Saturday, January 13, 2007

Grade School Can Be the Worst Thing That Happens to a Child

"It seems to me that people have vast potential. Most people can do extraordinary things if they have the confidence or take the risks. Yet most people don't. They sit in front of the telly and treat life as if it goes on forever."
- Philip Adams, Australian broadcaster (1939- )

People have vast potential when they are given the opportunity as adults to show what they can do. Often they will surprise themselves. However they seldom get that chance.

Young children have vast potential as well. Some have the opportunity to demonstrate what they have while others are ignored or given little support for their efforts.

The biggest roadblock arrives when kids hit grade school.

Many of us think of grade school as a couple dozen happy children and one highly motivated teacher working together to develop the future of each child. That impression is wrong.

Grade school classes have curriculum to cover with only a limited number of days and hours to do it and very limited resources and supplies with which to accomplish their tasks. These constraints focus every child on limiting what they think about, limiting what they can accomplish outside that curriculum. Limited resources confine learning in many cases to what is in books and in the teacher's brain.

Computers help, but mostly if the classroom has enough competent adult assistants to guide the kids through the learning they need. That doesn't happen often enough.

Discipline problems result when children must slow down their natural instincts to learn huge quantities of information and produce fascinating results with it. In many cases, lessons require relative quiet with all attention on paperwork or on one speaker. The speaker in many cases is another child answering a question, someone who is no smarter or more knowledgeable than the many listeners.

Often someone who gives the wrong answers.

But each child must be given his time to be heard before the whole class. That's equality. Equality and curriculum come before anything else.

Except accountability. Tests--often many of them each week--assure that the teacher has taught the required curriculum and at least some of the children have taken in the lesson material. Testing, in effect, is an accountability factor for the teacher, not for the children.

Children will not learn if they have other things of greater importance to them on their minds. Problems with friends, at home, with hunger or with bullies on the street are but a few matters that any child considers more important than classroom lessons.

The school board cares nothing for these perceived childhood problems. Their focus is on results, test scores, measured progress along the line of the curriculum.

Thus the minds of most kids learn to focus on what the teacher wants, which is what the curriculum dictates. There is no time for much variation from the curriculum, except in better schools. In some schools, problems of the children require so much class time as a result of disruptions that lessons cannot be taught properly.

Schools have the answer to children with problems. They punish the kids. It's the way it has always been done. No one claims it makes any sense.

Most schools do not have the time or the approval of the community to teach the social and emotional (psychological) skills that kids with problems need.

So we have communities filled with adult followers who know little beyond what was on the curriculum in school, plus full jails and prisons, and medical offices lined with adults with problems they can't cope with.

Far too many people die with that vast potential they had within as children them still untapped.

And in most cases they never knew they had it in them.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to help schools grow competent and confident adults, not just kids who know how to take tests.
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