‘My children are very naughty.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well they won’t sit still!’
‘How old are they?’
The question here is why should they sit still? They’re children! They need to move. They need to be active. They need to explore the world around them. Getting them to sit still and listen to a teacher droning on for sixty minutes is a form of torture and anyone trying to subject children to this kind of routine shouldn’t be let anywhere near the little brats.
Such behaviour (by teachers and so-called educationalists) does little but shock me, really. Were they never children? Can’t they remember what they were like at that age? And if they were ‘as good as gold’, as many of them claim, either their memories are faulty or I really feel sorry for them.
Being a child is about having fun, experimenting and seeing where the barriers are. That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be barriers and consequences, but we shouldn’t expect children to behave like mini-adults they’re children.
I remember at six my favourite game in the playground was to sneak up behind the girls and pull their pigtails. Was this naughty? Well, maybe a little, but it was more to do with seeing what would happen. I knew the teachers would be angry, that was a no-brainer; what interested me was how loudly the girl would squeal or whether she would run after me. I was also fascinated by what happened if I pulled off the legs from one side of a spider – was this animal cruelty? Well, yes, but it was also a typical thing that little boys do—I wasn’t being naughty, I was being a child.
Children in the classroom are no different. They need to be given the opportunities to explore, to try things and not be constantly told to sit down, or be quiet, or stop asking questions. So why is it, when I visit classrooms around the world this is what I see teachers doing? Rigid rows of children learning what the curriculum dictates—what the teacher tells them they should do. No wonder many of them behave the way they do and push the boundaries even further—they’re being stifled.
‘But it’s not like that in our schools’, I hear you cry. ‘The children sit on the floor, or round tables.’ ‘They’re allowed to have fun.’
Sure, there are some lessons where children are allowed to let their hair down a bit, or even throw paint around, but these are the exceptions. It’s almost like allowing a prisoner an hour a day to exercise outside his cell. Children really need more freedom.
But why does this happen? Well, one of the fundamental reasons is the underlying purpose of education.
‘Education is about learning’, I hear you say.
‘Not true’, I reply. Education is about conditioning. It’s about getting our children ready for society. It’s about turning those little monsters into civilised members of our communities. To do this we need to educate them starting with acceptable norms of behaviour. Young children around the world are almost identical in the type of ‘naughty’ things they get up to when they are little, but by the time they are teenagers these same children behave in such a way it’s often easy to say in which country they went to school—they behave in the ways acceptable to that society.
I’m certainly not the first person to question the purpose and methods of our education systems. For a fantastic illustration of what education systems in the West are like, and why they work in the way they do take a look at the animated video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U. This video accompanies a talk given by renowned educational specialist Sir Ken Robinson.
The issue I’m trying to draw attention to is not about the content of the curriculum that children are being taught. Although I might have issues with this in some places (and I certainly do) what concerns me here is how our children are being taught. In many ways it’s very Victorian, the sort of attitude that gave us sayings such as ‘Children should be seen and not heard.’
So, what would I advocate? Well, first of all children should be encouraged to ask questions—especially my favourite one ‘Why?’ Secondly, we need to try to use activities that include moving, doing, experimenting—after all, we often say we are using activities and I think there is a clue in the word: ‘active’. Finally, we should let children be childlike. They aren’t automatons and they certainly shouldn’t be expected to behave in a way that is expected of adults.
I no longer want to hear teachers say their pupils are naughty. I want them to say that they are inquisitive, curious, energetic, fun. Sure, this is going to make teaching hard work and exhausting, but it’s also going to make everything so much more fun and, I’m pretty sure that more learning will actually take place.
Originally published in IATEFL Voices 222 Sept-Oct 2011