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Expanding the Case for Educating the Whole Child 

By Bill Madigan

First in a series of three blogs on education and ethics.

All of us in the world are still suffering the consequences of the economic collapse of 2008.  On September 29, 2008, $1.2 trillion dollars of market value was lost, with much more to follow for weeks and months afterwards.  Both blindness and greed influenced this depressing economic collapse.  As Tim Adams states in an article written for the British newspaper The Observer, “The individual corporate men who catastrophically lost billions of dollars and, on the other side of those bets, the extraordinary ragtag of obsessive individuals who saw what was coming and made eye-watering fortunes.”  Even though these people possessed advanced academic university degrees, something more was amiss. These people were blind and out of balance.

So what does this have to do with AVID?  After hearing three important educational thinkers share their newest ideas this year, the answer to this relevance query is that AVID’s influence is more important than ever, and perhaps ought to have a bit more influence.  Howard Gardener of “multiple intelligences” fame, and Edward Hallowell, an expert in ADHD and dyslexia, both spoke at “The Brain and 21st Century Learning” conference in Boston.  Alphie Kohn, a famous proponent of educational reform and “constructivist learning,” spoke in San Diego at the University of San Diego. Their ideas not only support AVID’s overt goal of college readiness, but also AVID’s transformational effort, which “empowers students by instilling in them the academic and social skills to successfully complete college and become responsible participants and leaders in our global society.”  For the purposes of this blog, Howard Gardner will be the focus. Two following blogs will illustrate the ideas of Hallowell and Kohn respectively.  

Those financial “experts” of whom Tim Adams wrote were not “responsible participants,” nor were some of the representatives of the Greek government, who currently hold the members of the European Union in a state of fear, for that matter. They certainly were not the “global leaders” envisioned by AVID educators.  Millions of people are out of work, and whole nations and regions of the world exist in a sort of dazed depression over employment prospects and hopes for the future – all because of greed and an undeveloped capacity for collective responsibility.

As a result, several thoughtful leaders in education and others are calling for a renewed consideration and focus on the “whole child.”  In a well-reasoned rebellion against the concept of a narrowly educated human being, all three of these educational visionaries ask us to deepen the definition of what we call an education.

In this regard, it is worth reading Scott Johnson’s response to Chris Scott’s posting about the disappearing American middle class.  While it is true that a college degree offers significant economic advantages, there are more significant social benefits as well.

Howard Gardner’s newest publication, Five Minds for the Future, sets out what he considers the essential capacities needed for a successful 21st century citizen.  The five minds are, the “Disciplined” mind; the “Synthesizing” mind; the “Creative” mind; the “Respectful” mind; and, finally, the “Ethical” mind.  The first three are traditional goals of AVID and are obviously important.  The final two expand beyond the traditional academic world. Gardner declared the responsible and ethical minds are necessary, especially because of the recent economic collapse, as well as the current non-respectful forms of discourse in public politics.  AVID expands beyond the traditionally expected outcomes of education and incorporates both respect and responsibility that will help govern decisions made by the students well beyond their institutional education.

A current graduate student at Harvard Graduate School of Education, Maria Fusaro, describes Gardner’s idea of the ethical mind quite clearly, “No matter what type of work a person undertakes, she can stand back and ask what she needs to do for her work to be excellent in quality and ethical in content, and then follow through with those responsibilities.”  Maria goes on to share that Gardner’s focus on the respectful mind is necessary to, “cultivate respect and emotional and interpersonal intelligence among students, teachers and the greater school community.” (http://www.uknow.gse.harvard.edu/teaching/TC106-607.html)

Gardner has an impressive moral conviction driving his call to greater whole beings, “beyond Fear and Greed to Trust and Inspiration.”  I can think of no better ground upon which to grow these new minds of Respect and Ethics than the AVID’s work at all levels.  To check out more go to Gardner’s initiative website: http://www.goodworkproject.org/.

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