Education Letter to the Editor

Finding the Right Balance of Instruction and Engagement

September 16, 2008 1 min read

To the Editor:

David Hill is correct when he writes in his Commentary “The ‘Stained-Glass Window’ Theory” (Aug. 13, 2008) that it is important for students’ time at school to be filled with productive, educational activities. It is, after all, school, and the objective is for students to learn. School should serve as an environment where all students are encouraged to understand and reach for the high expectations set for them.

There is, however, a difference between instruction and engagement. Using “all available class time ... for academic instruction,” as Mr. Hill advocates, gives the highest importance to having every moment of a student’s time filled with learning. He also focuses on the significance of students’ speaking “professionally” and dressing appropriately. While structure and respectful behavior are critical to creating successful schools, too much focus on adherence to rigid structures may diminish the potential for students to develop a lifelong love of learning.

The “whole child” needs to be honored in school, on a physical, emotional, social, and ethical level. Every school should practice the golden rule: Do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you. Like adults, children need time to socialize, rest, or deal with emotional issues. What makes up an eight-hour workday for adults? We do our jobs, but we also take time for lunch, to converse with co-workers, and to celebrate our accomplishments and address our challenges. Why do we expect something different of children?

Educational instruction is paramount, but so is teaching students socialization and interpersonal skills. By doing so, a school equips its students with the knowledge that will help them cross social and economic boundaries throughout their lives. I urge Mr. Hill to consider adding a focus on the whole child to his “stained-glass window” theory. The theory—and subsequently the children—would benefit from a refocus on developing them as young people, rather than just obedient students, by addressing their social, emotional, and ethical needs.

Barbara Cavallo

Associate Executive Director of Programs

Partnership with Children

New York, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 2008 edition of Education Week as Finding the Right Balance Of Instruction and Engagement