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 http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
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.”