Today I must express my concern for the students I see every day at school; this year more than ever.
Many of them are already cracking at the seams even though school only started two months ago. They are under pressure. There are many reasons why they feel this pressure, the need to get good grades, the need to succeed, the need to know their future, the need to save their future, or even the need to reach the utopian goals that others have set for them.
The need to learn how to be
I am worried. I think teens should focus solely on being teens, which, if the adults among you remember correctly, is already a major challenge.
Adults today are struggling with who they are and what they are doing. The pandemic situation has highlighted these conflicting feelings, but this was already becoming evident with the rise of self-help literature. People want to know how to relax, how to be happy, how to find balance or how to be in tune with themselves. Basically, people are trying to unlearn behaviors that have been instilled in them by school and society.
Learning has turned into a chore
I think one of the main problems is that our school system has lost its focus. Learning is a fundamental process, it is part of being human. Everyone learns naturally throughout their lives. Our school system has turned something natural into a chore.
Outside of school, when you play a board game or a video game, you remember the rules, you don’t build a mental map to do it. When you listen to a song and sing along, you have memorized it without feeling any pressure. You can quote lines from your favorite movies, or facts and anecdotes, from any documentary that has tickled your fancy. Each of these things was learned because it was fun and enjoyable.
School has become a place of judgement
But school is not fun. It’s a confusing place. A place where we tell children that they are unique individuals with their own tastes, their own ways of learning, and their own aspirations. When in reality, it’s a place where they are asked to do the same things as everyone else, in the same way, at the same time. Look, I’m not blaming the teachers here, I’m one of them, I’m talking about a system that forces them to choose a path, when some of them aren’t mature enough to do so. I’m talking about a system that, when they choose a path, tells them they’re not good enough to do it (shouldn’t we NOT judge a book by its cover?). I’m talking about a system that tells you “sorry, there aren’t enough spots for you in this program”.
School is a place of judgment. Students are compared, evaluated, graded, which does not help build confidence. The years spent in school are when children build their personalities as adults. Constant evaluation establishes a fear of failure, but life was not meant to be lived this way.
Let’s be more humane
When a toddler is learning to walk, we don’t set a goal of standing for 5 seconds or taking three steps, and we don’t give him a good grade if he succeeds, or a worse grade if he fails. We console them if they are hurt, commiserate and encourage them to do it again and again, then laugh (together, not at them), and congratulate them no matter how well they do. We also don’t set them a schedule that says “try to walk from 9:50 to 10:45 am”. As human beings, we provide other opportunities, we share moments, and we revel in successes as well as failures. I think the school system should be more humane.
So that to me is the biggest problem with our school system, it’s a machine that is too slow to adapt, too set in its ways, and pretends to have people’s best interests at heart, while it slowly acts like a compressor forcing kids to fit the mold or be crushed.
Why should we wait until we are adults, with enough desperation, to choose any self-help book to discover what and how to express our true potential? Why should we unlearn certain behaviors in order to respect ourselves?
The new system of exams in France puts students under the pressure of constant grading, it is a permanent harassment in the back of their minds, all the more powerful because they have been taught to fear failure all along their school career.
Remember that learning is fun
I think our job as parents, teachers, or even just as adults, is to remind kids of a few things. Learning is fun, they have free will and they can decide what they want to learn.
If you learn to do something you love, you will find a way to earn a living from it.
Finally, remind them and remember that failure is an opportunity to learn. So praise, encourage, support, give kids a world of possibilities and trust them.
If they are relaxed and happy, they are already one step ahead of most adults.