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Transcending Cultural Barriers:
Effective Holistic Learning Around the Globe

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Klee's There was a Child
There Was A Child

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by Vickie R. Holtzapple Ph.D.
OptimaLearning® ... can only be described as a new paradigm for learning, in that it is designed to allow for a complete transformation of the person, rather than being applied only to specific subject matter. As such we may say that it is holistic in nature, for holistic learning systems, in contrast with conventional teaching approaches, focus on individuals (whole persons) in the context of their environment, on the interaction between individuals and the subject matter, and on the transformation of the person through such interaction.

Because it primarily addresses the person, along with the task of transmitting some specified subject matter (e.g., physics, English, anthropology), OptimaLearning has a much broader potential for application than the familiar classroom setting. For example, it can be used just as effectively by parents, health care practitioners, religious leaders, and businessmen as by teachers or professors.

More importantly for those of us interested in raising the conditions and consciousness of people worldwide, OptimaLearning is applicable cross-culturally. It has been communicated effectively in Europe, Latin America, and Asia as well as in the United States and Canada, to people from widely varying cultures.

What is it that permits cross-cultural communication? How does this system transcend natural cultural and linguistic barriers? From my observations and experience in applying OptimaLearning over the past nine years, it appears to be that it has the unique quality of touching that underlying essence which links the human species.

Scientifically speaking we may say that it accomplishes this by addressing the whole brain; the limbic and other subcortical structures as well as the cerebral cortex. The arts are employed in order to involve the emotions and to help the listener associate the message with graphic artistic examples. By utilizing local cultural traditions (folklore, poetry, music, paintings) as the vehicle of communication, the message becomes meaningful and relevant to the audience.

For example, in addressing a Japanese audience recently, Barzakov began with a Zen story, used examples of Japanese art and employed Japanese music in order to explain the OptimaLearning system. In speaking to a predominantly Muslim audience in Malaysia he used examples from the Koran; in Germany, he utilized Bach; among Canadian Indians, native symbolism; etc. From the comments which he received, he discerned that individuals from each culture felt that he had helped them to better understand their own tradition.

Hence, we may postulate that what makes it possible to resonate with all individuals, despite their varying cultural/subcultural backgrounds, is the emotional impact produced through the systematic use of artistic examples relevant to the audience and skillfully interwoven with the information in order to present a coherent overall message.

My own experience in applying OptimaLearning indicates similar results, although the purpose was not to explain the system per se but rather to use elements of it in teaching typical anthropological subjects (e.g. World Cultures, Cultures of Asia, Indians of North America, etc.) In these instances students' comments have been to the effect that "You not only gave me the opportunity to learn about, say, China, I also learned something about myself." Or, "You've certainly made me aware of the world I live in. I never read the newspaper before, but now I find myself still looking for articles about my (adopted) country." Or, "I never imagined that I could feel comfortable in front of a class of thirty students, but now I have the confidence to speak English to anyone" (Iranian student).

In other words, if these comments are sincere, then the use of OptimaLearning techniques in teaching traditional subject matter can result in at least a partial transformation of habits, attitudes and personality. It can remove barriers to performance and learning and unlock certain hidden potentials in the individual's psyche.

Another commonly observed by-product of the personality transformation which results from the application of OptimaLearning is creative energy. That is, the individual has a driving need not only to continue learning but to express what s/he has discovered. The form of expression may vary from writing poetry or articles, to giving lectures or presentations, to founding new organizations.

This creative output often leads to new plateaus of self discovery which in turn lead to new directions or to spiraling expression of creativity. Hence, there seems to be a kind of self-renewing motivational factor contained within the process which helps to sustain and to expand upon the original effects.

Let me cite two examples to illustrate these effects. In the first case, a reading specialist obtained phenomenal results from applying OptimaLearning in her elementary remedial reading classes. For instance, students not only learned to read, (usually within the first semester), they also showed positive gains on standardized tests and indicated a strong interest in continuing to read outside the classroom. Because of these results with her own students the teacher was encouraged to share elements of the technique with her colleagues and eventually became a part-time consultant to teachers throughout the nation.

In the second instance, a mother who had received minimal exposure to the system (i.e., one weekend workshop with Barzakov and two follow-up weekend workshops in Holistic Learning Approaches) used elements of OptimaLearning with her own daughter to help her accelerate learning, raise her grades, learn foreign languages and read with expression. This parent then started a summer program for students in her own small community, next became involved in the pilot program, Parents as (First) Teachers, is now the regional coordinator for that program and has been invited to be on the research team for the Parents as Teachers program at Harvard. . .

If we are concerned about the ability of our graduates and citizens to compete successfully in our emerging global village, then it would seem to me that the kind of results which OptimaLearning® produces would be infinitely more beneficial than simply learning facts and figures; concepts, theories and methods. . .

In order to be successful in one's career, solve complex problems, and adapt to changing conditions within life itself, it is not sufficient to state that we must continue to learn. We must want to continue and to be able to do so rapidly.

Furthermore, we must be motivated to apply our knowledge to solutions which will constantly produce more problems to be solved, for that is the nature of complex social systems. Learning, therefore, must be a career in itself. Knowledge must be ever expanding, old premises dissolved, and priorities rearranged in order to meet new challenges.

Since such attitudes require flexibility and continual personal adjustments, it seems logical to focus on the individual and attempt to make any subject matter part of the person's frame of reference, rather than treating subjects as something separate that the individual must learn. . .

We may want to focus on learning to appreciate cultural diversity and on understanding people's needs in order to set up cultural and economic exchanges. We may want to create new international cooperative endeavors to combat environmental deterioration and to better understand our global ecological system. All of these new conditions represent opportunities on both a local and a global scale. But these opportunities cannot be seized unless people from diverse cultural backgrounds can find some common ground, some means of transcending barriers to communication. In short the global citizen of tomorrow must be adaptive. Thus we need a new paradigm for learning and teaching which allows us to maintain our essential cultural identity, yet encourages us to unite and to cooperate in order to adapt to our constantly changing, ever more complex world.

Vickie R. Holtzapple, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of Missouri, St. Louis, and co-founder of the Holistic Education Activities Directory

This complete article appears in The Essence and Impact of OptimaLearning, 1995, published by Barzakov and Associates, Barzak Educational Institute, Novato, CA.

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