Teaching children to be happy and resilient, to have grit, in a “changing and chaotic world,” and telling parents their children will now need skills “well beyond good test scores,” raises serious questions when you consider the no-excuses schools so many students now attend.
I am referring to the upcoming Learning & the Brain conference in D.C. called “Positive, Resilient Minds: The Science of Promoting Student Grit, Gratitude, and School Success.”
It highlights all kinds of “teaching grit and gratefulness” meetings, and references to how the brain, if you tweak it right, will get children to accept and adjust to whatever troubling difficulties they face.
There will be neuro science talk aplenty to help teachers teach children how to learn faster and self-regulate their emotions. Self-control is in. It’s also about how to get children doing college-ready work.
All of this makes me uncomfortable in today’s draconian school reform climate. Why? It isn’t because I don’t think students have troubles—they do. Or that we can’t help children to learn better and help support them with their difficulties—we can and should do this.
In an alternative world where schools were run in a compassionate, well-informed manner, where children were valued for their individuality, I might understand this conference.
But there’s not a mere mention in the agenda of the problems children face due to the terrible school reforms put in their paths as roadblocks for 30 years!
For example, it’s hard to argue that we should not help students stand up for themselves against bullying. The conference covers some of this.
But what if the bullying doesn’t come from a student’s classmate, but by a school district, state and federal government that has, for years, piled so many high-stakes tests on a kindergartner they have had no time for play, recess, art, music, or drama—subjects that really do address the whole child? What good does grit do a 5-year-old here?
If you want to talk behavior modification, why not consider the negative reinforcing that has been done in the past to children in their schools? Or perhaps they could discuss what it will take to help the children with lead poisoning in Flint get back on track in their classes. There should be some brain studies there, no?
Also, please don’t talk to me about positive school climate without addressing the rundown classrooms with mushrooms growing out of the walls in Detroit.
Then there’s always reading. Children have been pushed to read before they’re developmentally ready. But, in a lot of places, they will still fail third grade because of one test—even though we know from a zillion studies that retention is wrong. It is so humiliating for a child to be held back they will more likely drop out of school. Who’s talking about the depression surrounding this at the conference?
Large class sizes aren’t good either, nor are teachers without appropriate preparation and credentials. Thought I’d throw that in for good measure.
For years, because of those who want to privatize and destroy public schools, turning them into digital warehouses, or sending children home to learn, education reformers have abused children with a variety of reform tactics that have made schools dungeons of doom.
And for this we want to teach students to be polite and say thank you?
If I heard some kind of contrition from conference professionals that children have been mistreated in their public schools, due to the bad behavior of wealthy people, who think they know better than educators and parents how schools should be run, well, maybe then I would pull up a chair and listen.
But there is none of that. Instead, they indirectly blame the child. They want to fix them to adjust to their ideas—develop a positive mindset—under the guise of helpfulness. In their eyes, it’s the child whose brain needs changing, who needs to learn grit, who should be grateful, focused, persistent, happy, etc. Please!
Why should we teach children acceptance when adults running their schools continue to make terrible mistakes and aren’t smart enough, or willing, to fix them? Or worse. They are intentionally using children as pawns in their quest to dismantle schools for competency-based learning.* How do children stand up to that kind of bullying business?
It’s difficult to understand the professionals who seem to disregard the problematic schooling that should never have been permitted by adults in the first place. There are fixable solutions that they choose to ignore.
You don’t intentionally make a child’s life miserable through a lousy school reform agenda, and rotten politics, then turn around and try to help the child adjust to the intentional, cruel crap adults have thrown and continue to throw at them in the first place.
That’s bogus. If a child is upset in their no excuses school they’re perfectly normal.