Schools Must Educate the Whole Person

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Most of us were reared in a society in which our schools taught “the three R’s”, commonly noted as “readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmatic'”.

Still, there was always more.

We had Bible reading, the Pledge of Allegiance – WITH “…under God” – and we recited the Lord’s Prayer to begin the day.

Email newsletter signup

And we had a virtual smorgasbord of notions and concepts which made us better citizens and gave us a sense of moral grounding.

All that somehow began to erode in February 1963 with the Abington vs. Schempp Supreme Court decision outlawing prayer and Bible reading in the public schools.

From that moment on, something we all identified with our public schools slowly disappeared from our educational landscape – the comprehensive nature of public education was compromised.

That “comprehensive” element was the basis for educating the “whole” person, that is to say, our public education was about more than academic performance and fact accumulation.

Education was designed to create a total person.

Since then, it seems as though a kind of narrow and rigid “training” has replaced the “whole” person approach.

Original thinking has been replaced with a kind of egalitarian atmosphere which encourages average performance in all areas of human endeavor – “just do your best, that’s all.”

Moral responsibility and civility have also diminished with an accompanying rise in secular interpretations of our world and our human activity in that world.

The idea that educating our children was an all-encompassing effort involving the home, the community, the schools, the teachers, and the students had never been questioned.

It was taken for granted that each of these social elements would accept the appropriate responsibility and would contribute to the education of the children, thus producing a “well-rounded” or “whole” person.

Imagine my great relief and surprise that the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) adopted as one of its areas of focus “The Whole Child”.

Further imagine my elation since my pet project for almost forty years as a pedagogist has been educating the whole person.

In fact, my dissertation dealt with Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy of education which focuses precisely on educating the whole person.

Nietzsche’s concepts were so radical and impressive in the mid-to late nineteenth century that Marie Montessori adopted them as the basis for her schools.

In its position paper, ASCD states, “ASCD believes a comprehensive approach to learning recognizes that successful young people are knowledgeable, emotionally and physically healthy, motivated, civically inspired, engaged in the arts, prepared for work and economic self-sufficiency, and ready for the world beyond their own borders…Together, these elements support the development of a child who is healthy, knowledgeable, motivated, and engaged.”

Some forty years after Abington vs. Schempp we have suddenly discovered that educating a person in toto should be the major thrust of our schools.

Today we have segmented all that and now we even have classes on “character” education – an element which I addressed in this space almost a year ago.

Nevertheless, we are making attempts to recognize that educating our youngsters goes far beyond specific academic preparation.

It includes the development of accepting responsibility, articulating one’s ideas, indeed, in developing the ability to formulate original ideas, as well as learning how to do good, how to promote good, and how to be good in a private, as well as in a social contexts.


Yes, I am.

But what is more is that ASCD has outlined the responsibilities of three major pillars in educating the “whole” person – the community, the schools, and the teachers.

“Communities” includes all elements outside of the schools proper.

This means parents, homes, churches, and civic organizations.

ASCD tells us that they must provide the following:

* Family support and involvement;

* Government, civic, and business support and resources;

* Volunteers and advocates; and,

* Support for their districts’ coordinated school health councils or other collaborative structures.

It may seem obvious to most of us that these community involvements are taken for granted here in Demopolis, but in other communities, many times schools are at odds with these groups.

The schools, too, have their responsibilities and are to provide:

* Challenging and engaging curriculum;

* Adequate professional development with collaborative planning time embedded within the school day;

* A safe, healthy, orderly, and trusting environment;

* High-quality teachers and administrators;

* A climate that supports strong relationships between adults and students; and,

* Support for coordinated school health councils or other collaborative structures that are active in the school.

Finally, the teachers are not left out of the responsibility loop. It is still my humble opinion that teachers and parents bear the greatest responsibilities in the overall scheme of educating children, but the things ASCD charges teachers with providing are all common sense and seemingly self-evident.

* Evidence-based assessment and instructional practices;

* Rich content and an engaging learning climate;

* Student and family connectedness;

* Effective classroom management; and,

* Modeling of healthy behaviors.

It certainly is heartening to know that the concept of educating people as “whole” persons is making its way back into the mainstream of education theory and promises to remain there so long as our great Nation espouses the notion of an informed electorate in its mission to produce responsible citizens.

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is the Demopolis Campus Director of Alabama Southern Community College.

All his degrees are in philosophy.

He can be reached at