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Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World: The Ross School Model and Education for the Global Era

reviewed by John P. Myers - January 06, 2011

coverTitle: Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World: The Ross School Model and Education for the Global Era
Author(s): Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco (eds.)
Publisher: New York University Press, New York
ISBN: 0814741401, Pages: 240, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com

The U.S. education literature is replete with calls for new models of schooling in response to changing social and economic conditions. Teaching skills and knowledge relevant to the realities of the “21st century,” that align with the needs of the “information society,” and that are consequential for learning in the “era of global interdependence” are just some of the imageries driving the contemporary wave of school reform. At the same time, these terms hide diverse, and often contradictory, ideologies and goals.

Within this landscape, the Ross School model described in Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World challenges the mind-numbing standardization and high stakes testing movement that aligns schooling with the development of a workforce to compete in the global marketplace. This volume, edited by Marcelo Suárez Orozco and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, is a showcase of cutting-edge ideas for aligning teaching and learning with contemporary educational thinking in the areas of best educational practices (such as multiple intelligences), educational technology, and international education. In the Introduction, the editors declare that the volume addresses

the current malaise in education, where much of the research and public debate focuses on what is dystopic, irrelevant, and anachronistic in contemporary schools… it highlights a model that privileges vibrant engagement, curious wonderment, and reciprocity in the construction of knowledge. (p. 3)

Although I agree with Gardner’s evaluation that “It will take years to determine whether her [Courtney Ross, the school’s founder] schools will exert significant impact on schools in the United States and abroad” (p. 58), the Ross School model at its best represents the kind of flexible, small school experimentation that some educators believe is essential to reforming teaching and learning. This characteristic is bolstered by the Ross School’s status as a research school in partnership with the Harvard Graduate School of Education. From this perspective, I believe that we have a lot to learn from the Ross case, especially its commitment to innovative practices and cutting-edge research. Indeed, the Ross model has already received considerable attention nationally and internationally as reflected in the impressive list of contributing authors to this volume as well as in the star-studded back cover quotes, which include Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Deepak Chopra, and two Nobel laureates, among others.

It is worth noting that due to Suárez Orozco’s personal and professional involvement with the Ross School, this volume is not a detached, objective account. Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World serves as a follow-up to Suárez Orozco’s previous edited volumes, Learning in the Global Era (2007) (which was based on a conference funded in part by the Ross Institute) and Globalization: Culture and Education in the New Millennium (2004). Both of these previous

volumes were published in association with the Ross Institute. The three volumes address common topics, share many authors, and even have similar cover illustrations. Some of the contributing authors also became involved with the Ross School through their professional roles at the Harvard Graduate School of Education or at New York University.

The volume is organized in four parts: Rethinking Education in a Global Era, The New Science of Engagement, Creativity and Integration, and Theories and Practices. Most chapters are reflective accounts of education grounded in the authors’ expertise with brief references to the Ross School, rather than in-depth analysis of classroom practices. Nor will readers find an examination of the effectiveness of the Ross School model for student learning or detailed accounts of practice.

Part I, Rethinking Education in a Global Era, examines what education should look like in our globalizing world. The first two authors, Gregorian (Chapter 2) and Sexton (Chapter 3), provide normative perspectives on the characteristics of international education in light of globalization. Although well-written and wide-ranging, for educators deeply involved in international and global education, these chapters do not provide new insights. Also, for a volume focused on a secondary education reform model, their emphasis on university education was puzzling. Although unrelated to the previous chapters, Gardner’s Chapter 4 is especially worthy of a close reading. He discusses the implications of his work on multiple intelligences and minds of the future for assessment practices.

Part II, The New Science of Engagement: Mind, Brain, and Education in a School Context, introduces an emerging field with which many international educators are unlikely to be familiar. Chapter 4 by Damasio and Damasio is an excellent introduction to this field that explains the relationship between neuroscience, technology, and learning although in the end it raises more questions than provides answers. Also notable is Chapter 6 by Koizumi, which reflects on the implications of neuroscience research for education, especially in terms of the spiral curriculum model employed at the Ross Schools.

Parts III and IV are interesting although disjointed collections of philosophies and beliefs about education written by experts from a range of fields. Part III covers technological literacy, science, and math education. The chapters provide ideas and suggestions for re-conceptualizing these subject areas. Abraham’s Chapter 9 provides insight into the ideas behind the spiral curriculum, particularly as it could be implemented in mathematics. Like many of the authors, Abraham challenges curriculum orthodoxy in terms of the sequencing, selection, and timing of mathematics curriculum as an antidote to the regime of standardized testing, for example suggesting that chaos theory should be taught in high schools. Part IV is also a loose collection of diverse ideas. It contains one chapter devoted to Courtney Ross’s educational thought, another to a novel vision of mathematics, and two grounded chapters: Battro’s chapter narrating his experience as a mentor at the Ross School and Booth and Claeys’s chapter on the Ross collaboration with a Swedish public high school, the Tensta Gymnasium.

One of the most interesting practices described in the book is the spiral curriculum, which is examined in Chapters 6, 9, and 11. The Ross School’s spiral curriculum is based on cultural historian William Irwin Thompson’s idea that learning is best achieved when it follows chronologically the cultural and historical developments of each subject area. In other words, mathematics should be studied in the sequence that the field evolved historically. The curriculum for each grade is based on a period of cultural history. This approach provides a core framework for the interdisciplinary study of all traditional subject areas. For example, grade 5 is based on the epoch of “riverine cultural ecologies of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India” (p. 129). In Chapter 6, Koizumi describes the curriculum as follows:

… the historical time axis is shortened to a learning time axis (a learning period) in which specific subjects of the curriculum are located in the order in which each discipline emerged in human history. To put it differently, this is an attempt to make human history and our learning process isomorphic. The history of the development of disciplines is essentially a natural growth. Education that follows such a natural flow is a more natural fit for humanity, thereby allowing students to learn without unnatural stress. (p. 83)

One aspect of the spiral curriculum is the framing of the entire curriculum with a global perspective, which in my mind is a powerful commitment to educating students “for the whole world.” Although undoubtedly controversial and likely to garner criticism from educators and policy makers who define educational success through standardized testing, locating knowledge and learning within the global human community is a strong commitment to the goal of ethical and engaged global citizenship.

Suárez Orozco and Sattin-Bajaj have brought together an impressive group of scholars to present important and contemporary ideas for schooling. The volume serves as a wide-ranging introduction to the Ross School model and the educational thought on which it is based. It is sure to inspire and engage anyone interested in the reform discourse over schooling in the global age and in this regard is a must-read.

However, with a few exceptions the chapters did not provide sufficient depth of ideas or a critical analysis of the research literature to use the volume in the graduate course on international education that I teach. In particular, the conceptualization of international education throughout the volume is underdeveloped. International service learning and trips, such as to the Great Wall in China, are hardly novel ideas and are likely to be accessible only to the most economically privileged students. In this regard, I believe that Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World is most valuable as a launching point for conversations about schooling for the global era rather than as a handbook for practice or research.

Ultimately, I was left unconvinced that the practices of the Ross School model are fundamental for schooling in the global era. As such, it does not provide a definitive answer for what 21st century schooling should be. However, this probably is not the most important point. The distinct contribution of the Ross School model is its courage to break from the deep structure of schooling with what appears to be an innovative and transformative vision.


Suárez-Orozco, M. M. (Ed.). (2007). Learning in the global era: International perspectives on globalization and education. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Suárez-Orozco, M. M., & Qin-Hilliard, D. B. (Eds.). (2004). Globalization: Culture and education for a new millennium. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 06, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16277, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 5:25:35 PM

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About the Author
  • John Myers
    University of Pittsburgh
    E-mail Author
    JOHN P. MYERS is Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. His research interests include student thinking and learning in international education, world history instruction, and the relationship between classroom discourse and civic identity. His work has been published in journals such as Teachers College Record, Theory and Research in Social Education, and the British Educational Research Journal.
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