It is almost as though children are a different species of being -- one that has strong opinions, but none that should be at all regarded, noted, entered into any serious discussion. Schools can seem like battle grounds between teachers and kids. Teachers generally win, backed as they are by books, principals, demerits, detentions, retentions, and good old fashioned discipline. In a battle of wills between teachers and students, teachers might have the power position and therefore win, but something is lost. Something big.
The needs and desires of kids is so completely disregarded that I give myself this thought experiment: what would happen if the feelings of kids was to be elevated above adults? Who has the more uncorrupted mind?
An eight-year-old does not know the complexities of many situations, and therefore must defer to parents, I grant you. But he or she always knows what he likes, dislikes and hates. So do six-year-olds, and so do ten-year-olds. Kids may not always be able to articulate their feelings, or may not always take the risk of saying how they feel because they think they might "get in trouble" for it, but they always know how they feel, and those feelings are just as strong as an adult's.
Our school systems have been built on the adult's conception of what is good for children. Teachers and school administrators will always make a case for their understanding of what children need; but I would ask: How much of this understanding comes from books written by adults, conversations between parents and other teachers, or even great conferences dedicated to what children need -- and how much from talking to children?
Children are so used to their feelings being disregarded that they may not even know how to respond to a direct query: how do you feel about school? What would you want school to look like if you did it the way you wanted? I've asked a few kids this question and they either give me a funny look, shrug, say, "Ahdunno," or quip, "I'd fire all the teachers!"
What we have now is an institutional disregard for what children really want. Kids know perfectly well that in big issues, they have no say. We deny that, as adults; we defend ourselves, saying that all we do is for kids' own good! And yet we can't seem to rearrange the schedule at the middle school so that kids have more time to talk to each other, laugh, let off steam, maybe even run after a football. Why? Oh, all sorts of reasons. Because the literacy numbers are so bad that we have to add a class in Literacy, on top of the Language Arts class. Because the school did not make AYP last year and we have to use that time to cover material. All good reasons, real-life, adult problems. But kids really couldn't care less -- and they are the ones it is happening to. And when we make decisions because of outside forces like the need for Federal money, we need to be aware when it's running directly against what children want.
Children are born with a joyous desire to learn; it takes 12 years of public school for adults to beat it out of them.
When I ask people why we shouldn't lower the voting age to 12, often the reaction is laughter, a wrinkled brow, or a wave of the hand: that's just ridiculous. Kids don't have the emotional or intellectual maturity to vote. There it is again: kids do not count. Adults are the ones that manage the world, and they are the ones that make the rules. Kids can get all sentimental about stuff like endangered species, but they don't understand about jobs and the economy and the march of progress.
Could it be that the shorter the time you have lived, the fewer the complications that you've experienced, the more we should listen?
Someone is going to bring up Lord of the Flies, here. Obviously, kids can't run their own society without reference to adults. But....I never suggested they should. I am suggesting that when it comes to institutions dedicated to them, at least, that we sit and listen while they talk. Maybe even take notes. And at the first opportunity, change something about that institution, just because kids wanted it that way.
To get respect, you have to give respect.
Here is Sir Ken Robinson on kids' creativity. It's a funny speech and ties into the above post really well.