Look at the picture above. Is the boy going to pick on the girl, or will he invite her to play with the other children?
In today’s impersonal school climate, how do students learn about those around them? When there’s no chance of bringing students together in school, how will children better understand their peers?
School administrators, teachers, parents, and staff must get to know who students are and better understand what kinds of difficulties they bring to school. This involves more human interaction at a time when classroom relationships are becoming increasingly distant and cold.
Florida lawmakers want to collect massive amounts of data on students to find and label those who appear to be threats. The ACLU and other civil rights organizations believe the data base called the Florida Schools Safety Portal is an alarming violation of student rights. This is the same state that wants to arm its teachers.
Many schools across the nation will be asking students personal questions to obtain sensitive information. Much of this information could be stored online. It’s like mental health for all, but parents worry it’s an invasion of their child’s privacy.
Surveillance and arming teachers are reactive actions that fail to get to the heart of the problem in schools.
Public schools are supposed to be where students come together, learn about others, and how to work together. But today, socialization is pushed out of the classroom.
Here are some ways depersonalization has taken over.
Denying students recess, free play, and talking at lunch.
Schools that fail to encourage students to mingle might enforce orderly behavior, but they’re ignoring a student’s need for connecting. It’s abusive not to give students, especially young students, frequent breaks in school.
Early learners should be given plenty of opportunities for free play. It’s important for cognitive and social development.
Middle and high school students could use breaks too. A few extra minutes between class, or a period during the day where students can interrelate in small groups, perhaps play board games, with oversight, would be welcome.
Cafeterias can be loud, so some schools insist that students not talk. But meals should include discussion. Trying to make more time for lunch, less crowded lunches, and providing friendly cafeteria human monitors to remind students to hold down the volume are what’s needed.
Large impersonal class sizes.
Teachers are not going to be able to identify students who are dealing with emotional difficulties in huge classes. The larger classes are, the more impersonal they become. At least one smaller class where teachers and students can support one another is a solution few lawmakers discuss.
With personalized learning students work at their skill level alone, facing a computer. They’re not learning to socialize with peers. No matter how many commercials for technology in schools show students working next to their friends with their Chromebooks, working online is lonely. Technology in school isolates students.
Should robots replace teachers? There’s little proof that students communicating with a machine that seems like a person is better than a person. Nor does it appear it will ever be a better substitute than a human teacher.
Both online learning and AI might have a place in schools. The research about them is interesting. But they don’t replace teacher and student feedback and socialization.
Segregated charter schools.
Students grouped in segregated charter schools that exclude students or counsel them out, are schools that deny children a chance to learn about others with differences.
Vouchers to private and parochial schools.
Failing to support public schools that serve most students, and encouraging students to attend private or parochial schools that are often selective, divides us.
Zero tolerance and “no excuses,” Failing to listen to students.
Some schools still follow this harsh form of discipline where students aren’t permitted to describe the situation which led to their getting in trouble. Even criminals get their day in court. When adults fail to listen, students have no way to express how they feel.
Many schools lack counselors and nurses.
Counselors and nurses are the first line of defense when a student has a problem. They know outside resources where parents can get help for their child. They can provide the supportive link for students to succeed and overcome their difficulties in school.
Yet schools across the country lack both these important professionals. Counselors are often overwhelmed with other responsibilities and are not given time to address student problems.
Standardized testing or nonstop online testing.
Caring more about a student’s test score instead of the student is impersonal. Standardized testing has taken over schooling for years. It must make many students especially those who don’t do well on tests feel like they are insignificant.
Online nonstop testing is just as bad if not worse. Measuring everything a child does all the time is obsessive.
Creating roadblocks for inclusion of students with disabilities and ELL students.
Students with disabilities or ELL students need added support so they can succeed in school. Without such care they face the risk of both isolation and failure.
Stigmatizing and eliminating a continuum of special education services.
When students need academic, emotional, or behavioral support in school, they should not be made to feel like outcasts. Public schools should provide these programs like they are supposed to.
Ignoring the importance of well-prepared teachers.
Good teachers understand children. They’ve taken psychology and child development classes in college. They know how to react and communicate with students. Those who do not understand child behavior might resort to unnecessary punishment when problems arise.
Students pushed to be older than their age and development.
Whether it’s making kindergarten into first grade, or middle school into high school, the emphasis on speed learning will take a toll on those students who can’t keep up, even though they function normally at their age and developmental level.
A narrow curriculum that focuses on academics only.
The arts and extracurricular activities complete a school and give students who might be experiencing academic difficulties a chance to excel. These are also the programs where students communicate and support one another, no matter their differences.
When students aren’t provided opportunities to socialize, to work through differences, and to care for one another, how will they view life later? How will they see others?
Hopefully, the little boy in the picture will ask the girl to come join the others to play a game of tag. Children when given the chance to be kind to others usually come through.
We must make our schools places where all children are welcome, where adults set the example of tolerance and understanding. It’s the acceptance and understanding we show for those differences that make us truly American.