Monday, July 31, 2006

They have to learn!

I'm reading John Holt's How Children Fail again, and noticing this time the stories about parents and teachers who think that it's necessary to teach children to endure being bored and unhappy. Parents who told Holt that yes, little Jonnie was learning much more than he ever had before, but they were worried that he was having too much fun in school. People who believe that school ought to be disciplined, dull, and not particularly happy, because "it will teach them about real life."

If that's what my school thought they were doing, it didn't bloody work. My real life has never been as pointless, boring, or miserable as school was.

In my own family, I learned about a year ago that Rob played a robot in a primary school play, and was haunted thereafter by the name "Robbie the Robot." The story was being told while his parents were visiting, and I said, aghast, "Oh, god, they didn't keep calling you Robbie the Robot, did they?" and he said "Only for the rest of the time I was in school," or similar. His father chimed in with "Well, you have to learn to give and take that kind of thing, don't you?"

His father, who is very very fond of his children, really quite protective, would never see them suffer financial discomfort, helps with such minor household tasks as loft conversions and supporting wall strengthening, or the occasional fitted kitchen, thinks that it is necessary to learn to give and receive minor bullying.

I walked out of the room, saying "Rob would never give anyone that kind of crap," which is true. He's far too nice to deliberately hurt someone for no reason other than the pleasure of hurting them, even a little. I'm not, of course, and I wasn't as a child - but I've never claimed to be as nice a person as Rob is. For a start, I was angry enough to say "crap" in front of my parents in law, which is a level of obscenity to which I would not normally stoop in front of "grown-ups".

It seems to me a matter of common sense that children will learn to deal with nastiness in their own ways in their own time, and that encouraging them to learn this earlier than absolutely necessary can't help anyone. Teaching them that it's normal and acceptable does nothing whatsoever to make the world a better place, any more than teaching them to solve their problems by hitting the child who has a coveted toy will.

I leave you with something my mother had up on the wall in her house when I was a child.

If a child lives with criticism
He learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility
He learns to fight.

If a child lives with ridicule
He learns to be shy.

If a child lives with jealousy
He learns to feel guilty.

But if a child lives with tolerance
He learns to be patient.

If a child lives with encouragement
He learns self-confidence.

If a child lives with praise
He learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness
He learns justice.

If a child lives with approval
He learns to like himself.

If a child lives with security
He learns to have faith.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship
He learns to find love in the world.


flybabydizzy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
flybabydizzy said...

Well, as far as I can see, Linnea is living proof of the positive side of that poem.
(sorry about messed up earlier post)

Anonymous said...

I have a friend whose father used to deliberately put unhelpful experiences her way (nothing abusive), because Life Is Like That and you Have To Learn To Cope.

She is almost 38, and has never really forgiven him.

My younger sister said that she had never as an adult encountered anywhere the level of sustained hostility that was the norm at school.

All the advice the magazines give - smile, ask about the other person, comment on the weather - just Doesn't Bloody Work with children and teenagers if they've decided you're the wrong person.

Anonymous said...

ooops, that was me, sorry.

Julie paradox

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