Living is not thinking. Thought is formed and guided by objective reality outside us. Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new. Thomas Merton
Many schools contend to serve the “whole child.” The Episcopal Mission and Ministry calls for developing the “whole child.”
Every now and then in a meeting of faculty or administrators, someone asserts that “whole child” is trite. That can lead to a discussion of what the term -- “whole child”—actually means to us. As the discussion deepens, typically we all come to a new realization of the term’s importance and centrality to all that we do.
The alternatives to developing the whole child, when one thinks about it, are neither feasible nor attractive. Would a parent send a child to a school that offered to develop “most” of a child or, perhaps, “a portion”?
To me, even highly specialized schools with narrow curricula seek, in most cases, the full human development of their students.
Not everything that has been around for a long time in education has lost its usefulness. For me, keeping in mind the “whole child” is one of the “oldies but goodies” that should be played and replayed. As a disc-jockey friend of mine used to say on his late night college radio show, “Here is one from the groove yard.” (Note that this prior reference requires awareness that once d-j’s played records with grooves in them.)
Even the official, dictionary definition of “trite” has an exception for old things that remain effective and have not lost their meaningfulness. If something remains effective, it is not “trite.”
When the Episcopal Board of Trustees engages in strategic planning, every five years or so, the Mission and Ministry always gets a once over. After many thoughtful discussions during my time here, the Board has kept the Mission and Ministry of Episcopal “as is.” Plenty of running room can be found in the Mission and Ministry and in the concept of the “whole child.”
Changing times and changing contexts may call for adjustments in emphases, but the overall concept of the “whole child” remains valid.
We have adjusted internally the “whole child” concept to make it more individualized or personalized. A while ago, Howard Gardner brought to public attention an educational analysis of “multiple intelligences.” In short, his research showed that reaching any group of students in the most effective way involves employing a range of teaching styles, tailored to the “intelligence” of each child. We have adjusted our teaching modes at Episcopal to suit better the “multiple intelligences” (i.e., the various ways a range of students get interested and performs). In effect, we have applied the “whole child” concept individually and, by that, use modes personalized to all.
Episcopal today offers a broader range of developmental experiences than before, including more age-appropriate student choices. Many of these offerings produce student recognitions. A long list of these offerings can be reviewed at the end of this blog.
My point is that in the academic arena, Episcopal is addressing the “whole child” --- and our children’s multiple intelligences – through a range of opportunities for motivated students. We are far from a “one size fits all” school.
An Episcopal student today --- male or female --- can decide to develop and compete in a broad range of sports, for example. That is a strong “whole child” point, noting that over 80% of both our Upper and Middle School students participate in a school-sponsored sport. Our PE program is second to none, with the vast majority of instruction given by Episcopal’s varsity coaches, including PE classes in Lower School.
Choir, band, drama, stage productions, ceramics, dance, and instrument instruction are parts of students’ lives from Lower School through Upper School. We encourage experimentation in the early stages and specialization later. The artistic talent within each child is addressed through these deep and comprehensive programs.
Student spirituality is developed both inside and outside the Chapel. Father Knight’s leadership, with advice from the Student Vestries in Middle and Upper School, in worship is apparent in the lives of all students. We provide first-rate academic classes for Bible and religious studies. The Center for Service Learning represents another need and outlet for our students to learn through service in their hometown.
For those of you familiar with the Class of 2017, I know that you see, along with me, the benefit and the reality of the “whole child” approach. Student choice could be said to have defined that class, as each student found an almost unique set of opportunities to take up. But, there was an underlying unity and respect for each other in that class that was an even more important vote of confidence in the “whole child” approach.
Our approach is effective as each year more and more selective and highly selective colleges seek Episcopal’s graduates.
I think Thomas Merton would agree:
Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new.
Whattayasay, let’s keep the old “whole child” approach and continue our efforts to seek feasible personalization of our learning experiences and come out with something that is “always new”?
Hugh M. McIntosh
Head of School
Here are just a few examples of how we address the “whole child” with multiple approaches to learning: