About the Systems Theory in the Field of Education Sciences


The objective of this presentation is the analysis of various aspects related to the principles of holistic education from the perspective of dynamic systems theory. Starting from the definition and concepts of dynamic systems, an argument will be made that holistic education, defined in the formal sense in harmony with the real world, it can not be done without discussing the entirety of the system of education, seen from the view of a systems integrator. This problem exists from ancient times, and it is not believed that a solution will be found in current times, possibly never. This problem is largely correlated with the fundamental problem of philosophy. Besides, neither philosophy, nor science could not yet determine whether the Universe has the border,. Hence, it follows that the "whole" can not really be known. We can assume that an "object" is a whole only if we "see" this like to be isolated from its exterior. So, we are forced to apply the principle of reductionist. Otherwise, the "object" is a part of the whole which is made by the "object" and its outside.

Keywords: Dynamic systemsholistic educationreductionismmathematicsphilosophy


If one wants to imagine the above argument related to the core definition of the concept of a

system, they need not look further than Bertalanffy's book 'General Systems Theory' (1969). What is

especially interesting, with regards to the concept of systems introduced by the author, is the fact that,

implicitly, this is related to other fundamental concepts, such as those of: “whole”, “entirety”, holistic,

reductionism, dynamics, force, energy, complexity, etc. Similarly, it should be noted the fact that a

biologist, as was Bertalanffy, felt the necessity to clarify the understanding of the world from a systems

perspective, using examples of “systems” from almost all fields of scientific knowledge (biology,

mathematics, physics, psychology, education, etc.), in the attempt to construct a unifying theory.

Evidently, as was expected, he did not succeed, as “What is to be defined as system is not a question with

an obvious or trivial answer” (Guberman, 2004).

Another “notable” approach for defining the concept of a system was made by Ghitescu (2006):

“The system represents a philosophical category which establishes a finite set of material and spiritual

elements with distinct functions, whose architecture, interconnection, and interaction, is determined by

the predominant types of energy of those elements, which, together, finalize at least one characteristic

process. As such, to highlight the entirety of the concept of a system through this definition, it must also

present the concepts of intellectual energy, as a form of bioenergy, and of information, which are defining

attributes of a system. This is interesting approach, compounded by the fact that the author is a fan of

Forrester' s (1961) theory of the dynamics of systems, as a “ ... professional field, which combines the

theory, methods, and philosophy needed to analyze the behavior of systems in not only management, but

also in environmental change, politics, economic behavior, medicine, engineering, and other fields.

System dynamics provides a common foundation that can be applied wherever we want to understand and

influence how things change through time” (Forrester, 1993). Could this be really a path toward realizing

the unity of the sciences (Cat, 2014)?

In fact, it is in the belief of this paper's author's that, this is firstly a still-unsolved problem of

dialectics: whole-part, holistic-reductionism. How can a system be described, specified, and analyzed, if

not all the parts, each part's actions, interconnections, etc. are known? Starting from the Aristotle’s

statement that “The whole is more than the sum of its parts ...”, Gregory Mitchell (2005) wrote: “The

holism is the idea that all the properties of a given system (biological, chemical, social, economic, mental,

linguistic, etc.) cannot be determined or explained by the sum of its component parts alone. Instead, the

system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave.“ and “Reductionism is the

analysis of complex things into simpler constituents, a theory that all complex systems can be completely

understood in terms of their components. This may be seen as the opposite of holism. On the other hand,

holism and reductionism can also be regarded as complementary viewpoints, in which case they both

would be helpful to get a proper understanding of a given system. The reductionist process helps to

determine the parts of a mechanism or structure, but the holistic view helps to determine its purpose and

potential applications.”

2.What Is a Dynamic System in the Other Sciences, Outside of Mathematics?

Before or while defining the concept of a dynamic system to fit one's field of knowledge of one

science, they should ask themselves whether they really understand the concept of reductionism. The

response would be a hard one to give, and it depends so greatly on who formulates it, as much as the

understanding of the above concepts of dynamic systems and reductionism. This affirmation poses an

argument, for example, for untangling research (i.e finding the definition of a dynamic system on the

internet). One would be surprised of how such definitions and explanations they could find about this

concept. Some would be in convergence with the scientific semantics of the concept, others far away. For

example, in mathematical framework “a dynamical system is a system whose state evolves with time over

a state space according to a fixed rule” (Nykamp, 2016), or “the dynamical system concept is a

mathematical formalization for any fixed rule which describes the time dependence of a point’s position

in its ambient space” (para. 1), etc.

On the other hand, each particular science (e.g. physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, economics,

politics, etc.) has its own “logic” from which reductionism can then be applied for its “object” of study or

for research, which can be named and specified as a subsystem of the real world, and such of the

“entirety”. In addition, every science brings a contribution to the understanding of the “entirety” through

the resulting research done over a portion of it. Alternatively, each science seeks to establish which are

the fundamental elements, the basic building blocks from which the object of study is built. In other

words, each science tries to establish the “monad” type of elements, in the general sense of the concept as

suggested by G. W. Leibniz's in his book “Monadology” (2007), to analyze and then to establish what

type of “composite” defines its object of research. On the other hand, this composite is not “constructed”

randomly, as “nothing is without a reason or there is no effect without a cause”. From Leibniz’s Principle

of Sufficient Reason follow (Look, 2014) that “... nothing takes place without a sufficient reason means

that nothing happens in such a way that it is impossible for someone with enough information to give a

reason why it is so and not otherwise”, and “most of the time these reasons cannot be known to us”. So,

implicitly, Leibniz accepted absolute determinism of Newtonian mechanics, and the conceptual space

which he constructs still had coordinates, although not in Decartes' strict sense. This society has allowed

itself to use Leibniz's ideas, which constructed a “minimal system” of the axioms of his philosophy, just

as a possible “isomorphism” between scientific and philosophical debates from his time and axioms from

which this world addresses.

Is it possible for biology, for example, to correctly establish its own elements of the monad type?

One of biology's study objects is named “ecosystem”, identified by the environment and the species of

plant and animals that it comprises. In this example, the reductionism has already been applied, since,

from the start, this was isolated from the real world by specifying the all its constitutive elements (plants,

animals, geographic area, environmental conditions, etc.). If in its incipient stages biology meant medical,

botanical and zoological sciences, nowadays it had to expand in order to study the “living organisms”

according to the current body of knowledge. As a result, many new branches of biology have been

established (genetics, embryology, bioecology, etc.), which also signifies a scale adaptation. In order to

understand living organisms and to accurately define the object of study of modern biology, new

technologies, instruments and research from other disciplines are employed. For a better understanding of

the “system of biological sciences”, and thus of the knowledge of the “living things”, from the first

philosophical-scientific opinions to a certain scientific level, a reference can be made to the works of

Mayer (1985).

One of the dynamic systems often referenced in biology is the so called “predator-prey” model,

with a very special case being the study on the equilibrium between the species of rabbit (prey) and fox

(predator). This type of model has applicability in many other fields (virology, economy, etc.). The

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3.Is an Education System a Dynamic System?

Could one approach education as a dynamic system? To begin with, it should be established what

are the base monadic elements. It can be difficult to do so, and, and this is not an objective of this work.

But, if one presumes that the monadic elements are already known, and their interactions are established,

and in this way education could be defined as a dynamic system, then, this requires specification and

boundaries in relation with the real world in which it exists. So, we would need to apply a reductionist

method, But, can the real world be defined as a dynamic system integrated with that of education?

This question is not quite rhetorical, and is a problem that everyone encounters, ranging from

professors, scientists, managers, politicians, economists, bankers, etc. However, they vary in opinions,

theories, developments, and they push for school curriculum reforms and methods of teaching, and adjust

facets based on the public budget of the education system, etc. One of the most circulated theories at the

level of the base factors of political educational decisions is that formal education no longer meets the

needs and the expectations of society. In consequence, the education system must develop other types of

education: non-formal, informal, e-learning, blended learning, etc. This way, education as a subsystem of

the world-system is already known, defined, and studied with regards to its interactions with the world-

system, but some of the populous does not know. To simplify: there are not established universal rules

(written in the objective language of mathematics) that govern dynamic systems attached to education, on

the basis which analyses are done, scientific simulations and prognoses that assure sustainable

development and durability of the human society in the context of national, global, etc. Then, how is it

possible to talk about reforms, so of modifications of variables and/or parameters of the dynamic system

of education in such a way to optimize the variable “states”? How can one known which states of

equilibrium are stable, unstable, etc.? The formal education does not meeting any more the needs and

expectations of the society. This is the most used theory at the political decision making levels. Non-

formal and informal education are what the society has need, and e-learning and blended learning are new

education methods that are being developed for these (Duit & Treagust, 2003).

In this context, another question arises which flows in a logical way, from a desire to clarify

several scientific aspects (as morals and ethics apply to less and less people!) of the government, actually

of the real social world in which everyone lives (whether at the local, national, or global level): what

would be the natural link within the academic space between world-system theory, dynamic systems

theory, and scientific education theory? Does there exist scientific understanding of interactions between

a system of learning and real society in such a way that the next generation progresses toward “good” or

toward “better”? To continue, how do we define “good”? Are some pedagogical principles and didactics

enough? As these sciences are empirical and experimental, they are considered as the only ones that

govern a learning and education system, but the learning and educational systems are integrated

(incorporated) in the social system which, in turn, is in a continuous dynamic and unpredictable state, one

may ask whether the problems of education, learning, lifelong learning, and so on are formulated


If we accept the principles of education in the sense of moral principles, ethics, etc., we cannot or

should not accept them in the sense principles of physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc. For didactic

principles to have the same statute, the same consistency, the same outcomes if applied, they should be

translated into mathematical language. Why was not this done before? An argument at hand is the so-

called “didactic triangle” consisting of “knowledge-teacher-student”. There is a lot to be discussed on this

subject and there is a lot of literature related to pedagogy, didactics, education, etc. But as far as we know,

in the conceptual framework of these sciences there was no attempt for this dynamic system to be

specified as a complex system, in the sense of establishing, through research, non-linear laws governing

the interactions between the three subsystems: student, teacher, knowledge. The order is not random,


1. The student is a dynamic subsystem, intellectual energy carrier that will bring intellectual

progress of society in the future; “educational condition” is one that gives feedback on both school-

society and on the modeling processes in school.

2. The teacher is the transfer subsystem between knowledge and student. He is withal a “whole”

and a “a part”, and therefore its role within the “pedagogical triangle” is very important vis à vis of the

student and the society.

3. Knowledge encompasses the state of the society where the student is shaped under the resultant

of all sources of education, be it formal, non-formal, informal, etc.

The resultant of all types of education experienced by the pupil is unique for each individual

student, as a monad element of the society. From this perspective, the human dynamics complex

description on the path to become a “human being” through successive dives in the real world is well

plotted, at least in the form of existential problems, by Lakoff and Núňez (2000), or, why not, in Pink

Floyd’ s song The Wall. One of the components (forces, actions) acting upon the student is that of the

teacher. The later transfer’s knowledge accumulated through experience both in the professional field of

study as well as in its applicability in the society the teacher and the student belong. Not in the least, the

teacher bears the responsibility to challenge the student to reflect and imagine alternative models and

methods to approach possible versions of the society where the student will live in the future.

By performing a simple analysis of the definition and principles of “holistic” education, one may

be disappointed by the rather superficial “trendy” ideas so easily adopted by some researchers. For

example, how can the following sequence be decoded at a scientific information level: Modern

educational theory and practice are grounded in an objectivistic, reductionistic world view, particularly a

“natural science” conception of human development. Holistic education is a radically non-reductionist

approach based upon a person-centered, ecological, global and spiritual world view. As such, the holistic

paradigm is an alternative not only to the scientific reductionism of the modern age, but also to the

intellectual reductionism of post-modern thought. Holistic education is a humanistic as well as spiritual

critique of the dominant culture.”, (Miller, 2000). Regardless of the logical, scientific, humanistic

arguments supporting the above statements, there is an obvious contradiction: there is no need to have

„natural sciences” knowledge, since being holistic one knows all there is to know about everything and

not have to do anything for knowing the whole. Moreover, observed from this angle, holistic education is

in itself a reductionist to single monadic element, the human being. This brings into question the status of

the Humanist Psychology as either a branch of the science psychology or a new science altogether.

4.In Place of Conclusions

One can agree with the fact that “Holistic education is an approach to pedagogy that can meet the

needs of all types of learners, that can be a source of fulfilment and gratification for teachers, and that

prepares future citizens who will contribute a concern and mindfulness for others, for their communities,

and for the planet. It is compatible with both global education and environmental education, which are

also based on the principles of interdependence and connectivity. Based on this interdependent

perspective, holistic education seeks to create a society where we live in harmony with the surrounding

environment.” (Mahmoudi, Jafari, Nasrabadi, & Liaghatdar, 2012). But this affirmation is something else


Paraphrasing (Nicolescu, & Petrescu, 2013), holistic education is the same with “integrative nature

of education must be like an ecosystem where” each student learns to find out his place in the real word

through the all his experiences of learning and thinking.

As such, responding while reconciling Miller's ideas, one can tell them that their approach only

represents the reduction of a student to a monadic element of education, but that only leads to a limited,

superficial and egotistic understanding of just one of the human subsystems - the psychological one. Is

this true science of education? If one could imagine for a second Leibniz being alive and among us,

would he be able to sustain his anti-Cartesian ideas? This is how Leibniz would reformulate his

affirmation now: ”There is a continuum here from God, angels, and human beings through animals to

stones and the dull monads which underlie the muck and grime of the world; and this continuum is not

solely to be understood in terms of the comparative clarity of the mind's perceptions but also in terms of

the kinds of mental activity possible for a particular being.” (Look, 2014).

We hope that human society, in general, and education, in particular, would assure the existence

and protection of the enlighten spirits such as Plato, Archimedes, Aristotle, Euclid, ..., Descartes, Newton,

Leibniz, Piaget, Bertalanffy, etc., who tried to describe the real world through application, in one way or

another, of reductionist, but they did not forget that this is a whole embedded in other whole, and so on.

After all, an old question is still unanswered: what is a “whole” embedding in the Universe?


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