Thursday, December 31, 2009
How can we help children learn what they need to learn?
One of the tools that holistic education uses to help children learn what they need to learn is 'meaningfulness'. People of all ages find it difficult to learn things which are not meaningful to them, and conversely, they find that it requires much less effort to learn things that are meaningful. This means that a holistic school will respect and work with the meaning structures that a child comes with rather than begin from a perspective of what "should" be meaningful to a child. Events and dynamics (fear, conflict, friendships, etc.) are part of every child's life and they are interested in these things. These can be the starting point for learning any of the academic skills that every child needs to master.
Another tool that holistic education uses to help children learn is flexible pacing. Not all children learn at the same speed, and no child learns at the same speed all the time. Learning is an inherently creative act, and it requires a system that can move with the individual meaning making of each child. When lessons are too slow, a child gets bored, and when it is too fast, the child gets lost and then loses interest in the subject. If children are seen and treated as individuals, there is no need to have groups move at some arbitrarily determined learning pace.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
What do children need to learn?
Children need to develop academic capacities as these are required to live in the modern world. But much more than this is needed, and adults looking at what was required in order to meet the many challenges of their lives and the successes they have had can attest to this. The essential learning that we all need should begin in childhood.
Children need to begin to learn about themselves. The value of "knowing thyself" is so undisputed as to be a cliché, but conveying to children that they are worth knowing about seems fundamental to healthy self-respect and self-esteem.
Children also need to learn about relationships. Relationships are the greatest source of human happiness and misery, yet most children only have the relationships they see in their immediate surroundings (e.g., family, friends, etc.) and on the media (which are usually caricatures and unreal) to learn from. Sociology and child development psychology repeatedly affirms that learning about relationships is acquired and not inherent, and yet the institutions created for children's learning have little to no time nor resources given to helping children learn how to have healthy, productive relationships.
Learning about relationships is sometimes seen as part of social development, which includes pro-social behavior and social "literacy" (i.e., learning to see social influence). As our societies become increasingly pluralist, complex, and fraught, social development becomes more difficult as well as more necessary.
Over the last decade research has demonstrated that emotional development, or what has become known as "emotional literacy," is of fundamental importance. Learning emotional literacy has been shown to be crucial for intellectual development, social development, aesthetic development, and health.
Studies have shown that resilience is not an inherent quality, but one that is learned. Resilience is fundamental to overcoming difficulties, facing challenges, and long-term success in any field.
Children must learn resilience.
Finally, children must learn that seeing beauty, having awe, experiencing transcendence, and appreciating those timeless "truths" which have inspired and sustained individuals and cultures are a natural part of life. The mundane and material (while important) have assumed too great a place in modern life, leaving a hunger for meaning that is often difficult to satisfy.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Why Holistic Education?
Parents, in increasing numbers, are seeking alternatives to mainstream education. Few could criticize the commitment to academic excellence that most schools and teachers have and work hard to actualize. But more and more parents realize that just learning academics is not enough, and they see young people in their communities suffering from a lack of needed learning, and society suffering as well.
Parents worry about the negative social influence they see affecting their children. Parents see themselves having less impact on their children's behavior, relationships, and attitudes than the media and marketing which directly targets children. As a result children's senses of themselves and self-images are under pressure. This pressure is expressed in:
- Increased competitiveness in many aspects of a child's social life, such as sports, out-of-school activities, and of course, school.
- Obsessive concern for their "look," from their body shape to their clothes.
- Violence in many forms, from the physical to the psychological and emotional.
Parents are also worried about negative learning attitudes they see developing in their children.
Parents saw their children as infants eager to learn, and this eagerness dissipated as these same children's schooling increased. Learning becomes a necessary chore, driven by rewards and punishments, and too often devoid of direct meaning in their children's lives.
Many parents also look at our current society in which social problems seem to be getting worse; in which those considered successful are too often greedy, corrupt, and brutal; in which families and communities seem increasingly dysfunctional; and they ask, "Why aren't we as humans learning what we need to know in order to live good and meaningful lives?"
It doesn't appear that we will learn such things from learning more mathematics, literature, or history. Parents see the need for their children to learn these other things as well as academics, and they look for schools that give time, attention, energy, and resources, to such learning. Parents generally do not come to holistic education from philosophical musings, but from a perceived need for their children that they feel is not currently met.
Monday, December 28, 2009
What is the purpose of Holistic Education?
The purpose of holistic education is to prepare students to meet the challenges of living as well as academics. Holistic education believes it is important for young people to learn:
- About themselves.
- About healthy relationships and pro-social behavior.
- Social development.
- Emotional development.
- To see beauty, have awe, experience transcendence, and appreciate some sense of "truths."
For thousands of years before schools there were social groups which taught people about the great adventure of being human; its trials and tribulations, its challenges, and its enormous possibilities for human goodness and even greatness. These groups were extended families, communities or tribes or clans, and religions. For the most part, these groups have disappeared or become compartmentalized in people's lives.
Now, it is predominantly popular culture (the media, music) and schools from which young people can learn about what it means to be human. But culture has it own agenda (not the welfare of children), and schools were not designed to replace extended families, communities, and religions. They were designed to prepare people for the world of work; to give them the skill sets that would help them up the ladder of material success.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that
children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains
simply were not ready.
But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a
host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and
self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called
cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able
to grasp fundamental concepts.
Monday, December 21, 2009
It brought to the surface for me all the reasons why Wellspring is such a special place. Just as we couldn’t imagine handheld computers and micro technology when we were children, we don’t know what this next generation will be faced with as they grow up. At Wellspring we are offering our children tools, lifelong tools, that can help them to navigate thru the uncertain future. We are teaching them that they have choices, to go inward and listen to their bodies, to their hearts, to make empowered choices from their individual truth. We encourage them to ask questions of themselves, ‘how does this make me feel? Is this the way I want to feel right now? If not, what other choice can I make to shift my experience?’ This is a path to the authentic self that lives in each of us but is not often given permission to be expressed and trusted. We are encouraging our children to go inward and choose a different path if something doesn’t feel good rather than just accepting it as ‘normal’. We are providing our children the foundation to consciously make thier own empowered choices as they grow into this world and all it’s uncertainties. I believe that Wellspring is providing the next generation with an amazing treasure, the Technology of the Heart.
(Photo courtesy of the Flick user stevefaeembra, shared under a Creative Commons license.)
Friday, December 18, 2009
- We may be born with an urge to help (New York Times, 11/30/09) - Biologists are finding evidence that people are born with an innate desire to be helpful to others
- Sick Schools 2009 - Study finds that "55 million of our children attend public and private schools where poor air quality, hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions make students (and their teachers) sick and handicap their ability to learn.
A couple of interesting reads on Edutopia this week:
- Decision making becomes the newest life science - Educators are teaching a six-step process to help students make "thoughtful, high-quality decisions"
- When teaching the right answers is the wrong direction - Sometimes students (and adults!) learn as much from their "wrong" answers as from providing the "right" ones
(Photo courtesy of the Maratime Union of Australia, shared under a Creative Commons license.)
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Two Visiting Artists joined us in November. Mark gave us a fencing lesson and shared the history of this Olympic sport. He taught the older children how to hold a weapon and score points in a bout. We learned several footwork drills that incorporate advancing, retreating, and lunging. Audrey joined us to teach finger knitting. Many of the children enjoyed knitting strings with colorful yarn. The children truly connect with and enjoy learning from people just a few years older than themselves.
Songs, movement, and felt stories enrich our circle time. We continue to add complexity to the movements we use when singing. We’re switching directions, practicing cross crawl, and walking with feet right over left across a tape line. Each of the children is challenged to listen to the directions and move their bodies during these games which can be a developmental challenge.
During circle we have also begun a series of direct discussions on relationships and caring for one another. You may have seen our paper dolls that were the center of our discussion on how conflict is normal in relationships. We’ve also made a list of things that friends do together. “I” messages have also been introduced as a way to communicate our feelings without making the other person feeling bad. Please help reinforce this positive communication statement with your child by role modeling this language pattern. For example, “You make me upset!” would be restated as “I am upset!”
The patterns in the nooks continued to evolve this month. Many children are branching out in their relationships to form different play partnerships. Children continue to extend their attention spans, spending more time with each choice. We have had a number of doctors in the room attending to sick or dying patients. You may have seen the new classroom rule. It reads, “NO DYING!” Personally, I like that rule in school.
Thanks to the families for bringing healthy snacks throughout the month and supporting the child initiated Sandwich Making Day. This is an example of a child suggesting an idea and having the interest to carry the project through. Children have lots of ideas at Wellspring and many projects are initiated. After a day or so of inactivity I follow-up with the child to find the interest is gone and the project comes to an end.
I am thankful that Leslie has joined us as a yoga instructor on Thursday mornings. The children are enthusiastically learning new poses and practicing old ones. I too am thankful for your support of your children, the school, and your understanding that sometimes our learning gets messy, cold, and wet!
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
1. Refuse with reason
2. Only buy the good stuff
3. Fresh is best
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Children are mirrors; they reflect back to us everything we say and do. We now know that 95% of everything children learn, they learn from what is modeled for them. Only 5% of all they learn is from direct instruction. Human beings are like tape recorders. Every word we hear, everything we experience, is permanently recorded in our subconscious. Whenever adults speak, we are being role models for the children in our presence. What we speak is what we teach. Children record every word we ever say to them or in front of them. The language children grow up hearing is the language they will speak.Read the rest...
Friday, December 11, 2009
- Open Ended Play Lets Kids' Imaginations Set Sail! - When we provide surroundings that stimulate rather than bombard, invite rather than perscribe, we make space for the little big-people that our youth are yet becoming.
- Helping Our Children With Stress - The American Psychological Association study Stress in America, released November 3, found that a third of the 1,206 children in the survey (ranging in age from 8 to 17) reported feeling more stress than they had a year ago.
- Simple as That: Creating an Art Wall - For those parents who (like me) are always trying to figure out what to do with their children's artistic creations.
- What a Kid Wants - Who needs toys when there's the great outdoors, playgrounds, museums, festivals, boxes, or work to be done with caregivers?
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user fd, shared under a Creative Commons license.)
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Holistic Educators are attempting to strike a balance between individual freedom on the one hand and structure on the other. An example of an educational philosophy driven by individual freedom would be a free school, where students are free to do what they want when they want (within reason, of course) and come to staff when they want help doing something. Waldorf or Montessori philosophies would be examples of alternative educational philosophies that are largely driven by structure, where there is a well-defined curriculum that is followed in the classroom. Holistic Education seeks to place itself somewhere in the middle.
So, at Wellspring, it is expected that students will learn academic (life?) skills like math and reading, and the facilitators are not waiting around for the children to come to them with an interest in these activities. However, neither do the facilitators have a prepared curriculum that tells them that all students born between November 1, 2002 and October 31, 2003 should achieve a certain level of reading proficiency by June 16, 2010. Instead, they create a classroom that is rich in literacy and mathematical activities, and they carefully observe each student in order to determine where the student is and what is required to move the student to the next level. This requires a great deal of one-on-one work, and a carefully cultivated relationship among the facilitator, the student, and the parents.
In thinking about this, it has struck me how complicated this task really is for the facilitators. I had never thought of it in these terms before, but this is the philosophy I follow at home with my children. Within this parenting philosophy, I am constantly re-adjusting my strategy and expectations for my son and daughter. One of my children is very comfortable with the idea of personal freedom but could use a little work on structure, and the other is very comfortable with structure but needs some encouragement to assert his personal freedom. Personally, I tend to favor the personal freedom end of the spectrum while my husband favors structure. When I try to imagine how our facilitators manage to incorporate all these variables into the classroom, I am even more impressed with the amazing job they do!
The fact that Holistic Education is difficult to define is really where the beauty lies. Rarely in life will we encounter a situation with clear expectations and unambiguous roles. Everything in life is relative and is shaded by our experiences and personalities. Likewise, Holistic Education does not really lend itself to Curriculum, because it is based on the idea that the student and the facilitator create educational experiences together, organically. It is not entirely spontaneous, because the facilitators do have an idea of where they are going and they try to steer the student in that direction, but they take the individual student into consideration while charting the path.
I am reminded of the developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who uses the term scaffolding to describe this type of interaction between student and facilitator. The facilitator recognizes the distance between where a student is now and the next stage of development (called the Zone of Proximal Development), and offers just enough support so that the student is able to reach the next stage with a feeling of autonomy and accomplishment. This is something that, according to Vygotsky, spontaneously happens in the intimacy of the parent-child relationship. Obviously, it is much more difficult in the context of a classroom, but this is the goal of Holistic Education.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Arne Duncan doesn't want principals to be like teachers, like role models, or like leaders, but demands they become CEOs. With recent fears of schools being turned into businesses that focus more on numbers (money, test scores) so much more than teaching (curricula, quality teachers), this is the cherry on top. This isn't just a
suggestion for a change in mentality, Arne Duncan wants so much more: "We have
to treat them as [CEOs], and we have to train them as such."
Read the whole post here.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Gatto related the history of the public school system as it began in the 1950s. According to him, the system was mainly the brainchild of a handful of corporate visionaries (Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, etc) who no longer wanted the age-old education system that shaped the country's youth in practical, socially responsible and imaginative ways. This only hindered their dreams of a new American industrialist culture. Instead, they decided to mold the masses of the coming generations into uniform thinkers to ultimately become prime consumers of a corporate economy.
Education should be everyone's right, and when dealing with the masses, there is never an easy way to adapt to individuality. Humanity evolved and evolves. Right or wrong, good or bad, our lives change, within and without our control. But I believe there are sufficient resources to have the ideal setup and form of free education, where children are visibly encouraged to be independent thinkers, to be risk-takers, to take on more socially responsible ventures, to dive in to their own unique hobbies, where emphasis is on skills over memorization, and their capacity to comprehend is not underestimated, so that their learning environment becomes once again multi-dimensional, dynamic and dialectic.
The public school system is not perfect, agreed. Gatto successfully brought, in his 30 years as a NYC public school high school teacher, more good than harm (as perceived by him) to his students. But even for those who never had a teacher like Gatto, the system has helped. Despite the imperfections, many creative and successful minds have been produced, perhaps by those with the resolve to “slip through the cracks” of the public school system and knowingly not let their inner voices be squelched. At times it felt like some of what Gatto said was "easier said than done" because the reality is that for many, or perhaps the majority, there simply isn't the option to choose alternative schooling because individual and family circumstances just don't allow it. But maybe at age 75, one can say whatever one wants (and for as long as he wants – neither he nor the audience moved for four hours!), after a long career of pushing the limits of what is possible, seeing the fruitful results of thousands of students flourishing under his care, and knowing that all it takes is the will of parents to band together and negotiate, or have just 10% of students politely decline to take a test, to do away with mind-numbing exams once and for all.
But so much that has been started in the name of “progress” would have to change for that day to come. In the meantime, I am thankful that we live in a country where we have the freedom to question and change things in ways we feel are right for us, and those who are fortunate to do so. I am thankful for people like Gatto and countless others, near and far, past & present, who have tried or are trying to bring back some of the beneficial and valuable things of "the good old days" or of "thinking outside the box" or of valuing the unique qualities that each and every individual has to offer.
What first attracted me to Gatto's article, and which was later repeated and elaborated upon in his talk at Rutgers, was not only how he perfectly described part of my own experience in public high school. It was that he gave voice to what I was thinking all along, that education and being a learner had nothing to do with grades, diplomas, degrees and certificates. It was a relief to know finally, after all these years, that I wasn't wrong, and hey, I just might be an educated person after all!
Friday, December 4, 2009
Every year since 1952, the Book Review has asked a panel of judges to select 10 books from among the several thousand children’s books published that year. The judges this time around were Adam Gopnik, who writes regularly for The New Yorker and is the author of two novels for children, The King in the Window and the forthcoming Steps Across the Water; Jillian Tamaki, a teacher at the School of Visual Arts and the recipient of a Society of Illustrators gold medal; and Lisa Von Drasek, the children’s librarian of the Bank Street College of Education.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Parents Learn to Listen
The Morningside Center for Social Responsibility believes families hold the key to creating a more peaceful world. Parents teach kids the emotional skills that influence their decisions for the rest of their lives.
That’s why Morningside offers workshops in more than 60 New York City schools to equip parents to understand their children’s emotions. One workshop exercise shows how put-downs can take a toll on a child’s self-esteem. A paper heart is ripped to symbolize a put-down either from a bully or a parent. By the end of a bad day, the heart is in tatters. The workshop is part of a program called Peace in the Family, which teaches parents to use open communication to handle their children’s emotions.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Juicing fruit:View the entire post here.
- Is economical, as organic juices are expensive.
- Is practical. The juice is easy to store, and the leftover pulp can be dried
into fruit leather or added to the compost.
- Encourages the family to consume more fruit.
- Involves children in a rewarding project. They can see the end reward of
caring for your fruit trees all year.
- Is a good use for early summer apples which may not store well, like
Transparents and Gravensteins
- Creates a very tasty beverage.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.
What do you think? Is shouting the new spanking? Read the entire article here.
Monday, November 30, 2009
When we think about how well our schools are performing, it is helpful to remember that our schools serve both public and private purposes. The private purposes of our schools are as varied as the students and families who use them. Each member of a school community walks in the door with their own unique hopes, dreams, goals, cultural heritage, and personal history. We honor these private purposes by providing a rich variety of programs and opportunities for students to access according to their own particular agendas.
But schools also serve public purposes, and we don’t always see eye to eye on what those purposes should be. Some say we should focus on strengthening our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy. Others say we need to be leveling the economic playing field between advantaged and disadvantaged segments of our population. Still others emphasize teaching the skills necessary for students to obtain decent, living-wage jobs. Either way, much of the conversation about the public purpose of our schools centers around economic goals. And, of course, schooling does have a direct impact on our economy and on an individual’s readiness to effectively participate in it.
However, isn’t there a more fundamental public purpose of our schools – one that incorporates, but transcends, economic issues? One that has a more formative and lasting impact on the quality of our lives as individuals and as communities? One that is more closely aligned with the core values that we as a nation profess?
During the course of my 20 years in public education, I have come to believe that the primary and non-negotiable public purpose of our schools is simply this: to teach democracy. What could be more relevant to everything we as a country hold near and dear to our hearts?
Democracy is a rich, multi-layered, inspiring ideal that is much more than a political system. Democracy is a way of living and working together based on the values of freedom, justice, equality, and respect. These values can be applied to any situation in which one person has to live or work with another – our world, our country, our community, our organizations and institutions, and even our families and personal relationships.
And how do we teach democracy? Well, that’s what we have to figure out. For starters, we teach democracy not just by memorizing definitions or reading the Constitution or explaining how a bill becomes a law, but by actually experiencing democratic values and processes in the real context of our lives together. Our schools play a vital role in making this happen.
We teach the arts of democracy by teaching students how to think deeply and critically, how to engage in thoughtful and respectful dialogue, and how to value diversity and the unique gifts we each bring to our common table.
We teach the arts of democracy by teaching students how to listen actively, how to communicate persuasively, and how to know when to compromise and when to stand firm.
We teach the arts of democracy when we teach students how to plan together, how to decide together, and how to solve problems together.
Finally, we teach the arts of democracy by teaching students how to balance their own personal goals with the need to connect, identify with, and relate to the rest of humanity.
Unfortunately, these goals are not as easily measured as are math, reading, and writing skills. Does that make them any less important? Of course not. It just presents us with the challenge of developing mechanisms and indicators that will help us to know whether or not we are doing our job. These measures will not be as black and white as a standardized test, but they will generate essential public dialogue and keep us moving in the right direction. And I hope you can agree with me that democracy is the right direction.
Will you take responsibility for making sure this conversation is going on in your community? In your school? Will you make sure these questions are being actively and inclusively discussed?
- How do we teach democracy?
- How do we know when we are being successful?
Friday, November 27, 2009
False Assumption 4: Teaching is just a matter of distributing information. Indeed, the process is so simple that recent college graduates, fresh from "covering" that information, should be encouraged to join "Teach For America" for a couple of years before moving on to more intellectually demanding professions. Experienced teachers may argue that, as Socrates demonstrated, nothing is more intellectually demanding than figuring out what’s going on in another person’s head, then getting that person herself or himself to examine and change it, but they’re just blowing smoke.Read Brady's other nine false assumptions here.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
We place kids in schools together with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of other kids typically from similar economic and cultural backgrounds. We group them all within a year or so of one another in age. We equip them with similar gadgets, expose them to the same TV shows, lessons, and sports. We ask them all to take almost the exact same courses and do the exact same work and be graded relative to one another. We give them only a handful of ways in which they can meaningfully demonstrate their competencies. And then we’re surprised they have some difficulty establishing a sense of their own individuality.Read the entire post here, and have a happy Thanksgiving (for our American readers, everyone else just have a happy day)!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Here is a recipe for one of my most favorite squash recipes, which can be a main dish or a side (maybe for Thanksgiving?). It also travels very well and is good for potluck meals. I got the recipe from Taste for Life magazine, and they credit Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker as the original source. Enjoy!
Quinoa-Stuffed Acorn Squash
3 acorn squash, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts or whole unblanched almonds, toasted (I use raw walnuts)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I sometimes substitute thyme)
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange acorn squash cut side down in a baking pan. Add 1/2 inch of water to the pan and cover with aluminum foil. Bake until the squash are tender, about 45 to 55 minutes. Leave the oven on. Let squash cool.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stirring until golden, about 8 minutes. Add quinoa, stirring until roasted, about 3 minutes. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Uncover and let cool slightly.
Scoop out and dice the pulp of 2 squash halves. Turn the other 4 halves cut side up (I usually cut a sliver off the uncut side of each half before cooking so the squash are stable for the filling stage) and season with salt and pepper. Combine quinoa mixture and diced squash. Stir in nuts, parsley, and 2 tablespoons of cheese. Spoon mixture into the 4 squash cavities, distributing evenly. Sprinkle the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons of cheese. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
The film synopsis sets out that "In a half-changed world, women feel they need to choose: mothering or working? Your children's well being or your own?" The story focuses on five "fierce women who refuse to choose."
Friday, November 20, 2009
Schooling in the modern world is driven by an obsession with testing, grading, and accountability. There are at least three deeply rooted cultural reasons for this:
1. Education is culturally defined as the transmission of facts. Approved knowledge is packaged into standardized units and then delivered to students. In contrast to a Socratic or apprenticeship model of teaching, this is a mechanical process that can be measured and controlled.
2. All institutions in modern society are designed and managed by experts, by professionals, who justify their exalted status because of their training in “scientific” methods. This, again, involves standardization, measurement and control.
3. Those responsible for spending taxpayers’ money need to defend their use of it. They are accountable to the public in the same way a company’s management is accountable to investors: They must have certain production standards and achieve measurable results.
Notice that none of these considerations have anything to do with the quality of learning, with the lived experience of young people encountering and making sense of the world. “Education” is not a fully human relationship between adult mentors and aspiring youths, but a rigidly structured institution organized to serve social and political ends.
Holistic education, however, begins with authentic relationship. It defines learning as an existential encounter, not a standardized process. Every learner, every child, is a unique and intrinsically valuable person with a distinctive combination of feelings, hopes, strengths, difficulties and weaknesses. Every teacher, too, is a whole person with beliefs, passions, wisdom and limitations. As they come together to wonder about the world, to sort through the astounding complexity, richness, beauty and violence of human existence in the universe, teacher and learner pursue many paths that can be experienced but not measured.
A holistic educator is accountable, above all else, to the latent potential of each young person he or she encounters. It is our job to call out or bring forth (the Latin root meaning of “educate”) that which lives within our students. To a greater or lesser extent, this will involve common knowledge that shows up on academic tests, but it is so much more than that, so much more that cannot be graded or measured. We cannot meaningfully quantify a child’s enthusiasm for learning, her sense of wonder or awe. We cannot measure a student’s expression of compassion or social responsibility. We cannot attach a grade to a young person’s feeling of kinship with the living world (“biophilia”), or his sense of place (“bioregionalism”). In holistic education, these deeper human potentials are what ultimately matter.
A society that was truly interested in nourishing the human being would allow its educators to practice authentic encounter without the hindrance of obsessive measurement. As John Holt once pointed out, sometimes we just know what is right, and don’t need quantitative evidence to support our practices. Imagine a community that trusted in the wisdom and skill of its educators, and in the inherent capacities of every young person, which would recognize the results of authentic learning in the liveliness, curiosity, public spiritedness, and creativity of its youths. Alternative schools such as Wellspring demonstrate that we can do this. We do know what makes for good ways to educate a human being because the results when we do so are obvious.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
What does the word “education” mean to us? Does it refer to the state’s power to shape the minds and attitudes of citizens to provide human capital for economic and political purposes? Or is education, instead, an intimate human encounter between caring elders and young people with their own aspirations and potentials?
If we believe that genuine education has more to do with the latter, then the hierarchical and authoritarian structure of our present system of schooling is absurdly inappropriate. All important educational decisions are made by distant, impersonal forces completely out of human scale, turning teachers into technicians, parents into consumers, and young people into products. The standardization of teaching and learning through prescribed curricula and textbooks, and the obsessive pursuit of accountability through relentless testing, reflect the concentrated power of political leaders, corporate CEOs, influential foundations and the mass media. No Child Left Behind (sic) is the educational policy of a technocratic empire.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Violence, then, is comprised of layer upon layer of pain, ignorance, self-assurance, and callousness. To overcome violence in the world will require many corresponding layers of understanding and effort. More caring, nourishing ways of education and childrearing are essential elements, but they are not sufficient. Political activism is also essential, but also not enough. Spiritual practice of some sort is crucial— but as I have written before in criticism of “new age” or “new paradigm” holistic thought (Miller, 2000), spirituality detached from cultural analysis and political engagement is not going to effect substantial change. A holistic approach to peace, and to peace education more specifically, must be fluid and multidimensional. Its aim is not “peace” as an abstraction, but a culture of peace, which means a “web of meanings” that honors compassion, collaboration, negotiation, and service and dishonors conquest and violence. If most present cultures make violence, hatred, and oppression seem manly, exciting, and effective, a culture of peace would treat them as stupid and self-defeating. (I want to add “as in reality they are,” but then this
places me outside culture entirely,as some sort of omniscient authority. We must
promote peace itself with humility, or we defeat our own purposes.)
Read this article in its entirety here.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The search for authenticity, personal growth and spiritual experience that began with the “human potential movement” of the 1960s and ‘70s gave rise to a new educational paradigm that was at first called “humanistic” or “transpersonal,” but which is now widely known as “holistic” education. Writers such as George Leonard (Education and Ecstasy, published in 1968), Joseph Chilton Pearce (Magical Child, 1980, and several later books), Thomas Armstrong (The Radiant Child, 1985), and James Peterson (The Secret Life of Kids, 1987), among others, made the case that we could begin to develop the vast untapped potentials of human consciousness in the early years of life. Education, rather than forcibly instilling a specific body of knowledge, should begin with a deep respect for each child’s experience and creative powers.
Holistic education incorporates new understandings about the brain and the processes of learning, such as our growing awareness of multiple intelligences. This way of teaching also recognizes that learning needs to connect the individual in meaningful and caring ways to the complex world we live in; holistic educators are concerned with ecological understanding, social responsibility and democratic ideals.
Progressive educators in public schools have tried to implement many of these approaches over the years. Still, public schools are burdened by political, economic and cultural expectations that reflect more traditional and authoritarian definitions of education. And they are burdened by conflicts over budgets, textbooks and values as well. Holistic education is rarely practiced thoroughly in public schools. This is why a number of alternatives, such as Montessori and Waldorf schools, democratic schools, and homeschooling are growing in popularity.
Given the politics of this time in our history, these alternatives fall into the category of “private” (i.e. nonpublic) education. But the holistic education movement is not ultimately seeking privatization; we are not interested in dismantling democratic institutions. One of the most difficult but exciting challenges of this movement is to imagine an entirely new system by which a democratic society nourishes the potentials of its young people and invites them into participation in the larger world.
Monday, November 16, 2009
During 2007, Miller wrote a monthly column introducing the principles of holistic education to readers of the online publication Global Intelligencer (which has since been discontinued). These essays reflect Miller’s most recent thinking and he is currently working many of these ideas into a new book. The following is one of these essays.
In today’s increasingly complex world, families have access to a wider range of educational options than ever before. It is now possible, and it’s becoming more widely recognized as desirable, to choose a school—or nonschool—learning environment that best serves the specific needs and accommodates the unique personal qualities of every young person.
Despite the forceful push for standardization in public educational policy, which has reached a peak in the so-called No Child Left Behind legislation, students now have diverse opportunities to experience a truly individualized or personalized education. Growing numbers of parents and educators are starting to recognize that the one-size-fits-all system, devised for the industrializing economy of the nineteenth century, is obsolete, and that the current obsession with standards, testing, and authoritarian control is a desperate last gasp of a system in decline.
Before the 1960s, families had few options. Other than the local public school, one’s choices might include a parochial (religious) school and perhaps an elite private school. As part of the general cultural awakening that took place during that decade, ideas about education expanded greatly. By the early 1970s, there was an explosion of “free schools,” Montessori and Waldorf programs, public “schools of choice,” and programs that became known under the generic name of “alternative” schools. Eventually some states endorsed the hybrid model of “charter schools,” using public funding to support a variety of educational experiments. At the same time, thousands of families became inspired by books such as Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (1970) and John Holt’s Teach Your Own (1983), to launch the homeschooling movement.
Struggling against the politics of standardization, these movements have matured and grown. When we now speak of educational alternatives—plural—rather than “alternative education,” we are embracing a wide range of possibilities, rather than endorsing an entrenched system and allowing a few dissidents to do their own thing on the margins.
There are at least twenty distinct models of non-standardized education, reflecting different views of child development and various understandings about what constitutes essential knowledge. One way to think about this diversity is to identify several basic philosophical orientations and compare them with each other. For example, some educational alternatives are frankly libertarian and individualistic. They argue that children learn most effectively—and become willingly collaborative members of the community—when they have full responsibility for their own learning from an early age.
A. S. Neill’s 1960 book Summerhill, describing the radical child-centered school he founded in England, is the best known statement of this approach. Today there is a growing international network of “democratic schools” (seehttp://www.idenetwork.org/Home.html) and an expanding group of schools modeled after the pioneering Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts (http://www.sudval.org/07_othe_01.html). The most child-centered approach among homeschoolers, called “unschooling,” also seeks to do away with the arbitrary educational authority of adults.
Another category of alternatives might be called “social democratic” or “progressive.” These programs are more structured than the libertarian ones; for example, they do make specific intellectual demands on students, and may identify social values (such as peace, justice, sustainability) that they believe are crucial. Still, they tend to educate through dialogue and collaborative activity rather than authoritative transmission of a fixed curriculum.
A third major group of alternatives are those based on specific understandings of human development. The two best known of these approaches are the Montessori and Waldorf schools, both founded by visionaries in the early twentieth century (Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner). They believed that the child’s personality develops according to the unfolding of identifiable spiritual stages, and so they sought to provide educational experiences that specifically address the child’s needs at each stage. These alternative models are “child-centered” in the universal sense, rather than driven by society’s expectations for how future workers and citizens should be educated. (Seehttp://www.montessori.org/ and http://www.awsna.org/.)
There are other types of schools, and other styles of home- and community-based learning, that are more difficult to classify. Some of them combine elements of several categories. There are programs in public education, including charter and magnet schools, special programs for youths “at risk” of dropping out, and others, that are noticeably different from the standard school model, yet don’t quite fit into these philosophical groups.
Parents and young people who want to learn more about the variety of alternatives available can start by visiting the website of the Alternative Education Resource Organization (http://www.educationrevolution.org/).
Friday, November 13, 2009
participants...expect that the community is a source of strength, or value, for them. But to derive value from most communities, participants have to give in a way that is not transactional. You contribute to people within a community without knowing exactly how that value is going to come back to you. The currency is trust - or to use a more wonky term, social capital.
So I started thinking that this concept applies not only to financial transactions, but to all sorts of transactions, including education. Teacher has something of value (grades, diplomas, degrees). Student has something Teacher wants (a particular answer on a test). Teacher and Student come together in the usual school setting and set about engaging in a series of transactions - Teacher tells Student what Student should know, Teacher gives Student a test, Student gives Teacher answers, and Teacher gives Student a grade. All very businesslike and impersonal.
On the other hand, in a school community (such as Wellspring COMMUNITY School), the setup is completely different. It is not about predictable and clear goals and objectives, about SWBATs (Students Will Be Able To...). Instead of working towards "mastery" (and I use the term loosely) of a predetermined set of curricular objectives, we come together in a spirit of trust not really knowing what the outcome will be but having faith that we are going to receive something of value in exchange for our contribution of social capital. And in exchange for that trust, we receive not only information, but friendship and strength.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
With today's busy schedules, between rushing off to school and work, after-school lessons, dinner time and homework, all children and parents experience a certain level of daily stress.
A simple activity to implement with your child for stress relief is the balloon breath relaxation. You can help alleviate stress in yourself as well by practicing this technique. First, begin by asking your children to breathe in very slowly and deeply through the nose, counting up to three. Ask them to imagine they are breathing in a beautiful white light that spreads out through their body and makes them feel very relaxed. Ask them to imagine that their tummy is like a balloon and to fill up the balloon with lots of that relaxing white light. This is called diaphragmic breathing and it very relaxing for the body and mind. Start out by counting up to three and then work up to 5 or 6 slow counts. Exhaling is also slow and easy. Ask your child to close his eyes when inhaling and exhaling. This closes out outside distractions and helps your child focus their attention within. You should also practice with your child which will alleviate stress for you and also strengthen your bond with your child simply by virtue of spending special time together and feeling good.
Bedtime is an ideal time to introduce this techniques and to practice as well. However, this deep balloon breath relaxation will also help your child anytime he or she feels any stress... before a test at school, after a fight with a friend, when the atmosphere gets a little overwhelming, really in any circumstance. It's also useful for parents as well. It can help us parent better, because we are then less stressed ourselves. So practice daily with your child. This also provides the opportunity for you to eventually introduce mindful meditation to your child if you should choose to do so. It all begins with the breath. This relaxation does not have to last a long time, and your child will reap tremendous benefits from even 2-4 minutes of this type of relaxation.
Another important foundational stone for healthy, stress-free living is regular discussion of any issues that came up during the day for your child. Ask your child what the best moment of the day was, and then once you spend time enjoying those images with your child, ask what the most difficult moment of the day was. This is your opportunity to really BE with your child. This is also your opportunity to alleviate his or her anxieties. Use guided imagery and tell your child that together you will blow the worries far away. Take out am invisible magic bubble blower and blow blow blow away those worries! Exercise your own imagination and have fun with it. Children have very vivid imaginations and adore these types of exercises. What you may think difficult, comes very natural to them. It also feels like a fun game, and you'll be surprised how much guided imagery really helps you as well.
Spending these precious moments with your child and teaching them simple techniques to deal with stress has huge payoffs, both for you and your child, now and in the future. It is a large part of mindful parenting which is the practice of living in the moment with your child. You're giving your child tools to deal with daily pressures and you're spending quality time and creating memories with your child. It's an old cliche but also very true...our children do grow up so fast. Therefore, it's vital that we acknowledge them always and take time to enjoy them and their growth. In addition to helping your child relieve everyday stresses, make it a practice to really pay attention to your child and his thoughts and feelings. It is the greatest gift you can give them, and unconditional love relieves stress like nothing else!
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
We took listening walks on the way to the post office and in the meadow. Children listened to a variety of vehicles going over the open grate bridge and wondered why they didn’t fall through as the bridge has holes. We listened to big and small rocks plunge into deep and shallow water. We also attempted to find the birds singing to us in the bushes.
In the paddock, the children have built many obstacles with spools, stumps, and boards. The wet weather has created challenging surfaces for negotiating these obstacles. Our Halloween celebration offered a chance to weigh pumpkins, vote on the Jack-O-Lantern’s features, predict a pumpkin’s circumference, and guess the contents of touch bags. Games of freeze tag have helped many of our younger friends stay warm on chilly mornings. Thanks to all for dressing your child to enjoy this paddock time in all types of weather.
During circle time we take turns listening to and talking with others. Most days we sing songs and share stories. Community meetings are held to talk about how we care for each other and our space. Younger voices are being heard more frequently in these gatherings. The Kid Who Cares documents how we want, or don’t want, to be treated. We often refer to the “rules” created by children for friendly reminders. Our Peace Mat is being used more actively to solve problems which I view as a sign that the children are more comfortable with each other.
The Mat and Tray Nook offers a wide variety of individual and small group activities that reinforce pre-reading and math skills. Many days this is a popular nook during choice time. Puzzles, games, and sound/letter sorts continue to be popular.
The activity in the Art and Writing Nook has increased significantly with the support of our parent helpers this month. The children are offered a variety of materials for projects. When you join me for a conversation, take some time to view the art work displayed in the room.
The Primary children continue to explore sound-letter patterns. Several are interested in learning to read, so their afternoons are spent blending sounds and gaining confidence with sight words. They were inspired to make haunted house dioramas after listening to a Cam Jensen book. Math skills are explored with calendar work, characteristics of a set, and the weekly estimation jar.
In closing I extend a special thanks to Parvathi for coordinating our field trips, the dads that spent their morning with us, and to the parent helpers that continue to enrich our daily program. I am grateful for your support.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
the overall goals for education in the ARRA...to stimulate the economy in the short term and to invest in education advancements to ensure the long-term economic health and success of our nation.