Putting children first

by Social Resistance

In this new column part of a serie on education, Nesibe Balta, author of school books argues that we should focus much more on the needs, dreams and the world of children within our education system.

“You’re in a classroom together with other teenagers. Your teacher is telling about the world that awaits you. One day you have to leave your school and one day you’ll have to make your own choices. It’s quite a lot when you’ve turned 16, but you’re well prepared and you know what real life is. Maybe you’re not that good in citing definitions and solving equations, but you’ve experienced real life several times and you know where you’re going. Sometimes it seems far away, but you’re sure that one day you’ll play your role in life, just like your classmates. You’ve traveled together down the path of education and now you start the last years of schooling together. Together you look forward to learning new things. Learning is a pleasure to you.”

How many teens can say this? How many teens long to learn and have great expectations for the future? How many teens want to go to school? And how many really know which road to travel? Indeed: just a few, too little to notice.

Many youngsters are tired of school and tired of learning at the age of 16. They want to relax, play and party. Listening to teachers who tell them dull stuff isn’t on their list of favorite things. They don’t want to learn any useless facts. At the age of 18 they feel like leaving prison: they are free, they don’t have to go to school anymore. And that’s worth celebrating. But then real life starts and they have to make choices. But where do they begin? What will they do? Where to go? Some of them choose a profession, others go to university. But only a few of them know what life will bring. Just a few know which road they want to travel and where that road will lead them.

This isn’t a recent problem, but in the last decades, the situation became worse. The pressure on kids and teens is very high: they have to learn a lot by heart. Because of the high requirements they choose to learn only some of the offered knowledge or to learn all of the knowledge superficially.  Many choose the second option and only learn the minimum required knowledge to pass the exams and other evaluations. But once the exams end, they forget whatever they learned. They don’t master it. And after the holidays they have to learn it again, but once the school doors are closed all the knowledge has no use to them so they leave it all when leaving school. School seems like a game. The ones who master the rules win it. The ones who can’t play the game by the rules try it, but they rarely succeed.

School should educate children and prepare them for their adult life. But yet we see that education is used to suppress the masses. It’s a perfect weapon to shape the society of tomorrow like you want it. Our education system tells a lot about our society. it tells us how we see the world and others.  It reflects the values that are important to us. By teaching children these values we make sure that they are passed to the generations to come.

In our education system we value social adaptation and individuality (unless it conflicts with social adaptation). Also knowledge is highly valued: we start with the numbers, reading, computers and world orientation in kindergarten.  Children don’t play spontaneously but are guided in their playing. Playing must be useful and educational. Children are shaped the way society desires it. They are small production units and they must be useful to society.  They don’t have to shape the world of tomorrow, but they have to build the world of tomorrow on the foundations of the world today. Creativity is valued, but when creativity leads to changes, it’s chained. Children are not seen as individuals, they are the way the society shapes them.

Yes, school should prepare them for their adult lives. But when we look at the education system we see that children aren’t well prepared. They are only prepared to work and be useful. Young adults have to learn the things that are important for our species by themselves, like social interactions (human relations), reproduction and even important daily activities like eating, drinking or housing. Those activities don’t directly contribute to work, so they are considered less important. That’s why young adults barely know how to prepare food en why they have to call their parents each time they are faced with practical problems in their daily life. And when they become parents, they have no idea how to parent. They try to imitate the parenting of their parents or other parents without even thinking and without following their instincts. Relationships are based on trial-and-error and the rate of divorces is very high. we haven’t learned how to maintain longterm relations. We have learned about differentials and integrals, but we haven’t learned how to communicate with our partner.

Children are indeed production units. We don’t act for the benefit of the child but look at achieving goals. The goals to achieve are based on averages. The individual development of a child (starting from the moment of conception) comes to an end. We consider it very normal that a baby learns to talk when he’s ready (physically and mentally) but when a 6 year old isn’t ready to write we force him, even so with a 14 year old who can’t manage equations. Everybody is measured by averages. Those who are slower or faster than the average are separated and measured by other averages (based on those who are slower or faster than the average).
Children at the age of 4 begin to discover the world around them. They ask why-questions to understand the world around them. But their interest in the world stops when education starts. Passion is only for your spare time. In school you have to learn to silence your inner curiosity and you have to  do your learning the way the society expects it.

But this isn’t the way it has to be. It’s possible to create an education system that puts the child in the center.  Since the early days of humanity, children learned by imitation and trial-and-error. They master everything they need through practice. But in the last centuries the learning process has been controlled by society. We have to teach children how they have to learn. Yes, their curiosity is silenced. But an education system that listens to children and takes the individual development, abilities and restrictions of the child into account, is a system where children can develop fully. They learn how to contribute to society instead of replicating whatever society taught them.

In such a system, the child should be treated like a individual. But this doesn’t mean that adults should act like the child expects, that there are no boundaries and rules. No, adults are there to guide the child on his path to maturity. They help the child to understand the society we live in. The child learns by himself because he wants to learn. Teachers are there to help the child overcome obstacles and to challenge him when needed. Only in such a system can the child develop fully and contribute to society.  He will know his own limitations, abilities and respect society and contribute wherever he can.

Nesibe Balta is columnist at Social Resistance and freelance writer