Monday, November 9, 2015

Prioritizing Holism in Schools: A Philosophy of Learning and Cognition

What you are about to read (btw, thank you so much for taking the time to do so if you are), is an essay I wrote on my personal philosophy of learning and cognition for my Educational Psychology class. Only a small portion of my passion for education is because I like spending time with kids (which is really saying something, because I LOVE kids); my drive almost entirely comes from my anger and sadness. I am angry that the APS system chooses to ignore expert advice and has for the past several decades. I am sad that so many millions of American children are being raised by a system that no longer seems to value them as PEOPLE and not a machine. I could go on for hours. But because I am asking you to read this probably "TL;DR" kind of essay, I'll stop here. The rest says it all. Hopefully this will give some insight in to why I post everything I do. Like in Dance Marathon, please just remember: #FTK always.

The current American Public School system places an inordinate focus on standardized curriculums and testing. In the past fifty or so years since preschools began receiving federalfunds, the drive to teach young children academics over allowing them constructive and imaginative play has seen a dramatically increased rise, much to the detriment of students across the country (Glazer, 2008)Alternative schools that follow the philosophies of Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, and Loris Malaguzzi, paired with the research behind developmental and educational psychology, have shown time and time again that constructive learning techniques used in partnership with play, music, and exploration (especially natural) are the most powerful learning and cognition tools out there. These alternatively holistic education settings, along with the theories of most specifically Albert Bandura, Lev Vygotsky, Howard Gardner, and Robert Sternberg have inspired a complex educational philosophy that emphasizes individualized exploration and expression in order to more holistically develop critical thinking and intrinsic motivation towards individuals’ own passionate interests.
Research consistently shows that children, especially those of preschool age, learn far more thoroughly through play than through any form of direct instruction. However, the push for strong academic success beginning with kindergarten has pressured teachers into formatting classroom curriculum’s in contrast to what they believe is best for their students, and as such have seen a rise in sensory issues such as abnormal frustration with medial tasks and interactions. Children may be doing better on tests, but their social and emotional lives are in disastrous turmoil, and research points to a lack of relaxed, imaginative, and child-led play (Strauss, 2015).
Similar to play and the lack thereof in early childhood environments, non-performative musical play has decidedly disappeared from our pre-formal, primary, and secondary education settings. Research has shown that a child’s window for effective musical education and the efficient learning of rhythms, pitches, and other musical affects begins to close at the age of nine. After this time, learning may become exceptionally difficult for students, similar to trying to learn a second language into the preteen years. Additionally, western culture has placed a detrimental emphasis on performance when it comes to the arts, focusing on talent over enjoyment and participation. Programs like Music Together have shown that encouraging musical play, especially between child and parent, can be enormously beneficial to the child’s development not only artistically, creatively, emotionally, and socially, but intellectually as a whole (Levinowitz, 1998). Students exposed to frequent casual musical play throughout their youngest years additionally show to consistently score higher in the realms of literacy and mathematics once school begins, as musical intelligence is not only as important as logical intelligence, but can also help students form powerful connections that tie well into the other academic disciplinesThus, it has been shown that allowing for play both musical and otherwise has an enormous effect on how students both learn and perceive schooling (if said play is introduced in an educational setting) (Viney, 2015). The dichotomy between home and school is then less pronounced, and fewer students view school as boring and inconsequential.
Likewise, when students enjoy learning, more learning occurs. These ideas of increased play promoting healthier and brighter children coincide well with numerous theorists. When theories like the triarchic theory of intelligence, social cognitivism, multiple intelligences, and others are viewed as interconnected and integral to each other, a more holistic approach to education can be reached. Theories like Sternberg’s triarchic theory that promote analytical, creative, and practical learning as equally important can be thought of as holistic styles that prioritize the students’ whole life and where their learning will lead into the greater community. When schools are structured to fit the needs of every child, rather than standardizing, children can not only empathize better, but feel more motivated to following their own passions. When students are given the freedom to discover their own greatest intelligences, then problem solving becomes remarkably easier. School settings that promote social cooperation help students utilize their individual strengths in harmony with their peers, which not only allows for healthier development throughout childhood, but follows them into adulthood and real world application (Santrock, 2011).
          American elementary school students spend an average of 943 hours in the classroom, and secondary students spend upwards of 1,000 hours at school any given year (Chalabi, 2014). This is a truly significant portion of students’ lives. To create such a stark dichotomy between home life and school life robs students of the most important learning: how to live with both themselves and those around them. Schools that focus strictly on academics and how to score well on tests allow a powerful majority of student life to be ignored. Holistic schooling not only emphasizes literacy and logical problem solving, but socialization, empathy, altruism, and full living. This is exceptionally critical, especially during the earliest years of life (but should be continued throughout). American children are among the most privileged in the world, yet the school system has been built to say otherwise. The needs of students are not being met at a variety of levels. Looking at Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it seems as though the goal of education should be to provide an environment in which all students, regardless of background, have equal opportunity in attaining some form of self-actualization (and perhaps self-transcendence). Schools currently are set for equality, yet all students come in with uniquely diverse sets of needs which then requires a redefinition of equality. No one needs the same exact things as another, and thus school must be approached as such, beginning with the allowance of uniquely imaginative play early on. Let's raise people, not test scores.

Works Cited

Glazer, N. (2008). Preschool Politics. EducationNext. Retrieved from EducationNext.
Levinowitz, L. M. (1998, Fall). The Importance of Music in Early Childhood. General Music Today.
Lewis Brown, L. (2013). Comparing Preschool Philosophies: Montessori, Waldorf and More. Retrieved from PBS Parents.
Santrock, J. W. (2011). Educational Psychology (5th ed.). New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Strauss, V. (2015, September 1). The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues. The Washington Post.
Viney, L. (2015, October 26). Jamming with your toddler: how music trumps reading for childhood development.Retrieved from The Conversation.

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