I can't imagine anyone being against what is being proposed here by Sean Slade and Ariel Tichnor-Wagner in their ASCD guest blog. A focus on the whole child is what scholars and practitioners in child development, as well as in the Ethnic Studies Movement have been proposing for a long time. However, for this to happen, we need a radical redesign in our educational system given the current regime of high-stakes testing and accountability and their undue impact on the quality of instruction, and thusly learning, in our nation's classrooms.
There are a few immediate policy decisions that we could make In this regard. For example, we could eliminate A through F School accountability ratings, and with this, high-stakes testing altogether–for us in Texas, the STAAR system of testing. Note: it has never been "just a test." It has always been a "system of testing" that impacts everybody's behaviors within it, from the school superintendent, to school leaders and principals, and teachers, poisoning curriculum and classroom dynamics with adverse impacts, in particular, on low-income, linguistically diverse youth of color.
This is separate from what we really need, namely, better assessments–and, as expressed below, meaningful, rich curriculum pertinent to students' lives and that reflects students languages, cultures, and community-based Identities as a matter of course.
As far as assessment is concerned, we need authentic, formative forms of assessments that are perhaps portfolio- or performance-based, tied into topics that are meaningful and policy relevant at all levels of society, e.g., local school boards, community boards, city councils, state boards of education, and our states' legislatures.
We must eschew a decontextualized, chauvinist curriculum, and opt for one that embraces all of the concerns that have been laid out by the massive, indeed global, student movement of today that took place in the wake of the George Floyd killing, including: racial justice, structural racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, civil rights history, white supremacy, colonialism and decolonization, and many other critical topics.
We have infantilized our youth as a nation for far too long. Our youth are already gaining access to all of this information via social media. What they do not have is an educational experience that is aligned, helping them to intelligently parse out the real news from the fake news, and that turns them into prodigious readers and deep learners, to boot. Bilingual education/dual language education need to be integral to this agenda, as well, since monolingualism for a complex world is not only insufficient, but at its core, assimilationist and white supremacist.
Only this kind of education will arm students with the critical knowledge, tools, dispositions, and frameworks they need to understand the world, and on that basis, to become positive agents of change, addressing social problems and movements that poise children to experience great, personal satisfaction, as well as a bona fide sense of transcendence that makes the whole learning experience worth the while.
How hard is this? Certainly not any harder than our current, punishing system of high-stakes testing. We should have been doing this all along anyway. Children are sacred, not widgets.
In Texas, the 87th 2021 legislative session begins in January and there will be proposals for just such changes. Stay tuned and be supportive. Our children's education should be a matter of urgent concern to us all.
In the meantime, may all have a wonderful New Year's Eve.
And truly, all the best in 2021.
As schools and educators face one of their greatest challenges in serving and supporting students during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s more important than ever to develop education systems that focus on the needs of the whole child.
The following is the first in series of short essays we will be publishing on this blog from ASCD’s recent report The Learning Compact Renewed: Whole Child for the Whole World (May 2020), which outlines steps that educators, communities, and decisionmakers can take to ensure that our students are knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, civically inspired, engaged in the arts, prepared for work and economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond formal schooling. The essays focus on the need of student to prepared to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world—something current crises make abundantly clear.
The communities in which children live today are increasingly interconnected with the rest of the world. Global economic production and consumption chains, human migration, and the ease of Internet connectivity, and the proliferation of social media have broken down geographic and cultural boundaries. Our local actions—what we purchase or sell, who we vote for, how to get to work—can have ripple effects around the world. Likewise, an action that takes place halfway around the globe can affect our lives. As our world becomes smaller, local communities face challenges such as famine, violent conflicts, climate change, economic inequality, and human rights that threaten the health and safety of children and require complex global solutions. Therefore, an important facet of attending to the health, safety, engagement, and support of a child, and to ensuring that a child is challenged academically, is infusing the mindsets, knowledge, and skills needed to thrive in an interconnected world.
In this second decade of the ASCD Whole Child approach, we understand that teaching students how to engage with the world will help them both in their careers and in life pursuits. It will also help our communities understand that they are part of the broader world and have a role to play in working for the common good.
Abraham Maslow, 26 years after introducing his Hierarchy of Needs, added a sixth stage: self-transcendence. As Maslow defined it, “Self-transcendence seeks to further a cause beyond the self… This may involve service to others, devotion to an ideal (e.g., truth, art) or a cause (e.g., social justice, environmentalism, the pursuit of science, a religious faith), and/or a desire to be united with what is perceived as transcendent or divine.”
In Maslow’s hierarchy, youth develop their potential to be the best they can be and to assist others—to serve humanity. Improving oneself is admirable, but improving oneself for the betterment of those around you is desirable. We define this stage as altruism—reaching beyond oneself to take actions that improve one’s own community and communities around the world. We see altruism as a vital output of a whole child education.
In 2007, ASCD declared that that our education system should serve the whole child so that each child, in each community, is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. As we look toward 2020 and beyond, we affirm that a fundamental part of educating the whole child asks education systems and communities to ensure that each child is an active maker and shaper of the world they will inherit. This stage is about helping each and every child recognize that they are part of, and inextricably connected to, the rest of the world.
The communities in which children live today are increasingly more interconnected with the rest of the world. Global economic production and consumption chains, human migration, and the ease of Internet connectivity, and the proliferation of social media have broken down geographic and cultural boundaries. Our local actions—what we purchase or sell, who we vote for, how to get to work—can have ripple effects around the world. Likewise, an action that takes place halfway around the globe can affect our lives. As our world becomes smaller, local communities face challenges, such as famine, violent conflicts, climate change, economic inequality, and human rights that threaten the health and safety of children and require complex global solutions.
Therefore, an important facet of attending to the health, safety, engagement, and support of a child, and to ensuring that a child is challenged academically, is infusing the mindsets, knowledge, and skills needed to thrive in an interconnected world, empowering them to make our world a better place for themselves, one another, and the planet. To do anything less is to shortchange our youth and their futures.
To help plan, start, and grow your school’s whole child journey, join ASCD’s Whole Child Network.
About the authors
Sean Slade is the ASCD’s Senior Director of Global Outreach. Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, a former ASCD fellow of global competence, is a lecturer at the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.