|Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs (Image by Factoryjoe)|
Most parents in industrialized societies are conditioned by their own schooling to be obedient and unquestioning of their children’s schools and the so-called authorities therein. A frightening majority of parents are unaware that most everything that traditional school teachers do is developmentally inappropriate and even harmful for youth of all ages. However, a growing movement of parents are parenting through awareness, consciousness and connection to their children’s needs. Many of these parents are opting out of public and traditional schools are are seeking refuge for their children in child-centered and democratic schools or through homeschooling and unschooling.
As a mother of an unschooling teen son, and based on the years of complaints I have heard from parents and their children about traditional schools, I have compiled a list of concerns and presented them to teachers in the context of their own education:
1. In college and Grad school, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was an elementary principle that you learned. Maslow stated that if basic physical and emotional needs are not met, a child cannot properly attend to higher level functions such as learning. Yet, despite your “education”, you hurt our children’s bodies, emotions, minds and spirits every day in the name of routines, rules and “classroom management”.
2. As “trained professionals”, you seem to be ignorant about the basic functioning of the human body. You deny our children their right to eat when hungry, causing their blood sugar to drop and putting them at risk for fatigue, nausea and mood instability. You deny our children their right to use the toilet when needed, causing them intense pain and desperation and putting them at risk for urinary and gastrointestinal dysfunction and damage. You deny them hydration, causing them to dehydrate and putting them at risk for headaches, mental fog, lethargy and medical problems. You deny our children physical activity at their will, causing them distress and putting them at risk for hyperactivity, challenging behavior, inability to focus and obesity, weakness and medical problems. You also act oblivious as to how preoccupying and awkward sexual development can be in a school setting for our teen boys and girls, putting them at risk for shame, distress and early sexual activity.
3. You are responsible for referring our children to the mental health system to be labeled as “learning disabled”, “mentally ill” and “special needs”. Our children are prescribed powerful chemicals that alter their natural neurological functioning and do harm to every system of their bodies. You do this rather than deal with the fact that children need touch, movement and play and are not meant to be away from their families all day or learn in the conditions you force upon them. (In 19 states, you actually legally assault our children! It is unconscionable that you have failed to learn from your Master’s-level training that violence physically and psychologically traumatizes children.)
4. Through your studies in college and Grad school you should be aware that play is the very means by which all mammal children learn. You are aware that children learned for millennia through play and community interaction and that many of our world’s greatest minds were minimally or not schooled. You also observe every day how children long and beg to play and will, at all ages, risk getting into trouble to steal a moment of play. Yet, you refuse to allow our children to do as nature drives them to do- Play, move, jump, run, climb, explore, create and have fun. You seem to take the joy out of everything you give children to do and then you punish them when they act like children.
5. You know that one of the most dreadful times of the day for parents and children is homework time. You know that our children have been cooped up all day, away from their families, homes, friends, the outdoors, our communities and their interests. Yet despite the research that indicates that homework is not beneficial for children, you make our evenings at home a nightmare by forcing our children to do reading, paperwork and projects for you. You seem callous to the tears, tantrums and distress our children suffer every night and the helplessness we feel to be able to give them the time they need to be kids.
6. You are aware from your training that there are at least seven forms of human intelligence and at least three modalities of learning. You are aware that most children, especially our boys, are kinesthetic, hands-on learners. Yet you insist upon keeping children sedentary, all doing the same work, in the same auditory, linguistic or mathematical manner. You are aware that this sets up many children, especially our boys, for failure. You view most of our boys and our children who are artistic, musical, kinesthetic, creative, athletic, introspective, extroverted, quirky or perseverant as underachievers, lazy, learning disabled, mentally ill, behavioral problems or having “ADHD”. You view their passions as “hobbies” that do not count as “academics” and you rule out seeing that their “hobbies” are often more intricately academic than anything you are “teaching”.
7. You take our children away from us. They will be children for less than two decades out of a long adulthood, but you steal those critical years from us. Our children are touch and love starved all day in school. Your academic training taught you the vital importance of parent-child attachment and how a disruption can cause psychological problems. But you disrupt the parent-child bond by infringing upon our family time, causing emotional disconnection to deepen with each year. You subordinate children, causing them to form and focus on toxic peer networks. You can do little to protect our peer-tormented children because you have set yourselves apart from children, like another species. By the time our children are in their mid-teens, they are so depressed, angry and overwhelmed with busywork, pop-culture escapes and peer expectations that society has to write books to try to convince us that “pulling away” is natural in the teen years when in fact, it is not.
8. You talk to us as if you know our children, their needs and what is best for them better than we do. We assure you, you do not! Despite learning about Maslow, Bowlby, Ainsworth, Montagu, Harlow, Gardner and others in college and Grad school and despite your own common sense observations about children, you seem to do everything opposite of what our children need. Then, you gravely misjudge and punish their distress signals and define their humanity by their behavior. You treat our children without respect, empathy, compassion or love unless they behave according to your rules and expectations. You seem oblivious to their pain, vulnerability and distress.
9. You cause so many of our most creative, spirited children to hate learning and to lose their passion, creativity, interests, motivation and their charismatic or poetic personalities. Everything you expect takes their attention away from what they were born to do. You replace that with some federal agenda to do homogenized work, pass one-dimensional tests and seamlessly usher children into taking their “place” in the economy, either as perpetual students, workers, laborers or drop outs. Children processed by your system have no time to make up all of the living they missed from preschool through high school graduation. From there on, unless they find themselves, they will have a life of perpetual work and consumption until they die.
10. Know that a growing movement is showing us that our children do not have to live this way. There are joyful, free ways for our children to learn; ways they can play, thrive and feel happy, safe and good in their own skin… Ways they can manifest lives of passion, creativity and ingenuity in their own ways… We also want you to know that you do not have to be a part of the school system. If you truly love children, you could help us raise awareness to how the education system harms children. You could work in a democratic school or become a caring mentor to children in need. If you agree with us that the system does not allow you to meet our children’s needs, then work to restore childhood back to our children.
Laurie A. Couture is an unschooling, alternative education and attachment parenting coach and consultant. She is the author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the Causes of Our Children’s Acting-Out Behavior by Parenting and Educating the Way Nature Intended which was chosen as a finalist in the ForeWord Magazine Book-of- the-Year Awards in 2009. She appears as an expert in the documentary film, The War On Kids (2009) and is the host of The Free and Joyful Childhood Radio Show. Laurie was a recipient of the 2010 Manchester Union Leader’s Forty Under 40 honors. Visit her website at http://www.laurieacouture.com.
Read the Adventures in Learning blog reaction to this piece here.
Reactions to Ron Clark's initial piece
Read learning expert Linda Dobson's reaction to Ron Clark, Oprah and Disney here.