Sunday, March 18, 2007

Educating the Whole Child - what we owe our students

Let me explain why I am posting this here. In a time when national educational policy is under serious discussion, it seems important to me that we consider issues beyond those that NCLB seems to address. While I wrote the material below for dailykos, as will be event by the text at the end, it seems relevant enough to offer it to this community as well. If people strongly object, let me know and I will come back and delete it.

Oh, and by the way, when I first tried to post it, it seemingly came up garbaged, so this is a repost after I deleted the original version.

crossposted from dailykos

Each moment we live never was before and will never be again. And yet what we teach children in school is 2 + 2 = 4 and Paris is the capital of France. What we should be teaching them is what they are. We should be saying: "Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been another child exactly like you. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel." -Pablo Casals

The quote above is an epigraph from a new report of "the Commission on The Whole Child" published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development entitled The Learning Compact Redefined: A Call to Action (this is a PDF). I urge you to keep reading.

For those who do not know about ASCD it describes itself as "a community of educators, advocating sound policies and sharing best practices to achieve the success of each learner" and consists of "175,000 educators from more than 135 countries and 58 affiliates. Our members span the entire profession of educators - superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members." I am a member of ASCD.

As a teacher I know that what occurs in my classroom is a small part of educating my students, even in my own domain of social studies. As a music major who teaches government and also coaches soccer, it has always been clear to me that school is about far more that mere intellectual development. History is replete with examples of the damage done when we develop the intellect and fail to develop behavior, morality, concern for others, physical awareness, and so on. And in a liberal democracy (for those two words are an accurate description in political science terms of our form of government) we should not be attempting to force all students to be the same - our society is enriched and enlivened by our variety and our differences, and our educational practices should be informed by an awareness of the importance of and respect for those differences.

I remind people that a few days ago I wrote a diary entitled Imagine in which I argued that given the exact uniqueness of each of us our educational system should reflect that, including in its assessment practices (one reason I have trouble, btw, with our overreliance upon high stakes standardized testing). At the time I wrote that diary I had not read this report.

Since it is a 36 page PDF that is available for free, I will not make extensive quotations. But I do want to give a few selections to whet your appetite for its contents.

The following two selections are from a letter from the Commission cochairs, Stephanie Pace Marshall and Hugh B. Price, and appear on page 6 of the PDF:

1. This report frames education within the most fundamental context - the personalized engagement and nurturing of the whole child.

2. It describes how the focus on one size fits all education has marginalized the uniqueness of our children and eroded their capacity to learn in whole, healthy, creative, and connect ways.

3. It offers a new learning compact with our children that rightly puts the children and learning needs within the center of every educational program and resource decision.

When we commit educating whole children within the context of whole communities and whole schools, we commit to designing learning environments that weave together the threads that connect no only math, science, the arts, and humanities, but also mind, heart, body and spirit - connections that tend to be fragments in our current approach.
If the whole child were truly at the center of each educational decision, as ASCD Executive Direct Gene Carter posits (see p. 4), we would create learning conditions that enable all children to develop all of their gifts and realize their fullest potential. We would enable children to reconnect to their communities and their own diverse learning resources, and we would deeply engage each child in learning. Finally, if the child were at the center, we would integrate all the ways children come to know the natural world, themselves, and one another, so that they can authentically take their place in creating a better future for all.
It is time that the United States begin a new conversation about K-12 education by asking, "What is possible now?" IT is our conviction that given what we now know about learning and development, we can do better and we can do more. And when we can do more, then we should do more."

ASCD has taken a position that academic achievement " is but one element of student learning and development and only a part of any system of educational accountability." It argues for a combination of elements that "support the development of a child who is healthy, Knowledgeable, motivated, and engaged." (this is from ASCD's position on the Whole Child which can be found on p. 7 of the PDF). It sees this as a cooperative effort by communities, schools, and teachers, each responsible for providing part of the necessary context. A few of the points for each sector (and in each case there are several more):


- family support and involvement

- Government, civic, and business support and resources


- challenging and engaging curriculum

- a safe, healthy, orderly, and trusting environment

- a climate that supports strong relationships between adults and students


- evidence-based assessment and instructional practices

- rich content and an engaging learning climate

- student and family connectedness

While I am going to urge people to download and read the entire report (don't I always encourage you to go to the source and not depend upon my interpretation? I do try to be a good teacher) I want to give two more summaries of what to expect.

The report will tell you on p. 10 (p. 14 in the PDF) that a whole child is

- intellectually active

- physically, verbally, socially, and academically competent

- empathetic, kind, caring, and fair

- creative and curious

- disciplined, self-direct, and goal oriented

- free

- a critical thinker

- confident

- cared for and valued

Elements of the compact are presented in a graphically rich display on p. 9 (p. 13 of the PDF)for which I give just the text:

- Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle

- Each student learns in an intellectually challenging environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults

- Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community

- Each student has accessed to personalized learning and to qualified, caring adults

- Each graduate is prepared for success in college or further study and for employment in a global environment

I have not had time to parse the document in as much detail as I might like. As with many things, there are points with which I might quibble. For example, on the last of the points of the compact, for far too many of our young people the economic future we are currently presenting to them has little connection with a global environment: flipping burgers or greeting people in a Walmart will seem very disconnected from anything global, and as a result may well not provide a motivation to be serious about present and future educational opportunities. But then, school cannot fix many of the problems of the larger society, and even this statement represents an aspiration, a goal to which we should be dedicated in the belief that we can model our schooling to match our hopes for all of our children and for the society which we will bequeath to them. We can hope, even against hope.

This diary is not part of the official Education Uprising /Educating for Democracy effort, that is, our efforts for the educational panel(s) at the forthcoming Yearlykos. But the content is intimately interconnected with the issues with which we have been wrestling in our presentations to you.

I hope that at least a few of you will find this useful, and that this diary will not simply scroll into oblivion with no notice. But that I leave to the larger community.

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