Run…I am Talking About Education

22 Feb

It is personal, very personal, not only because I am an insider in the game but because my kids will soon be venturing into the world of formal education. I am not qualified to comment on its steady state of decline in most countries of the world but I can most certainly express my individual viewpoint of how I am utterly disappointed from the little of it I have seen.

My memories of my school days are very pleasant. I have no qualms or complaints about it; but then again nothing about it stands out as exceptional. The reason I am tracing back to my roots is because things have not changed much. I have had the opportunity to work with children in whom I have seen great degrees of diversity. It made me a strong believer in the uniqueness that exists in every child. This puts parents and educators in a significant position to tap this uniqueness. But who has the time for potential? Education today is all about teaching to the test. The year begins with grand new curriculums, new technology on how to teach it; teaching methods to bring out the best in every child to ensure that every child who walks through those school doors walks out feeling successful at the end of the day. Then how come everyone feels so unmotivated and stressed out about school as the year slowly trickles by?

Kids today are taught like lambs, the idea of standing out in a crowd is not necessarily considered a positive. I shudder to think of how this would affect my kids when they make their way into this system. As parents we marvel and cherish every act that our children do, and every word they say everyday and hope that their teacher might notice at least a percentage of their uniqueness. I know this might sound like a mind-boggling task for the educator but logistically speaking it isn’t. A typical classroom consists of 20-25 students, if a teacher were to spend 2 minutes with every child that adds up to 50 minutes of her precious day. Trust me those 2 measly minutes will be cherished by that child everyday.

In my experience I have seen that children thrive when you set high expectations for them. Children want to impress their teacher, get noticed and closely tied to this is the need to succeed. Teaching to the test kills this to a large extent. Teachers today do not have the time to know their students individually, because they walk into their classroom with an agenda to finish what they need they to cover for that day.

A true story I read many years back in a newspaper often comes to mind when I think of children and schools. A teacher once gave her class a theme to draw a picture of their pet for art class. Most of the children drew pictures of dogs, cats, birds, hamsters and other common household pets. One little girl drew a dinosaur as her pet and when the teacher laid her eyes on her drawing she mocked and ridiculed the little girl in front of the entire classroom for her unrealistic picture. Imagine the plight of the little girl and more importantly imagine how it would have trampled her sense of creativity.

I have been listening to Sir Ken Robinson on TED. He talks very passionately about how education kills creativity. He explains how we are taught to be almost robotic, like workers and not encouraged to think out of the box. He says, “Creativity should be given as much importance as literacy.” I agree with him completely, we are so determined as parents and teachers to follow the rulebook on everything we do for our children.

There are nights I spend in bed thinking about why I need a book to tell me how to feed my kids, how to educate them, how to control every possible action that comes from them and redirect it to follow the rule book. Why are my motherly instincts not enough?

I am now making a conscious effort to let them breathe, be themselves. I might be dreaming the impossible because I know they have to ultimately be mainstreamed and follow rules that their formal educational system might demand of them; but for now I plan to celebrate their uniqueness.

We as parents have a huge responsibility towards our children. Brain development in human beings happens most rapidly during early childhood. Children are like little sponges, they soak up everything you offer them. It takes a lot of conscious efforts from our side to let their uniqueness grow. I think this quote from Sir Ken Robinson sums it all up for me,

“What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now, that we use this gift wisely and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only ways we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. By the way—we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.”

Reference: Schools Kill Creativity: TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson


Renuka Venkataraman is a contributing author at Multicultural Mothering.

“I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I lived in Dallas, Texas for almost 15 years and worked as teacher for special needs kids for 10 of those years. I moved to Chengdu in September 2011 with my husband, two kids and our miniature dachshund Zen. I’m looking at motherhood under a very different light here in Chengdu. It has brought a sense of positivity and purpose to my life in many ways I can’t wait to experience and share with all you other Multicultural Moms.”

11 Responses to “Run…I am Talking About Education”

  1. Heidi Nevin February 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Renuka, thank you so much. This is such an all-important subject. I, too, am facing my first-born’s entry into the formal education system, and I wonder how long I’ll be able to stand it! I pray that if I can’t stand it, I will have the right circumstances (i.e. the financial support that will allow me to continue to be a stay-at-home mom) to be able to pull her out and homeschool her. Please keep writing on this topic–I would really love to hear more of your experiences and insights.

  2. Pascalinap February 22, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    You are very couragious to talk about this. You could have thousands of people commenting for weeks.. If this blog had more readers 😉

    It’s true, it’s very personnal and touches something deep inside us.
    You see, when I read the story about the little girl who drew a dinosaur when she was asked to draw her favorite pet, I didn’t think “this little girl tried to be creative”, I thought “she was off topic”. The way the teacher reacted is really bad and THAT is revolting. But, I don’t think you should be disapointed and too afraid for your kids, you sound like a person thinking out of the box, did you have ONLY inspiring teachers in your life? Do you think that only the educationnal system teaches kids to be lambs? Can’t you find that kind of people everywhere?

  3. RENUKA February 22, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Heidi, appreciate your support on the subject.I have pondered long and hard on the subject of home schooling but the social aspects of regular schooling have always been the hardest for me to justify them. My son thrives on the social attention he gets from his peers and teachers at school. I have seen how the home schooling thing works and I know there are ways to work the social aspects into it. I am sure if it is enough.
    I might have sounded a little strong in my post but I was just so worked up about the whole testing process. As a teacher myself I found that I was spending most of my time doing paperwork and preparing for these state wide tests and in the process completely lost track of what my calling was in the first place. I completely understand it is a necessary evil but I am sure there is a compromise somewhere. I kind of put this to rest when I quit my job but then when my son entered school it started haunting me again. I have no idea where to begin but I think just starting a dialogue with mothers like yourself is giving me some hope.

    • Heidi Nevin February 23, 2012 at 2:24 am #

      I completely agree about the homeschooling thing. The social aspects are simply not replicable in a homeschool setting. It would be a last-resort kind of decision for me, but it’s nice to know that it’s at least an option if I see my children really suffering within the bounds of the system. (Alternative schools tend to be way too expensive for us.) I agree with Devi, too; school was not difficult for me but just BORING and long. I burst out of high school into a global college with a completely non-traditional structure–no exams, no classes even–just pure, self-designed and self-directed learning opportunities in apprenticeship-style international settings. What a relief!!! (It was Friends World College…now it’s the Global College of Long Island University or something like that.)
      Do you guys really think creativity can be killed? Or does it just go dormant?

  4. RENUKA February 22, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    Hey Pascaline, thanks for the questions well they do make sense. I think I might have not gotten my point through clearly. My disappointment is not with teachers. I have complete empathy for them. I think schools start off with great intentions for our children but somewhere down the line we lose perspective as teachers and parents. The stress is too fluid and it trickles down really fast. Imagine a scenario, as a teacher your administrator is stressing you out to keep grades of your students up, your schools reputation and grade state wide is at stake depending on your students to make that perfect score. What do you do as a teacher? Come to the classroom with a fixed agenda in your head, I’ve got to cover this today and all my students I don’t care how they feel how they are able to grasp they have to get it right today before so and so testing day.So imagine that one kid who might know all the answers but is just not a good test taker.
    And teachers surely send the stress down to parents, give the poor kid a bunch of homework to practice and make perfect. Parent teacher conferences centered around not what your child is able to do but about what he or she can improve on.
    Educational systems are crucial here because they foundations for the future and we set the foundations right things go more smoothly. And to be honest I can only comment about what I know…(laughing)
    Thanks for the encouragement I really appreciate it.

  5. natasha devalia February 23, 2012 at 12:25 am #

    I want to run over and give you a big hug! You put words and structure to my disorganised thoughts over the last while. I’m looking forward to more about this. And thanks for introducing me to the talks – I also watched his follow-up TED talk – both inspiring. I don’t feel alone anymore. The dinosaur girl is brilliant. Hey, I think my son (just cause he’s the one into dinosaurs) would love a dinosaur for a pet. Where’s the imagination if he can’t. I too had a very nurturing school experience, pretty much all the way, and I only had two full days twice a week when I was a teenager. (I can understand that parents are working and might not have external help, hence the full, long days from the age of 2 – still it’s heart-breaking.) There is much too much pressure on children these days though – what about play? And becoming sheep – OMG I’ve cried nights and days worrying about this. So we do educate children out of creativity. what a loss. And if it isn’t the school it might come from somewhere else, often parents- “So get real, what you gonna do with that? Become a dancer / artist / musician??” I have a teacher friend, one of the most inspired and inspiring teachers I have ever met. The other day she told me she is disheartened with the system, and might quit. There is some hope in innovators of alternative education systems though – have to make sure that keeps going. Anyways, I could go on and on about this. THANKS for bringing all this up.

  6. DesiValentine February 23, 2012 at 1:39 am #

    I bought Dr. Robinson’s book, after watching his TED talks, when my daughter entered preschool for exactly the reasons you’ve written about here. School was not difficult for me, just boring. And long. And I see these kids as toddlers and preschoolers, how they love to learn SO MUCH! And we kill it. In classrooms where they have to be still and quiet and learn things that have no clear relevance to their lives, we kill it. So, here’s hoping that enough motivated parents can change that, right? Let’s hope that, as parents and as educators, we can make the time to turn classroom learning into something kids look forward to, again. And, while we’re at it, how ’bout we just go ahead and burn those tests?

  7. RENUKA February 23, 2012 at 4:08 am #

    I do not think we necessarily kill creativity, agree with Heidi here but it is a process of conditioning. We are trained or train the kids today to contain it for so long that it eventually fades away.I bet it still exists somewhere maybe in platforms like this where you just want to burst out and cry.
    I would love to burn those tests, I think our poor ignorant kids don’t even know what they are missing out on. They enjoy whatever little they are being offered which makes it even more pathetic.
    For all of you who are interested in the concept of home schooling there is a fabulous book by Susan Wise Bauer. She explains how it is possible without losing the aspects of real schooling. But again it is not for everyone.

    • DesiValentine February 23, 2012 at 6:32 am #

      Are you talking about The Well-Trained Mind? I picked that book up as my daughter was entering preschool and devoured it. I don’t think it’s the solution for every child, but I’ve embraced afterschooling for my kids and I’m going to keep it up as long as we all still enjoy learning together. My hope is that, if the classroom turns out to be a stifling place for them, we can hold onto that spark at home. If that makes any sense 🙂

      I’m not sure that we’re killing creativity completely, in the classrooms. And I know I’m overgeneralizing here – we’re seeing more and more inquiry-based, child-focused classrooms all the time, though still unfortunately in specialty schools. But I think for some kids it takes them decades to get their spark back. That makes me want to burst out and cry, too.

      • natasha devalia February 23, 2012 at 9:24 am #

        It’s losing that spark that you talk about, from confidence, creativity, etc, too often lost because of an over-load of rules, structure, pressure, just lack of opportunity…. that breaks my heart. Thanks for all the book titles friends – I need to find them and start reading!

  8. RENUKA February 23, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    Yup The Well-Trained Mind it is.It gives perspective on a lot of issues not just homeschooling. Yes I completely agree with the after schooling thing that is what I meant when I said we as parents have a huge responsibility towards our kids in terms of not feeding into the frenzy that the school sends them and us home everyday.
    And I cannot stress on this point enough all kids are not the same some kids flourish in spite of what the system throws at them and there are the others who need that extra nudge to make them feel safe and comfortable enough to show they uniqueness they have in them.

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