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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A New Model of Schooling: Creating Knowledgeable, Responsible, Nonviolent, Drug-Free, Caring Kids

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

Around the world, people want to improve education. Some want to strengthen basic academic skills; others want to focus on critical thinking. Some want to promote citizenship or character; others want to admonish against the dangers of drugs, violence, and alcohol. Some demand more from parents; others accent the role of community. Some emphasize core values; others the need to respect diversity. Through all the positions lies a consistent concern: Schools must become better at producing knowledgeable, responsible, nonviolent, drug-free, and caring adults.

Knowledgeable, responsible, nonviolent, drug free, and caring -- behind each word lies an educational challenge:

  • For children to become knowledgeable, they must be motivated to learn and capable of integrating new information into their lives.
  • For children to become responsible, they must be capable of understanding risks and opportunities, and they must be motivated to choose actions and behaviors that will be in their own best interests and in the interests of others.
  • For children to be drug free, they need to be engaged in their schools and communities. They must have an incentive to be alert, focused, and available.
  • For children to be nonviolent, they must not live in settings that model violence and must not look to violence as the best way to solve problems, and they need empathy and skills for everyday problem solving and decision making.
  • For children to become caring, they must experience being cared about and cared for, of being part of a community that is welcoming, nurturing, and open to them and that gives them a valued and respected role and place in that community.

The challenge of raising knowledgeable, responsible, nonviolent, drug-free, and caring children is familiar to parents, policy makers, administrators, and teachers. But what may be less familiar and less well understood is the insight that each element of this challenge can be enhanced by thoughtful, sustained, and systematic attention to the social and emotional life of children. Indeed, experience and research are showing that promoting the social, emotional, and character development (SECD) of children is the hidden key to improving all of these outcomes, including the application of basic academic skills.

In every society, children will inherit social roles now occupied by adults. For that reason, and supported by brain research, learning can be defined as knowledge that is put into practice for the well-being of self and others. Our schools must give children intellectual and practical tools they can bring to their classrooms, families, communities, and workplaces.

A delegation from Singapore's Ministry of Education has just completed a visit to schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that have been leaders in promoting students' SECD. Why did these good people, whose schools are often held up as paragons of academic accomplishment, come to see these schools? The answer is simple: Their business leaders said that the products of their education had intellectual smarts but not sufficient workplace smarts. In a country like Singapore, where social capital is the most abundant and valuable resource, this is a cataclysmic recognition.

The world is waking up to the need to educate the whole child. For some reason, the United States seems to be in the deepest sleep, but it's showing signs of stirring. Let's keep the rousing going and get our schools up and in the forefront of whole-child education and a better balance of academics and SECD.

A new generation of SECD approaches is available to provide what schools need. When schools implement SECD effectively, the academic achievement of children increases, the incidence of problem behaviors decreases, the quality of the relationships that surrounds each child is enhanced, and schools become more inviting and dynamic places to be, true centers for learning. SECD has been called "the missing piece," the part of the school's mission that is close to the hearts and minds of educators but always just out of grasp. Now, the elusive is within reach, and it's time to grab SECD and use it to shape a new model of schooling.

Maurice Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service
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Niki Barnes Atlanta GA's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe that children develop (Holistic) physically, emotionally, and cognitively at different rates and that they all tie together to help in educating children. Educators should pull information out and allow students to be active and explore their education. Education can be formal or informal and is an on going process. I believe that children learn in different ways with nature and nurture having equal inputs. Overall, parents, teachers, students, and communities are responsible for educating children.

Maurice's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Niki, I think your comments remind me that our "new" model of schooling is not so new to those who have observed children carefully and worked with children in schools in thoughtful ways. Given that the current reality in education policy does not reflect this shared common sense, we do need to rally together around such efforts as Whole Child Education so we can reclaim schools for children.

Melissa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My students all come from low socio-economics, most of them believe that they will not be greater than their parents. I try to motivate my students into thinking that they can be anything they want to be, but I am only a piece of the puzzle. I have one student who told me he wanted to grow-up and become a thug. As we continued talking he was telling me that he would kill the police and he was going to end up in prison just like his dad. I talked to the counselor at my school, we now have a mentor to come in and to talk with him. He has now said that he wants to be a doctor. Only time and society will tell what he will become in the future. I know that I am going to keep track of him in the future.

Annette's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As I read through the comments about a new model of schooling, I was unclear as to what was so new. Without meaning to sound judgemental, it seemed to me that someone was merely stating their ideals of what a school should be. I hear the message that schools are a place for socializing our students, for social change. Like a dog chasing its tail, the point was being made that it is society that shapes our children while it is children who become the society. It sounds to me like the nature/nurture arguement. I do believe it is an inexplicably intricate web of influence that runs both ways; so where do we start. My personal opinion is that it is the responsibility of the adults in society to influence the children and then for that legacy to be passed to the next generation to influence its decendants. I see two problems. One, adults are not willing to take responsibility for doing the "right" thing. Two, no one can agree on what the "right" thing is. It is no wonder we are not advancing our society in positive directions. Hmm... so what do we do? Go back to defining what we want. What is it we value? Then back track to how we achieve that goal.
For example at the risk of sounding simplistic, if we want students to value each other, we have to demonstrate that action. We have to remove those who do not model this value from influence. We have to decide one who gets to be role models. This means someone has to have some backbone.

Maurice's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Melissa, the situation you describe is all too common. Students benefit greatly from positive, tangible examples, to compete with the images they receive from the mass media and from what they think they are learning from the streets. Service learning is a key way to help activate curiosity, possibility, and the spirit of generosity in students. All of these capabilities reside within them. Low SES can only cloud these attributes, not eliminate them. By giving our students chances and by caring for and about them, as you do, you are showing them inner capacities they can develop and nurture.

Tina Sieverding, Bellevue, IA's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have read a few articles about whole child education. I truly believe as a teacher in today's society, you have to be aware of your students emotional, physical and cognitive states. When I'm teaching my students I have to connect on all different levels in order to make them interested in what I am delivering. If one of my students comes to school upset because of something that went on at home, I have to pay attention to that child's emotional state, or I'm not going get anything academically accomplished. Teachers today are nurturers, caregivers, disciplinarians, friends, role models and then we are teachers. What we do everyday in our classrooms, will affect those who are a part of it for the rest of their lives. I am proud to be a teacher. I have been recently surprised because of the negative comments I have read about the respect for the teaching profession. This is news to me. It's easy for a critic to sit back and suggest how things should be, but it takes a strong person to actually choose a profession that challenges you everyday to make a difference in the lives of our childrens' futures.

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