Friday, January 08, 2010

Breaking Kids

When asked why kids are committing suicide at such alarming rates, Goldie Hawn, a children's advocate, answered, "Hopelessness. An inability to be effective. They don't matter, I mean, they don't count. How can you count in a school when you're so pressured to make test scores? That's the measure of your excellence? Einstein was thrown out, he couldn't get into university.Where is the innovation, where is the creative energy? You can't take music and art out of schools. Not everybody is a student. But some of us can dream, some of us can create things. Who created Google? That's what's great about America. We are innovators."

She went on to say that rather than teach children by rote, "We want eager learners. We want kids who are inspired, who have wonder."

The Hawn Foundation works with schools to teach children that, "You can have control over how you think and how you feel." They teach children to recognize their emotions, to talk about them, to learn how to regulate them. Children are allowed specific times during the day to quiet their minds in focus on whatever they'd like, whether it be a flower, a picture, their feet, the horizon, whatever.

To quiet the mind allows it to recharge, in a way, its prefrontal cortex, the area where we create, learn, analyze, problem solve, and retain memory. According to Wikipedia, This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behaviors, personality expression, decision making and moderating correct social behavior. Tests have shown that when under stress the prefrontal cortext doesn't light up.

Where adults need to quiet their minds every 90 minutes or so, children require breaks every 25 minutes. In a world where over-extended busyness is foolishly considered 'productive success' we must ask ourselves, what are we doing to our kids when they are over-scheduled, over-schooled, and over-tired? No wonder school feels like an abyss. No wonder 'enrichment classes' feel like drudgery. No wonder there are conflicts galore among children - and adults for that matter - at school, at home, and out in the community. No wonder kids are often ill, with dark circles under their blood-shot eyes, behaving like lethargic little zombies. And no wonder some of them snap and turn to violence against one another, or to suicide.

I think Goldie is on to something because, as a tutor myself, I've noticed kids start to fall apart if they don't have regular breaks from schooling or from any sort of tedious task. I pushed my older kids pretty hard expecting things I shouldn't have before I figured this out. Amazing what a quick walk around the park will do or even a moment to just sit still and look out the window. What is learned with a rested brain is remembered better, too.

Personally, I find it interesting to learn that I can choose to have control over my feelings. Goldie mentions that the negativity of the news is depressing to her and she has to consciously find her happiness again. And she does. This is something I'm working on. The news - the state of the state, the nation, and the world - has a tremendous effect on all of us. More than we realize. We find ourselves depressed, sad, gloomy, anxious, having nightmares and don't really know why. I mean, it's just the news, right? That said, imagine how children feel hearing these things every day from the media, teachers, parents, and other kids. On top of that, they are expected to be top students, get into top universities, enter high-powered jobs, and well, yeah, change the world!

Our children deserve to be naturally nurtured, taught practical mental and emotional health concepts, and most of all, given a hopeful environment in which to dream.


Valerie said...

I LOVE this post, Cheri! It is right on. Teaching 8th grade has been so eye-opening for me (especially teaching students with learning disabilities). I find myself frustrated with the constant number of things these kids need to accomplish during the year (reaching a certain score on the state test, constant "tasks" in various subject areas that need to be completed, etc.). Especially for my students, I find that there is little time for them to a. work on their strengths, and b. find a sense of true success in school. It's disheartening, and I try to give my students as much of an individualized education as I can, but it's almost impossible when there are so many ridiculous expectations and hoops to jump through (and hardly any time to breathe in the meantime).

Cherie said...

Your comments, Valerie, are quite valuable considering your line of work. I appreciate the feedback very much. Your last sentence says it all.

I guess all we can do is be safe, calm places for kids and keep trying to educate 'the powers that be' about the damage that the current system creates in the lives of children. There really IS a better way.


cecily said...

All I can say is 'amen to that'

Thanks Cherie!

Cherie said...

You're welcome, Cecily. Glad you liked it.