In American public schools today, we are not only fighting a “War on Poverty”, but we teachers who care so deeply about our students are often passive participants in a War on the Children of the Impoverished. So many of the mandates of our public schools today (which are attended mainly by impoverished children) are directly turning children off to schooling and deepening the ever-widening disconnect between school and reality, which is readily documented in any volume of the history of American public education.
Reading David Elkind’s best selling book The Hurried Child triggered my sense of urgency over the reform that we need in our schools today. It has little to do with the insane Common Core expectation of all children knowing how to read by the first day of first grade, as Elkind points out – this does nothing to support lifelong habits of reading.
The reform we need is the reform that makes school less of a “pressure cooker” for our impoverished public school students and more of a place that fosters love, learning, and a love of learning. I don’t have all the answers, but reading The Hurried Child is encouraging me to make a commitment to talk back to the incredible stresses that my students face.
What are the stresses of schooling that our students face? (pp. 176-181)
- There are increasing amounts of theft and violence in schools. Here is an article about a school I used to work in that had unlocked side doors and a community center that led into the school. When I worked there, which was prior to the shameful crime documented in the article, the school was broken into multiple times, and many laptops and projectors were stolen. Furthermore, I was working at another school building when a drive-by shooting occurred on the main road and a bullet damaged the window of the school library.
- Schooling places false expectations on students. One I’ve seen frequently is students placed in Algebra I classes who do not have a basic mastery of their multiplication tables. Another is the Common Core expectation that children are reading by first grade. Not to mention the non-stop testing which is fully inclusive – our special education and beginning ELL students take the same tests as students without disabilities and language learning needs.
- Children are labeled quickly and early for behavior and learning disorders and disabilities. This is getting better in my district with more careful processes for identification and Response to Intervention , but still – often the only way for children to receive interventions is to state that they have a disability. And sometimes those interventions aren’t even available. For example, not one school I’ve worked in has had a dedicated reading specialist to serve children with dyslexia nor dedicated ESL teachers for advanced ELLs (WIDA level 4 and 5).
- Schools push children into adult busywork that includes routines of boredom and stress. I would love to see a vocational program offered for our middle school students who love to work with their hands. Many of my former students are succeeding at our district’s vocational high school in areas such as cosmetology (barbershop), culinary, and auto body, but that opportunity came along for them after years of feeling inferior.
Keeping an Eye Out for the Signs of School Burnout
“When children have to drag themselves to school day after day to face repeated failure, they sometimes develop chronic symptoms, which can be physical or psychological.” (p. 193)
These symptoms include:
- dissatisfaction with school
- poor work habits
- sleep disturbance
- agressive bullying
- quiet withdrawal
- chronic cheating
- excessive drug and alcohol use (pp. 192-194)
So what if what we the educators are doing in schools is literally making children sick? Is our obedience to higher ups (including the federal government) actually harming our children?
How Can We Support Our Students?
Elkind provides two interesting assessment tools, a Stress Test for Children and a Contract Evaluation form, which parents and educators can use to reflect on children’s stress levels as well as the expectations placed upon and support given to students. However, it is clear that it is our responsibility as educators, parents, and concerned citizens to talk back to school stressors through writing, discussion, and political action.