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Blog May 7, 2021

Read the Foreword by Todd Rose from the book Whole-Child Development, Learning, and Thriving

Below is a foreword by Todd Rose from the new book, “Whole-Child Development, Learning, and Thriving: A Dynamic Systems Approach,” written by Turnaround for Children Founder and Senior Science Advisor Pamela Cantor M.D. along with Richard Lerner, Karen Pittman, Paul Chase and Nora Gomperts.

“But what if, all along, these well-meaning efforts at closing the achievement gap have been opening the door to racist ideas? What if different environments lead to different kinds of achievement rather than different levels of achievement? What if the intellect of a low-testing black child in a poor black school is different from – and not inferior to – the intellect of a high testing white child in a rich white school? What if we measured intelligence by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environments? What if we measured intellect by an individual’s desire to know? What if we realized the best way to ensure an effective educational system is not by standardizing our curricula and tests but by standardizing the opportunities available to all students?” 

Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Anti-Racist

Imagine a world where every child’s life was a succession of opportunities in which they come to know who they are and in which they discover who they could become. Imagine learning settings of all kinds where those kinds of opportunities are not only possible, they are optimized no matter where the child started their education journey or where they happened to live across their school years. Imagine too that educators could find how best to identify each child’s specific abilities, interests, and aspirations and then align these attributes with the specific contexts that best promoted the child’s talents, achievements, and successes in life. Finally, imagine that each child lived in a world that removed the constraints of racism, poverty, disparities, and injustices and provided them with the specific relationships and supports needed for thriving. 

Pamela Cantor and the other authors of Whole-Child Development, Learning, and Thriving: A Dynamic Systems Approach are not the first people to have thoughts like these. However, they are the first to integrate the diverse scientific evidence in support of these ideas; use cutting-edge, dynamic-systems concepts to explain how the strengths of each child and each context could be measured and aligned to promote learning and thriving; provide rich examples of how current and to-be-designed contexts can, and can better, make these ideas a reality; and explain how each child’s pathway across school years and life periods more generally can be enhanced when a social justice lens in used to identify and address the systemic racism and inequities that have marked America and its educational system for generations. 

At this writing, the biological, psychological, social, and educational sciences provide an understanding of the importance of focusing on each child as an individual, on the connections among brain, behavior, and social and cultural contexts that require a dynamic and holistic understanding of this individuality, and on the relation between the child and his family, school, community, and cultural context as mutually influential and as the necessary focus of efforts to understand and promote learning and thriving. 

Cantor and colleagues not only acknowledge this complexity. They embrace it. They explain how measuring and then acting on such complexity enables a thorough transformation of educational practice, both in traditional school settings and, as well, in the other key settings of child and adolescent development. Their goal is not to revise current educational practice. Their intention is to replace it! Individuality and not group averages would be the focus of the developmental and educational world they envision. Their transformational approach includes interrogation of explicit and implicit biases associated with racism and white privilege, and a rejection of the mistaken belief that either one or a few scores on group-normed tests of aptitude and achievement can be used to understand a child’s potential across time and place. 

Cantor and colleagues recognize, of course, that advocates of existing approaches to holistic understanding of children, and of their learning and thriving, will not just cede the educational landscape to their new vision. Major resistance to the transformations they present involve issues of  policy, professional training, and – frankly – entrenched attitudes about which youth can prosper and which cannot. However, science, and the growing number of in-school and out-of-school-time examples of the usefulness of dynamic, holistic approaches to understanding and enhancing the development of each and every child, are on their side. 

The boldness of their ideas and their persuasive marshalling of evidence for it will be a tipping point in how development and education of children will be approached across the next decades of the 21st century. This book will be seen as a catalyst of such change. Such change will enrich our nation by enhancing the positive development and achievement of all of our children.