By John L. Horton

Well, the “new” school year (2020 – 2021)) is almost upon us.  And, the issue of “improving” our public schools lies before us as never before. Accordingly, I got to thinking about what “we” can do to significantly “improve” our public schools for our children … and for our nation. Recently, there has been much discussion in the news media pertaining to the various education “horror” stories about our public schools. It has been reported that America’s public schools are falling behind other schools in the international community. This is especially true when it comes to our inner city, at risk and disadvantaged student populations. For example, America’s schools are increasingly falling behind in vital subjects such as “STEM,” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and foreign language proficiency.

As most of us (should) know, much is going on with the nation’s public schools. Right here in Norfolk, School Board members are discussing whether the fall semester should include virtual (distance-online-zoom) learning for all students. Effective July 15, it was reported that Norfolk set a record high for new coronavirus cases. Also, it was reported by governmental (local-regional-national) sources that those affected most by the increase in coronavirus cases will be minorities, low-income, single parent, and disadvantaged households. Moreover, we know that racial disadvantages and socioeconomic inequities are of prominent concern. For example, nationwide about 30% of Indigenous families and about 20% of Black and Latino families do not have direct access to the internet, except only through a smartphone, compared with 7% of White families and 4% of Asian families.


According to most polls, the overwhelming majority of parents are not in favor of fully opening schools in the fall, without some stringent rules and enforceable regulations. Additionally, the Trump administration has not promulgated any plans to open schools, safely. Accordingly, there is a dire need for teachers to be trained, prepared and motivated for what awaits them in the “classrooms of the coronavirus era.” As such, these “special” teachers will need to be possessed with “special” qualities in great quantities. It has been said that when the (education) crisis occurs and the students are ready, the (special) teacher will appear.


Basically, I had already written this piece before it was announced by Gov. Ralph Northam that the Commonwealth’s public (and private) schools would be shuttered through the end of the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Accordingly, I believe my piece is more timely and relevant than ever before. And, once our schools are reopened, there will be a profound need to reestablish, improve and advance our students’ educational development to their fullest potential.


Therefore, now is not the time to procrastinate or hesitate when it comes to the (future) successful education of our children. We should prepare a plan and strategy to promote and empower our teachers and students for the “new reality” that awaits them when “normalcy” returns to the education environment. As such, we need to promulgate and practice the “5Ps: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”


Such a “ready plan” is my concept of “empowering teachers and concerned others to construct a holistic education system that benefits us all.” This “outside the box” thinking will be what is needed for our teachers and students to catch up…and get ahead of the game, so to speak. We must always remember that “procrastination is the disease and preparation is the antidote.”


Having said all this, we have to create an education system that is centered around and built upon people, who believe in the “total person/student” approach, and who practice their beliefs in their personal and professional relationships with others.  Furthermore, this holistic education system has to personify, as much as humanly possible, that there will be mostly winners and few losers.  For, all of us are too important not to be given a chance at winning.


Although the designing of a holistic education system will require a combination of money and ideas, its most important component must be caring and competent people.  They must use “education” as the means (process) to accomplish their goals (holistic education system).  Basically, a holistic education system is all about the betterment of people – students, teachers, families, communities, and the nation as a whole.


To design and implement a holistic education system, we must begin at its grass roots which is its people – teachers, students, parents, administrators, policymakers, interested citizens, and the like.  Afterwards, the money and ideas will come.  In a holistic education system, the teachers – competent and caring practitioners – are the “spirits” and “means” for getting the job done.  It is of utmost importance that competent and caring teachers are in the avant-garde of such a movement (the design of a holistic education system).


Teachers, especially, will have to undergo a process of “self-examination” and “rededication” of themselves.  The competent and caring teachers, who will be needed to make such a system work, will have to be able to “personify what a good teacher means.”  This “good teacher” will have to be(come) able to facilitate educational and personal growth in himself and in others. For what a “good teacher” is, in so many ways, is more important than what he/she teaches. Qualitative procedures will have to be implemented to ensure that teachers have the personality, skills and abilities to adjust to the demands and requirements of their teaching audience (students) and environment (community culture).


Quite simply, teachers will have to learn how to become “effective practitioners” of their trade.  They will have to learn how to overcome their human shortcomings and professional deficiencies in dealing with our children – the entire student population.  In other words, the teachers – competent, caring and charismatic – must become personally and professionally transparent.  His (or her) motivations and methods must be clear and comprehensible.  He/she must place the students, hopefully the most important person in the educational process, in the paramount position of regard and esteem in the helping-learning relationship. For it should be understood that “what is done to children, they will do to society.”


As a result, the teacher will be able to substantively build and positively reinforce a holistic education system by allowing students to help themselves, and by encouraging students to think and act for themselves.  Since “faith in people is fundamental,” the teacher in a holistic education system will not be afraid to “guide” and “encourage” students. He/she will eventually become their director-facilitator of learning and personal growth. The holistic teacher will, therefore, be(come) “successful,” because he/she will maximize the education potential of each student. In effect, he/she will take it upon himself to “make a difference.”  The “good teacher” profoundly believes in the success of the student…by epitomizing that “teaching is the greatest act of optimism.”


The teacher in a holistic education system will come to epitomize the “good teacher.”  For, the holistic education system is built upon values, principles, practices and actions that empower all of us, together as one, as much as humanly possible.  As a society, we must truly come to believe and practice the ethos of:  “It is much better to love our people and use our things, than it is to love our things and use our people.”  As the adage so profoundly states, “True education and effective upbringing take place when we give our children their roots (of responsibility) and wings (of wonderment).”  This is the purpose and essence of a holistic education system that will benefit us all.


In essence, the “good teacher” epitomizes the purest sense of the “helping relationship” – helping others to become all that they can be. These teachers empower our children to become whole, curious and optimistic. They give our children guidance, hope, inspiration and promise. These teachers can ignite the students’ imagination and instill a love for learning. These teachers truly understand that “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”


In summary, a couple of poems by Kevin William Huff succinctly and saliently stresses the essence and value of (good) “teachers and teaching”:

“…Why God created teachers, In His wisdom and His grace, Was to help us learn to make our world, A better, wiser place…”

“…For the dawn of each poet, Each philosopher and king, Begins with a Teacher, And the wisdom they bring…”


More than ever before, we need to be empowering teachers and concerned others to construct a holistic education system that benefits us all. The timing and importance for this to take place is now…when it is most needed.