Friday, October 2, 2009

The Power of Caring: A Discussion on its place in the LearningEnvironment and the Community




This essay is focused on investigating what a caring relation means in the context of teaching and learning, how it manifests itself in the United States of America public school, and why it behooves educators and education policy makers to heed the call for serious discussion and reflection on what it means to educate the 'whole person.'

Is the emotional development of the individual learner, not as important, if not more important, than just focusing on a liberal education that emphasizes the traditional core academics? Would our society be changed for the better if we all were taught from day one in our educational experience that the development of your whole self is crucial for one's success in life? What would that actually look like during a school week?

Understandably, these are big questions. They should be part of a national debate on what education's goals and aims should be in America. All too often, the educational demands placed on learners and educators alike by social and political forces overlook the individual learner and emphasize the need for higher test scores among towns, counties and states. It is understandable that public schools, who get there money from state government, must pass certain benchmarks created by programs like 'No Child Left Behind.' It is understandable that these programs, mandated by the federal government have the intention to create better learners who go on to become the scientists, artists, mathematicians, historians, doctors, and leaders of business in our country.

An idea like caring, may be 'run over' by pressuring demands for schools to be academically compliant. What is academic compliance though? Should caring be a part of academic compliance? Who decides what this compliance means? Do we want to make schools academically compliant, or do we want to help create full, complete human beings that are taught to be the best that they can be to the fullest extent of their potential and abilities?

What could be the outcome if educators where to role model a caring behavior and attitude, but actually move beyond the need to role model and just care to establish a caring relation with the learner? Sounds trivial to you? Caring is what we all want. Everyone wants somebody to care about them in a profound way. Life is filled with miserable people who feel no one cares about them.

In my work, two of my pedagogical tools include Jesuit Pedagogy (pedagogy is ones understanding and use of instructional methods and practices), as well as the theories of philosopher and theorist John Dewey. The inspiration for this essay however, is attributed to author Nel Noddings (2005) and her second edition book titled, 'The Challenge to Care in Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education.' All three fountains of insight build on each other to answer what are and should be the goals and aims of education. Caring requires the complete attention of the one doing the caring, as well as the acknowledgement of the one being cared-for. If the cared-for does not feel real caring, then the caring relation moves no further. This is not to say that carer does not care, its just that for sincere, heartfelt caring to occur something special is demanded. Here is a cited passage in her book book where she quotes Simon Weil (1951, p.115):

"This way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth. Only he who is capable of attention can do this."

Our conscious needs its own kind of nutrition, not taking care of the whole person in a holistic manner may well fester into 'dis-ease.' If you search, you will find enough scientific evidence linking one's mental/ emotional state of being with one's physical health. This is the wrong road to take and it is not necessary.

Not having been shown and modeled how to care for one another creates discord and disharmony within the person. This discord will show itself in the person's choices and actions. Actions that can have far flung impacting results. Whatever the label is, if we don't educate the whole person, we are short changing ourselves and our community. Those learners will go on to live lives, and maybe raise families. How have we been a disservice to them by not caring about instilling self-regulation life skills, like the development of ones emotional health? Do personal issues really need to reach the point of volcanic explosion in order for the village to do something about it? I believe we are already experiencing the effects of this way of educational leadership. It may serve us better to think and act pro actively in 'outside the box' ways.

Take the physical aspect of the human being as an example. It is well known that eating energy-rich foods, can ward off depression, premature aging, and emotional imbalances, yet, the biggest land owning company in the world is Mc Donald's. As the burger joint founder Roy Kroc always famously said at business graduate schools that he is not in the business of burgers, shakes and fries, but in the real estate business. He may have been a swell guy, but he has made a business selling untold pounds of junk food that clog one's veins, arteries, rot teeth, and supplant the nutrients the heart and brain need with processed junk food made tasty.

The point here is that if we want a healthy body, feed it the best stuff. If we want a healthy mind, if we want great, active thinkers, help them learn to learn, create those warm, nurturing environments that are conducive to learning. Teach them to question, experience and reflect, to investigate, to seek truth and reflect on what justice is. If we want ourselves to feel inner peace of mind and heart, if we want to wipe away ignorance, we must develop ourselves mentally, physically and, spiritually, from the inside out.

Why do we not practice meditation at school? Looks like we need it. Having worked in the public school systems of Boston, Hawaii, and Connecticut, including inner city schools, I have witnesed and experienced first hand how children become hopeless, dissapointed and heart broken when the caring supports are not there. Charles Dickens first sentence in his classic book, 'A Tale of Two Cities,' encapsulates our current times. To paraphrase, 'these are the best of times, and these are the worst of times.'

It will take each and every one of us to sound the call for a radical change in schools. After all, what is the use of all this learning, if it doesn't help us flourish and avoid the pitfalls that life brings when we are partially developed. Teaching the whole person is more important than test scores.


Best,

Coach Bill

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