How Public Schools Fail Us Tragically

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How Public Schools Fail Us Tragically

"The social, emotional and spiritual are part of a child's connection with the world."
- Mary Paradis, director of development at the Vancouver Waldorf School

Why doesn't every child deserve the kind of education kids get at some private schools? The schools I refer to--Waldorf and Montessori are among them--teach the whole child, not just curriculum dictated facts and skills.

Children develop along four main streams: intellectual, physical, emotional and social. Mainline school systems address the intellectual and physical needs of their children, but curriculum seldom leaves time or room for social or emotional/psychological development. At that, intellectual development follows strict guides and physical development varies hugely from school to school and among various districts.

What would those strict guides be that schools follow? Education systems, in general, are designed to produce future employees who can do the jobs that big employers such as industries need to be done. And they produce consumers who will buy, use, throw away, then buy more of the products those industries manufacture.

Schools produce employees and consumers. The evidence is so glaring that those who argue against the claim have difficulty finding evidence of support. In fact, those who argue that schools are not designed to produce employees and consumers of the future delude themselves and try to persuade others so they don't feel so alone. If you doubt, just look at what topics fill school curricula and the young adults the schools produce.

Ironically, many of the leaders of the industries that employ public school system graduates themselves attended private schools. Is this true irony? In fact, no. Private schools, in general, prepare children to be leaders in their communities, not followers as public school systems do.

Providing "the right thing at the right time" in a child's learning development is the key to teaching to the whole child, according to Ryan Lindsay, president of The Waldorf Association of Ontario. Public schools, on the other hand, provide indoctrination of facts and skills in the employee-consumer model at the time most child have the ability to manage them. Those who are not ready fail--emotionally, if not by repeating school years--drop out when they reach the minimum age, often believing that they are too dumb for school. They try to work for large companies so they can depend on a steady income.

"We make sure we focus on teaching children how to think and not what to think," according to Lindsay. "We like to think we are laying the foundation in a more thorough way so that when children get to a certain age the approach aids their intellectual development."

Casting aside the lack of expertise you may feel regarding the topic of education as a whole, if you attended a public school do Mr. Lindsay's statements ring a bell about how you were taught? From what you know of adults today, do they know how to think, not just what to think when they make purchases?

We must keep in mind that private schools have the same number of teaching hours in their days as public schools. They don't have eight-day school weeks. Private school students are in class roughly the same number of hours as public school students the same age. Sometimes less if they have special assignments that take them outside the classroom.

What's the difference?

Some may claim that public schools have many more problem children to deal with than private schools. From my personal experience as an educator, I can see that argument having some merit. I also know that classes I taught in public schools had far fewer "problem children" than many of the other classes in the same schools.

In my teaching years in public schools, it was the teacher in my classes who kept getting into trouble, not the students. In my case I kept wanting to deliver to my kids what they needed and wanted and were desperate to take in and develop, not just what was on the curriculum. I believe my mission was to grow whole people, not just adults who were ready to be employees and consumers. I did. Administration often objected.

In general, classes with "problem children" do little to address their emotional and social needs. Consequently their problems tend to be emotional or social in nature--bullying, depression, fighting, shyness and so on. Where children have intellectual development problems--slow learners--very often the slowness of intellectual development relates back to emotional or social problems of the past.

And often to emotional or social problems of the present. How efficiently can we expect a child to learn if he or she has problems with a drunk or abusive parent at home, with a classmate or neighbourhood child who bullies them to and from school or on the bus, with a parent who does not provide a home atmosphere that supports what is taught at school, or even with the results of a recently broken close friendship?

For a child, emotional and social problems always take precedence over intellectual challenges in school. Always. It's how we are built. Emotional and social problems are related to our individual ability--our basic instinct--to survive. For our ancient prehistoric ancestors, intellectual development and learning took place when survival and personal safety and comfort were not at stake.

Most private schools address the social and emotional needs of their students. "I could never say enough good things about the value of community in a school," says Karen Murton, principal of Branksome Hall, a private school for girls in Toronto.

If a child can't get enough help with social or emotional development at home and his school doesn't have the time or the authority in its curriculum to address these needs, where does he get it, where does he turn to fill in the blanks he knows inherently he must fill? Television. Movies. Video games. Rumours picked up in casual conversations with peers. "Information" gleaned from overheard adult conversations behind closed doors and at parties.

Please consider that list carefully. Your child, or at least many of the children in your community, derive most of the emotional and social development information they receive from these same sources. Are they the sources you want young people to take as models? Think about their content.

Public schools could provide factual input, but most don't. They have the same amount of time with their students as private schools, but public schools spend their non-curriculum time dealing with created problems rather than teaching what the kids need to know to prevent them from happening.

One kind of school deals with kids who may already be broken. Another teaches what kids need to avoid breaking.

As astonishing as it may sound, addressing the emotional and social needs of children would not be a costly change for public schools. Most teachers already know this stuff and just need some direction, guidance and the authority to teach it.

If private schools can grow men and women who can lead major industries, professions and governments, public schools should easily be able to grow men and women who can think for themselves, who are more than mere automaton employees and consumers who work and buy as they are told.

If you believe what you have just read, then your family, your community, your world needs you to speak up about it. Only by speaking up will you find how many others think like you so that we can all work together to make life better for the future.

If we don't talk about this, we leave industries to manipulate their way into the lives of every student of every public school.

That's simply not acceptable.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, teachers and other interested people who want to know what children need to learn and when, not just what industries want them to be taught and how.
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