Educating the Whole Person

2011Symposium_1_2This post is the first in a three-part series on educating the whole child and music education. Today, I will discuss what the whole child means. In the other posts, I will cover how music education addresses ways of learning and knowing children have.

Most philosophies of American education include a statement to the effect that educators want to educate the “whole child.” To carry this out, schools often offer a variety of courses from a range of disciplines. Educators who do this generally believe that if children take courses in all subjects, the whole child will be educated. Typically, courses are offered in classic disciplines that include mathematics, science, language arts, world languages, physical education, and the arts. By taking courses in all of these disciplines, it is believed that every nook and cranny of the educable person will be reached. Presently, I will examine what those “nooks and crannies” are. What parts are there that make up the whole person we are trying to educate.

Dr. James Comer identified six developmental pathways to healthy child development. These included physical, music and the brainpsychological, cognitive, ethical, social and linguistic pathways. Dr. Howard Gardner made similar findings when he identified multiple intelligences that included linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, inter-personal and intra-personal intelligences. Christian writers identified five areas that included body, soul, mind, heart, and spirit. Taken together, we can see that the whole person consists of a physical body, a self-awareness and other awareness, rational and logical thought, emotional and expressive thought, a conscience or spiritual side that informs ethical decisions, and a linguistic capacity which gives form to emotions and conscience thought, and motivates social interactions and attitudes towards others. All three approaches, those of Comer, Gardner and Christianity, establish the holistic nature of the person while acknowledging the parts each have their own distinctiveness.

If any educational program or discipline is to be used to successfully reach the whole person, it must be able to engage every part individually and in combinations. Most of the parts of the whole person reside in the mind—only the rest of the physical body does not. Music activates many areas of the brain. It stimulates the brain where movement is controlled, animating our bodies in response to music, or simulating such movement in the imagination. It changes our heart rate and causes the sweat glands to activate as it arouses our emotions and feelings. In the process, music helps us modify and be aware of our emotional state. Music enhances our ability to reason spatially, and stimulates the area of the brain where language is processed. As the human mind understands musical sound, it stimulates an expressive and emotional experience that surpasses words, even poetry. Music also draws people together. Because music is something people do, and most often with others, music creates a bond between music making people that promotes socialization and relationships. Some of the deepest personal relationships people have are with those they have made music with or played sports with. In both cases, those relationships were forged from expressed emotion while making music or competing together. Finally, music and ethics are tied together. It is highly interactive among music makers and between performers and listeners. The content of music is of cultural and historical importance and often discloses a worldview that has the potential for being ethically superlative. I will examine each of these contributions music makes to educating the whole person in the remaining posts in this series.

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