Are our schools “breaking” our children?

This post is also available in: Português (Portuguese (Portugal))

Today I come up with the idea that educate a child in our schools is very similar to breaking a horse in the old way,  trained to take a rider, and it originated from people saying they need to ‘Break the horse’s wild spirit’

I ask myself:

“Are our schools breaking the spirit of the children?”

The literature Nobel Prize Doris Lessing  (that quit the school at 13 by its own will) wrote in The Golden Notebook:

Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do.

What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgments. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being molded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

Do people believe this?

Apparently more and more people are aware that there is something very wrong about our school system. One sign is that the most viewed Ted Talk, with more than 14 Million views (since 2007), is the “Do schools kill creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson” that you can view (20 min) in many versions and translations, including a short (11 min) graphic animation of the essential:  RSA ANIMATE: Changing Education Paradigms. (11 million views).

4 years ago the same speaker gave another of the most seen (by 2.4 million) Ted Talks: How to escape education’s death valley, where he points the biggest sins of the american education system (and in most of the world, I guess) regarding the main principles of human life:

  1. Instead of recognizing that the human beings are naturally diverse, they spread the conformity, narrowing the attention to a few intellectual areas , in standardized tests that are responsible for a funnel with terrible consequences: drop-out (more than 60% of the American high schoolers never finish), ADD (10% of the American children were diagnosed as having  Attention Deficit Disorder), and so on.
  2. Instead of recognizing that children are natural learners and that the role of the teacher is to creatively facilitate this process, they diminish their powers and status to a merely executant of a curriculum thought in cabinets, with no acknowledge of is value.
  3. Instead of creativity, the system is based in standardization, testing, command and control.

And he points that it can be different, that schools are different in Finland (with 0% of drop-out, and he explains why) and even in America, in some alternative schools.

Are the schools violent?

I believe so, because there is so much fear  in students, of being left behind, of the punishments,  of the bulling…

 As John Holt said:

“A child whose life is full of the threat and fear of punishment is locked into babyhood. There is no way for him to grow up, to learn to take responsibility for his life and acts. Most important of all, we should not assume that having to yield to the threat of our superior force is good for the child’s character. It is never good for anyone’s character.” 

“For many years I have been asking myself why intelligent children act unintelligently at school. The simple answer is, “Because they’re scared.” I used to suspect that children’s defeatism had something to do with their bad work in school, but I thought I could clear it away with hearty cries of “Onward! You can do it!” What I now see for the first time is the mechanism by which fear destroys intelligence, the way it affects a child’s whole way of looking at, thinking about, and dealing with life. So we have two problems, not one: to stop children from being afraid, and then to break them of the bad thinking habits into which their fears have driven them.

What is most surprising of all is how much fear there is in school. Why is so little said about it. Perhaps most people do not recognize fear in children when they see it. They can read the grossest signs of fear; they know what the trouble is when a child clings howling to his mother; but the subtler signs of fear escaping them. It is these signs, in children’s faces, voices, and gestures, in their movements and ways of working, that tell me plainly that most children in school are scared most of the time, many of them very scared. Like good soldiers, they control their fears, live with them, and adjust themselves to them. But the trouble is, and here is a vital difference between school and war, that the adjustments children make to their fears are almost wholly bad, destructive of their intelligence and capacity. The scared fighter may be the best fighter, but the scared learner is always a poor learner.” 

Is there any hope?

I think there is other ways, not only with children, also with the horses (view The Fatal Flaw Behind Horse Breaking or Trainer Finds a Better Way to Break Horses), without need to “break” their spirit  with violence, or Ritalina (for ADD) or pure fear.

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