Lately, I have been feeling esoteric and trying to discover ways that are beyond the usual buzz words to describe what we do in education. Yesterday, I began writing a book/package that will help me explain my coaching philosophy and when I can to the part about coaching the “whole athlete” I began wondering what exactly that meant. What is a whole athlete or student? How can I define what the means? Is it really just an empty buzzword that we throw around because it sounds nice?
After asking those questions, I remembered having read Aristotle in the past and being impressed with his simple, yet defining references of the mind, body, and soul regarding human psychology. I began connecting my thoughts and my experiences on the soccer field and lumping some of the activities or skill building activities I do into these categories. I understand that this is not originally what Aristotle meant when he was discussing these things, but I do think they can help us think about developing the children in our classrooms.
The activities that come to mind when thinking about developing a student is how they think and use their brains to solve problems we put in front of them. In the 20th century we became really good at training people how to do jobs while in school, but at the same time we did not develop the mind of the students as much as we probably could have. Thinking was not something that was always prized and compliance was the order of the day versus allowing people to think creatively. If you look back at ancient theories of education you will notice that no where did the classical civilizations simply teach their students to be compliant. They taught them how to form arguments, look up information, and how to articulate themselves. In recent years, it seems that we have begun to rediscover what the ancients already knew to be true: That content knowledge is important, but having a brain that is plastic enough to do mental gymnastics against an opponent is much more preferred for individuals that will be engaged in intellectual combat while being an active citizen in a democracy. In our educational environment of today, the mind is being the most developed by the way we do things even if it is not always the most effective.
This is a place as a society we tend to teach the barebones to our students. I get it. This is a sensitive topic and lots of different people have different opinions on what is important or how this should be taught. Health class is often a battle ground for how sex education should be taught or how deep we should go when exploring sensitive topics like drugs. But every year, people advocate for the removal of Physical Education from the curriculum and claim that the teachers don’t do anything. This simply is not true and the professionals that run these classes know more about the human body than I ever will and are a great resource for our students. As for core classroom teachers, we can probably do more on helping students cope with the stress and the feelings they are going through while they are in our classes. I am thinking of the students who deal with anxiety on tests or students who are dealing with the imposter syndrome to just name a few. At this point in time we need to offer guidance to our students on how to deal with these problems instead of just dumping content on their heads and then going home at the end of the day.
Aristotle called the energy force that exists in our bodies a soul and personally I do believe that each person has a spirit or a soul. For many people, talking about a soul makes them uncomfortable because it conjures up images of salvation or Christianity and many people are simply not comfortable discussing their spirituality with others. Many people think that those who do are crazy, uneducated, or being controlled through an oppressive system of rituals.
I do believe that human beings need to develop a sense of spirit and that we are incomplete unless we do. This is an area that our school system fails miserably and does not recognize as an area we should be teaching. People used to get this sort of guidance through religion, but in today’s world religion has taken a hit and people are less religious than they have been in the past. Now, I am not talking about instilling religious dogma onto people, like so many critics seem to think. What I am talking about is developing a way to help people tap into their own spiritual energy and build relationships with other people. I believe that our spirits are what help us connect with others on a basic level and if we develop our system of interconnectedness it will only make the world a better place. Right now our schools leave this component out and the results have had a civilization that now is at record numbers of suicides, drug use, and depression. I think it is because we have neglected our spirits that we cannot find happiness and feel isolated. If we can help students connect with others, develop a sense of joy surrounding life regardless of their circumstances, and show them how to use introspective patterns to discover their inner spiritual self we as a society will be happier and more fulfilled.
As we continue through another school year, I implore you to think about how you could apply Aristotle’s thinking to your classroom every day. Remember we are supposed to develop the “whole child” and it often helps to define what exactly that is supposed to mean. This is my first attempt at developing my own meaning to go alone with Aristotle’s ancient wisdom and using these three principles as a framework for my thinking in the classroom on a daily basis. What do you think? Are these categories to developing the whole child? Let me know in the comments section.