A friend of mine has been dealing with some intense challenges with her son’s school. Her sweet but very active 5-year-old son has been suspended three times in the past three weeks. I’m tempted to say he was suspended for rule infractions that could fit under the umbrella of “being a 5-year-old.” Most American kindergarteners are expected to sit still, stand still, be quiet, stay in line, and generally avoid typical 5-year-old behavior at all times. So sad.
While American kindergarteners are denied their one short recess for small infractions, kindergarteners in Finland are given as many as four free-play breaks between classes because “educators and parents here believe that these breaks are a powerful engine of learning that improves . . . executive function, concentration and cognitive focus, behavior, well-being, attendance, physical health, and yes, test scores, too” (Source). Professor Howard Gardner, from Harvard University Graduate School of Education, gave this advice for improving American schools: “Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States” (Source).
All of this has me thinking a lot about what really matters and what will really prepare my children for the actual future they will be living in. My research and my gut agree that what is being taught in most American schools is insufficient for and even opposed to what our children will actually need in the future. For what it’s worth, here are some questions I feel we should be thinking about.
It won’t matter how much education our children endure/receive if they can’t function in real life. Mental health challenges can seriously hinder a person’s ability to hold a job. I was completely incapacitated by my anxiety and depression a few years ago. There’s no way I could have gone to work–I could barely feed myself. Mental health challenges have become a modern epidemic. I am especially keen on helping my kids have healthy minds. So when I saw this in Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth, I definitely took note: “A study published in 2002 found a direct relationship between how much time high school students spent on homework and the levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and other mood disturbances they experienced” (p. 11).
Schoolwork should never be pursued at the expense of our children’s mental health. One of my goals as a parent and home-educator is to give my children the down time, tools, and resources to handle whatever stresses they may encounter in their futures–meditation, yoga, breathing, rest/relaxation, prayer, and so forth–and the comfort of knowing that there is no shame in needing to ask for help or to take medication if/when their tools are insufficient.
2) Will our children be physically strong?
Physical and mental health are definitely connected, so this is an extention of #1, but it deserves its own heading, I think. I want my kids to grow up knowing how to prepare and feed themselves truly nourishing and inexpensive meals. I want them to develop healthy sleep habits. I want them to understand the consequences of addictions. I want them to learn about herbs, healing foods, and natural remedies to reduce their healthcare costs. I want my children to enjoy and seek out healthy recreational activities and outdoor sports.
I know I need to do a better job of encouraging outdoor physical activity with my kids. Angela Hanscom, pediatric occupational therapist (and author of Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children), gives parents and teachers this advice:
3) Will our children be able to care for their homes and belongings?
One of the primary reasons we wanted to homeschool was because public school and homework were eating up all our time. My kids couldn’t play, relax, read for fun, get exercise, or do chores, and all of that was a huge problem for me. Now chores are a part of our “school” every day. The longest longitudinal study ever conducted, the Harvard Grant study, provides ample reason to eliminate homework and replace it with housework:
The transformation from diligent kid to successful adult begins with chores. . . . At 75 years and counting, the [Grant] study has made landmark findings about the factors that drive human happiness. One of those factors: people who did more chores and housework in childhood are happier later in life (Source).
Keeping house is hard work, especially with little ones around. I want my kids to understand that the work of caring for a home and belongings is important and that their contributions to that effort are essential. I want them to understand that sharing a home with other people includes sharing in the labor required to maintain that home.
4) Will our children have useful skills?
Now that virtually all knowledge is available at our fingertips, memorizing facts is much less important than it was before the advent of the Internet and smartphone technology. So, personally, I am more interested in helping my kids pursue creative and skill-based education than having them waste time memorizing facts they will soon forget. What will matter more in their futures, I believe, is not what they know but rather what can they do?
If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. [His/her] writing skills will pay off. That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing clear writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate. Writing is making a comeback all over our society…Writing is today’s currency for good ideas (Source).
The following are some other useful skills that will likely be important for the future:
- Computer Coding- “Coding has become a core skill that bolsters a candidate’s chances of commanding a high salary” (Source).
- Leadership- “If you can prove that you can drive others forward and encourage the best from them, then you will quickly become a desirable asset to any business” (Source). “Today’s classrooms need to focus more on teaching leadership, flexibility and teamwork instead of times tables” (Source).
- Collaboration- “Today’s job candidates must be able to collaborate, communicate and solve problems – skills developed mainly through social and emotional learning” (Source). “Collaborative activity is the ‘secret sauce’ that enables teams to come up with innovative new products or creative, buzz-worthy marketing campaigns” (Source).
- Caregiving- “As more people live longer, every aspect of the health care sector is poised for growth” (Source).
- Data Analysis- “By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the knowledge of how to use big data to make key business decisions” (Source).
- Distraction Management- “Research shows that accident, disruption, distraction, and difference increase our motivation to learn and to solve problems, both individually and collectively. The key is to embrace and even create positive interruptions. In the future, continuous partial attention will perhaps be seen not as a problem but as a critical new skill” (Source).
- Creative Problem Solving- “Creativity and innovation are the number 1 strategic priorities for organizations the world over” (Source). “As we rely more and more on machines to make strategy decisions based on big data, human leaders are increasingly needed to supply the one thing machines cannot: creativity” (Source).
- Music- A surprising number of our world’s most successful/influential people were/are also accomplished musicians (Einstein played violin and piano). “The daily practice of music might actually stimulate not only everyday creativity, but genius-level creativity as well” (Source). “Music uniquely enhances higher brain functions required for mathematics, chess, science and engineering” (Source). Also, in my personal opinion, there will always be a need/desire for live in-person music, even (and especially) if the world were to fall to ruin and chaos.
These are certainly not the only important questions we should be asking ourselves, but these are the questions that have been occupying my mind the most lately. What questions would you add to the list?