Mine is a somber reflection on school life tonight – I came across this quote recently and it really resonated with my experiences with my two eldest at High School.
‘I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that’. Dick Gregory
Schools seems to be a place for learning lots of different things – we hope they learn maths, english, history, geography and science, and they may as a byproduct BUT the real things they learn are a little bit more difficult to assimilate.
1) How to be like everyone else – try not to stand out and be different. If you don’t have the latest iPhone or Blackberry you’re just not cool (probably not even the right words to use these days). There’s no thought to how ridiculous it is for an 11 year old to have a Blackberry – why do they need a Blackberry or iPhone? Anyway the point for me is even if a child does have one, what gives them the right to ridicule children who don’t? It seems that fitting in is the all important need for children these days. I know it’s probably not even just these days, as I do remember the pixie boots and pastel jumpsuits of the eighties!
The point is that during those early adolescent years we are trying to form our own identities and being different doesn’t seem to factor in that. For the children who are different to the typical child it can be really stressful to have to pretend to be like everyone else all the time. I do wish our schools would teach children to stand up for their own opinions and decisions, to be able to speak out when they see injustice around them and to be proud of being different, after all when they grow up being different is what they need in order to get jobs and to live an extraordinary life.
2) How to be afraid to step in the school gates. I have been amazed at the level of aggression in our High Schools across the country. The fact that it seems normal for little year 7’s to be picked on, shouted at, sworn at and even punched or kicked by older children. What on earth is happening in our cultures if that is acceptable! When you think back to how scary going to big school was – that everything has changed overnight – the lessons, the homework, the discipline and the huge buildings and amount of students – to then also have the deal with the fear of what an older child might do to you is horrible. What are we teaching our children here? That new experiences and surroundings are scary? That little children are easy prey? That the ones who shout the loudest and threaten the strongest will win? What about compassion, kindness, tolerance, acceptance and common courtesy??
3) How to be more self-reliant. When you need help from the people around you – whether other children or adults, and you are let down it makes you not want to ask for help again. Our High Schools are so huge with many adults around that children are supposed to be able to rely on to help them in times of need. If however, those adults cannot meet those needs, i.e. help them to stop someone bullying them, then where can a child go with that problem? For many children navigating their way around the structures in our educational systems can be confusing. How do they know who to go to? When they are struggling who really sees their pain? When you have a school of 2,000 children how can you keep an eye on every movement and incident that occurs? As a result we are teaching our children to be self-reliant, not independent – they are different. Independence is a result of being dependent on people who have been there for you and so you build confidence that you can do things yourself if you need help people will be there to help you. When you don’t experience that, then you learn to rely on yourself to get your needs met.
Adolescence is that time when children start to pull away from parents but I believe they still need other adults to guide them and at times protect them. I would love to have people dedicated to this in our schools – DEDICATED i.e. not just part of their role along with teaching and head of year etc. Adults who are skilled at working with children on their emotional and social wellbeing that is so desperately needed.
Of course when we think about the quote above for many children their home life has not been one of hate and shame. For vulnerable children, that is, looked after children, adopted or those still in difficult home environments this quote may have to read:-
‘I learned hate at home, and shame. Now I go to school and learn it there too’.
Our schools should be places where children feel safe and accepted, where they get inspired and motivated to achieve, where they find friends who accept them for who they are and where they learn the skills they need to function as successful adults.