Educating the Whole Child

Educating the Whole Child

Education involves how the child is exposed to the process of learning, which is central to the consciousness of the learner. Entering the child’s worldview needs to be central to any educational process that claims to focus on the child because the child is the perceiver, the meaning-maker, the knowledge creator, and the learner. It is within the consciousness of the child that the learning occurs. Engaging the learning in developmentally appropriate communication creates an environment in which educator has resonance with the student. A person’s freedom of learning is part of his freedom of thought…. If we take from someone his right to decide what he will be curious about, we destroy his freedom of thought. We say, in effect, you must think not about what interests and concerns you, but about what interests and concerns us. (Holt 1974, 241) The consciousness of the child is the heart of education? Holistic education has been evolving in America since the 1960s (Miller 1990, 12). Some educationists date its antecedents to Eastern and Perennial philosophies, through the Enlightenment period (e.g., Rousseau, Froebel), American transcendentalists (Emerson, Thoreau), humanists (Maslow, Rogers), progressive educators (Dewey, Parker), to the present. Educational facilities that focus on selfdirected learning and experiential learning have sprung up. The radical educators of the 1960s and 70s (e.g., Holt, Neill) maintained that the cornerstone of holistic education involves caring for the child’s creativity and transformation by nourishing the unique potentials of the whole child (e.g., moral, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual dimensions). My team consulted with a small school in Oregon to negotiate culture change, which included formulating and using a common language with respect for the students’ developmental capacities. The staff at the school discovered how developmental sensitivity, with its focus on well-being, is a medium in which the tension between the individual and the school organization can be used creatively. Both the administration and educators of this small school found that a common language that centered on the child’s developmental well-being was safer and more efficient, and built more trust among the educators, parents, and staff than their old way of communicating. They discovered how to speak the same language when evaluating a student’s academic progress, establishing boundaries with students, and resolving conflict. Through a process of culture change, everyone learned how to engage in the interpersonal relationship of guiding the child within an atmosphere of mutual respect by using respectful (age/developmental stage-appropriate) communication. The result was student success from a high level of support that incorporated individualized education, including developmentally appropriate relationships and experiential learning vs. memorization for state tests. This small school discovered how education and developmental support can dovetail within overlapping contexts of family, education, and community. This combination elevates the child’s potential to become who he or she is meant to be. Education that is for the optimal development of the whole person serves the whole community.

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