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September 1, 2005
Vol. 63
No. 1

EL Study Guide / The Whole Child

School: What's It All For?

What does it mean to educate the whole child? This issue suggests that educating the whole child must mean a unified change in our teaching approach, rather than the occasional “add-on.” In the face of what ASCD's Position Statement on the Whole Child calls a national policy overwhelming focused on academic achievement, teachers must solidify their own beliefs about the purpose of education.
  • Noddings says that because a healthy democracy is constantly changing “it requires citizens who are ... competent enough to distinguish between the better and the worse.” How can schools help children distinguish between “better and worse” in terms of laws, leaders, and other civic choices? Do you agree that this should be a goal of schooling? How might Noddings' idea that children's happiness is an aim of education fit in with this goal?
  • Do you agree with Elliot Eisner's claim (“Back to Whole”, p. 15) that our aims should be “flexibly purposive,” open to change as the realities of our students and of U.S. society change? Does a preoccupation with standards indeed “freeze our conception of what we want to accomplish in our schools,” as Eisner believes?
  • Marvin Berkowitz and Melinda Bier (“Character Education: Parents as Partners, p. 64) maintain that schools must “socialize each generation of youth to embody the virtues and characteristics that are essential to that society's survival.” List three key personal and moral characteristics that you think citizens will need to keep U.S. society flourishing for the next 50 years. What do you do in your classroom to specifically foster these qualities in children? Consider and commit to two more things you could do in the coming semester.

Reality Check on Student Health

Counterintuitive as it may seem, David Satcher's article (“Healthy and Ready to Learn,” p. 26) gives evidence that most students need a push to be physically active. The number of overweight children in the United States has tripled since 1980. Satcher claims thatSchools can be a powerful catalyst for change when it comes to preventing and reducing overweight and obesity. The school setting is a great equalizer, providing all students and families...with the same access to good nutrition and physical activity.
Why haven't more schools assumed the role of catalyst for healthy student behavior? What factors might be barriers to taking action on issues of eating, exercise, and weight?
Satcher notes that 20 percent of elementary schools in the United States have dropped recess. Take a reality check: how much recess time and how many weekly physical education classes do elementary schools in your district offer students? Has that time allotment changed over the last 20 years? What about your middle schools?
Students themselves, according to a 2002 poll by Action for Healthy Kids, believe more physical activity in schools is important. Yet middle and secondary students are often unenthusiastic about their school's physical education classes, and girls especially drop sports as they get older.
Find out why, trying the approach the McComb School District (“A Coordinated School Health Plan,” Pat Cooper, p. 32) used to improve student health and to restore public faith in its school system. The McComb district's leaders convened open meetings and encouraged the community to pose hard questions. To restore students' faith in your district's physical education offerings, ask a representative group of students to evaluate their school's physical education classes and school-sponsored sports. You might frame the discussion with a version of three questions the McComb District used to launch their process: What do students dislike about the physical education program at the school; what do they want the program to be like; and how would they suggest the school get there?
Taking into account students' suggestions, brainstorm ways your district might motivate students to get physically active in school. Consider options such as the school-sponsored aerobics class at a local health spa that school principal Kathleen D'Andrea describes in “Reclaiming Senior Year” (p. 70).

Affirming Cultural Knowledge

  • Read aloud the vignettes in Brooks and Thompson's article that show teachers devaluing students' opinions and life examples. Share a time you witnessed this kind of devaluing happening in a classroom.
  • Over the next two weeks, be alert and jot down any time you feel you—or someone else—squashed a student's seriously offered comment or question. How might you instead have used that student's words to deepen the class's exploration, or to affirm a minority culture?
  • Are there any topics students bring up that you tend to consider taboo in class—such as race or gender? What might be lost in declaring such subjects off limits to discussion?

Naomi Thiers is the managing editor of Educational Leadership.

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