First day of school! Wake up! Come on. First day of school.
Children usually start school excitedly. They might even think they’re superheroes!
But it doesn’t take long before their belief in themselves is challenged. Much has been done to public education in the name of college and career readiness. It’s difficult to understand how students continue to like learning.
Corporate reformers bemoan that children don’t learn fast enough for jobs they will face when they finish school. What jobs? We’re told no one knows. But students must start young to prepare for X jobs so America’s economy won’t suffer.
They must be tested often and early so they prove they’re on the right track. If they aren’t tested with standardized tests, they will be tested by nonstop online testing. Data will track student progress for those “whatever” jobs.
Meanwhile, we continue to hear that young people are more stressed than ever. From JAMA Pediatrics:
In the United States, suicide is a major public health concern and the second leading cause of death among youths age 10 to 18 years, persisting into early adulthood.
Many want to blame social media, and that’s certainly a concern. But what about how students are pushed to be college and career ready? From kindergarten to grade twelve students face never-ending hype that they need to work hard to get those unknown jobs of the future.
In The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, authors Lukianoff and Haidt look at the “iGen” or “internet Generation” children born around 1995. They describe overprotective parents who micromanage their children’s time.
But they also tell about schools that ignore the importance of play in critical early years, and which focus obsessively on test-taking.
One of the takeaways from the book (there are many) is that children have no time to be children. They grow into young adults (Democrats and Republicans) often raised without socializing (think about the loss of recess). They’re stressed and intolerant of other views. The authors see this as a threat to democracy.
The following myths have become policy changes perpetuated by school reformers. They have likely led to an angry, stressed-out generation forced to learn too fast.
- Preschoolers aren’t ready for kindergarten and they must be closely monitored and tracked.
- Kindergartners (the new first graders) don’t read early enough and must forfeit play to work nonstop with few, if any, breaks.
- Elementary students must skip recess, practice and pass standardized tests, and pass or be retained in third grade.
- Middle schoolers must work hard and start planning their careers.
- High school students must take as many college AP classes as possible, get classes on how to be entrepreneurs, focus on multiple pathways (because no one knows the future), be set up with outside work apprenticeships, and be college and career ready.
- College students must focus on finishing as fast as possible while incurring massive debt.
For thirty years the reforms put in place have been about making public schools more difficult, beyond what is developmentally appropriate. The claim is that students must be college and career ready.
It’s time to give our public schools back to the parents and teachers who are closest to the students. It’s time to reinvest our faith and funding in those schools, and reject the harmful policies that replace the superhero hopes and dreams of children with corporate goals and manipulation.
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up A Generation For Failure. (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), 186-189.