Blog Post


Can our schools promote healthy minds, bodies, and spirits? 

By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.

Apr2013-MSmithThe word “health” derives from an Old English word that meant “being whole or sound” and was used in Middle English to mean “prosperity, happiness, and welfare.” To be “healthy” should mean more than to just be “well”; a healthy person has an approach to life and the life of others that strives for this prosperity and happiness.

Can our schools promote healthy minds, bodies, and spirits? Do any educational standards, Common Core included, provide any support for curriculum geared to “healthy” approaches to life? While not immediately obvious, I believe that some of the basic assumptions of the Common Core Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, and Language standards do advocate a broad and thoughtful approach to education and thus a broader sense of the word “healthy.” These standards suggest that students who are college and career ready have developed four characteristics.

Students demonstrate independence:  “They become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials.” Self-directed learning is a characteristic valued by teachers and employers. Individuals who can seek out help when confronted with problems—whether personal, academic, or professional—display an ability to grow and change in new circumstances.

Students build strong content knowledge:  “They read purposefully and listen attentively to gain both general knowledge and discipline-specific expertise.” Success at work is often related to acquiring the expertise needed to perform a job well. General life satisfaction is often correlated with acquiring specific habits and hobbies that enrich life. Both can contribute to a healthy lifestyle that enjoys both work and play.

“…a healthy person has an approach to life and the life of others that strives for …prosperity and happiness.”

Students comprehend as well as critique:  “They are engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners. They work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims and the soundness of reasoning.” An individual must be able to evaluate all the claims about “healthiness” that float around in our society. What foods should be avoided? How much exercise is needed? What types of activities help with aging? These and many other issues routinely make the headlines of newspapers and magazines. Which ones are “correct”? Which should be followed?

Students come to understand other perspective and cultures:  “They appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.” This characteristic is the most difficult but the most important for our revised conception of “healthy.”

A “healthy” person comes to understand and respect others, whether those others are better off or worse off or from different cultures or the same culture. Every person must live and work amidst others and his or her long-term “health” is dependent on the health of the society in which they live. Schools do not need to worry about courses in “healthiness.” The general philosophy of the Common Core, if implemented, should help students achieve a lifelong respect for themselves and others that will contribute to healthy minds, bodies, and spirits.

Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS ( ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at

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