Book Review - Caring For New Life by Ron Miller

Caring For New Life

by Ron Miller

Holistic Education Press, 2000

$16.95, paperback, 136 pages

Why are we here? What really matters? What is the noblest use of our God-given abilities and energies?

These questions, says educator Ron Miller, form the foundation of a holistic education that reveres the human soul. But seldom does the conventional education system in our corporate society address these questions. Instead, children are viewed as primarily future consumers or employees.

“Modern culture, quite literally, is starving the human spirit,” Miller says.

Our education system should feed students’ spirits as well as their minds, Miller argues. It sounds good enough on paper, but putting such a notion into practice would involve fundamental, radical change.

The innovations that enriched public education in the ‘60s and ‘70s—open classrooms, public schools of choice, schools without walls, and other forms of nontraditional learning environments—fell out of favor after 1983, Miller points out. That was the year the Reagan administration’s Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation at Risk, a study on the quality of education in America.

The report blamed the falling IQ’s, plummeting test scores, and poor performance of US students compared with those from other industrialized nations on the curricular “smorgasbord” and excessive choices available to students. It also reaffirmed “the interests of national defense and the corporate economic system.”

Since the Reagan administration, the focus by government, academia, and the media has been on the “economic value of schooling,” Miller says. Schooling has been about “competition, accountability, objectives, outcomes, and standards—and nothing at all about creativity or joy in learning, about personal identity, or the need for a meaningful life.”

Even so, Miller points out, the vision of an organic and liberating education survives today in several hundred alternative schools that have sprung up since the demise of the early counterculture schools.

While he cringes at calls for standardization, accountability, and behavior management, Miller acknowledges the complexity of the issue with a humility rare among proponents of reform. “The world is much more complicated, much more baffling, much more troubling, than my theoretical model of it,” he admits. He also admits that he is sometimes uncomfortable with the “obnoxious behavior that real, flesh-and-blood children display”—an admission most of us can readily identify with. Miller now believes, through experience with his own children, that a measure of discipline and authority is compatible with holistic education.

Miller’s book doesn’t give us a holistic curriculum to follow. Instead, he makes a convincing argument that holistic education is a crucial tool for a new generation dedicated to creating a more just and compassionate world, a generation whose education must be rooted in the spiritual nurturing of every young person, and in a profound questioning of our culture and its values.

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