Enhancing Academics by Developing the Whole Child

In high school, intellectual training is essential. It is difficult in our culture to succeed without it. But studies show that success and happiness depend to a great extent also, on human skills such as knowing how to get along with others, how to persevere, how to focus our attention, how to cooperate, and how to be a good friend.

For more than forty years, we have found that students who are taught how to be balanced are far more likely to achieve academic success.

The philosophy of Living Wisdom School, helps students achieve academic and personal success through a balanced development of body, feelings, and will as well as the mind. Mainstream education, with its heavy emphasis on test scores, focuses on training just one of these tools – the intellect – at the expense of the others.

Here are some of the activities that Living Wisdom High School incorporates into its program to develop the whole person, as well as the mind.

Physical Activity Enhances Academic Achievement

The Living Wisdom High School program allows significant time during the school year to be spent on indoor and outdoor physical activities. Yoga, Tai Chi classes and Sharing Nature exercises as well as physical fitness activities are part of the curriculum.

Numerous studies have shown physical activity enhances academic achievement. In a study published by the National Academy of Sciences, 2013, the relationship between physical activity and academic achievement has been clearly established:

State-mandated academic achievement testing has had the unintended consequence of reducing opportunities for children to be physically active during the school day and beyond…. Yet little evidence supports the notion that more time allocated to subject matter will translate into better test scores. Indeed, 11 of 14 correlational studies of physical activity during the school day demonstrate a positive relationship to academic performance. Overall, a rapidly growing body of work suggests that time spent engaged in physical activity is related not only to a healthier body but also to a healthier mind.

Teens who exercise, and spend time outdoors are happier, healthier and more highly motivated to achieve academic excellence.

Service Promotes Social and Emotional Growth 

At Living Wisdom High School, students participate in service opportunities which teach empathy, enhance social skills, and foster individual emotional intelligence. Through service to the greater community, LWHS students experience the joy of self-forgetfulness and the satisfaction in making a contribution to the lives of others.

The popularization of the concept of “emotional intelligence” in 1995 stimulated many studies that have authenticated the importance of social and emotional growth.

A report by J. Payton et al. surveyed data from 317 studies involving 324,303 students. The authors concluded:

SEL [Social and Emotional Learning] … improved students’ academic performance by 11 to 17 percentile points across the three reviews, indicating that they offer students a practical educational benefit…. Although some educators argue against implementing this type of holistic programming because it takes valuable time away from core academic material, our findings suggest that SEL programming not only does not detract from academic performance but actually increases students’ performance on standardized tests and grades.

Learning to manage one’s emotions and direct feelings in positive ways can be a tremendous help for maintaining mental focus and enhancing academic achievement.

Travel Adventures Develop Will Power, Adaptability and Resourcefulness

Living Wisdom High School’s academic year is enriched with travel adventures: short field trips and longer overseas travel. Students participate in the planning and earning of money to fund their travel. The effort required to plan and raise money for travel, plus the experience of travel, helps student to develop will power and self-control and to adapt to changing and perhaps challenging circumstances.

In The Willpower Instinct, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. surveyed the results of over 200 studies and concluded:

People who have strong will power are better off – i.e., [they have] better control of their attention, emotions, and actions. They are happier and healthier. Their relationships are more satisfying and last longer. They make more money and go further in their careers. They are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and overcome adversity. They live longer. Self-control is a better predictor of academic success than IQ. It’s a stronger determinant of effective leadership than charisma. It’s more important for marital harmony than empathy.

Through travel, Living Wisdom High School students learn resourcefulness, initiative and perseverance, all components of will power.

Conclusion and Prediction

It will no doubt take time, but educators have already begun to acknowledge that a one-sided emphasis on the intellect alone is counterproductive.

Even the “winners” with this approach are adversely affected. In a nationally televised interview in November 2011, an NBC reporter talked with an administrator at Peking University High School in Shanghai – the top school worldwide, as measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where the students put in twelve hours of study per day, including weekends. The school administrator lamented:

Test taking is damaging to students’ creativity, critical thinking skills and, in general, China’s ability to compete in the world. It can make students very narrow-minded. In the 21st century, China needs the creative types its education system isn’t producing.

For more than forty years, the Living Wisdom Schools have been able to demonstrate the value of an approach that cultivates the intellect without neglecting the body, feelings, and will. In our school, we gauge each student’s success not only by their test results, but by the quality of their attitudes, effort and interactions with others.

Research suggests the future will favor schools that offer an integrated approach, along the lines of the thoroughly tested model of the Living Wisdom Schools.