From the perspective of Educate the Whole Child,
- treating schools as if they were factories turning out workers to compete in the world economy does not work. This approach fails to connect with what is highest and best in the child.
- standardization, excessive testing, and narrowing the focus of education to measurable intellectual performance are insufficient because they leave out too much of what it means to be a complete, spirited, fulfilled human being.
We know from sad experience that No Child Left Behind and subsequent top-down government mandates have disempowered teachers and driven creative ones from the profession, which in turn can leave students bored and alienated. Recent books by Diane Ravitch, Yong Zhao, Sir Ken Robinson, and others document this. And see Resources page.
But what does work?
Brain science tells us that the more faculties, the more parts of the child’s brain we can engage, the more likely material will be retained and truly internalized. Recent writing by developmental cognitive neuroscientist Adele Diamond and by neurophysiologist Carla Hannaford (Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head) explain why this is so, as does the work of Linda Lantieri, Director of the Inner Resilience Program, and others who write about social and emotional intelligence. Thinking about learning holistically is not new. It goes back at least as far as Socrates. Some of its most articulate modern exponents have been Alfred North Whitehead, Parker Palmer, Deborah Meier, and Douglas Sloan. See Resources. Many approaches, with varying emphases, provide a range of options, but they have in common a vision of the child as a window opening upon almost infinite possibilities.
Through both in-school and after-school programs we have learned that you can teach language arts through drama, math through movement and music and social studies through community projects. Engaging more of the child, it is often possible to reach even the most difficult students with projects that relate to their known world.
Place-Based and Project-Based Learning
One program that has had ongoing success is called Place-Based Education. Popularized in David Sobel’s Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities, the book details not only how this project-based, interdisciplinary approach works in practice but also describes a number of remarkable success stories. Connecting with one’s community, working in teams, and learning how to organize and execute a project are the very skills needed for businesses to be successful. These are skills gained through Place-Based Education.
In A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, astute entrepreneur and commentator on American business, Daniel Pink, observes that this country has already exported much of its manufacturing base. He projects that many more left-brain, intellectual, or routine functions will be offshored or automated in the future. “If a $500 a month Indian chartered accountant doesn’t swipe your job, TurboTax will.” In order to remain strong, both American business and education will have to develop creativity, invention, design skills, and the ability to synthesize information from diverse disciplines—the very things that are being ignored by the narrow routines of modern, data-driven education.
Both Waldorf and Montessori approaches utilize place-based and project-based teaching. Both are inherently whole child, even though they are quite different. Each has reached into the public systems, with charter and traditional public schools. Thus there is an Alliance for Public Waldorf Education, and a National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. In a similar manner, the Reggio Emilia approach also incorporates the basic tenets of Whole Child Education such as project based learning, place based learning, and adherence to the concept that the needs of the children are at the center of every decision. And see Resources page.
In a time where early childhood programs increasingly focus on academics and forced "seat time," for even the youngest learners, we look to the work of researchers such as Vivian Paley to describe the cognitive and social emotional benefits of play based learning, particularly sociodramatic play. This type of play enhances children's skills in self reflection, empathy, viewing multiple perspectives, and role taking (Ashiabi, 2007).
What Can Nature Teach?
Educate the Whole Child encourages learning outside the classroom, especially in nature. The pioneering work of Richard Louv beginning with Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, has reignited an interest in this tremendous area for learning. His subsequent books carry this idea further. Along with other works such as George Russell’s anthology Children and Nature—Making Connections, these authors show how linking curriculum to the real world helps students become clear-thinking problem solvers, good stewards, and active citizens.