How Can I Learn More About Whole Child Education?

One of the best books surveying the alternatives to mainstream, accountability-oriented education is Ron Miller’s The Self-Organizing Revolution: Common Principles of the Educational Alternatives Movement (Brandon, VT: Holistic Education Press, 2008). Dr. Miller has a broad view and is not sectarian in any way. He has spent a lifetime trying to awaken educators to numerous ways children can become truly engaged in learning and can learn to love it in a way that will stay with them once they leave school. Miller’s shorter survey of educational alternatives can be found at

Worth reading is Lynn Stoddard’s expanded second edition of Educating for Human Greatness (Sarasota, FL: Peppertree Press, 2010). An educator for over 50 years, Stoddard dares to propose we teach as if we could make a difference in areas like integrity, initiative, and imagination. Subjects like reading, writing, and math are taught, but as tools to help grow the qualities of human greatness.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) convened a Commission on the Whole Child in 2006. It subsequently issued an important report and has an active whole child program and website. Where we focus on teaching and learning, ASCD also emphasizes that children’s health, safety, and nutrition needs must be met in order for them to learn.

David Sobel’s work with place-based education develops another form of whole child education. In addition to the readable Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities, and his more recent book, Children and Nature (referenced above), a study published in 2010 explores the subject in greater depth. This is Place- and Community-Based Education in Schools.

Jonathan Kozol’s Letters to a Young Teacher (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007) contains many practical tips and a distillation of a lifetime’s work in education. It proceeds from the premise that the best teachers stalwartly refuse to see their pupils as so many “pint-sized deficits or assets for America’s economy.”

Some of the most exciting holistic learning takes place in independent schools unencumbered with the political and bureaucratic mandates constraining public schools. Unfortunately many prep schools disdain the materialism implicit in relentless testing and accountability management, but they fail to see the materialism in their drive to produce graduates who can access prestigious colleges. Montessori and Waldorf are two independent systems that have well-developed holistic approaches and schools around the world.

Angeline Stoll Lillard, Montessori—The Science Behind the Genius (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2008) provides an excellent introduction to the approach.

A. C. Harwood, The Recovery of Man in Childhood, 2nd edition (Great Barrington, MA: Myrin Institute, 2001) provides the best in-depth introduction to child development and education from a Waldorf point of view in one volume.

Mary Goral, Transformational Teaching: Waldorf-Inspired Methods in the Public School (Herndon, VA: SteinerBooks, 2009) tells about an approach for bringing Waldorf into public schools that is succeeding in Louisville, KY.

Another alternative is democratic education in which schools are designed to teach the customary subjects but do this in a way that meets the goal of preparing students to take responsibility for the world they will inherit. An excellent and current exploration of these ideas is Sam Chaltain’s, American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010).

With thanks for support and encouragement from The Myrin Institute and Orion magazine.