Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Institutionalized Child Abuse

Last year at this time Seattle's Public School teachers were on strike. They had a list of demands, most of which were ultimately met, including the requirement that all elementary school children receive a minimum of 30 minutes a day on the playground. As pathetic as that victory might sound to those of us who live and work in the world of play-based education, some schools were limiting their charges to 15 minutes of recess over a school day. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in America and indeed many other parts of the world.

As heartlessly cruel as this sounds, it's the result of administrators and teachers who have bought into the entirely unsupported myth that more "instruction time" will result in "better results," and that every moment of free play, especially outdoors, is a waste of time. Meanwhile, 17 million children worldwide have been prescribed addictive stimulants (like Ritalin), antidepressants and other mind-altering drugs for "educational" and behavioral problems, over half of them in the US. Already one in ten American students are on these drugs and the fastest growing segment are children five and under.

And now this from the UK
Tests to assess . . . children's physical development at the start of the first school year found that almost a third to be "of concern" for lack of motor skills and reflexes. Almost 90 per cent of children demonstrated some degree of movement difficulty for their age . . . The tests suggest up to 30 per cent of children are starting school with symptoms typically associated with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and ADHD -- conditions which can be improved with correct levels of physical activity, experts say.

What's to blame? Lack of physical play is a big part of it, but there's more. According researcher Dr. Rebecca Duncombe:

"Young children have access to iPads and are much more likely to be sat in car seats or chairs . . . But the problem can also be attributed to competitive parenting -- parents who want they children to walk as soon as possible risk letting them miss out on key mobility developments which help a child to find their strength and balance."

And why do we have competitive parenting: because our schools, indeed our entire educational environment, is built around the idea of competition; around the cruel caution that "You don't want your child to fall behind." Bill Gates has succeeded in "unleashing powerful market forces" on our children and this is the result. Because we have to get them ready for the "competitive job market of tomorrow," we've herded them indoors, where they spend their days locked in being force-fed "knowledge" like it's some sort of factory farm. It's so bad that we have to drug them. It's so bad that  90 percent of our four-year-olds aren't even getting the opportunity to learn how to move their bodies properly. The only other human institutions of which I'm aware that regularly drug and confine people are prisons and mental wards.

Instead of understanding the truth about young children -- that they need to move their bodies, a lot, and preferably outdoors -- we have created a very, very narrow range of "normal" into which we are forcing our children. This is outrageous. It's malpractice. And it's on all of us for letting it happen.

I usually try to end these posts on a positive or hopeful note, but the best I can do right now is to say that at least Seattle's Public School kids are getting their 30 minutes outdoors this year . . . Unless, of course, they are being punished, because taking away recess is one of the more common "consequences" for children who can't sit still and focus. And if they fail too often, we drug them.

Parents: the more time your child spends outdoors, playing, the smarter she will be. Create it at home and demand if from our schools. Teachers: the more time your students spend outdoors, playing, the smarter they will be. Create it at school and demand more of it from your administrators. This is the science. This is what we know about children. What's happening now is nothing short of institutionalized child abuse and we're all a part of permitting it to happen.

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Arthur Battram said...

Fight the power, Tom. My hero. Not joking, in serious. Keep it up sir, the tide might be turning.

Cue Tracy Chapman, 'Talking about a revolution...

Unknown said...

As and adult diagnosed and medicated for ADD both now and when I was a child, I am grateful for this viewpoint and that there are people out there fighting for our children. If I could have benefited from more movement, play, and outdoors time 30 years ago I cannot imagine how hard it is for children today.

Erin McKittrick - Ground Truth Trekking said...

You speak so frequently and eloquently about the failure of most schools to teach in a child-appropriate way. What do you think about the homeschooling movement? For current parent of a young child, it seems like clearly the best option--if you have the option--rather than pushing for a theoretical better future that won't be nearly in time for a current youngster's childhood. Of course, not everyone has (or wants) that option, and we need to make public schools better for everyone.

How to reconcile that? Public school districts often mourn the loss of the student $ that would have come with homeschoolers, and at least in Alaska (where I live) programs that partially integrate homeschoolers into public school programs are common. Perhaps this is a way forward? School districts want homeschoolers back, they demand more flexibility and play, then all kids get more flexibility and play? I don't know how much that will really help, but as a parent of 5 and 7 year olds, it seems like the only rational option that doesn't sacrifice their lives for the cause.

Virtual Sound said...

Of course, the thing about the tide is that it WILL eventually turn, but then it WILL turn back again.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I love this. That is one of many reasons we are homeschooling our grandaughter age 6 who lives with us. If it is not our parklike home where she lives to explore, it is a local park or Little Gym or social time with other kids. She is on the ASD scale and has a bit of the ADHD as well. She is nonstop, loves to learn and play, kid. I actually teared up reading how our kids are not getting this play time, Tom. Keep it up as someone else said. Please we need more like you as well.

Kolla Kolbeinsdottir said...

Arthur, you nailed it. Teacher Tom is a hero.
I'm down for a revolution that brings more outdoor playtime to kids.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Tom! More of us parents are seeking and creating alternative environments for our kids. I co-founded a nature-focused cooperative elementary school here in Northern Virginia after our son moved from a cooperative, play-based preschool into our nationally ranked public school. We lasted one year. 28 students in one classroom, time-outs with children sitting in a corner with an hourglass (when the sand runs out, you may rejoin the class), no recess for three months in the winter because it was snowy or "too cold." We were willing to volunteer our time and energy, but we quickly realized that it would be almost impossible to make any kind of real institutional change. So we moved our time and energy into creating something new:

THANK YOU for continuing to educate and speak out!

Anonymous said...

Amazing that I automatically skipped this post. I just can't handle one more sentence about (what I presume to be) children not getting to be children. It's disgusting that we even need to talk about it in 2016.