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When We Make Children Struggle
When we make school, childhood, and the teenage years a struggle, we are teaching the wrong things.
Today, I reached into our bottomless supply of pens accumulated by my husband and I over decades of clients, conferences, and courses. Many of the pens are emblazoned with business and organization logos and names. The one I randomly chose just now is inscribed with the words: “XYZ Secondary School – After the Struggle The Reward.”
This motto presents the idea that school is an honourable struggle, completion of which will reward a student with a well-paying job. I see it as an admission that children and young people are being groomed to serve the economy rather than themselves and their communities. If you doubt me, then ask yourself why so many adults ask children what they want to be when they grow up. (And, too often, the response is in the form of a job.) Why is daycare renamed early childhood education? Why do parents worry about placing their children in the “right” preschool institution and kindergarten – the one which will teach them the skills they need to do well in grade one and onward to high school, and then secure a place in the best college? After the struggle the reward. After they stop learning they make money.
And, even if students succeed in the struggle, they've lost a great deal. We've coerced them to learn topics of little interest to them – or at least to memorize enough facts to pass an exam. They have been told what to read, made to compete for marks, and overloaded with homework. By turning their first 18 years of life into a struggle in search of a reward, we have robbed them of childhood! We have also removed from them the opportunity to take initiative, responsibility for mistakes, and credit for achievements – some of the very traits and skills that allow people to function successfully in rapidly changing circumstances.
But I think there's more to the struggle than academics. Schools seem structured to control not only minds, but also bodies and spirits. In fact, just being a young person in our culture can be a struggle. They are not respected or trusted. They are discriminated against – often in confusing and arbitrary ways – based on nothing more than their age. They are prohibited from having many of the rights and privileges that we assume as adults. They are forced to fight with their biological clocks and get up early to attend an institution modeled after an increasingly obsolete workplace.
Once they're at school, they need permission and a hall pass to go to the bathroom. Then, suddenly, with little experience of self-direction or even bodily autonomy, they are expected to be independent learners and decision makers at a job or in college. We want them to be the innovators and cooperators who solve the problems of environmental disaster, fascism, racism, and sexism that have been created by generations of people who sought the reward after the struggle.
I would have much more hope for the future if we could agree to remove rather than create struggles for our younger generation. It's past time that we put our adult arrogance aside and dare to respect and trust children and teenagers.
Photo licensed via Shutterstock
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