A student’s education, if only academic, is incomplete. It is essential for educators to have at the forefront of their minds the obligation they have to prepare students to be civically engaged individuals as well as their responsibility of sharing their content knowledge with students. Schools have the duty to educate future world leaders. To educate, a teacher must work to develop the minds of students by providing opportunities for them to not only receive knowledge, but to discover and construct it as well (Scheuerman, 2014). Beyond developing the mind, teachers are called to mold the hearts of students in hope of forming future world leaders who are informed and active participants in the community. To me this means that education must be holistic: it is meant to develop skills and knowledge students need in order to have a successful future and to also promote moral and active participation in society. This is accomplished through the education of the whole person.
Holistic education embraces both the emotion and intellect of the students and because of that this approach to education fully embodies the goal of education to improve the moral and social fabric of students and to raise academic achievement (Miller, 2011; Scheuerman, 2014). The focus on the individual student’s interests, creativity and distinct nature guides the learning process. According to Miller (2011) the holistic approach strives to educate students to understand the world around them (intellect) and to become citizens who are fully prepared to actively participate in society (emotion). Students need to first learn the various structures and systems of the world. Once they have mastered those concepts, they then need to apply their knowledge of the concepts to experiences in order evaluate them. Both knowledge and experience come from teacher’s passion, expertise and challenges they place before the students to think critically and come up with strategies to effect change. Experiences should promote the principles of moral education (kindness, commitment, participation, honesty, civility and service), reveal how connected students are to the world around them and awaken empathy (Campbell, 2011).
In a social studies class, there are various opportunities to teach students the ideals of service, participation and commitment. One way to instill these in the lives of students would be through working with individuals studying to take their Naturalization Test. Students could do this as part of a unit on the waves of immigration in the United States and experience the process people go through to become American citizens. This in itself is a form of service through the giving of student’s time to help another person study for their important test. There are aspects of participation in the type of service, partnering with someone from another culture and working with them to become a citizen of the country as the student. This is definitely something that would be a huge commitment as students would need to commit their time and work hard with someone who needs their help to succeed.
Students could learn the ideal of kindness in an English classroom through writing activities meant to encourage students younger than them as well as other members of the school community. Students could participate in random acts of kindness by writing anonymous letters of encouragement to faculty and staff letters. Students could do something similar by reaching out to students younger than them knowing firsthand the challenges they might be currently facing. This is something that could be part of a poetry unit or could be integrated into the curriculum year long. Students could learn how far kindness can go even in the simplest of actions and would be able to see the positive impact they made on other members of the school. Not only would kindness and positivity be spread within the community, individual creativity would be cultivated through the writing exercises providing an opportunity to advance both the individual and communal wellbeing.
Even outside of the humanities disciplines, students can learn the principles of moral education in a science classroom. If learning about the environment, students can participate in a conservation project which requires them to apply the knowledge they learned in the classroom including the various species of plants and animals that live in a region and the unique ecosystems they inhabit. Students can then work together to create an environment free of invasive species. If learning about the human brain and the various brain diseases people end up with, students could spend time volunteering in a memory care ward at a retirement home to experience firsthand the reality of living with brain diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Both options integrate the principles of kindness, commitment, service, participation and civility.
Moral education is something that any teacher in any subject can implement into their curriculum. Service learning projects can be planned for any grade level and can bring curriculum to life in a new way for students. These hands on experiences not only help students comprehend and process what they are learning, they help to instill the moral principles in their lives. The possibilities are endless when it comes to intentionally integrating moral education into curriculum and many teachers are already doing so subconsciously. Service learning not only challenges students to think critically about the experiences they are having, it also creates opportunities for students to be more aware of their interconnectedness with everyone and everything (Campbell, 2011). This is the emotional side of holistic education where relationships are formed.
Thanks to the heightened awareness of holistic education, relationships are fostered and this helps to form the heart of the student. Relationships create a heart and mind connection which directly impacts the decisions that individuals make in their lives. By providing opportunities for students to work together as well as opportunities for them to get to know people who are different than them (such as individuals living with dementia or Alzheimer’s as mentioned above), students become more informed citizens who understand the true interconnectedness of all things. Due to the exposure of service learning projects and the principles of moral education, students are equipped to take on their role in society.
According to Washington State law, the preeminent role of education is to promote citizenship (Scheuerman, 2014). In order to promote citizenship teachers must provide learning experiences in each subject area for students to be engaged with the principles of moral education: to learn how to collaborate, to problem solve, to apply concepts and contribute individual success towards the common good of the whole. These learning experiences encourage students to be active participants with the hope that they will be able to take the skills they develop in the process, incorporate their knowledge and apply both in their own lives beyond the school house. It is the school’s responsibility to educate the whole student. Both the mind and the heart must be shaped in order to instill kindness, participation, honesty, service, civility and commitment into the lives of students.
Without a doubt my educational philosophy is holistic and is specifically defined by relationships, both interpersonal and intrapersonal. Arthur Ellis explains that an educator’s philosophic position on education and schooling stems from their own philosophy of life which is developed over time due to a variety of sources: people, school and environment being the most identifiable sources. As Ellis defines this development of individual philosophy, the answers to the questions; “What is real? What is truth? What is of value? How do we know these things?” help to organize those beliefs. For me, the questions can be answered with one simple word: relationships.
This is understood, as Ellis mentions, through the people, school and environment I encountered in my life. Many people have come in and out of my life, and the vast majority of them have had the common belief in God; the triune God of Christianity; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael; the God of Judaism and Islam. The people in my life showed me a devout faith that questions and struggles, believes and praises, defends and gives thanks, all in the same breath. The most influential people have been my family, who chose my first two schools for me. Both of these schools which I attended (one I attended for 9 years and the other for 4) are faith based and are deeply rooted in the perennialism school of thought: schools that train both the intellect and the spirit of the individual or in other words, holistic education. The people in my life and the schools I attended shaped the environment in which I was raised and informed the way I perceive and understand the world around me. This environment valued creativity, honesty, expression, hard work, kindness, friendship, patience and understanding.
All of these things have formed my educational philosophy, which holds true to the perennialism school of thought which, according to Ellis, is based in realism and neo-thomism and as mentioned before is concerned with not only with forming the intellect, but the character of the student. My philosophy is truly holistic and I believe to my core that the whole person needs to be taught in the school.
Not only do teachers need to provide the knowledge and platform for students to explore content, teachers need to be just as committed to being role models to their students and shaping their character. Children need to learn how to be members of a community and how to relate to the people and environment around them. Through practice in classroom settings, they can learn to collaborate with, listen to, appreciate and understand the different perspectives of the people around them. In the classroom they can learn to “agree to disagree” and stand up for what it is that they believe in to their core. Educators can provide them opportunities to understand themselves and understand their responsibility to the world and people around them. Schools give them the knowledge to formulate ideas and articulate them and provide opportunities for leadership and service as well as the space to develop relationships with peers and adults in a variety of academic and non-academic settings. Through these experiences, students develop holistically and are able to become participating and invested members of society.
An individual who realized the goals of holistic education and urged others to work for it is Hannah Arendt. Arendt called for people to live an active life or “vita activa”. The concept of vita activa provides an explanation of the Greek concept of meaning: a participatory endeavor for the wellbeing of all (Scheuerman, 2014). This active participation calls for more than just knowledge, but a moral education, for students. An education which integrates the principles of moral education (kindness, service, commitment, honesty, participation and civility) into the academic curriculum fully embraces the vita activa vision and then embodies holistic approach to education. Educators in every discipline have the responsibility to teach students to abide by Arendt’s concept of vita activia which according to Plato, Aristotle and other great Greek philosophers is promoting the good of all through collective endeavors (Scheuerman, 2014). The principles of moral education provide concrete ideas and experiences that embrace vita activa which lead to both individual and societal advancement through the practical application of knowledge.
Another individual who had a holistic vision of education is John Dewey. Dewey saw the importance of teaching the individual student as well as the role each student would play in society. Dewey saw education as a process of living, where students needed to learn to become a unified whole through the process of their individual interests found in the world around them (Scheuerman, 2014). The following quote from his pedagogic creed fully encompasses his vision for school and the role each individual has as a member of a community:
“School is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be the most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends.” (Dewey, 1896)
Dewey requires every member of the school to take part in the journey of education. And if the process of learning is based on the individual interest and environment of the student, then their nurturing and growth goes beyond that of the mind since what they are drawn to will drive their experience. To be holistic, the mind and heart connection is crucial.
Both Arendt and Dewey bring forth the theme of participation. The holistic approach to education requires active participation of the teacher, student and family to support academic, personal and spiritual growth. Arendt and Dewey both acknowledge the responsibilities that individuals have in society. For Arendt, the moral implications of education are most vital. With the holistic approach, there is a call to social justice which is learned through the knowledge of and exposure to the principles of moral education. For Dewey, learning is lifelong and relevant which coincides with the holistic philosophy of being informed citizens willing to challenge the wrongs they see in the world.
Campbell, L. H. (2011). Holistic art education: a transformative approach to teaching art. Art Education, 64(2), 18-24.
Ellis, A. (2014) EDU 6120 session 5: philosophical perspectives. Retrieved from http://mountainlightschool.wordpress.com/mat/edu-6120/
Miller, D. L. (2011). Curriculum Theory and Practice: What’s your curriculum style?. Phi Delta Kappan 92(7), 32-39.
Gunter, H. M. (2013). Hannah arendt and educational leadership. Retrieved from https://www.orbiscascade.org/
Scheuerman, R. (2014, Autumn Quarter). EDU 6120 foundations: american education past and present. Retrieved from http://mountainlightschool.wordpress.com/mat/edu-6120/