One of the major shortcomings of institutionalized education is that it has as its focus only one dimension of the student’s well-being: intellectual development through academic instruction.
Of course, most schools and teachers do their best to make academics pleasant and to incorporate the general well-being of the child in the system of large group instruction. But, at the end of the day, its goal is to graduate children who meet the basic academic standards first.
One positive byproduct my family has experienced by opting out of this traditional educational model is that we have the opportunity to rethink education from the ground up and adopt a more holistic philosophy of child development.
Understanding Holistic Education
Adopting such a model of education means that, in addition to the traditional academic components, we are actively cultivating the development of the whole child: her emotions, her social skills, her spiritual beliefs, her participation in the community, and her role in the greater world.
In spite of the fact that modern education has lost sight of this concept, it’s not a particularly new one. In the late 1800s, Charlotte Mason rocked the establishment by developing her philosophies of whole-child learning, which became the basis of the modern home-education movement. More recently, Clifford Mayes has added his voice to the chorus with his excellent book Nurturing the Whole Student. In India, some public schools are using a groundbreaking, more integrated curriculum through The Science of Living.
Ron Miller defines it this way:
“Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning."
Examples of Holistic Education Philosophies
For parents who are interested in giving their child an education that goes beyond academics, here is an overview of five types of holistic education:
Charlotte Mason was an educator who sought to reform the educational system of the U.K. at the turn of the 19th century. Her philosophies are credited with providing the underpinnings of the modern homeschool movement, and her methods remain popular with modern homeschoolers.
According to Mason, the formation of beneficial habits are as important as the academic knowledge that a child absorbs. Her teaching focused on developing habits of discipline, attention, obedience to teachers, and perfect execution, among others. She also placed a lot of focus on the child as her own person, worthy of respect and genuine interest. The prevailing attitude of her time, by contrast, was that “children should be seen and not heard,” and most educators adhered to the view children are empty vessels to be filled with knowledge by their teachers.
An easy introduction to Mason’s philosophies and how to put them into practice is contained in Karen Andreola’s excellent book: A Charlotte Mason Companion: Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning.
Rudolf Steiner’s groundbreaking curriculum for a post-WWI German society still recovering from the war focused on attention to the heart, hand, and head, and it grew into one of the largest alternative education movements in history.
Waldorf schools delay academic learning in favor of experiential play as a form of education in the early years. Emphasis is placed on relationships, social development, and empathy. In elementary school, the focus is on using artistic expression to understand the world, and in higher grades, the educational emphasis shifts to developing critical thinking skills.
Maria Montessori was testing her theories and developing her method of education at approximately the same time as Charlotte Mason. She believed that children had an innate spirituality and would move through their stages of development if they were given the freedom to do so.
This approach to learning positions the teacher as more of a facilitator and role model than a central leader. In the Montessori classroom, children are free to choose their own paths according to their interests. Emphasis is put on community and cooperative work and play.
Montessori believed that children should be respected and provided with concrete educational tools that matched their physical size. Children are encouraged to participate and engage actively within the community as they learn.
The Essential Montessori: An Introduction to the Woman, the Writings, the Method, and the Movement is a great book to dig a little deeper into this philosophy.
With his first book Understanding the Whole Student: Five Dimensions of Teaching and Learning, Clifford Mayes continued the cultural revolution of education and took the conversation deeper than ever before.
His philosophy asserts that in modern education, multiculturalism is essential. In addition to emphasizing the importance of developing children’s social, emotional, and psychological skills, Mayes focuses on the role that cultural identities can play in a child’s education. He advocates that the whole child be taken into account, rather than just focusing on the skills that will allow the child to become a cog in the workforce wheel.
For those interested in this philosophy, Mayes’ second book, Nurturing the Whole Student is also well worth the investment.
The Science of Living
This curriculum is an addition to traditional approaches in some Indian schools. It was developed to try to address the development of the whole person through yoga and meditation and to encourage students towards balancing their intellectual and emotional sides.
Emphasis is placed on increased inner awareness, strong moral values, a healthy lifestyle, and increased self-discipline.
The Jeevan Vigyan Academy offers more information and insight.
Considering preschools and want to learn more? Check out How to Choose a Preschool: Which Program Philosophy Is Right for Your Child. You can also find additional articles about alternative education from Noodle Experts like Jennifer Miller.