Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Education in America Needs to Go Beyond the Academics

It has been said that getting an education is a way out of poverty and a way for people to dramatically improve the quality of their lives. Pres. Obama certainly seems to subscribe to this idea with his emphasis on education this month, both in his recommendation to have community college education provided free to those who want it, and in the emphasis that he placed on education in his State of the Union address.

But with all of the emphasis being placed on the importance of education, what does it mean to be educated? For many educators and philosophers, education involves more than a focus on academics, for the sake of learning facts and figures. In some circles, being educated was traditionally looked at as a pathway for an individual to become a well-rounded human being.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines well-rounded as "involving or having experience in a wide range of ideas or activities."

One can even find online in WikiHow a series of steps that each person can take to become well-rounded. These steps include learning about other cultures and countries; reading books, magazines, newspapers; getting involved in lots of activities, like painting, dancing, creating music and other hobbies; and being open-minded to new things. The entire list can be seen at

It might be that in East Palo Alto, the Ravenswood City School District Superintendent, Gloria Hernandez-Goff, is starting students off early on the road to being well-rounded, since she and other district leaders think that the district must go beyond the teaching of academic basics, if the students in East Palo Alto are to excel in academics.  The superintendent has taken the position that public school education in East Palo Alto should address the needs of the whole child (Click here to see an excerpt from Superintendent Hernandez-Goff's recent interview on the Talking with Henrietta show, Looking at the Common Core - Part 1.).

The district recognizes that students can't learn well, for example, when they are hungry, when they are sick, when they are regularly subjected to stressful living conditions, like crime and violence or when they lack regular opportunities for exercise. So, the district has created wraparound programs for students that address these situations.  Even today, January 21, the district formally launched a new program, which includes yoga, to promote the health and wellness of each student. Read a brief post about the program on East Palo Alto Today's Facebook page at

So, as one considers various perspectives about education, one can still ask, what does it mean for individuals to be educated? What does it mean for the U.S. to have an educated citizenry? How best should that education be provided and should it be accessible to everyone regardless of his or her ability to pay? These are just a few questions our national leaders and local educators are addressing as our country grapples with some of the global, national and local issues we face.

When all is said and done, even the definition of education is becoming more inclusive, with education currently being acknowledged not only as a personal way up the ladder, but also as a national prerequisite for the U.S. to maintain its position as a world leader among nations.

It isn't heard as often as it once was and it has undergone change, but the United Negro College Fund's saying that "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" is probably even more true today than ever. Certainly, such a loss would be a loss for the individual and for those who are close to that person.  Now, as things are shaping up, each mind, around us, that is not fulfilling its potential, not only represents a personal loss, but it also represents a loss for our country and for our planet, as well.

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