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Educating The Whole Person

A New Approach to Ethics Education

I have been reading a lot lately about the importance of educating the whole person. We can think of education as a roadmap to self-actualization. In other words, become the best version of yourself, one who is socially and psychological fit and aspires to achieve something beyond self-gratification. I look at things from an ethics point of view, which means to be kind and compassionate; show empathy for others; help others in need; and help others achieve their own self-actualization.

As a university professor for 40 years, “educating the whole person” means to me that I cultivate students’ social, emotional, physical, and ethical development, and foster creativity, promote psychological well-being, stimulate a rich and thoughtful internal life, explore opportunities, and much more. Just imagine if all school districts adopted this holistic approach. Might it make a difference in terms of the frequent school shootings and other senseless acts acts? It couldn’t hurt.

One unique feature of whole person education is it crosses over traditional academic endeavors—intellectual, social, and moral—and, by doing so, it permeates all academic life with new purpose. It centers the learning experience on wellness, both physically and mentally.

One of the most important aspects of educating the whole person is to inculcate experiential learning whereby students become directly involved in the learning experience. Doing so enables them to practice communication, analytical reasoning, and ethical thinking, all part of the “soft skills.” Many educators shunned soft skill development for many years and gravitated to the technical skills (hard skills) needed for success in the workplace. However, the pendulum has shifted too far, and we need to reclaim the moral high road to educate the whole person. Whole person

We hear a lot today about equity, diversity, and inclusion. These are important aspects of the whole person given the diversity of populations around the world. Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) loosely means to give each person the same opportunity, accepting people from different races, genders, religions, and nationalities, and inviting those who have been historically locked out of society to come in. EDI policies can help promote ethical behavior and mitigate cognitive biases that might influence the fair treatment of all people. It is essential to educating the whole person. It is critical to building an ethical workplace culture.

The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means to treat each person as unique and to recognize our individual differences. It means understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and to celebrating the rich dimensions of individuality. A diverse workforce is one where similarities and differences among employees in terms of different dimensions are molded together to produce the best outcome.

Inclusion has often been defined in the context of a society that leaves no one behind. It is one in which the cultural, economic, political, and social life of all individuals and groups can take part. The United Nations report, Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration, points out: An inclusive society is one that overrides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion and equality of opportunity, as well as capability of all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction.

People tend to think about equality of opportunity and fairness in treatment as one and the same. It means having the same rights, social status, etc. Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.

EDI policies are an integral part of ethics because the way we treat people with different demographic characteristics says a lot about the culture of an organization. The underlying principles of fairness and justice provide the foundation for EDI policies. The virtues of caring, kindness, and empathy should drive behavior in an ethical organization that wants to be known as a welcoming and supportive place to work.

From a global perspective, when we look at the whole person -- the human being whose life and world are the center of learning -- , we realize that education and all the other sustainable development goals are not just interlinked, they are interdependent. We live in a global world linked together by trade and economic development, and increasingly through shared technology. These issues should be addressed in any whole person approach to education.

For years, I have been expressing my views that starting with K-12 education, schools must develop significant time to teaching youngsters about ethical values, teaching them to make ethical decisions, and stressing the need to treat others the way they wish to be treated. The latter is the essence of “The Golden Rule,” and must be brought back to the classroom to mitigate the negative influences on the internet, in social media, and everywhere else in our lives. Educating the whole person can be a buffer between self-actualization and selfish behavior and move the moral compass in the right direction.

Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on January 10, 2023. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.