Updated: Jan 10, 2020
“I feel like I’m entering a cult,” said a mother after attending her first Parenting Group recently.
She’s certainly not alone. The combination of the title “Wholeistic Education,” the terminology, and the cadre of absolutely faithful followers give WED a cultish aspect to newcomers, including yours truly when I met Joe 15 years ago. The air of mystique is only enhanced by Joe’s physical appearance (picture a Caucasian version of a Tibetan monk), sage-like demeanor, and spookily unflappable air of calm.
Well, many of those same folks who are unnerved at first by WED’s mystique become quick converts, including the mother above, and including me.
For a linear thinker like me, who likes algorithms and modules and bird’s-eye view maps, WED can be a challenge to conceptualize. I realized early on that I agreed with pretty much every principle that WED described, but still had a hard time putting the whole system together in my head. It was only in writing our book together did I finally feel that I got the bird’s eye view I was looking for, and see how the concepts link together.
Some people with Joe’s more artistic, impressionistic, right-sided-brain learning style will do fine without this introduction, so if you are one of those people, don’t let it get in the way!
If, on the other hand, you feel like you are having trouble putting the concepts together and are looking for a more structured overview, I hope this helps.
So let’s get started. What is Wholeistic Education, anyway? Here’s my take:
WED was designed by Joe to be a comprehensive approach to life and the goal of achieving “optimal wellness”: physical health, mental health, relationship health, spiritual health, etc. It’s got all kinds of facets (for example nutritional and exercise programs) that are beyond the scope of this post. I’m sure Joe will add posts addressing these aspects in the future.
What we are concerned with is what WED has to say about overcoming obstacles in our development and how healthy groups can help. More specifically, what WED has to say about how children can become mature adults and how parents in healthy families can help.
Put another way, WED teaches us the principles of good parenting, which allows us to create a healthy family culture at home, which makes helping our children grow into mature, well-adjusted adults much easier.
Joe calls the desirable traits that we help our children foster the Developmental Goals. He sees learning these attributes as much, much more important to a child’s success in life than learning academics, which is one of the reasons he is so frustrated with the current state of our school systems.
How Does WED Work?
In their pursuit of the Developmental Goals, children must overcome bad habits, particularly bad habits in the social realm. These can include things like never admitting they are wrong, not taking responsibility, allowing anxiety to keep them from pursuing the things they should, etc. WED talks a lot about “practicing” good habits as the only sure-fire of overcoming bad ones.
What’s the role of parents here? Their role as leaders is to establish a healthy family culture that makes overcoming bad habits easier. A healthy family culture looks like parents and their children being on the same team, working together, and successfully navigating conflict. (You know families where everyone is fighting as if they are in a civil war? The healthy family culture looks like the opposite.) WED offers specific recommendations as to how to establish a positive family culture at home.
It describes the Three Educator Objectives: model healthy relationship, provide clear reflection, and encourage true focus. It describes common pitfalls in the Three Educator Challenges: give up control to gain authority, neither punish nor enable imbalanced behavior, and avoid adversarial dynamic.
The Objectives and Challenges go against the grain of conventional reward-and-punishment parenting, and parents often have a tough time with them at first.
How is WED Implemented?
Central to WED is the Behavioral Guidelines. The Guidelines form the social code of a WED group or family. They establish what is socially acceptable behavior and what isn’t. They are comprehensive, but also short and sweet enough to fit on one page, so as not to impose any more structure than absolutely necessary to safeguard the well-being of the group.
Family members commit to the Guidelines, which describe basic, decent social behavior. Members are welcome to family resources and privileges as long as they remain committed to “practicing the Guidelines.” Should they choose not to do so, or should they demonstrate lack of commitment, they are essentially choosing to not belong to the group, and must therefore give up these resources and privileges. In WED, there is no punishment. Instead, there is Restriction, which is simply respect for a group member’s decision not to belong to the group. Restriction may feel like punishment, because group members often miss these resources and privileges, but as Joe says, it’s as if nature is doing the punishing, not the parent.
The process by which family conflict is negotiated and commitment to the Guidelines evaluated is called the Four R’s: Reflect, Remind, Restrict, Reintegrate.
Restricted group members are welcome back to the group at any point they can convince the group that they are re-committed to the Guidelines.
WED can be effectively implemented in any group, including families. The problem with families is that Restriction is complicated by the fact that parents have legal and ethical obligations to their children that other groups don’t have for their members. On the soccer team employing WED, a player might be Restricted and sent home, and told should he or she wish to rejoin, the team would be happy to offer a Reintegration Meeting. In a family, however, parents can’t just evict their children from the home, and are still obligated to provide for basic needs of the children. Joe discusses the special instance of how the process of Restriction works in a family rather than a different kind of group.
So that’s the big picture. Parents work to establish a healthy family culture at home by following fundamental WED principles. This culture will help children (and actually all family members) pursue the Developmental Goals and overcome their bad habits and imbalances. The Behavioral Guidelines are adopted as the social code of the family. The process of family conflict resolution is given in the Four R’s.
I hope this serves as a useful starting point in your exploration of Wholeistic Education. Good luck!
For a more in depth look at WED, take a look at our Parenting Handbook: An Intro to WED. Better yet, check out our published book: The Art of Direction: How to Help Your Child Overcome All Kinds of Imbalances.