"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, December 03, 2007

Children on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown

When John Locke observed the behavior of the homeless street urchins of 17th Century London, he noted their vigor, ruddy cheeks, and energy as they ran around barefoot and thinly clad, even in winter. Based on his observations, Locke recommended that middle class family shod their young boys in leaky shoes, thin pants, and to keep their rooms icy at night in order to make them as tough as the street children. What Locke could not have known from his limited Experience is that he had been observing the lucky and uniquely hardy street children, the fortunate minority who had not yet died from flu, hunger, pneumonia, and exposure.

All of this is simply to suggest that when we see the Caitlins and Seths appearing to thrive on the cut-throat non-stop resume building treadmill, where individual branding and constant test tutoring are required to claw out a path into Yale, stop and think about all the less hardy children who succumbed to the pressure or who believe that they are failures for not getting into one of the Only 20 Worth Going To. Maybe we should do something more attuned to requirements for mental and physical health.

A reminder from Karen Kisslinger at Huffington Post:

. . . . We can keep the challenge, excellence and the creativity in eduction and life without making ourselves and our children sick and overwhelmed. As it is, the student aristocrats of the American educational scene are those who just happen to have the constitution, genes and endurance to withstand workload and time pressures and the frequently denatured and toxic food supply. Other brilliant, creative, interesting people dwindle in the face of the demands they face, and we often don't get to see them thrive on their own, perhaps less busy or better nourished, terms. They are more likely to end up diagnosed.

Recently I went in to talk to the Head of a private school where I teach. I suggested to her that we might implement a four year Stress Reduction Skills program, which the students could put on their "resume" for college application. I suggested that colleges would look favorably on students who had been committed, over the course of their high school career, to learning relaxation and stress reduction skills other than binge drinking, binge eating and marijuana use. Taking fewer course would be an option for the stress reduction "track", and I suggested that this could be seen as a positive stress-less decision as opposed to a sign of less commitment and rigor in academics.

My suggestion was greeted with the kind of look government officials must often give when they say something needs to be evaluated for needs assessment and perhaps become the subject of a commission or special report before any changes could actually be made. That's a "BIG" idea she said, implying to me that it might be too big to take on at the moment....and there was a distinct implication that any one school might be vulnerable in being the first to implement such a program before others did to. That is: "If I relax first you might 'get ahead' of me."

So, I'm suggesting that we all agree together to relax more, which, as I teach my students, means we'll be able to do things BETTER, MORE PRODUCTIVELY AND WITH MORE FOCUS AND AWARENESS. Skill for relaxation and for acquiring positive traits of consciousness such as generosity and compassion need to be taken as seriously as other skills learned during the course of young people's education.

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