Whole Person Education

Nurturing the compassionate genius in each of us

One of the articles in Transforming Education (IC#18)
Originally published in Winter 1988 on page 16
Copyright (c)1988, 1997 by Context Institute

Linda MacRae-Campbell is one of the Guest Editors for this issue. She has taught from pre-school through university levels for 15 years developing wholistic, integrative curriculums for pre-natal through adult learners. She is currently a consultant to several public schools working in the area of comprehensive public school reform and a member of the Board of Directors of New Horizons for Learning. She can be reached at LearningWorks, 19614 Soundview Dr, Stanwood, WA 98292 or 206/652-9502.

– Robert Gilman

Abraham Maslow, the world-renowned humanist psychologist, once addressed a college class and inquired if anyone in the room had expectations of achieving greatness. No one responded. He asked, "Who else then?"

Most of us harbor the belief that a few, fortunate others can achieve brilliance, giftedness or demonstrate great talent. For years, we have heard testimonies to the vastness of human potential, but ways to waken our slumbering genius have remained a mystery. Our absorbent memories, our infinite learning capacities, the sensitivity of our brains and our bodies, the desire to live meaningful lives are all dampened by mediocre learning and performance. Fortunately, we now have the clues, thanks to research from diverse fields of the last twenty or so years, for transmuting mediocrity into virtuosity for each of us.

Scientific research in neurology, psychology and education has etched expanded images of what it means to be human. Breakthroughs in these three fields have also provided insights into the necessary components of new learning and instructional practices. We are likely still in the infancy of understanding how to activate our latent gifts, but at least we have begun to understand. Some of the significant contributions from contemporary research are briefly summarized in the following chart:

 Topic Studied  Key Learnings


 Brain’s physiology  Unlimited capacity for lifelong learning
 Right & left brain specialization  Validation of a variety of mental processes & functions
 Triune brain  Emotions inhibit or facilitate learning
 Effects of environment on learning and intelligence  A stimulating & loving environment enhances learning


 New definitions & theories of human human intelligence  Expanded view of intelligence including kinesthetic, visual, musical and intra- & interpersonal elements
 Overcoming mental retardation  Everyone can learn at any ability level


 Learning styles  Everyone learns differently
 Cooperative learning  Performance increases with cooperation, not competition
 Andragogy versus pedagogy  Adults and children learn what has personal relevancy


What can we glean from these various areas of research as they apply to learning and teaching? What are the emerging components of new instructional models? Several items become immediately apparent.

To develop our human capacities we must use our capacities. This may sound painfully obvious, but such opportunities are rarely offered in traditional academic settings. We now know that it is mandatory to incorporate the body, the mind, the feelings, the social and intuitive dimensions of the individual in the learning process and in every topic area.

Incorporating the body * It is not enough to offer PE as a subject and expect that doing so satisfies the physical component of an educational program. The body and the senses need to be engaged in the learning of all subjects. Manipulatives, hands-on activities, multi-sensory experiences, creative dramatics, movement activities that support the topic being taught are necessary components of instruction for students of all ages. It is learning by doing that facilitates knowing and remembering.

Incorporating the mind * There is so much we can and need to do to improve academic instruction. Eighty per cent of all teaching is currently conducted in a teacher-lecture/student-listen format, the least effective teaching strategy of all. Approximately twenty per cent of our students learn best in that style leaving another eighty percent who have other learning needs that demand concrete, experiential, self-initiated, and real-world learning opportunities. What this means is that information must be presented in a variety of ways to elicit a myriad of successes from all learners.

Another consideration for the improvement of instruction is the necessity of incorporating the wide array of mental processes of both hemispheres of the brain. It is not enough to analyze and learn fragmented information. It is equally important to understand the context, the meaning, the gestalt of a topic as well. Education must cease its lean offerings and prepare a glorious feast for all who come to partake.

Incorporating feelings * An area of sore neglect and urgent need in schooling is that of acknowledging feelings. The objective, sterile environment prevalent in many schools actually inhibits learning. Learning and remembering are also unlikely to occur when students harbor negative feelings about an instructor, peers, class work, or personal issues. Time and attention need to be devoted to students’ feelings about class activities or personal experiences. The humanization of the classroom facilitates both learning and long term retention of information. The willingness to confront emotional issues not only benefits learning, it also influences self-image, the single most important factor in determining an individual’s success in any endeavor in life. Classrooms devoid of feeling must be resuscitated with rich, stimulating, accepting and loving environments.

Incorporating the social nature * The social climate in many academic settings is one fraught with competition and isolation. When collaborative, cooperative learning opportunities are implemented, achievement scores are increased and students respect the contributions each person is capable of offering. Instead of fearing the differences in one another, uniqueness and individual areas of strength can be tapped for the benefit of all. The old adage "Two heads are better than one" applies to the classroom as well.

Incorporating intuition * Intuition is a different way of knowing that allows one to understand something in its totality without necessarily understanding HOW one arrived at that awareness. Intuition yields sudden "aha" kinds of insights and results from higher level thinking and synthesizing processes. Students deserve (and our planetary survival depends on!) learning opportunities to explore, imagine, create, surmise, play, and invent ideas, solutions, and innovative possibilities.

Even though it may be (or at least seem) arduous to make the needed changes, there is no justification for doing "business as usual" in the classroom. Teaching which incorporates the above strategies benefits students and teachers alike. Research has underscored the necessity of claiming the totality of our being through the use of the entire brain/mind/body system in the educational process. When we bring ourselves more fully to the learning task, we begin to open the storehouses of human potential and the resultant learning increases geometrically.


Instructional practices can and are being improved. Other limiting aspects of education are also undergoing transformation. Just as teachers are finding new ways to teach, schools themselves must be freed to find new ways to conduct schooling. Mary Hatwood Futrell, the President of the National Education Association, recently delivered a speech entitled, "The Demise of the 2 by 4 by 6 Classroom." She wipes clean our current images of schooling as taking place between the two covers of a textbook within the four walls of the classroom and in a six period day. She and many other leaders in education are asking us to rethink what we take for granted with education as we know it today.

Rethinking curriculum * One of the areas of "rethinking" is curriculum in schools. Over the last 50 years our educational offerings have grown more specialized and compartmentalized. More and more subjects are being taught, often with declining effectiveness. Students are asked to take class after class in isolation from every other with no personal context or relevancy. These problems are confounded with the fact that information grows obsolete every seven years.

Such meaningless practices must stop and in some public and private schools they are stopping. Curriculum is being drastically reduced and redefined. The basic literacies in math, reading and writing and computer usage are retained while new interdisciplinary curriculums are emerging and learning-to-learn skills are implemented. Questions about what is truly essential are being asked while recognition is given to the fact that students need not learn everything within the confines of the school building. Apprenticeships, mentor programs and other real life educational opportunities are becoming available while learning as a life-long process is acknowledged as well.

In some schools, a hefty portion of the curriculum is determined by the students and their interests. New feelings of trust between student and teacher are emerging as children select their own areas of study. Students are beginning to have opportunities to rely upon their own inner authority, gain autonomy and seek meaning for themselves. Such freedom of choice prevents children from spending the majority of their school years in learning to guess and appropriately respond to what each teacher wants. Those students who are unleashed to pursue their own interests are enabled to develop their unique talents and gifts. School, then, is meaningful, relevant and worthwhile. Such educational practices do justice to the original Latin meaning of "educare" which was "to draw forth from within."

Less bureaucracy * School communities are often entrenched and stifled with bureaucratic constraints. Curriculum, student achievement tests and educational policies are frequently generated by those far removed from schools and their programs. Many school reform networks and others are trying to loosen the hold of educational bureaucracy and are advocates of decentralization. This empowers the local school community to determine the nature of its program and to tap its own resources and talents. Each school would ultimately be distinct from every other. It would mirror the community it was a part of and reflect the uniqueness of its teachers, students and administrators.


The issues confronting us today in education are systemic ones, involving teaching methods, teacher preparation, school curricula, bureaucratic strangleholds, shifting cultural values and shattering global concerns. The task at hand is not piecemeal reform programs, but rather dynamic educational innovations.

One hundred years ago, schools were established to teach basic literacy. We have a far greater purpose today. With basic research as a powerful ally, we see new images of what it means to be human. We are learning how to cultivate the vast regions of potential of all people at every age and every ability level. Individual school communities are being freed to create and conduct programs unique to those within its locality. The unfettering of potential at all levels of education comes at a time when global issues demand a new purpose of education. Our new goal can be no less than to nurture the compassionate genius within each of us.

And who will spearhead the major educational transformations on the horizon? Perhaps it will be all of us, the countless adults who can trace our impoverished and limited self-fulfilling prophecies back to our own early schooling. Now, confronted with breakthroughs in many fields, we know our expectations can be realistically higher. We will be the generators of change because we still wish to raise our hands in response to the question, "Who of you expect to achieve greatness?"