Keeping Perspective of the Whole Child

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When I was in middle school, I had a friend who created his own landscaping business when he was 13 years old. He talked about his business quite a bit. I remember working for him on a few jobs after school and on weekends. He was always busy, and he would ask friends if they wanted to work for him. With the money he earned, he bought bigger and better equipment.
My friend struggled in school. Going to school was painful for him, and I remember he was always talking about how teachers didn’t like him. He would go to classes for extra help, but we really didn’t know what kind of learning disability he had. When we got to high school, he started to withdraw from all his friends and just immersed himself in his business. We didn’t know it at the time, but his difficulty in school impacted him much more significantly than we thought. To the rest of us, he seemed to be confident and have it all together, as his business was a big part of his life.
Recently, I was reflecting on a conference I attended a few years ago. The speaker was describing how some medical schools were training physicians. The medical field was becoming so specific, so specialized, that they were concerned that doctors were not able to look at the whole patient. One of the ways they were trying to solve this problem was to have the doctors take art classes. In these classes, they were taught to look at art differently, to create perspective, which ultimately helped them to step back and look at the whole patient.
Does it seem to you that education has been going in the same direction for many years? We have specialists for so many different needs. We certainly need these specialized services, but when each person is focusing specifically on one particular aspect of the child, does that create a barrier to keeping our perspective of the “whole” child? When a car is built on an assembly line, each worker has a specific job to contribute, but in the end, someone steps back and makes sure the whole car meets the quality standards before it goes out the door. In our schools, we specifically measure certain goals and objectives, but how is the whole child measured? How is the outcome judged? What is the quality standard? Can this be measured in a test?
I am sure you know people who went through school and their grades and performance were average or even below average, but they became very successful in life. Their grades in school were not a measure of their future success. People like my friend in middle school have something that makes them successful that is not part of the school curriculum. How do you measure grit, determination, self-confidence, creative thinking, and emotional intelligence? These skills are more important in life than letter grades, but they are not measured in school.
How do we as parents and educators connect all our services for the benefit of the whole child? How can each of us know if our specialty links up with all the other specialties to achieve the vision in the end? We cannot work independently and expect that everything will just synergize. If I have five different people teaching me five different chords on the guitar, that does not mean I will know how to play a song at the end.
Our outcomes for our students have one very important component that we must be asking about at every meeting: How will what we are doing make the student more independent? That is the bottom line, isn’t it? We want our students to succeed post 22 and be ready for work, school, social interactions, and independent living.
After high school, my friend became a builder and became extremely successful. He understood business, he was a natural salesman, he had a knack for learning skills that no one thought he could learn. I ran into him many years after high school and we talked. He said his teachers and school counselors always used to focus on what he was struggling with. He went to school and heard about nothing but his weaknesses. Day in and day out, he had to face his most painful lack of skills. When he went home, he focused on his strength, and that was his business. It was the only place he felt empowered and it built his self-esteem.
If the school philosophy was to look at my friend as a whole person, they would have stopped focusing on his weaknesses and celebrated his strengths, or at least found a better balance between the two. Luckily, the measure of his success was not going to be determined by his grades. He had the confidence in himself to build on his strengths and balance his life. He knew he was getting an “A+” in business, even if no one else ever gave him the grade. If his report card had reflected Grit, A+. Determination, A+. Hard work, A+. Initiative / Self-starter, A+,” that would have been a more accurate measure of who he was as a whole, and perhaps going to school would not have been so painful.

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