Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Desperate Times

Disclaimer: I am completely qualified to write about this in the same way that everybody is entitled to an opinion. I'm not claiming any moral, educational, or societal high-ground, here, but this matters to me so I'm saying it. I do welcome your comments and criticisms.

In her Huffington Post article, Fixing Our Schools, Not Drugging Our Kids, Lisa Belkin writes:

I left the room thinking, If the ways of a classroom don't work for more than 50 percent of the students, then the problem isn't with the kids, it's with the system.

In the same way, if the ways of the school system doesn't work for a subset of children that have to turn to medications to fit in, isn't the problem with that system, not with the children?

Of course it is. And that is the easy question. Next: what are we -- as parents, as educators and as society -- going to do about it?
This article is a reaction to Alan Schwarz' NY Times article, Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School. But while obviously the increasing prevalence of chronically medicated kids (I know quite a few myself) is an issue in our society, I think the problem, as Belkin states, is far deeper than that. So how can we solve it?

Tal and his friend Ethan at our weekly (F)unschool outing, where we go out in the world and learn about everything. This is due to the open conversation policy: We talk about everything that comes up. No holds barred. And we do it in the rich and fascinating wilderness where life's issues play out in real time.

My feeling is that although many of us turn to homeschooling and unschooling as a solution for our children, it simply isn't a good permanent fix for the problem. We're just removing them from the system and in many cases trying to replicate various parts of it at home, with far fewer resources. Yes, we manage to keep them safe from a lot of the societal flaws that are often accentuated when giant groups of kids are kept all day in institutions with little-to-no adult or real-world influence, but because of our culture's taboos and prudish (yet really quite raunchy in the back corners) way of life, we still can't include them in our life. Few people can practically bring their children to work. So many arts and culture events are serving alcohol (and therefore designated 19+) that the options for children are limited*. And let's face it. A lot of our 'adult' pastimes are so repugnant that we would never want our children to witness them. So why are we doing these things? Why? Why can't we feel fulfilled by creativity, social engagement, and any other activities that we would be proud to bring our children to?

I am not trying to malign the teachers and administrators who, for the most part, work tirelessly with often frustrating shackles and genuinely difficult problems to overcome. And yes, I am aware that various school boards across our continent are endlessly trying out new programs to administer something better to the children whose lives are in their hands. Oh -- did I say administer? Well fancy that. So I did.

But we have to do better. Much much much better. And it can't come within the current system.

What we really need is a complete societal change; a shift in the way we view our interactions with children. We need to see them not as vessels to be filled, nor as forms to be molded, nor less competent people to be 'cared for', but as valuable and essential contributors to what we generally consider our 'adult world'.

When we separate their world from ours, or give them objects, input, and experiences that are geared for children (or 'youth') then are we really giving them a foundation that enables them to be integral to our society? Are we giving them a way in or teaching them that they are not welcome? When we exclude kids from our world, then how can they learn the values we hope to pass on? Or is the truth that we are not living the life we hope they inherit? And if not, why not?

It really would take a massive change in the way we live for us to be able or willing to welcome our children as part of our society. But it's about bloody time we did.

*As an aside, my family is apparently featured in a new film which we would have loved to bring the children to. One of the producers called us and invited us to come see the film. He told me that my family, and especially my daughter, feature in one of the most heartwarming segments of the film, and he hopes we enjoy it. The Occupation premieres this weekend. But guess what? It's at the Rio Theatre. They're serving alcohol. And the kids can't go.

1 comment:

  1. This is a little unrelated, but I couldn't see a place to email you. (I am a special ed teacher, but I think a lot of unschooling principles would work well for children who learn differently, which is what led me to reading unschooling blogs.) I wondered if Tal and/or the kids you work with might be interested in this... I had the idea to start an online reading challenge for teens and tweens, where they would blog about what they were reading, and be able to win prizes. I collaborated with a bunch of YA authors, who donated books as prizes and offered to help moderate the site where the students would blog. So it is all set up... but I'm having trouble getting kids to sign up for it! (The challenge goes from Nov 17 to the first Saturday in January.) The trouble is that when I was setting it up I planned to reach out to schools and teachers, but they all say their schools have Internet policies that prevent their students from joining such projects on school time. So then I thought of unschooling families, who are, in my experience, more open minded and have more time to devote to different things.
    The Seasons Readings Challenge takes place on a secured social network. (Everyone has to request a membership and be approved to even get past the home page.) The students can create their own profiles, which include blogs. They are asked to post at least one blog entry per week about whatever they are reading. At the end, the number of posts they've written becomes the number of raffle tickets they can spend to try to win prizes.
    If this sounds like something your kids might enjoy, you can read more about it, and find out how to sign up, at
    (As for me, I am a special education teacher, and an avid reader, and I got the idea for this because I like participating in adult "blog challenges," and I thought it would be a great way to get older kids reading and writing.)
    Thanks for your time!
    - Nicki


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