Education That Does Not Consider the Whole Child is Not Education
Post submitted by Sara J. Schmidt, mother, educator, and volunteer blogger for IDEA: The Institution for Democratic Education in America.
When I was studying to be a teacher, I had a discussion about my priorities with my grandmother. I told her about how I wanted my room to be a haven for the junior high kids I would be teaching. I wanted them to feel at home, where they could learn with open minds and open hearts. I wanted them to feel free to ask questions, experiment, play with words, and be creative. Rather than giving standardized tests, I would give relevant, oral and written assignments to challenge them and really glean what they had learned—not what they hadn’t.
To my surprise and disappointment, my hero looked me square in the eye and said that was nonsense, that all children need strict discipline and to just learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. I realized that my beloved grandmother, who encouraged me beyond anyone else, was simply speaking from her own time. After all, she’d had to drop out of school by the 8th grade to help raise her own siblings.
But not much has changed in the way of education since my grandmother’s time. Sure, we have iPods and computers, and typing classes are more mandatory than home economics—but the system itself has remained unchanged. Originally put into place to prepare children for the workhouse, American public schools continue to operate largely under this same modus operandi—though often masked with plenty of brightly colored bulletin boards and craft projects, and the occasional field trip to a local farm.
The fact remains that we continue to treat children as if they are going into the workhouse and not into the 21st century. Instead of focusing on test scores, we need to focus on the child. Worksheets, videos, and hours of homework intended to make children memorize answers to regurgitate on a multiple choice test do not encourage critical thinking, problem solving, self-direction, creativity, leadership, or even intelligence itself; all they do is teach one to play the game the system presents. Those who learn get by until college; those who do not—particularly the one in three kids who do not graduate—fall through the cracks.
What will teach children these skills? A whole child approach. By keeping our children healthy and safe, we can ensure that they have an environment conducive to learning. Could you learn with the threat of bullying, corporal punishment, humiliation, or harm looming over your shoulder? No. In fact, adults sue companies with working environments such as this. Why do we expect less for our children?
Engaging, supporting, and challenging children is integral to their development into creative leaders and intelligent problem solvers. Every child should have a support system that exists within his or her school, community, and family. He or she should feel engaged, with direct input on his or her education and direct support on his or her unique talents, interests, and abilities. He or she should feel safe enough to experiment, fail, and try again; and to question, invent, and solve.
Rather than making a one-size-fits-all shoe that students are pummeled into until their individuality and gifts are stripped—leaving a one-size-fits-all child who feels unvalued, ill-prepared, and not whole—an open array of educational options should be offered across the board.
This isn’t just in the best interest of the children—although that is a key and very necessary reason to adopt a whole child philosophy, as well as why parents in particular should support it. This is in the best interest of the nation. Rapidly developing technologies, new diseases and their remedies, the global economy and all of its challenges—all of these issues and more face the future leaders and thinkers of our country. In order to properly equip them to handle all of these issues—issues that will affect us and future generations—we must address children fully, wholly, as people, and not as memorized facts and figures or test scores.
Test scores do not solve problems.
Please write to your state board of education with me today and implore them to integrate a whole child approach into our education system as soon as possible. This may be the most important decision affecting America’s youth that they will ever face.