Leave those kids alone

Wouldn’t it be convenient if all the groups society agonised about were compulsorily cattled together for 35 hours a week?

Obese patients. The Biggest Loser could become a national programme. The depressed and the anxious. Dose them up with an SSRI, a meditation course, and silent reading sessions of a book on cognitive behavioural therapy. The unemployed. 9 am to 10 am: Guardian jobs. 10 am to 11 am: CV formatting. People having unsafe sex. Show them pictures of gonorrhoea on gonads, and load them up with condoms on their way out.

It would be so easy. We could solve all of society’s ills. (Apart from when they went home of course. But that’s OK. At that point we could blame the people they live with.)

The structure of school – where the vast majority of the population of a particular age are put together for 7 hours a day – means it is dangerously susceptible to this form of thinking. Something wrong with the under-16 population? Schools seem like the perfect arena for an intervention.

There’s just one problem: what this intervention takes the place of. School pupils are little people; they broadly have the same range of problems as big people. They get fat; they get ill; they get sad; they make bad decisions. And even where they don’t, they’re future big people. They might not have a gambling problem now, but let’s get in the PSHE sessions when they’re 13 to save them in a decade’s time. Soon we end up with a school curriculum like the TES’ media crowd-sourced timetable.

school tt

Schools become the place where we fight terrorism, tackle obesity, address mental illness, perform social work… the list goes on

School is not a holding pen for children to test out policy initiatives en masse. We must not be shamed by arguments about caring, or blinded by the novelty of intriguing initiatives. An aim can be worthy, and teachers can care about it, but it doesn’t follow that school time and teachers’ energy should be used on it.

School is for making people smarter. We must preserve that. Anything that doesn’t serve that purpose must be batted away at the school gates.

4 thoughts on “Leave those kids alone

  1. suecowley

    On the whole, I’m inclined to agree with the argument, mainly because I think politicians should stop asking schools to take responsibility for things that are outside their control rather than the ‘making people smarter’ argument. Then occasionally I come across something like this http://thedailymile.co.uk/ and I think it sounds like a great idea, with benefits for both health *and* learning. Maybe have a look and see what you think.

  2. mhorley

    That seems like a pretty extreme view to me. Schools are a huge part of a the formative experience of a child. To say they are just there to “make people smarter” belittles a lot of what teachers and schools do. At the best schools, children have a hugely enjoyable and enriching experience at the same time as getting “smarter”. This comes about because the teachers at those schools believe their role is not just to pour knowledge into empty vessels, but to create an environment where this can happen.

  3. Karin Litzcke

    Bang on. Everything done in compulsory schools is a form of psychological experimentation done on non-consenting subjects. There is no science of education; pedagogy was an early offshoot from the infant field of psychology and never advanced in the way that psychology itself did because it was immediately able to gain a captive clientele for whose outcomes it could never be held liable.
    Even if there WERE a distinct science, since there is no diagnostic process prior to schooling (or sentencing, as some writers have called it), there is no proof that the prescription of 13 years for 200 days per year suits any child, let alone all children. But regardless, the pedagogues and their consultancy exuberantly control the physicality, pace to maturation, and intellectual, social, and emotional development of every child in the developed world, and a lot in the developing world.
    It’s my observation that whales in captivity get a lot better advocacy than children in captivity do.
    The entire edifice of education, which creates gazillions of jobs for adults all over the planet, depends on the reliable attendance of the children, who do not get paid but who have to attend even if it is to their detriment. Putting those bums in seats is like a switch that turns the whole megacorp of education’s lights on.
    What would you call this if it were adults – slavery? indenture? living off the avails?
    It is, in modern terms, irredeemably illegal, and parents should be going to court in their respective constituencies in droves to get their children out, along with the tax money that is collected by governments ostensibly for the purpose of “educating” children.
    To their credit, 5 US states already offer this option as “education savings accounts” or “education empowerment accounts.” And where those options exist, so does a robust market of teacher entrepreneurship offering tailored programs that fit children’s needs and their families’ lives.
    I’m in Canada, but the whole world’s children are in thrall. Only the details vary.

  4. Brian

    There are countries in the world where universal education is not provided and it is therefore not compulsory to attend scholl.

    My guess is that you would not wish to raise your family in one of these and you are probably glad that you were not raised in one of these.

    Please note that parents are free to home school their kids or move to somewhere they are able to do their own thing.


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