In present times, we have an incredible array of choices in how we live, eat, socialize…everything. Sadly, teachers’ hands are tied by outdated expectations and habits when it comes to offering meaningful choice to our children. In this age of choice, our children are reduced to interchangeable widgets. As a result, the needs of many students are going unmet by our impersonal, one-size-fits-all approach to education.
In the conventional school system, children are sorted by age only, regardless of their individual development. Because of habit, overcrowding, underfunding, and state-mandated testing, we have developed an assembly-line model of education. This approach does not take into consideration different learning styles, prior knowledge, interests/passions, or psychological needs. This problem is not just found in public school. Well-funded private schools often have entrenched systems and traditions that only serve a narrow band of the student population. If a student doesn’t fit the model, they are asked to leave. When individual differences are ignored, our children feel rejected, invisible, and de-humanized.
So why does this feeling of invisibility and dehumanization get so much worse in junior high? Why do so many students see their grades drop and their stress levels rise when they enter secondary school? Quite simply, it’s a breakdown in relationships. No one is seeing our kids as whole people.
In elementary school, kids stay in the same class, with the same teacher, for all their academic subjects. Over the course of the year, the teacher gets to know a small population of students well. This teacher knows which kid needs help with organization, and which kid needs more time to grasp a concept. They start to notice which kids need help making friends, and which kids need extra learning to stay motivated. Even if the teacher is unable to solve a specific problem, they still have a complete picture of the entire school day. That holistic perspective can help the child’s parents and support team understand a child’s learning and behaviors in context.
In middle and high school, this level of personal attention is absent from the system. Beginning in junior high, a 12-year-old student must find their own way to and from seven or eight different classrooms throughout campus. The schools themselves are much larger and more chaotic, with a thousand kids or more all changing classes at once. Nobody is making sure the students are keeping their backpacks or lockers organized. Nobody is making sure a child is making friends or treating others with kindness.
With hundreds of shallow relationships and multiple academic expectations to sort through and keep track of, it’s no wonder our children are irritable, distracted, anxious, and exhausted. Some students are able to form a meaningful, supportive relationship with at least one of their seven teachers, but many kids end up falling through the cracks completely.
In this millenium, there are the resources to engage students in active learning and create successful learning experiences. Engaged learning allows teachers to foster positive relationships with students. We need to stop accepting antiquated educational practices that are no longer serving our children. Stand up for progressive learning and each child’s right to be valued as an individual and receive an education that works!
Excerpt from Chapter 1: We Have a Problem in Secondary Education