal development with facilitative skills and social change awareness and competence; a balance between theoretical and written work on the one hand and experiential and practical work on the other; the use of self and peer assessment throughout and at the conclusion of the course for the award of the Diploma; a range of week-end workshops in the first year in the basic modalities of humanistic and transpersonal psychology; peer self-direction in planning the rest of the course, that is, the weekly meetings and five day workshops in the first year and virtually the whole of the second year. The negotiable parts of the contract are therefore everything that falls under peer self-direction.

Each course has a primary facilitator whose task is conceived as that of bringing into being a peer learning community within the terms of the agreed contract. This task has usually been interpreted as involving a high profile that is more directive in the earlier stages of the course, and a low profile that is non-directive in the later stages of the course.

The courses are seen as having a developing ideology and methodology, which is managed by the IDHP Committee, through a continuous process of inquiry and review. The committee consists of founder members of the IDHP and all those who have facilitated or are currently facilitating courses. Course participants can attend committee . meetings through their chosen representatives. Course facilitators provide regular peer supervision for each other.

As a founder member of the IDHP, I formulated a lot of its initial ideology and methodology. I facilitated the first IDHP course at the University of Surrey, have provided peer supervision for facilitators of two other IDHP courses, and have run workshops of one sort or another for participants on most courses. It is from this combination of perspectives that I write this chapter.

IDHP courses can be seen as having two primary dimensions: a confluent dimension, and a political dimension. Confluence is about interweaving different sorts of learning – intellectual, emotional, interpersonal, and so on. The political dimension is about balancing and bringing into relation different foci of decision-making – the IDHP committee, the course facilitator, the peer group of participants, the individual participant – about what is to be learned, when it is to be learned, haw it is to be learned, and whether it has been learned. What I want to discuss in this chapter are the issues that arise around these two dimensions for participants and facilitators on all our courses. My sense of these issues comes from the combination of perspectives mentioned above.

A Conceptual Model for the Confluent Dimension

In order to provide some kind of framework for discussion, I use a parity model of the psyche: the soul has co-equal capacities for understanding, feeling and choosing; capacities which are interdependent and mutually enhancing; and this in relation with other persons similarly endowed. So intellectual development, emotional development, decision-making development and interpersonal development go hand in hand, the adequacy and integrity of each depending on the adequacy and integrity of every other. This leads to the notion of confluent education, honouring the four strands in the curriculum – separately and serially, separately and concurrently, or simultaneously – so that over time and in the long run they are equally developed and integrated in a total system of development.

Within IDHP courses the intellectual development strand is represented as (1) theoretical understanding and (2) written work; the emotional development strand as (3) personal growth; the decision-making development strand as (4) political skills internal to the course (e.g. peer decision-making in programme planning) and also as (5) social change competence outside the course; and the interpersonal development strand as (6) facilitative skills, as well, of course, as personal growth. So there are these six threads each course is trying to weave together into some holistic system of learning. And it may be we need to add a seventh strand, that of (7) transpersonal centering, or access to a deeper resource within the psyche that empowers the integration process.

A Conceptual Model for the Political Dimension

The model I use here is that of an holistic learning system in which there is an interaction between three sources of decision-making about course objectives, content and method: hierarchical, peer and autonomous. Hierarchical decisions are made authoritatively for others, peer decisions are made cooperatively with others, and autonomous decisions are made independently by oneself.

IDHP courses seek to establish sane kind of balance between hierarchy, cooperation and autonomy. Hierarchy is represented by the course prospectus and contract drawn up by the course facilitator, modified and approved by the IDHP committee; by the directive role of the course facilitator in the earlier stages of the course; by the fact that the final diploma requires the signatures of the course facilitator and a representative of the IDHP committee. Co-operation is represented by participants’ peer planning of all those considerable parts of the course that have not been programmed in advance by the course prospectus, and by peer assessment. Autonomy is represented by the individual’s assent to what is hierarchically and cooperatively decided and above all by the individual’s self-determination, within this context, with respect to learning needs, personal learning goals, methods and assessment

An interesting and important theoretical point is what sort of relation between hierarchy, parity and autonomy is possible and desirable in a healthy learning system. Can they themselves be in a relation of equality, or can they only be in a relation of hierarchy? Whatever the answer to this question, I take the view that all three need to be present as vigorous interdependent political parts of a holistic learning system.

Learning About Confluence

This is a sort of higher order learning: about the dynamic relation between ‘first order strands of learning. But it is higher order in another sense, not only in terms of content, but also in terms of personnel: first order learning about confluence issues occurs among adult learners on the courses; and higher order learning occurs among those who attend IDHP committee meetings over a long period and learn about confluence issues from reports on many different courses.

Let’s take the seven strands mentioned above – (1) theoretical understanding, (2) written work, (3) personal growth, (4) political skills internal to the course, (5) social change competence, (6) facilitative skills, (7) transpersonal centering – and look at some of the dynamic tensions that arise between them. All the points made below are echoed to a greater or lesser degree on all our IDHP courses, in my view.

1. The Experiential and the Reflective

This is a classic one, of course. For adult learners on IDHP courses, there is a tension in balancing experiential work on the personal growth and facilitative skills strands with sufficient high quality reflective and theoretical work, both spoken and written. This is particularly so in the first year. I believe there are four reasons for this.

First, intellectual development is the only strand on the traditional education which everyone has gone through; as a result its incidental function has been to control, repress and deny feeling, especially distress feelings such as grief, fear and anger. So on a course where there is a strong personal growth strand that involves dealing with these feelings, learners want to get out from under the old oppressive role of intellect. And it takes them some time to find their way through to a non-oppressive and emotionally enhancing use of their intellectual powers. So there is a genuine need in the earlier part of the course for a strong, almost exclusive focus on the experiential and emotional strand of learning. But it is important to note that this exclusive focus does include the all-important exercise of intelligence as insight into and learning about one’s own personal history, destiny and development.

Second, and more fundamentally, there is a general metaphysical point that goes beyond the analysis of any particular culture. It is that immediate experience is intrinsically hypnotic, fascinating and enthralling the mind, sweeping it along with a cascade of sensation and perception, so that any intellectual and reflective endeavour is an achievement, is wrested from a tide stemmed. And of course once intellectual competence did get culturally established outside the flux, there was the inevitable tendency to sustain it in an exclusive, single stranded way so that it did not disappear below the waves.

Third, the metaphysical point is compounded by the fact that when you structure experience for the purposes of learning from it, it is as if the learners consider that the structuring itself is sufficient, that you don’t need to reflect on what you have learned in and through the structure.

Fourth, facilitators need more skill and more designs for integrating in appropriate ways and at appropriate times the reflective with the experiential. It us very easy for us facilitators to collude with a sub-reflective culture of experiential pseudo-learning. I think we may need more strategic moves from personal experience, through personal insight to general reflection.

2. The Existential and the Analytic

The second point relates to written work, and it is connected to the first point. On a course where the personal growth strand is prominent in the earlier terms, and where, therefore, self-insight and personal awareness are in the forefront of learning, there is a tension, when students face the requirement of written work, between the claims of personal, existential statements on the one hand, and analytic, theoretical statements on the other.

The adult learner wants, quite properly, to write first about personal learning from personal experience. So we have the “Odyssey essay”, the journal of the individual soul. And I think this is as it should be. Generally. our culture gives us no practice in articulating the insights and the learning we acquire from reflecting on our own idiosyncratic case history.

So what tends to emerge first out of the strong personal growth thrust of the first two terms are author-centred writings. This, I believe, provides a launching ground for authentic versions of more analytic topic-centred writings that come later, especially in the second year.

Personal insight and general reflection are the poles of cognitive learning, and I believe it to be important that both are honoured in written work. I think we are learning on IDHP courses that the former is a precursor and ground of the latter. What we have not so far explored is the use of nonlinguistic symbolism, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, sound, music and movement, for both personal insight and general reflection. Nor have we explored the relation between linguistic and non-linguistic symbolism in each of these two areas, and as between the areas.

3. Personal Growth and Facilitative Skills

There seems to be a significant tension, in the first two terms, between the claims on participants of doing their personal growth work and acquiring facilitative skills. Personal growth needs are too strong for facilitator training to take. This was certainly my experience in running the first course at the University of Surrey. We had programmed in several days of facilitator skills training even in the first term. Course members went through the motions of all the exercises, but by the third term of the first year had very little recall, either mental or behavioural, of what it had all been about.

By contrast in the third IDHP course at Surrey, facilitator skills training was introduced gradually from the middle of the second term and was consistently taken up with more energy, interest and enthusiasm. This same phenomenon has also been noted on other IDHP courses. And the reason, or at least a plausible reason, is not far to seek: when you are engrossed in the challenge of putting your own house in order, you don’t feel ready to learn how to sort out someone else’s affairs. Conversely, when you have cleared some space in your awn psyche, you are ready to use it to install skills for helping others.

Even apart from this, there is, I think, a group hunger that is strong in the first term or two to get down to the nitty gritty of personal work without distraction from theoretical and skills building issues.

However, the several courses that use co-counselling for a significant amount of personal growth work from the beginning do succeed in launching a very modest facilitative skills strand also from the beginning. In every co-counselling session, the person in the counsellor role is practising their facilitative skills within the repertoire of co-counselling interventions -which is a basic, all-purpose repertoire for regression work. But that person is not being distracted from their own personal work, simply because they are trading their time as counsellor for their immediately preceding or succeeding time as client. And since the client in co-counselling is significantly self-directed in the use of the repertoire, the counsellor does not have the exclusive or indeed the primary responsibility for the effectiveness of the client’s session. In this sort of context, facilitator skills can be acquired gradually and unobtrusively, with the main focus being upon each person in the client role.

4. Eclecticism and Psychological Depth

There are several aspects to this issue. The first one is about sustaining a meaningful line through personal growth work, especially in the first year, when it is done, somewhat unpredictably with so many different people and in several different modalities. Thus a participant may: co-counsel with several different course members; work with the primary facilitator of the course in that facilitator’s particular style; work with the many visiting facilitators each using a different modality of personal growth. So there is no one person other than the participant who is getting a sense of the growth themes, of how they are unfolding singly and together.

I may be wrong but I get a sense that for some learners this is more problematic than has been noticed or explicitly acknowledged. And while a great deal of learning about personal development is going on, I think more structures could be devised to enable learners to throw into relief more evidently the significant form of their learning about their growth. In all this, I am referring particularly to work on regression and the relation between past events and present ways of living.

The second aspect is a consequence of the first. It is to do with integration of personal growth learning with how participants live their lives outside the course. If the personal growth learning is not fully articulated then its transfer to the rest of living may be obscured. And even if it is fully articulated, how it is to be transferred outside the course still needs independent attention. Again, while a lot of transfer clearly goes on, I have the impression that it is not part of any coordinated process of learning about transfer.

A third aspect is to do with transpersonal development and spiritual work. I think there is a tendency on some courses for this to be introduced in dribs and drabs, through an exercise here or there and through an occasional transpersonal weekend by a visiting facilitator. But then entry to the spiritual domain becomes another episodic bit of the general eclecticism – and this seems odd. Learners want this domain and want more of it. The challenge is how to give spiritual learning the central and integrative role it deserves without making the sorts of dogmatic assumptions that undermine any true learning. I do not think this challenge has really been met yet.

A fourth aspect is to do with personal growth from the standpoint of overall integration – of regression and insight into the effects of past experience, of expressive style in the present, of interpersonal awareness, of transpersonal learning, of transfer to everyday living. Integration of all these things happens, of course, but it seems that the eclecticism keeps it relatively unfocussed as a happening. I do not have a very clear sense of what could be done, if anything, about this.

5. Social Change and Political Malaise

There is a noticeable tendency on courses for social change objectives to get crowded out of the curriculum. Of course they never do get lost or go missing entirely: important work is done in the area. But often this is done as an afterthought, as a rescue operation by the facilitator or one or more course members when it is realized belatedly that the whole area has been neglected over a term or more.

The situation is not actually as bad as it sometimes seems. The course itself is an exercise in social change with respect to educational practices. The. acquisition of political skills internal to the course through peer decision-making is an important tool for social change. And the transfer to life outside the course of personal growth learning and facilitator skills learning is the continuous exercise of a small social change lever.

Nevertheless, whole areas of awareness and practice do seem to be underrepresented (I am certainly not saying that they are not there at all): history of radical political thought and social experiment, organizational change and development, ecological issues, no-growth economic systems, macro-analysis of rich and poor nations, nuclear threat dynamics, non-violet political interventions, and so on. The focus of the courses is much more on the theory and practice of personal growth from the respective standpoints of client and facilitator, than it is on the theory and practice of moving toward a new society.

This stems partly, I think, from the traditionally apolitical stance of humanistic psychology with its emphasis on personal autonomy and face-to-face situations; and partly from the political malaise of the surrounding culture.

6. Peer Politics and Everything Else

There is a tension between developing skills in peer decision-making and developing all the other strands on the courses. From the beginning the participants have the challenge of planning as a peer group a significant proportion of the first year: how on the weekly meetings to meet the manifold objectives of the course and integrate the various strands of learning. Difficulties in resolving this challenge of peer planning can be at the expense of the activities which are supposed to be planned.

Cooperative planning in a peer group to meet a balance of individual and collective objectives takes some tine to learn, since very few people have any prior experience of it in our culture. And this difficulty is compounded by the fact that it is a very sophisticated balance of different kinds of learning that the peer group has to plan.

At their worst, peer planning meetings last too long, are held too often, and plan for too short a period; there is no awareness of what sort of decision-making process is being used; and the frustrations and anomie generated by the whole business mean that often decisions once made are not kept, being forgotten or arbitrarily overruled by the turn of events. The result is that all the other major strands of learning on the course suffer.

At their best, peer planning meetings are time-limited, are held not more than once a month, thus planning at least four weekly sessions at one go; the group knows what sort of decision-making model it is using, and chooses to use it intentionally; the group sticks to both the decision-making model and the decisions it generates, and only modifies the model or the decisions with awareness and with good reason. The result of all this is that the other major strands of learning come on well together.

The primary facilitator has an important role in managing peer planning meetings in the early stages so that participants can acquire the appropriate skills. And the adequacy of the confluence of different kinds of learning throughout the course really does depend dramatically on these skills being acquired. So it is here that the political dimension and the confluent dimension critically interact.

7. Tensions within a Holistic Learning System

Course participants need to learn within a single strand, need to learn about the tensions between strands, and need to learn how to manage this tension and balance the strands. Since different kinds of learning are involved in the different strands, the challenge is considerable. And it is beset by the paradox that participants need to be integrated beings in order to balance the strands of learning, and yet the purpose of balancing the strands is so that they may become integrated beings.

Hence the key role of the facilitator in providing a watching brief, being the guardian of the course prospectus, raising the claims of those strands that are temporarily but improperly being neglected. This interaction between facilitator hierarchy and peer parity is central to the development of truly confluent learning and must now be considered.

Learning about the Political Dimension

This learning about each of the three sources of decision-making in the course which I have in an earlier section called hierarchical, peer and autonomous and about how they interact. Course participants are concerned with this learning more from the peer perspective, course facilitators more from the hierarchical perspective; and both in their different ways from the autonomous perspective. Several critical issues arise on IDHPcourses.

1. Parity Too Soon

If a facilitator launches a group too quickly into peer decision-making without any training in decision-making strategies and without influential facilitation of the early rounds of decision-making, then no real learning about the peer process takes place – except negative learning about messy, ineffective and inconclusive democracy, as mentioned in section 6 above. When this sort of thing has happened on a course, then the facilitator has had to be encouraged by their supervisors to exercise a more influential, hierarchical profile at a time when otherwise they would have been relinquishing just such a profile.

Then again, if a facilitator does a good job in using hierarchical influence to train people to bring into being an effective peer decision-making process, but tries to do this in the shortest possible responsible time so that she or he can join the peer group as an equal and abandon any hierarchical status, then it can happen, and has happened, that the result is pseudo-parity. This is because the facilitator has not taken time out with the group to deal with transference and counter-transference material between the facilitator and group members. This unprocessed material sinks unnoticed into the group and distorts the political process. The emotional material in the group traps the facilitator into the role of a lurking hierarch, with everybody pretending it is not happening.

And transference on to the facilitator will be increased to the degree that they facilitate a lot of personal growth work in the early part of the course, as well as taking a leading role in initiating people into the peer process.

2. The Hierarchy-Parity Paradox

The paradox we seem to be learning about is that it takes a good hierarch -who is directive, structuring, confronting, facilitative, enabling and supportive – to bring into being a good peer political process. And that a healthy parity is sustained by being interdependent with a healthy hierarch. So the facilitator does not abandon the hierarchical role; but merely changes it from that of active initiator of the peer process, to that of guardian of the course contract who intermittently raises the consciousness of the peer group about issues and strands of learning that are getting overlooked.

Of course, there is not really a paradox here at all, but a systems view of political reality – that hierarchy, parity and autonomy are all part of a learning community’s decision-making process, and have a changing and developing pattern of-interaction as the community unfolds.

But what is important as parity comes to the fore, and the hierarch recedes into a contract-guarding role, is that transference and counter-transference material between facilitator and participants is regularly brought up and dealt with, so that the developing political system is not contaminated by unprocessed emotional distress.

3. Coming down the Curve

It has long been a tradition in IDHP courses that the facilitator comes down a curve from hierarchy to parity. In the old days we used perhaps to think-that the facilitator should seek to become an actual peer among the participants, perhaps by the second term, certainly well before the end of the first year. As we have just seen, this view is now changing. It was politically naive and probably a defence against facing the full subtleties of the changing pattern of the hierarchy-parity-autonomy system.

Nevertheless the facilitator still needs to cone down the curve from a high profile to a lower profile, from a more prominent function to a different and less prominent function. And it is still an open question how steep or gradual this curve should be and over what period of time. We need a cooperative inquiry involving several course facilitators and their graduates who can review the whole process from their respective standpoints; and perhaps propose a range of experimental models for the curve that could be commended to future courses.

Aids to Learning

I do not think we provide enough aids to learning about confluence and the political dimension on IDHP courses. Certainly participants work on their emotional distress and this sets the scene for more effective and more authentic learning within all the strands and about their interaction.

But what we also need, I believe, are conceptual models to highlight the two dimensions – which is one of my reasons for writing this chapter. Such models could be used to spearhead more cooperative inquiry during and after courses into these two dimensions. More higher-order process learning about how to interweave different strands of learning in different patterns at different stages of the course, and about how to interweave the three different political processes in different patterns at different stages, is a rich prospect for learning development in future courses.