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September 1, 2005
Vol. 63
No. 1

Perspectives / Valuing Children

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If you asked Aristotle, John Dewey, and Martin Luther King Jr. to describe the aims of education, would they offer any version of the education goals that drive U.S. public schools today? Would any world-class visionary identify proficiency in basic skills as the primary aim for every student? Would he or she declare adequate yearly progress a school's central reason for being?
What seems most wrong with the NCLB rhetoric is not that the standards are too high or that the requirements are too rigorous, but that the standards and requirements are not meaningful enough. In other words, what happens if despite all our emphasis on leaving no child behind, we fail to inspire children to move forward? If we neglect the needs of the whole child, will our measurements of partial success provide any comfort?
At the beginning of a new school year, Educational Leadership turns to essential questions: What are the basics that “whole children” need from their schools? How can schools ensure that all students not only master basic math and reading but also develop those qualities and skills that will enable them to contribute meaningfully to the needs of future societies—even in ways that current data cannot predict will be needed?
In its effort to focus on the needs of the whole child, ASCD has spelled out what a comprehensive approach to learning means (p. 17). The ASCD Position Statement on the Whole Child, derived from positions adopted by ASCD's Leadership Council in 2004, calls for schools and communities to pay attention to each student's academic, physical, emotional, social, and ethical well-being. The statement reaffirms what ASCD educators value: a challenging and engaging curriculum, evidence-based instruction and assessment, safe and trusting classrooms and schools, and a climate that supports students and their families. A recently appointed Commission on the Whole Child to be cochaired by Lynn Huntley, president of the Southern Education Foundation, and Hugh B. Price, former president of the National Urban League, will recommend next steps in advocating for all students.
Many research studies show that a comprehensive approach to teaching and learning works best. The relationship between student health and academic success, for example, is clear. Students in elementary school through high school perform better academically when they are physically active, as former Surgeon General David Satcher (p. 26) tells us. He also notes a causal link between good nutrition and cognitive performance.
Much research also shows that school connectedness (feeling part of one's school and feeling close to people at school) positively correlates with grade point average in major school subjects. A sense of community in school is associated with positive attitudes toward school, academic motivation, and engagement (California Department of Education, 2005).
Parents, too, report that they have always wanted more than adequate test scores from their children's schools. McREL national dialogues (Lefkowits & Miller, 2005) reveal that testing and reporting schemes do not answer the questions that parents truly care about when it comes to their own children's performance in school. Parents want schools to teach their children to be trustworthy; to be good citizens; to be critical thinkers; and to learn art, music, and the humanities as well as math and science.
In this issue, Educational Leadership authors sketch visions of education that reflect the wholeness of children.
Nel Noddings (p. 8) warns,We will not find the solution to problems of violence, alienation, ignorance, and unhappiness in increasing our security apparatus, imposing more tests, punishing schools for their failure to produce 100 percent proficiency, or demanding that teachers be knowledgeable in “the subjects they teach.”Elliot Eisner (p. 14) reminds us,In the human organism, there is no such thing as an independent part; all parts are interconnected. We need to recognize these connections when we teach, when we design education environments, when we provide incentives, and when we grade students. Attention to such complex matters will not simplify our tasks as teachers, but it will bring education closer to the heart of what really matters.
References

California Department of Education. (2005). Getting results: Developing safe and healthy kids, Update 5. Sacramento, CA: Author. Available: www.cde.ca.gov/re/pn/fd/documents/getresultsupdate5.pdf

Lefkowits, L., & Miller, K. (2005, April). Fulfilling the promise of the standards movement. McREL Policy Brief. Boulder, CO: McREL.

Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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