A Whole Child Approach to Education
Updated: Apr 7, 2019
How Holistic education can unlock our youths' full potential.
Written By: Allie Martin, BA, BEd, MEd
The Problem With Education
Let’s face it, our education system is ripe for an upgrade. Our society’s emphasis on a limited scope of academic subjects and test-driven goals are leaving many students by the wayside. Take my student, Duane, for example. Duane was a boy in 6th grade who was an incredible artist. He drew intricate doodles all over his work and books, which drove his main teachers nuts. He was constantly getting in trouble for not paying attention in class and was reprimanded for his doodling. He showed no interest in his math, science, and language lessons and was barely passing. He also displayed a lot of behavioural problems. The only class that he was interested in was art, but it was constantly being taken away from him as punishment. He was miserable, and he would say that he was no good at school and couldn’t do anything right. In our traditional education setting, a child’s worth becomes entwined with how well they do in a limited number of subjects or on tests. The children that do not fit into this narrow concept of success, like Duane, may not learn to value themselves, recognize their abilities, or see how they can contribute to society in a meaningful way. Duane didn’t get the opportunity to see his art as meaningful and special instead it was seen as a nuisance. As the years in school drag on, some children’s confidence and self-esteem could suffer, and as a result, they may lack the motivation and resilience needed to rise to the challenges in their future.
Albert Einstein said that “it is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry” (Hunt & Hunt, 2008, p. 40). I saw Duane’s curiosity and interest in learning strangled and it made me yearn to do better for him. It made me want to drastically change the entire system to be more equitable, engaging, and supportive. I began research on alternative schooling and came across the term “holistic education”. It was eye opening and invigorating and it gave me my educator spark back.
Holistic education is an educational philosophy that is concerned with the development of the whole child, including the intellectual, emotional, physical, social, creative, artistic, and spiritual realms.
Ron Miller, a leading holistic education philosopher, said this about holistic education:
Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds an identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning. This is done, not through an academic “curriculum” that condenses the world into instructional packages, but through direct engagement with the environment. (http://infed.org/mobi/a-brief-introduction-to-holistic-education/)
A Refreshing Alternative
Imagine now, if Duane was in a school which followed the holistic philosophy.
Duane would be able to learn the academic basics of history, math and science through his interest in art. For example, history would be taught to him through studying his favorite artists and the various artistic movements. Math would be taught by applying the ratios, symmetry and specific geometry needed to bring an art piece to reality and convey a certain perspective. Furthermore, he would learn about chemical reactions by looking at how time and elements can affect old masterpieces and the ways that they are restored. The list of topics that could be covered is limitless.
All the while, Duane would learn that art is important culturally, economically, and historically and is a highly valuable part of our society. He would receive the opportunity to excel at his strength while also receiving the basic education required for success in the modern world. And finally, he would see that he has a place in the world and that he is talented, smart, and passionate.
My Masters in Education and work experience has given me the opportunity to compare and contrast education in different contexts. Graduating teachers college, I worked as an art and drama facilitator for adults with developmental disabilities, a social skills facilitator for children on the Autism spectrum, a vocal instructor at a school of rock, a preschool teacher, a tutor for both students with learning disabilities as well as those in gifted programs, an education director at a tutoring company, and a supply teacher in a Montessori school as well as a progressive private alternative school. Through the children and parents I encountered, I observed the gaps in the system and gained a desire to raise awareness and create solutions.
In our drastically and quickly changing world, I believe holistic education is the best way to prepare students for their future. This sentiment is shared by many, from teachers to parents and researchers to educational organizations. In fact, The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, which is the world’s largest professional educator’s association has recognized the need for this type of learning, stating that its single priority for education change is for a Whole Child approach to education. (http://www.ascd.org/whole-child.aspx). A new wave of educational reform is coming and in the coming months, I will be writing about many educational hot topics through the holistic lens to help develop awareness and understanding of this much-needed approach.
For additional reading on holistic education, I recommend these books by Jack Miller:
Love and Compassion: Exploring Their Role in Education.
Holistic Education and Embodied Learning. Information Age
Whole Child Education
The Holistic Curriculum
Educating for Wisdom and Compassion: Creating Conditions for Timeless Learning
About the Author
Allie Martin has her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from York U and her Bachelor and Master of Education from OISE. She has been teaching for over 10 years and has a passion for whole child education. She is a firm believer in the power that play and nature have in the education and well-being of children and adults alike.