In this issue we have two articles about school related topics. They came from different sources and yet they are both saying something similar, in different ways: namely that our current schooling system needs to be examined as clearly there is a need for new approaches and methods.
I am sure there are not many parents out there, with children at school, who have not at some time or other questioned the wisdom of our fear-based, competition-driven schooling system.
My memories of school are filled with dread. I was taken from the beautiful farm on which I was brought up, where my days were spent in nature blissfully exploring and discovering. We had no TVs and later in my childhood the electricity arrived via a generator!
I recall so vividly the freedom, peace and happiness I felt when left alone to spend my days riding horses and playing, (just ‘playing’ is something children seem to do less and less nowadays). This all ended abruptly when the holidays were over and I was forced against my will to boarding school. We lived miles from the nearest town so there was no alternative. The only thing I really enjoyed about school was being with my friends and I don’t think much has changed since then.
When asked, the kids of today will generally say that school is ’boring’, but they enjoy being with their friends, and if they enjoy sport that is also a reason to be there. The ‘sporting types’ are usually popular, as our culture places sporting heroes in the league of idols. If they are not good at sport, it appears that they mostly feel inadequate — although they may not like to admit it — and they are left out of the ‘popular circle’.
The tragedy is that most of their precious childhood is spent cooped up in some square room, sitting in rows learning things that more often that not they don’t find very interesting and very useful. I certainly have not used much that I learned at school in my life to date, other than reading and writing.
Children are expected to sit for the 45 minutes and are not allowed to move, which may be ok for the more sedentary types, but for a child who has a physiological need to move around, this is torture. Children are actually programmed to be very active, it makes their bodies and bones strong.
But these children are ‘diagnosed’ with Attention Deficit Disorder and usually forced to take some mind altering drug such as Ritalin so they fit into the system. They are all expected to fit into the ‘on-size-fits-all’ approach…behave the same, have the same interest in, look the same, sit the same and strive to be better than the person sitting next to them, and if they are not, their self esteem takes a knock and they often feel inferior and inadequate.
Parrot fashion learning kicks in for the tests and exams, and it is rarely that subjects are studied further unless it is required, simply because they are not interesting. If they laugh, which most of them are inclined to do as they get bored, they are punished (very sad as laughing is one of the most healing things we can do). Children like small animals like to play, and our system does not let them.
The excessive competition is also questionable – in the class room and on the sports field. The whole point of the games that are generally offered is to ‘win’. I have seen parents almost frothing at the mouth with rage over their child’s inability to ‘pass the ball’ or ‘score the goal’ in their quest for vicarious triumph, let alone the violence that often goes along with this type of competitiveness and the humiliation suffered by the children.
Competition is part of our newly formed culture and the thrill of victory is addictive. The alternative is non-competitive games, and according to Alfie Kohn, in his book No Contest – The Case against Competition, studies have been done which show that children actually prefer these games once they are exposed to them! The games still involve achieving a goal, despite the presence of an obstacle, but the obstacle is not another person or persons, this encourages positive cooperation and coordination.
Drugs are becoming more common as children desperately seek to fill the holes in their confused minds and hearts. Resignation sets in as the genius present in virtually every child at birth is shut down and they learn to conform and fit in via the fear-based system that runs our schools. Don’t forget that fear is the most dis-empowering emotion of all. Surely it’s time to look at what and how we are teaching our children.
Bland and boring teachings need to be replaced with real live experiences. Trips into nature should surely be a regular activity, not just a treat? Guiding the children towards happy, loving, fulfilled relationships with themselves primarily, and then with others and nature, would surely be a great stride forward. Learning how to communicate with nature, grow plants and acknowledge and revere the elements and changing seasons with celebrations and gratitude should surely be part of every child’s experience.
Teaching them the importance of being responsible custodians of the earth and how to live a simple, fulfilled life, hurting nobody and nothing, is essential if we are to succeed on our path to enlightenment. Sadly we expose them to extreme stresses and pressures, fearfully filling them with irrelevant notions of amounting to nothing if they don’t ‘pass’ or ‘make the team’, living out our own fear vicariously through our children.