ILLNESS versus WELLNESS: Systems thinking in education
I listened to Krista Tipett’s On Being program, The Evolution of Medicine. In the program, she interviews Mark Hyman, Jeff Gordon and Penny George about the transformation underway in how “functional” and “mind-body” medicine looks at the illness/wellness duality. Her interview reveals a fascinating conversation with three innovative thinkers who reframe the health and wellness dialogue. Each question Tippett asks the panel peels away another layer of understanding how the illness/wellness duality is treated in traditional medicine.
As I listened to their thinking, I kept thinking about their ideas in relation to education of young people, preparing them to be citizens of the 21st Century who can solve complex problems. They need to be systems thinkers, looking at mind-body problems as ecosystems of interrelated ideas.
Food isn’t just energy, it is actually information. (Hyman)
Hyman makes the case for moving away from a siloed approach to teaching and learning in medical school (secondary school), to a more holistic or systems approach to teaching and learning. The functioning of the human body cannot just be isolated into a set of independently operating organs and organ systems, but instead it needs to be understood as an ecosystem of interdependent parts. For example, in a patient with cardiac disease traditional medicine treats the cardiac symptoms while functional medicine, a more holistic approach, treats the whole human being, mind and all aspects of the body.
All three speakers move from talking about disease to talking about wellness.
Disease arises out of the imbalance of the system. (Hyman)
Some of the ingredients for healthy humans are:
- right food
- right balance of hormones
- right amount of sleep
These ingredients speak to the relationship between the social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects of human life.
One important question they discuss is: how do you change human behavior? Behavior is hard to change unless people have a reason and then are self-motivated. Hyman discusses his work with Rick Warren’s church that resulted in the The Daniel Plan, a comprehensive diet for leading a healthy life. Behavior can change, but it requires a enormous and sustained commitment.
The ideas expressed in The Evolution of Medicine are ripe for designing curricula for secondary school students that are interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary, that will help them become more effective systems thinkers. As educators, we have a responsibility to move our design principles from being siloed to becoming more collaborative.
How might we design curricula that support 21st century skill development, and most importantly, systems thinking using relevant and meaningful topics that connect students to challenging problems that matter to them?