Education Talk from Joyful Families Workshop
August 6, 2004
by Alexandra McNamara
© Copyright 2004 by Alexandra McNamara. All
order to evaluate what might be the best school or form of education
for a child there are some basic questions for the parents to explore
and discuss. There are no set answers to these questions, as they
are some of the fundamental human questions. Different approaches
to education stem from the widely differing answers to and perspectives
on these questions. The appropriateness of a particular educational
system or teacher for a child depends on how closely aligned are
the parents answers to the teachers and administrators of
the particular schools.
What is a human being? Regardless of the fact that philosophers
have been mulling over this one for thousands of years, we can all
consider it and contemplate the variety of responses that will come
up in any group of people, even if they have the same general approach
to life and belief systems. These answers can range from the most
materialistic to the most spiritual, from a human being is
an organism which walks upright to a human being is
a spirit temporarily housed in a bodily form. Different people
emphasize the physical aspect, the emotions, and the mental capacities
of the human being as fundamental to humanness. This
question can then be made more specific by asking, What is
a child? and How does a child differ from an adult?
This is the realm of educational philosophers and yet everyone who
has spent time with children can have a valid view and opinion on
these questions. The importance of these questions is that whether
the child is viewed , for example, as a developmentally distinct
sort of being from an adult or as basically a smaller and younger
version of an adult will have a significant impact on the education
philosophy developing out of these variances. There are many levels
to these questions and the deeper the exploration the more fruitful
can be the results of the process.
The next question is what is education? Some people will respond
that education is the drawing out of innate capacities from within,
based on the Latin meaning of educare, while others view education
as a training for specific life tasks. Obviously education implies
many things in our culture and both of these answers can be correct
for someone, depending on the specific circumstances. Clearly the
belief that a child enters school as a blank slate or an empty box
needing to be filled with information and skills will produce an
entirely different educational system than a perspective that views
the child as a carrier of innate capacities which need to be awakened
and nurtured appropriately. The nature of the teacher as authority
will be entirely different in a educational environment which views
the child as knowing best what he or she needs to learn and one
in which a developmentally appropriate curriculum presented in a
predetermined way is the more effective way to awaken the childs
capacities. Usually the answers to such questions and the ensuing
approaches are not black and white, either/or, but a range upon
a continuum of possible educational strategies. The parents
beliefs and comfort level must be in congruence with the range present
in a school being considered.
The third fundamental question looks at the needs of the parents
and asks what support, community structures, input, or acknowledgment
the parents require from the school. Some parents need to know
that whatever school they have chosen will take full responsibility
for their childs education with little input necessary from
them, while other parents require regular contact with the school,
a sense of community, and perhaps educational and social opportunities
in the form of study groups and gatherings. These are highly individual
questions and there are no right answers, only differing degrees
of congruence and meeting of needs. Parents needs can change
over the years of childrens development and it is also
useful to look at whether a school can honor these changing
needs over a period of time. Can a parent be a classroom volunteer
in the early grades and then leave their child in afterschool
care in later years when the parents work schedules may
be different? Is there an openness in the school to the wide
range of parental circumstances that exist in a healthily diversified
group of families?
In the light of exploration of these basic
questions the parents can begin to evaluate different schools
and interview different teachers. The formulating of these questions
of course suggest more specific ones, such as What is
the educational approach that best meets the particular learning
needs of my own child?
For example, a parent may believe wholeheartedly in an academically
demanding and classically based curriculum, but if his own child
only thrives in highly interactive, experiential and emotionally
supportive environments then the childs needs might not
be met in the traditional, academically stringent atmosphere
the parents would prefer. Similarly a parent may desire a highly
free school sort of environment, yet her child may
only be able to concentrate and learn in quiet and highly structured
settings. A child may be have most of her needs met in a particular
school, which may not have the parent activities and participation
available that the parent would prefer. In these cases, it is
essential to weigh out and prioritize the varying needs and preferences
of both parents and child. In most cases, the needs of the child
should be given the greatest weight in the decision making process.
The education is after all for the child and not for the parent!
There was a time when any education was very much an affair handled
within the family. Only the wealthy and socially elite received
an academic education as such. Then with the Industrial Revolution
and the ensuing social revolutions, a statewide universal education
became the norm. When state schools were being established during
the 19th century, growing out of the progressive ideas of that time,
the educational philosophers, positing that because all children
were entitled to an education, all children should be educated in
the same way. Other underlying social and economic agendas, such
as using schools to train children to become good workers in an
industrial society, had a large effect in shaping the form statewide
education took at that time. But this uniform, cookie-cutter approach
to education was clearly not serving children by the mid 20th century.
Educational researchers such as Jean Piaget, Gessell and others
documented the differing physical development, intellectual capacities
and perceptions of children at different ages.
slightly different developmental approach is espoused by Rudolf
Steiner, who founded Steiner or Waldorf schools. He pointed out
that the human being goes through developmental stages encompassing
not only physical and intellectual development but development of
soul and spiritual capacities and that this development is life
long and not restricted to childhood. More recent educational research
has revealed that children widely differing learning styles within
the same developmental ages and stages and therefore require different
educational approaches in order to optimize their learning. Howard
Gardner articulated this idea of multiple intelligences in the 1980s.
Children manifest strengths in one or a combination of seven frames
of mind: kinesthetic, visual-spatial, verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical,
musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.
This recognition of differing learning styles and modalities, regardless
of how they are counted and categorized, has become fairly main
stream in some parts of the world. A good school will attempt to
meet these varying styles by offering a variety of learning materials
that stimulate the childs senses of touch, sight, hearing,
allow children to learn in small groups and alone and offer integrated
learning experiences that provide a crossover from artistic to verbal
to mathematical, for example. Recognition that a range of different
intelligences is of great value in a classroom, so that children
learn to interact with a variety of learning styles and develop
those areas which do not come naturally to them, while still finding
success in their areas of strength. This approach is present in
a number of different school systems such as Waldorf/Steiner schools,
Montessori schools, and Integrated Day schools, to name a few.
Increasingly in recent years, researchers and educators are finding
that children have imbalances in their sensory and movement functioning.
Children struggle with basic balance, attention, and auditory and
visual development either to a greater extent than in former times
or than was recognized in the past. It is unclear whether this is
due to environmental stresses, decrease in vigorous free movement
that used to be the norm, birth trauma, over stimulation or understimuation
of the senses, nutritional deficiencies, or some combination of
these things. Regardless, given the higher proportion of children
needing strengthening of their sensori-motor systems, it is essential
that schools have remedial or resource programs in place to give
the extra support to these children. Often academic tutoring is
not enough, because if the child is having difficulty with basic
phyisical coordination, then learning to read may be more difficult,
for a number of reasons, for that child. A good remedial program
will include occupational therapy or movement components as well
as academic support. Even if your child is healthy and balanced
and has no movement or learning issues, if there are children in
his class whose needs are not being met and who are therefore disruptive
or requiring too much of the teachers time to keep engaged,
then your child may suffer from the lack of adequate teacher attention.
In addition to children who cannot benefit from traditional educational
approaches due to sensori-motor imbalances or learning issues, there
are higher numbers of children being born who show extraordinary
capabilities in some areas and are referred to in some circles as
Characterized by heightened social awareness and sensitivity, psychic
ability, high self-motivation, a drive for early autonomy, feelings
of entitlement and royalty, ruthless honesty, extreme
articulateness, and a lack of patience for those who are not equally
honest and socially just. These children do not easily fit the mold
of traditional education. They are the ones who break the rules,
push the limits, question authority, and thrive in situations that
offer them a combination of strong clear loving limits and creative
freedom within those limits. Giving too much space and responsibility
can be terrifying for them, yet not giving enough is stifling.
Most important they need to be recognized as the soul/spirit beings
that they know themselves to be. They need to be acknowledged, listened
to and fully respected. Some are extroverted and will act out in
hyperactive and eccentric kinds of ways. Others are highly sensitive
and introverted and need to be cared for and carefully drawn out
and easily overwhelmed by groups or noisy environments. Both types
are highly sensitive and do not necessarily do well in large groups
and certainly will not thrive unless someone, either parent or teacher
or both are aware of who they really are.
If you have an Indigo child, and you might recognize whether or
not you do by the above description, then your search for the right
school or educational setting becomes all the more challenging.
However, your Indigo child will probably tell you in some way very
clearly whether or not the situation she is in is serving her basic
needs. These children do not tend to hold back from telling us what
they need, unless they are of the very inward type.
We need to learn to truly observe our children, not as extensions
or ourselves, not as the possibilities of fulfilling what was unfulfilled
in our own lives, not as the expressions of our own ideals and beliefs.
Rather they must be seen in their uniqueness, in the light of their
own strengths and challenges, in the light of their own spirit selves.
Each child deserves the education most suited to him or her at
the time. It is all right to change something that is not working
in your childs education. If you choose a school, which works
for a while and then no longer serves, it does not mean you made
a mistake. It means that you can allow your child to move on to
something new. In some cases a school setting is available that
truly meets your and your childs needs over the long term.
But equally there is for some children the need to constantly reassess,
using deep questioning, intuition, and any expert advice you can
find the right education for your child at the time.
Ultimately the responsibility for the childs education lies
in the hands of the parents, even when an excellent and trustworthy
school and group of teachers is available. Parents must educate
themselves, question, explore and be willing to constantly rediscover
who their child is, what education is and clarify what they, the
parents are needing from the whole process, in order to truly serve
their childs highest needs.
© Copyright 2004 by Alexandra McNamara.
All rights reserved.