• Allan J. Mucerino

IS THE WHOLE CHILD MOVEMENT A 360 OR A 180?

When Nel Noddings, then a Professor of Education, Emerita, at Stanford University, asked the question: “What does it mean to Educate the whole child” in 2005, she was especially concerned about the democratic future of America in the wake of the tidal wave that struck American education, namely NCLB. She pointed out that while wealthier students were enjoying a rich and varied curriculum and many opportunities to engage in the arts, less wealthy students were not so privileged. The equity gap was sure to keep growing. As a philosopher best known for her work around the ethics of caring, she recognized NCLB for what it was: Bad policy. Threats, punishments, and public shaming have never proven to be the right lever to improve education (or anything for that matter). Empathy, on the other hand, undergirds the right levers that lead to engaged educators and students flourishing in a continuous improvement model (the polar opposite of the compliance model). Yet, for reasons I suspect are part political and part institutional inertia, California has decided that creating a Dashboard (ESSA-driven) was a good idea and are once again encouraging the pernicious comparisons that segregate students.

2005 was also the year former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch wrote, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act. All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation." Of course, that’s the same Dr. Ravitch who in 2010 wrote, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, her mea culpa when she courageously admitted that NCLB, which she co-authored, put American education on the wrong track. We’re still crawling out of the great divide that NCLB unwittingly dug for us.

Dr. Noddings saw it clearly: Any law that requires school districts to use standardized testing to measure student success is not educating the whole child.

While the pendulum has swung towards education policy that encourages educating the whole child, the culture of school systems and the institution itself remains stubbornly stuck on standardized testing (ESSA and the CA Dashboard) and the Carnegie unit. As Superintendents everywhere strive to strike the perfect balance between the juxtaposition of two incompatibles: urgency and building capacity, schools continue to be more and more segregated every year.


The idea of educating the whole child isn’t a new one. Social and emotional learning (SEL) may be what we call educating the whole child in modern terminology, but the link between it and academic learning can be traced back to John Dewey (1916). After all, SEL as an educational philosophy is as democratic a concept as education in America itself. It’s among the Cardinal Principles proposed by NEA (1918). Virtually every LCAP includes in its plan social emotional learning in some form.

Districts across the nation have invested in unique learning spaces and environments (read my blog on Odyssey STEM Academy) that foster developmental growth and emotional management as well as in additional support staff to provide counsel and develop a highly structured and multi-tiered system of support.

Superintendents know how to operate in the space between urgency and capacity building. We understand the Campbell corollary: Once a measure becomes a target, it is no longer a good measure (read my blog on Campbell’s Law). We also understand and accept our positional responsibility to fight for our student’s right to an education despite policies (ESSA) and practices (CA Dashboard) that fly in the face of continuous improvement and desegregation. The delegation of power to the local level is disingenuous on the State’s part under current conditions.


If you study the CA Dashboard carefully you will see the ticking clock which serves as a constant reminder of how urgency still rules the day and consequently makes systemic reform more difficult than it already is.

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