Resources in Support of

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. The variety of approaches to educating the whole child contributes to the movement's vitality.

For a broad look at why whole child education is important and how it fits into global developments and America’s ability to compete, see Yong Zhao, Catching Up or Leading the Way (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2009), particularly Chapter 7, “What Knowledge Is of Most Worth?”

Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica have written a worthwhile study in Creative Schools (New York: Viking, 2015). They may have been too optimistic in subtitling the book The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. Sir Ken's TED talks are both amusing and perceptive, for example, Do Schools Kill Creativity?

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.

Many practical suggestions for social and emotional development can be found in Teaching Children to Care, revised edition (Turners Falls, MA: Responsive Classroom, 2015). Author Ruth Sidney Charney was co-founder of the Center for Responsive Schools.

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 path for engaging the whole child. In addition to the readable Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities and his more recent Children and Nature, Place- and Community-Based Education in Schools with Gregory Smith (New York: Routlege, 2010) explores the subject in greater depth.

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.

For anyone interested to see what happens when Waldorf methods are applied in public, usually charter, schools, see Mary Goral, Transformational Teaching: Waldorf-Inspired Methods in the Public School (Herndon, VA: SteinerBooks, 2009). Here is part of her talk to parents: Further material at:

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).

In addition to the books and links above, two important DVDs deserve mention. In The Finland Phenomenon Harvard education professor Tony Wagner lays out clearly why Finland has the best public school system in the world. In Schools That Change Communities, a film by Bob Gliner, we learn that in changing itself and at the same time its community, a school generates a dynamism that can supercharge learning.