As loyal Americans, we want to support our schools. But since our higher commitment is to children, I ask you to consider this challenge to how our school system is leading us to educate and raise our children.
Simplified, the system perceives children as “mini adults,” largely educating them through a program focused on college and job preparation.
After 66 years of teaching—including 44 years of in-depth work with families—I am convinced this system ignores the natural growth of children, often conflicting with it. Students reveal a general lack of motivation and involvement, engaging in widespread cheating, bullying and other problems. Parenting and family, the foundation of child development, have become the weakest we’ve experienced in our history.
A picture of this system is children sitting, listening to adults. This puts the cart before the horse. One indication of its limitations: the self-doubting voice of young people.
In developing public speaking, I constantly have to address this passivity in students. It might make them receptive to academic teaching, but it certainly tends to shut them down to the exploration of their own unique potential.
Once in in life, we soon realize we must learn to replace that passivity with a self-assuring—even commanding—voice. Students do have that voice—on the playground (HEY! THROW ME THE BALL!) So I work hard to help them transform their school voice into their playground voice.
Basically, our present system simply doesn’t seek to help the student; it focuses on improving test scores, college and job statistics.
This system can’t handle the rebel—someone close to America’s heart. It loves what I call the “smiling zero;” someone who simply doesn’t make any waves in school. But goes to war against the student who rebels against the status quo.
Of course some rebels just feel a sense of entitlement. But I generally see great spirit in rebels; they are challenging the system to see if the people behind it are worth trusting with their lives. In my lifetime, this group has spawned many leaders.
Those “smiling zeros” have a unique potential like every kid, that needs to be challenged to be discovered. But the only challenges this system demands are academic and score-oriented. Kids naturally grow far more from active than intellectual challenges, yet schools offer only “extra-curricular’ ones. So the talented or motivated students seek them; while the rest become spectators or simply end up missing.
It is an embarrassing reality that this system sees little difference in the responsibilities of 12th graders compared to 1st graders. For example, both need a note from adults to excuse a lateness, underlining that all students are treated as children.
Instead, we should develop high school grads to take 51% of the responsibility for their lives. This would require parents and schools to work together in helping students internalize that 51% responsibility by graduation. This would radically change the role of students in our schools.
If we listen to child psychologists like Jean Piaget, we realize children grow in stages, with different emphases—first on trust, then on inner growth, followed by outer growth. It is only at age 11 that they begin to think logically and abstractly.
So clearly, our heavy academic emphasis tends to limit their overall growth. Those early years of trust, inner and outer growth, require focus on action, emotional and social growth, emphasizing character development. This not only empowers confidence in one’s unique potential, but also inspires motivation and a sense of purpose.
20+ years ago, we helped Halifax Middle School, PA integrate our “action-reflection program” into their curriculum. Athletics, Performing Arts, Community Service, and Jobs became curricular; students of mixed ages also regularly meet in “Discovery Groups” to share personal strengths and challenges. The goal is to develop self-confidence in one’s unique potential, a confidence that becomes greater than the forces, pressures and responsibilities one faces in life.
The program has now spread to the entire Halifax system plus two other school systems, with a workshop planned next Summer to introduce it to other school systems.
In summary, our present system sees children almost completely as an adult responsibility, thus focusing on their immaturity; and since they are dependent upon us, they respond in kind.
We need to help them trust their deeper insights and instincts, as well as the values learned in their families.
Focus the system squarely on the student, and America will produce solid scholars and individuals of character and vision.