Theoretical Basis for the Model
Engaging the altruistic identity motivates learning and brings many additional benefits for society and for the families and individuals that compose that society.
In the fall of 2003, as violence broke out on an urban campus at a secondary school, students stared at officials and said, "The programs we had in our earlier schooling didn't work. We no longer have hope and dreams." Some students cited the disconnection between the content of the lessons and the opportunities students were given to learn relevant lessons and to make a positive difference in the real world.
The success of the Full-Circle Learning model is supported not only by its triggers for students with varying learning styles and emotional constructs but also based on the research and premises of educators from several areas of expertise:
Young people instinctively search for deeper meaning in life and learning, and they look to positive role models to see how that meaning is played out behaviorally in society. This premise is based on research from the Commission on Children at Risk, a team of scientists and physicians, who linked anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, and thoughts of suicide among youth with scientific findings suggesting that children are biologically hardwired for two important things too often lacking in today's social and educational structures:
enduring attachments to other people
the search for moral and spiritual meaning.
(Hardwired to Connect, Dr. Kathleen Kovner Kline of Dartmouth Medical School, 2003).
Research suggests that the best way to increase competency in standardized tests and on report cards is, paradoxically, to help a child enjoy learning and see its value. (Stipek and Seal, 2001, Motivated Minds, p. 4-5).
By teaching and modeling positive character traits, adults can help children internalize the perceptions and habits that will lead to success in school, harmonious relationships and spiritual well being (Costa, 1997 The School as a Home for the Mind, 87-94)
Children learn best in a milieu where diverse ages, genders, races and cultures are appreciated and the experiences of all are valued. (Levy, Learning from Scratch, 1996, 184-5)
Children learn best when learning serves a purpose. Project-based, interdisciplinary learning can reinforce basic concepts and skills by helping students understand them in a relevant context and by encouraging positive partnerships. Motivation increases when children have opportunities to apply their talents in the real world in a context useful to others. (November 1996, Technology in Today's Classroom.)
Students and society benefit when schools open their eyes to the needs, suffering and hopes of children worldwide and develop a partnership through empathic global education. (Eisler, 2000, Tomorrow's Children, Westview Press, Boulder, p. 25).
Altruism is no mere ornament to social life but its fundamental basis. Eight social processes promote inclusive altruistic propensities: bonding, empathizing, learning caring norms, participating in caring behaviors, diversifying, networking, developing problem-solving strategies and forming global connections. Together, these processes link the learner to a broader society (Oliner, Embracing the Other, New York University Press, 1995, pp. 375-376, 386).
Oliner's research (p. 377) identifies childhood as the most significant time for developing an inclusive, altruistic orientation, especially when families cannot nurture it or when so much time is spent away from family that those predisposed toward civic-mindedness lose the propensity to fully contribute to society. This model, then, improves the prognosis for capable and ethical leadership in the communities of the future and influences student aptitude by fostering globally altruistic attitudes. In the community served, it expands the range of educational opportunities.
How do humans learn? The question has intrigued educators throughout history and created respect for the theories of revolutionaries from Socrates to Howard Gardner. In practice, educators too often must do what is expedient instead of what works. Rethinking education often means giving license to educators to dream about unlocking the highest potential of each student. Is it enough to motivate students to learn merely for the purpose of economic survival or for the purpose of achieving a positive assessment to earn a sense of belonging for the sake of self or the sake of the school?
Applying Abraham Maslow's model of the hierarchy of needs, the highest level and the noblest vision would entice us to foster a personality able to find itself by losing itself - to see its identity and its creativity as part of a holistic world of beauty - to see its own learning as contributing to an ever advancing civilization, a world civilization not based on survival or fear or on the need to belong, but based on a sense of wholeness and well being and oneness - a desire to contribute for the good of all.
This noblest of all educational visions, evidence suggests, could be the one that motivates learning in the most profound sense. The learning is not only cognitive but also emotional. It is not just theoretical but experiential and interactive. It is not just science-based but also artistic. It is not just individualized but also collaborative. It is learning that engages and develops the altruistic identity, and by doing so, motivates a higher degree of absorption and skills development.
The model called Full-Circle Learning derives from these goals. Designed to influence attitude as well as aptitude, it seeks to engage the whole students, especially during the formative years in seeking a higher purpose and not only discovering the processes for learning but finding relevant meaning in the question of why to learn.
This learning model, in 2003, received citation from the Academy for Educational Development as it is implemented in after-school programs as a promising practice for nurturing altruistic identities and helping students develop the lifelong habit of service to humanity. This only works when the system - whether it be the school system or a system created by an outside entity - provides the human resources and other tangible and intangible resources to let students realize their present and future potential not as society's helpless victims but as society's helpers and healers.