Reaching Beyond Rigor

In the words of USA Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin: “True merit consists of an inclination and ability to serve mankind, and this merit can only be acquired or significantly increased through true learning. This should be the great aim and end of all learning.”

Franklin’s ideology resonates with my view of a “holistic education”--one that is based on the tenet that people find their identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, nature, and humanitarian values such as kindness and peace.  Most schools recognize the importance of this and adopt a holistic or “whole child” education philosophy, but are they executing it effectively, and is it even possible for a school to achieve this alone?

The philosophy of Wenlock School in Santiago, Chile, resonates with me (their students participated in last week’s Ravi Unites Schools Real-time Audio-Video Interaction...see video). Its fundamental principle is that parents are the first educators of their children and the school is a collaborator in this task. Indeed, my influences outside of school (including family) were the most significant contributors to my becoming educated. Leaving time for life lessons rather than elongating school days and scheduling school-related activities on weekends is essential to comprehensively educate a child.

Every educator must consider whether he or she is most effectively helping students to develop the necessary “inclination and ability” to serve themselves and the broader global community.

Busier and Longer Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better

I encounter many school schedules and environments that leave me wondering if students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. The structure, demands, and wide array of school day and extracurricular offerings may actually have unintended consequences by forcing students into silos, restricting the release of creativity, and inhibiting their overall development. Consider this: can too many choices for students lead to adults who are only able to choose from opportunities presented to them rather than to create opportunities themselves?  This may be the difference between followers and leaders, and employees and entrepreneurs.

To properly prepare the next generation to pivot with a growth mindset in a rapidly changing society and job market, I believe that education systems must consider:

  • Reducing the demands and time commitment of the total school day, including extracurricular activities and homework
  • Limiting school related activities on weekends to create more opportunities for family time
  • Allowing for “downtime” and even boredom to foster creativity and inspire students to create choices rather than choose from them.

Family Time Plays a Key Role in Holistic Learning

This brings us to family time. With busier school days, lots of homework, and weekend school-related activities, school-related education takes up nearly all of the students’ (and parents’) time. If we are to achieve holistic education, children must have more time with their families for these reasons:

  • Family gives children a lifelong sense of belonging: Schools offer no shortage of opportunities for students to grow their identity through school pride: sports teams, mascots, school motto, etc.  However, students eventually graduate from school but remain part of their families for life. Identity should not be so tightly tied to transient experiences, as that can foster loneliness and disaffection.
  • To learn important life lessons: As already mentioned, the most important life lessons come from outside the classroom. Many of these lessons come during family time, including acquiring the coveted soft skills.
  • To learn the value of family: Family is more than blood relations. It is also a set of values and skills that lead to a more collaborative work and societal environment. Sufficient family time is the greatest opportunity to instill these values in our children (there are of course exceptions with dysfunctional families, and that must be considered on case-by-case basis).

Education Is What Remains After You Forget Everything You Were Taught

Authors Russell L. Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg, in their book; Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track, poke holes in the current education system saying that it is time that we accept that nothing worth learning can actually be taught. Perhaps that is true, and many incorrectly assume that for every ounce of teaching, there is an ounce of learning. As I say in my keynotes, “Education is what remains after you forget everything you were taught.”  If we spend school time focused on teaching students learning strategies and techniques and then give them the free time to implement them on their own, make mistakes, become bored, and muddle their way out of obstacles (often self imposed), they will become lifelong learners.

How can we create more holistic education system?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below and let me know.