What About the Whole Child?
Here is a question we often hear at our institutes:
“All of this attention to academic achievement is a case of misplaced priorities. We need to address the needs of the whole child. What about the emotional needs of our children? What about their artistic side? What about developing their character? This is just another example of the fixation with test scores and trying to reduce a child to a statistic.”
In Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras (1997) identify the characteristics and qualities that differentiate organizations that were able to sustain high performance from their less-successful counterparts. They discovered that ineffective organizations succumbed to the “Tyranny of Or,” while their extraordinary counterparts embraced the “Genius of And.” Low-performing companies created false dichotomies: “We must be either this or that, but we cannot be both.” High performers recognized that such perceptions were needlessly limiting and, instead of choosing between A or B, figured out ways to have both A and B. They note:
We’re not talking about mere balance here. Balance implies going to the midpoint, fifty-fifty, half and half. . . . A highly visionary company does not want to blend yin and yang into a gray, indistinguishable circle that is neither highly yin nor highly yang; it aims to be distinctly yin and yang—both at the same time, all the time. (pp. 44–45)
Schools are particularly prone to the Tyranny of Or. Educators often assume they must choose between strong administrators or autonomous teachers, phonics or whole language, emphasis on core curriculum or commitment to the arts, leadership anchored in the central office or site-based management, and so on. One of the most damaging examples of the Tyranny of Or is the belief that a focus on academics leads to indifference to all of the other factors that constitute the well-being of a student.
Thomas Lickona (2004), director of the Center for Respect and Responsibility and noted author on character education, calls for educators to create “schools of character,” which he describes as:
A community of virtue, a place where moral and intellectual qualities such as good judgment, best effort, respect, kindness, honesty, service, and citizenship are modeled, upheld, celebrated, and practiced in every part of the school’s life—from the examples of the adults to the relationship among peers, the handling of discipline, the content of the curriculum, the rigor of academic standards, the ethos of the environment, the conduct of extracurricular activities, and the involvement of parents. (p. 219)
Lickona recommends three resources to help educators create such schools, and Professional Learning Communities at Work™: Best Practices for Enhancing Student Achievement (DuFour & Eaker, 1998) is one of those resources. Clearly he does not believe that a PLC’s commitment to the academic achievement of students interferes with the development of the whole child. In fact, when he and Matthew Davidson (2005) identified 24 diverse high schools in the United States that demonstrated a commitment to promote character, they included Adlai Stevenson High School, one of the nation’s best examples of a PLC, as one of those schools that fosters both “excellence and ethics” (p. xv).
The culture of excellence created in the exemplary schools and districts featured on this site is not limited to a few students or to the core curriculum. Among those schools are recipients of state and national recognition for the arts, athletics, and community service. We contend the students in these schools have a more positive attitude about school than most of their peers around the country because they are successful and surrounded by people who demonstrate they care about them through their collective efforts to support every student. We concur with Lickona and Davidson that those who contend schools must focus on either academic achievement or the well-being of students are presenting a false dichotomy. They should let go of the Tyranny of Or.
Adapted from Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Karhanek)
© Solution Tree Press 2010