Final Content for CIDE

Adam Alvarez

The Dichotomy of Education and Wellness

All children have needs that must be met in order to develop into thriving, flourishing individuals who experience a greater overall sense of well-being (Lippman, Moore & Mcintosh, 2011; Murphy et al, 2014). Well-being and wellness are often used interchangeably in the literature and both can be described as the balance that is achieved across sub-domains, such as psychological, physical and emotional health, to name a few. Teaching through understanding the importance of these sub-domains that form well-being, educators may be able to tap into student learning with greater effectiveness, in order to improve academic and social development.

The extant literature on student well-being, specifically from a positive psychology and positive youth development framework, suggest focusing on positive traits and characteristics as a way to prevent deficiencies and illnesses (Lipman, Moore & McIntosh, 2011; Lippman et al, 2014). In one review of 80 empirical studies on student well-being, Lippman, Moore and McIntosh emphasize a holistic approach to learning by focusing on building student assets rather than focusing on academics alone. Indeed, strengthening students in domains such as psychological, social, and emotional health works to create a buffer against obstacles and dangers students might face in and out of schools, which might negatively influence student learning.

“Thriving generally makes it easier to learn, adopt, or maintain the routines and practices that replenish wellness” (Murphy et al, 2014, p. 18). By ensuring that students are “well”, educators can expect that students are more likely to experience success both in and out of schools. Additionally, students who are thriving are less likely to experience depressive moods (Keyes & Haidt, 2009). Scales and colleagues (2006) noted that students who had access to 1) caring adults, 2) safe places and constructive use of time, 3) a healthy start, 4) effective education, and 5) opportunities to make a difference were more likely to experience a greater well-being. These studies suggest that student learning is linked to student wellness.

Understanding the importance of all students’ needs in a variety of domains that contribute to overall well-being, may help educators change their level of focus, consider new areas of measurement to place emphasis on, and to more accurately define what it means for students to be ready to learn. Educators might consider this question: In what ways are you contributing to your students’ well-being?

Investing in Kids, Not a System

As the United States continues to trail Finland, Japan, and South Korea—among many other countries worldwide—perhaps the focus, in order to compete globally, should be on the process of teaching and learning, and not necessarily the content and test scores. Can the current US educational system continue to operate this way and expect to become a global leader? Consider the education GINI index, the US has one of the lowest scores, inferring that educational inequality is low, but this number does not really measure how education looks from the inside of the school, or how equitable it is.

Reframing education from the antiquated traditional factory style schooling to a more advanced and multi-faceted way of learning may be the answer to propel students and the US forward in global rankings. Freire (2000) notes the importance of learning as a process that can be reciprocated between teacher and student and which allows the student to become conscious about the student’s voice in opposing barriers that resist the good of all humanity, instead of the current system that he calls the “banking” model. Because of the power structure in this banking model system, teachers hold the valuable knowledge, and students are the subjects who have to earn the right to that knowledge. Moreover, students in some schools, specifically Black and Brown students in poorer areas, may never have access to quality learning, not because they don’t deserve it, but because of the lack of resources, experience of teachers, and the pedagogical practices in these schools.

With the current educational system, it appears that certain groups of students in lower performing urban schools are being educated in a way that prepares them for specific and limited jobs, while favoring the dominant middle/upper White class (Anyon, 2014; Mclaren, 2007). Freire (2000) would agree that the current method of schooling is not benefiting all students and humanity. In fact, students in general would be better off if they were educated in a way that allowed them to become social agents of change that operate from an equitable perspective so that they are able to do good for all, rather than to simply fulfill the labor-power relationship (Hill, Graves, & Maisuria, 2008) and social hierarchy. Blacker (2013) notes that this current system is not going to last and those who are not considered elite or in power are going to become obsolete. Blacker writes, “They no longer want to exploit you, now they want you gone” (p.95). What happens when the system no longer needs the disadvantaged people?

I believe that if the US were serious about becoming more globally competitive, it might take into consideration the gaps that the current education system is creating between racial and class groups. It’s not that there is no solution to fix the US’s issues of educational inequity, its just that fixing it might take away from those in power. The current educational system has been created, maintained, and ingrained into society and those in power would have to relinquish power and resources in order to help others achieve and close gaps, but the likelihood of that happening still seems rare. Being mindful of and investing in all students, as individuals with unique assets and experiences, in my opinion is one way to possibly improve educational outcomes to the degree that the US may soon begin to compete at higher levels with other countries worldwide.

Sir Ken Robinson notes, "Academic ability has really come to dominate our view of intelligence"

Teaching Through, Not To

Students in urban schools have historically been underserved, thus its students, when compared to their peers, have appeared to be underperforming in academics. Students in urban schools are more likely to be exposed to situations, conditions, or events that negatively influence their abilities to come to school ready to learn (Burdick-Will, 2013). It is imperative that educators are mindful about the students they serve, the backgrounds the students have, and the experiences that their students bring into the classroom.

Some students in impoverished neighborhoods may be subject to violence in and out of school at a higher rate, which make learning difficult (Milam, Furr-Holden & Leaf, 2010). There may be support systems in place at some schools that are able to intervene, providing services for students who are experiencing negative effects of these stressors, but most likely, based on the historical inequity, urban schools may not have access. In addition, school violent crimes and threats to safety have a negative effect on reading and math achievement (Burdick-Will, 2013; Milam, Furr-Holden, & Leaf, 2010). How do educators in urban schools respond to the needs of students who come to school in spite of these negative experiences?

Environmental challenges, such as violence and poverty, can lead to fear, stress, and anxiety, which can inhibit a student’s learning (Perry, 2006). In many cases, a student’s needs regarding safety must be met before he or she can engage in more demanding cognitive activities. Data suggests that the negative effects of fear, stress, and anxiety can lead to hyper-vigilance, an overly guarded or defensive state, or dissociation, such as withdrawal and isolation (Perry, 2006; Shonkoff et al, 2012). It is difficult to presume that students who are experiencing these symptoms are able to participate and learn like their counterparts in an affluent school.

Serving students in these urban contexts can be difficult for educators if they are not mindful of the needs that some of these students might have (Tate et al, 2014). Some assumptions that educators might have about students in these contexts are that they can’t learn, they don’t want to learn, or that their families do not value education. If educators are cognizant of the effects that violence and poverty have on students, they may be more sympathetic of the support that some of these students might need. Teaching through understanding students’ individual needs is likely to help educators not to become overly focused on just teaching to kids.

Scroll over the points to learn more about issues related to urban education

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