I recently went to a lecture by a renowned educator and author Alfie Kohn
, who talks to groups of parents and educators about the perils of our education system. He queried the audience for one-word answers to the question of what we want for our children. The answers came flying out of the crowd with things such as; self-reliance, security, confidence, general happiness, a love of learning. Once he had written down all of our lofty goals for our children, he posed the question, “Are our educational practices at odds with our long term goals for our children?”
He began to articulate his philosophy, which, in some circles, might be considered radical. He made a very passionate argument against homework and testing in the educational system, and in fact rejects pretty much any type of system based on rewards. Many of the studies he referred to exemplified the deleterious effects of praise and grades in school. Mr. Kohn concluded that these external measurements stifle and even kill children’s internal motivations. The message was clear that the intellectual cost of academic achievement is very high.
The location of this talk was a progressive elementary and middle school; so the audience that attended was, in large part, like-minded. My beliefs resonate with much of what Mr. Kohn spoke about that evening, but as with so many things, I am a moderate. I am certain we can do a better job of educating our children in a way that encourages independence and a desire to learn instead of simply a desire to get a good grade or garner praise from parents. When the line between praise and love begins to blur, we have already begun to sever those crucial parent-child bonds.
What I am not clear about is whether or not the pendulum needs to swing so radically in the other direction. Admittedly, I am a therapist and not someone designing basic curriculum for elementary or middle school kids, so I don’t purport to be an expert in this arena. I am a parent though, and like all parents, I want my children to be happy in the many years that they spend at academic institutions, but I also want them to be well prepared for the world they will face when they are no longer in the safe haven of academia. Our current economy doesn’t really support many of these ideals. Judgments and rewards are still the tools used in the world of employment.
We need to do something about the intense workload carried by our teenagers; the stress and depression that plagues our youth, which is beautifully exemplified in the documentary film Race to Nowhere
. There have been some brave educators out there; who have boldly pursued progressive education curriculum in an effort to combat the ills of the less child-centered methods of the past, but clearly we have a long way to go and there are many different elements that need to be considered as we move forward.
What was your education like? How would you have liked it to be different and how much of it defines the person you are today?