Head, Heart, Hands–An Education For the Whole Person

Education in America has been undergoing a series of reforms, from flipped classrooms, to adopting the Common Core, the growing interest in adopting methods for teaching reading and writing following the methodology from Teachers College at Columbia University, to using the MAP test as a standardized assessment, and a growing emphasis on collecting data. When I first began taking teacher training classes at the University of California at Santa Cruz, professors there emphasized the importance of defining and developing a philosophy of education, and encouraged and challenged us as future teachers to prepare students in our classrooms to be active participants in the democratic process. Now, many years later, the question that continues to arises in my mind is what is the purpose of education? The answer to that question affects the direction we believe educational reform should take.

Last week a small group of us met with Satish Kumar, who was visiting here in Delhi, and Satish shared with us his thoughts on education. Satish Kumar is co-founder of the Schumacher College, whose motto is transformative learning for sustainable living.  In a nutshell, Satish’s ideas about education are that it should be an education not just of the mind, but one that joins together the whole self in an education of the head, heart and hands. “If we don’t develop our heart qualities,” said Satish, “we can’t be proper human beings.”  Learning, Satish suggests, can’t be limited to the study of math, science, and language, and shouldn’t be focused on competition in the market place, as this would make us into mere material commodities, a 9-5 clerk that performs his function day after day in endless rotation and then dies. We are more than workers, more than physical beings. Our presence counts. Relationship is based in the non-physical, non-economic world, and as Daniel Goleman describes, the emotional atmosphere of the classroom matters, and explains in his Huffington Post blog post “What Helps Kids Focus Better and Why They Need Help” that “a child’s ability to resist the temptation of distraction and stay focused predicts how she will fare financially and health-wise in adulthood. Some call it “self-control,” others “grit” or “delay of gratification.” It boils down to the tenacity to keep your eyes on your goal (or schoolwork) and resist impulse and distraction.”

Satish encourages schools to balance brain with heart and hands so that children become makers, not merely consumers. Gardening, cooking– these acts connect us to the earth and to each other, to the processes of our own lives.  Learning for Satish includes book knowledge, but should also be experiential. When students learn through experiences with their hands–growing a garden, making art, they have a direct connection to the transformative power that comes through the interactive experience, and they gain knowledge at the same time. A maker is an artist, a poet, explains Satish. The root word of poesis means to make. “Every maker is a poet. ” When you’re dying, Satish suggests, you don’t wish for more days spent in the office. What is important then is what have you made with your life. There’s more to life than money and a car.

I like the way that Satish’s view of education moves beyond quantification as the final measurement of what is valuable and what demonstrates learning and growth. It isn’t just humans who find art essential to feeling they are fully human and alive. Other animals do this as well, including bower birds and fish, as you will see if you take a look at this link.  The planet is alive in the act of ongoing creation. The miracles of life are before our very eyes, but hidden because we are not looking at them. We don’t see. So what are some practical things teachers, or people in general can do to keep their souls alive? Satish suggests the following:

  • Introduce silence in order to bring focus.
  • Go out in nature to connect to something that broadens horizons and that nurtures deep mindfulness, expands consciousness beyond the self
  • Walk in nature, the garden, walk or sit under trees, notice the connections to nature
  • Sing
  • Meditate
  • Move beyond being a deliverer of a result within a system to one who brings the imagination alive and inspires
  • Create structures where students can pursue what they are interested in. This implies knowing how to see who they are so you can help the child to see themselves and how they can blossom. Be to the child what spring is for the cherry blossom.

“Industrialism is a new form of colonialism, and it is destroying our culture,” says Satish, and it is destroying our culture. Instead of cursing the darkness, we have to light the candle…The human spirit is stronger than industrialism.”

Life is a continuing journey of education. Most of us, I think, want to live, not merely fulfill a duty or a role. Rather than settling for an education that teaches how to fulfill a  function, or an education focused on gaining and maintaining power or status in the marketplace, let’s educate for joy, so we can learn to be fully human, fully alive.

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