By Betsy Burrows
Everyday Education 

Educating Holistically

 


In her last Everyday Education column, school psychologist Alice Wellborn explained that school rules help prepare students for future roles in the workplace and society.

She encouraged parents to help their children understand their responsibilities in a community. She reminds us that school not only teaches academic skills, but that good schools also help our children and future citizens develop socially, emotionally, and ethically.

Recently, when observing in a local fourth grade classroom, I heard one of the students discussing with his classmates a character in the book, “She did that not because she was scared of getting into trouble; she did that because it was the right thing to do.”

The sense of ethical reasoning in the comment interested me. When I asked the teacher about it, she pointed to the wall and said that she had recently presented Lawrence Kohl-berg’s Theory of Moral Development.

On the wall of this fourth grade classroom was a poster describing Kohlberg’s six stages, starting with Stage 1: Obedience and Punish-ment Orientation, where the individual is good in order to avoid being punished to Stage 6: Universal Principles, where individuals have developed values in community concepts like human rights, justice, and equality.

The children in this class were applying these stages to not only the characters in the stories they were reading, but to themselves as well.

Toward the end of the class, one child glared at her classmate when he failed to clean up the spit wads and broken pencils around his desk and said, “What if everybody did that, then our classroom would be a mess.” (That is Stage 4 Reasoning: the Good Citizen, in case you are wondering.)

Clearly, this teacher was teaching not only reading, writing, and math, but also teaching civics and helping our students develop character. Her 27 students, from appearance quite diverse in socio-economic backgrounds and sensitivities, was a community where students prepare for living in a democracy where people must work together and understand the importance and value of the common good.

Again and again, voices from business and industry tell us that they want employees who are able to think, take initiative, get along well with other people, solve problems, be disciplined and responsible, and show strong ethical judgment. But schools are being influenced by another factor: the demand to produce high test scores. Perhaps we have overemphasized the cognitive, at the expense of understanding that intelligence, the capacity to gain and use knowledge to solve problems and promote well-being, has several components: the social, emotional, and expressive, as well as the cognitive.

In his book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” Paul Tough asserts that children succeed when they have developed social and emotional intelligence, and that this success cannot be measured in standardized tests or IQ scores. Not a week goes by that I do not read a newspaper story about the great need and importance of non-cognitive leadership skills, emotional intelligence, and ethics in our world. Too often we learn of examples from Wall Street to the NSA, of “well-educated” leaders making poor decisions that are short-sighted, if not harmful to our society and environment. Are their poor decisions a lack of academic knowledge or lack of ethical reasoning?

As this fourth-grade teacher understood, schools are learning communities where children can explore ethics and develop character strengths. It is important today at a time when schools are buffeted by performance standards and high stakes testing to remember that the student is a whole person who has an emotional, social and moral life, not just an intellectual one. We as parents and citizens should support teachers like the one I observed leading her fourth grade students to live in community and develop social and emotional intelligence as well as academic skills. She is teaching the whole child, preparing him/her for life, not just a test.

 
 

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