Monday, August 17, 2020

Sitting, Facing Forward, While Muted


As most American schools gear up to start their school year engaged in what is being called "remote learning," educators and parents have been sharing schedules on social media that involve putting elementary school aged children in front of computers for upwards of four hours a day. That's a lot of screen time. That's a lot of sitting. That's a lot of facing forward. That's a lot of being muted.

Of course, it's not like our children weren't already spending most of their school time sitting, facing forward, muted. The only difference is the screen.

I've spent my entire professional life being appalled by the model of education used by most schools, a method that only "works" if children are sitting, facing forward, and being muted. It runs counter to what we know about what young children need and how they learn. Most children learn best when they are free to move their bodies. Most children learn best when they are free to follow their curiosity. Most children learn best when they are free to engage in a community of fellow learners. When I see these remote learning schedules I'm reminded that our young children were already getting less than half hour to eat lunch, that they are spending less time outdoors than typical prison inmates, and that their curiosity is already viewed as a hinderance to the learning prescribed by this model based upon sitting, facing forward, and being muted.

I'm thinking this morning of the parents who have no choice but to remain at home with their children, often while trying to get their own work done. Many will feel it's their job to keep their children seated, focused, and quiet. Indeed, their children's schools are counting on them to do this. Some schools are even robbing children of the one good thing about remote learning by forbidding pajamas and requiring the kids to be dressed and groomed, another project of command and control being delegated to parents. Depending on their child's temperament, many parents will find that maintaining this sort of discipline is nearly a full time job. Others will find a balance of threats and rewards that will work for a day or two, but, as is the nature of threats and rewards, they will need to be regularly modified in order to be effective. A few will find that their child appears contented as they sit, facing forward, muted. Some might be proud of their child for this accomplishment, but most, I imagine, will feel sad that this is how their child is spending their childhood and that they have learned to accept it so compliantly.

A generation of parents is going to find out what really happens inside of our schools. When they complain, they'll be assured that it isn't always like this, that once we return to "normal" everything will be better, but there will always be a significant amount of sitting, facing forward, while muted, and there always will be, because this model of education cannot function any other way.

It makes me sad, but I've been sad about this for decades and it's why I started writing this blog in the first place. Traditional schools have never been been a place for children or education. Many teachers of young children know this, but their livelihood depends on adhering to a model that has been devised by people who don't understand the first thing about young children and who feel, without any empirical support whatsoever, that they know best about what, when, and how children need to be taught. It's a system that ignores the developmental needs of young children to learn with their whole bodies, their interests, and, most tragically, their curiosity. It's a system in which being muted is necessary.

There are always silver linings and I anticipate that one of them will be that many parents will be as appalled as I am. They will not like who they must be in order to  keep their child seated, faced forward, and muted. They will see that it requires as much time and energy as it does to play with their child. They will rebel. They will turn off their computers and take their children outdoors. They will read books to them. They will sing with them. They will play games with them. They will discover what their child is genuinely curious about realize what an incredible waste it is to sit, facing forward, while muted.

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