Whole Child, Whole Catastrophe

Whole Child, Whole Catastrophe

Dr. Erik Root, PhD, February 10, 2017

On November 3, 2016 just before the election, the State Board of Education (SBE) passed a “Resolution Establishing a Whole Child Framework.”[i]  The plan requires all Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to implement and enforce the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model (WSCC or “Whole Child Model”).  The SBE then legislated a rule to enforce the requirement at its November meeting.  The consequences on education in the state will be great, and it will place a significant burden on charter schools since they are not exempted from the requirements.

The public face of the new rule is portrayed to make kids more active.  More active kids score higher on exams and are better test takers, they claim.  A review of the meetings of the SBE suggests that they believe the reason why test scores are so low in many district schools is because children are not more active.  Part of the aim of making kids more healthy is to provide in some fashion not just for their physical health, but also for their emotional and mental health.  However, if it is true that children are suffering in standardized tests because they are not physically, mentally, or emotionally healthy, this does not explain why charters outperform them consistently without implementing the standards now proposed.[ii]  In fact, Charter Day School recently outperformed, again, the state average by double digits.[iii]

The development of the WSCC has been planned in the state for quite some time.  In the SBE’s May 2016 meeting, Dr. Ellen Essick of the NC Department of Public Instruction explained in her PowerPoint presentation that WSCC intends to make an active child achieve more because their brains would be more receptive to instruction.  However, she also hinted that the WSCC Model was about more than mere physical activity and exercise.  It also included a significant mental health component with a politically motivated social justice view to LGBTQ+ students who are more at risk than their heterosexual counterparts to commit suicide.[iv]  Social justice components of WSCC are meant to teach the children about progressive concepts of human “rights” and egalitarian notions of equality. As Essick described it, the intent of WSCC is not meant to help students be more active, but to decrease the time taught in academic subjects “pulling away [from] scientifically-based research to evidence-based strategies / interventions / practice.”[v]  This “shift” it was explained, would improve “student outcomes.”[vi]  This means that there should be less time spent on testing and more time spent measuring student outcomes anecdotally.  The consequence of this is that generalizations about school performance will be more difficult.

According to supporting documents of the November 2016 meeting, SBE heard presentations explaining that there was a mental health epidemic in North Carolina.  The supporting documents of the meeting show that they believe nearly 20% of all students in the state suffered from a “Mental Health Disorder.”[vii]  A mental health problem includes any “mood disorder or anxiety disorder.”[viii]  The scope becomes more broad to include mental, behavioral, or developmental disorders.  Because the claimed mental problems are so pervasive, the number of children in the state who are suffering from mental illness is increasing at “alarming rates.”[ix]  The SBE says that because many adolescents do not have access to health options due to finances, lack of insurance, lack of transportation, and isolation from service providers, the SBE believes that the schools must step in to provide these health services.

The SBE has no idea if all the district and charter schools are suffering from mental health problems, but they are nevertheless legislating all school districts and charter schools must adopt these onerous requirements at significant cost.  The new rules will not only address alleged mental illness issues in the public schools, but also seek to rewrite curriculum including decreasing the amount of time a teacher spends on academic subjects.

To quote from the actual legislative rule[x], the SBE would require the following:

b) Develop and implement a written plan to integrate social and emotional learning strategies across the curriculum including, but not limited to, the integration of the North Carolina Guidance Essential Standards and Healthful Living Essential Standards, and within the entire school environment.

c) Work towards inclusion of understanding and use of social and emotional well-being learning strategies in classroom/school management within annual teacher and administrator performance appraisals.

d) Improve student access to adequately trained school health professionals in NC public schools by improving staffing ratios for licensed Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (school counselors, school nurses, school psychologists, school social workers) to align with nationally recognized ratios for service delivery.

e) Incorporate staff mental health and wellness initiatives (i.e., Employee Assistance Programs [EAP]).[xi]

Section b not only places a significant regulatory requirement on schools, but it requires those schools to write curriculum that is in accord with the Essential Standards of the state.  More ominously, it is not limited to merely that, which means the state may place further requirements on schools to meet its curricular demands.  This part of the SBE rule may in fact violate NC General Statute that charter schools are to “operate independently of existing schools” by “encouraging the use of different and innovative teaching methods.”[xii]

The new rules, if passed by the SBE at its March meeting, will also require schools, including charters, to hire more personnel, social workers, nurses, and other administrators to implement the requirements of the new SBE law.[xiii]  The costs associated with this requirement will be harmful to the students, and cost parents dearly as tax revenues will have to be raised, causing their take home pay to be less than it otherwise would be.

The proponents of WSCC argue that the present troubles in our schools come in part from “diversity,” which makes students “highly vulnerable, [and] can undermine their ability to learn and progress in school, or…make them unable to connect with adults and peers.”[xiv]  Diversity in this sense causes problems, they claim, because schools are filled with students who are refugees from other nations, products of divorced or broken families, come from bad communities, have health and mental health problems, are living in poverty, and/or come from areas with environmental pollution, etc.  The goal of a whole education is to address not just the mind, but the entire person so that students can live “more consciously within their communities.”[xv]  According to the WSCC model and without citing any data, these environmental and personal factors have been so ignored that student scores are lower than if they were instructed as a “whole child.”  However, this approach to learning must come at the expense of real learning.  We should ask ourselves if it is possible or desirable that K-12 education is capable of solving intense problems that have afflicted the inner city and poor communities.  SBE believes it is not only capable of doing just that but that WSCC is its magic solution.

Just how the WSCC model might manifest itself in the classroom can be gleaned from a 2010 book titled Effective Collaboration for Educating the Whole Child.  According to proponents of the WSCC:

“Having high expectations for all children is important, but expectations that are cast as rigid group norms do not reflect what is known about real differences in individual development and learning during the early years.  Too many children and youth who cannot adapt to the standards are being left behind.[xvi]

If schools spend more time addressing physical, emotional, and mental problems, there will be less time to teach academics.  This will do nothing for the scores of the students except lower them further if experience is any indication.  There is nothing in WSCC that guarantees the students will benefit from such a curricular intrusion.  While there are benefits to body and mind to be active throughout the day, schools have been setting aside time for recess or play for decades.

SCC theory asserts that a healthy body makes a healthy mind.  However, we have known for thousands of years that it is the healthy mind that makes for the healthy body.[xvii]  Therefore, WSCC does not fix something that is broken, it in fact breaks something by getting the relationship backwards.  To make matters worse, the WSCC model also represents a significant intrusion into school curriculum and teaching methods.

There are four core qualities of a WSCC education.  First it “encourages experiential learning,” meaning the class should include more “discussion, questioning, experimentation, and active engagement in a holistic learning environment and a noticeable absence of grading, testing, labeling, and comparing.”[xviii]  If this were to be implemented, it would spell the end of direct instruction and the benefits our students receive from that instruction.  It would make the charter school no different from the district school.  Parental choice would be essentially eliminated; thus, WSCC effectively institutes a form of “choice nullification.”

WSCC core values two and three proffer such goals as making personal relationships and the “personal feelings, aspirations, ideas, and questions” students bring to the learning process equal to academic instruction.  Once again, WSCC devotes more time to emotive considerations of the children than the cultivation of their mind.

Finally, the last core quality asserts that “ecological consciousness” must be taught so we can have a “deep respect” for the “biosphere.”  It means we should have a “reverence for nature.”  It is clear from this core quality that the professional education establishment does not mean nature is something that does not change—like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.  They mean to teach reverence for Earth.  Does this mean schools will be forced to teach man-made global warming as a fact?

The SBE aims to change our curriculum through the so called mental health epidemic noted above.  Because, as they claim, the students are suffering at an alarming rate from mental illness of one sort of another, the curriculum needs to account for the various maladies afflicting them and  are therefore unable to learn in traditional academic environments.  Since they are also unable to learn academics in an innovative or traditional way, they must be forced into a new curriculum that teaches less academics and caters to their “feelings.”

The North Carolina adoption of WSCC raises several questions and should be the concern of every parent.  Is it really a fact that nearly 20% of our children are mentally ill?  How will a school determine if your child falls into the mentally ill category?  Will minimizing academic instruction in exchange for emotional/mental instruction be beneficial for our children?  Do we know that WSCC will increase the learning ability of our students, and what shall we do if it fails, thus putting North Carolina even farther behind other states?

WSCC is meddling in places that not only are the proper role of the parent, but it intends to engage in social engineering and indoctrination while handicapping them by coddling their emotions.[xix]  That will only cause more problems in later life as the real world does not care about hurt feelings.  Schools that engage in the emotive enabling of our children will fail to give them the actual tools to succeed as contained in  an education that mankind has employed for millennia that provides the tools of success no matter the circumstance.

The SBE has engaged in an extra constitutional procedure, and has for some time legislated contrary to the state Constitution which clearly vests such powers in the Legislature.  The consequence of educational tinkering has failed in the state, and yet the SBE continues to attempt to fashion students in their own image:  “We who are engaged in the sacred cause of education are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.”[xx]

Dr. Erik Root is Senior Policy Analyst with The Roger Bacon Academy.  Dr. Root’s Ph.D. is in Political Science, and he has held positions with the John Locke Foundation and was Professor of Political Science at West Liberty University.  Dr. Root also advises on authoring curricula in civics and government for the Academy

[i] See the minutes of the State Board here:  https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/ViewMeetingOrder.aspx?S=10399&MID=2789

[ii] See as one example from 2012: https://ncpubliccharters.org/charter-schools-outperform-districts-again/.  See also for 2015 Lady Liberty:  https://ladyliberty1885.com/2015/09/10/nc-scores-reveal-charters-scored-higher/

[iii] Roger Bacon Academy, “2015-2016 EOG Results Announced,” September 13, 2016, http://www.rogerbaconacademy.net/newsandupdates/blog/3751/2015-16-eog-results-read-about-our-client-schools-performance/

[iv] See “Minutes of the North Carolina State Board of Education,” May 4-5, 2016, pp. 6-7.

[v] Ibid., 9.  See also the meeting agenda and accompanying documents here:  https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/ViewMeetingOrder.aspx?S=10399&MID=2422.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] School Mental Health Initiative, “Executive Summary,” February 1, 2017, p. 1.  Submitted at the Monthly Meeting of the North Carolina State Board of Education:  https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/ViewMeetingOrder.aspx?S=10399&MID=3009

[viii] School Mental Health Initiative, “North Carolina Mental Health Initiative,” February 1, 2017, p. 2.

[ix] Ibid.  The executive summary is clear that they consider these mental illnesses.  See p. 1.

[x] Mental Health Policy

[xi] Emphasis Added.  The text comes from the proposed legislation of the SBE titled “School Mental Health Policy.” See the section 4(i)(a-e)See the Meeting of the SBE on February 1, 2017 here:  https://simbli.eboardsolutions.com/Meetings/ViewMeetingOrder.aspx?S=10399&MID=3009

[xii] North Carolina General Statutes, Article 14A § 115C-218(a) and § 115C-218(a)(3).  See here: http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/EnactedLegislation/Statutes/PDF/ByArticle/Chapter_115c/Article_14A.pdf

[xiii] North Carolina, “Draft Consolidated State Plan Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA),” December 22, 2016, 75-77.

[xiv] Carol A. Kochlar-Bryant, Effective collaboration for Educating the Whole Child (Corwin:  Thousand Oaks, Ca, 2010), 2.  The chapter from this book that we reference here is “What Does it Mean to Educate the Child?” Chapter 1 of that book:  http://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/34869_Kochhar_Bryant__Effective_Collaboration_for_Educating_the_Whole_Child_Ch1.pdf

[xv] Ibid., 6.

[xvi] Ibid., 7.

[xvii] Plato, The Republic, 403d-e.

[xviii]“What Does it Mean to Educate the Child?” 7.  See:  http://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/34869_Kochhar_Bryant__Effective_Collaboration_for_Educating_the_Whole_Child_Ch1.pdf

[xix] The educators believe that the human brain is “plastic” and hence moldable to the form they want it to be.  Therefore, they are explicit that they can change behavior and the way a human being acts and thinks if they can implement these strategies early enough in their education.  See “What Does it Mean to Educate the Child?” 25-26.

[xx] Horace Mann, Lectures on Education (Boston:  Ide & Dutton, 1855), 185.

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