Rising Stars: Hylary Ahrendt

From independent study to India, Texas State student seeks ‘whole-mind’ education

"At first I felt like I was blindly going into this, but I feel like I've got an invisible string of fate pulling at me, and I'm just going to follow it."

By Billi London-Gray

With her long blond hair draped over her red and gold salwar kameez, Fredericksburg native Hylary Ahrendt was the picture of multiculturalism as she began her presentation at Texas State’s 2010 Undergraduate Research Conference on Dec. 3.

The annual conference gives undergraduate students an opportunity to present their research, at any stage of development, and win cash prizes. Ahrendt’s research, which focuses on childhood education as a form of social work, started in September as part of an Honors Program independent study course with Dr. Catherine Hawkins. This month, the junior majoring in international studies will travel to India to continue her research. She hopes to develop an integrated, “whole-mind” curriculum for primary education.

“’Everyone has the right to education,’” she read as she began her presentation, quoting from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by the United Nations Dec. 10, 1948. “’Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.’

“I feel like the American educational system gets this wrong, because it places too much stress on standardized testing and not enough on the development of the whole mind and respect for human rights,” she said to the roomful of Honors Program students and faculty.

In Karnataka, India, Ahrendt will observe an educational assimilation program by Vikasana, or “Blossom of Change.” The non-governmental organization uses a holistic model to empower former child-laborers to overcome the educational obstacles of casteism, gender bias and poverty.

“They really want to stimulate the children not only intellectually and logically, but also creatively,” she explained, citing Vikasana’s integration of gardening, yoga and art with science, mathematics and literacy lessons. “According to Vikasana, the results are that the kids are aware of self worth, appreciative of education, and are later mainstreamed to formal schools. It’s breaking the cycle of poverty.”

Ahrendt hopes her research into Vikasana’s methodology will provide a realistic base for the holistic curriculum she wants to develop. But, she notes, creating an ideal system and implementing it are worlds apart.

“The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is,” she said at the conclusion of her presentation. “We assess the value of education like we do the value of money: what can you get with it?”

For Ahrendt, who sees education as an essential part of a person’s development rather than merely a means to material gain, changing that view is a challenge she has accepted.

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