by Dave Opalewski
Someone once stated that “as educators, teaching children isn’t as much as what we do as who we are.” Reading deeper into this statement two important beliefs can be inferred:
The major question we must address is does the present state of education in our country reflect these two important beliefs?
It is easy to point the finger at parents for not having their children “learning ready” as they enter preschool or kindergarten. It is also equally easy to place blame on parents for a void in children’s emotional development and a lack of values and social skills. Although many parents do a stellar job in raising their children, educational institutions are not excused of the responsibility of helping to develop every child’s heart as well as their minds. In fact, The Search Institute in their 40 Developmental Assets, (assets children need to become emotionally healthy) list 3 assets all educators need to be aware of:
Asset #3 – “Children need support from 3 or more nonparent adults” – Most of these adults tend to be teachers.
Asset # 5 – “Caring school climate” – The school needs to provide a caring and encouraging environment.
Asset # 24 – “Bonding to school” – The young person cares about his/her school.
From these three assets we must conclude that children from sound homes still need the emotional and social developmental skills schools must model and value. We can also see the role schools must play in developing the whole child.
Although it is of no value to assign blame, the following questions needs to be asked; “Is our present educational system becoming guilty of not meeting children’s needs by focusing on demands forced on it by the “No Child Left Behind” legislation? By concentrating on getting students to pass a state assessment test are educators failing to present students’ opportunities to develop healthy emotional and social skills through developing community in the classroom and school environments? Although academic knowledge and skills are very important, the focus seems to be on developing children’s minds and little if any time is left for developing the heart. As a result, opportunities for children to learn about and discuss social and emotional issues facing them in the classroom have become rare. Thus, the chance for children to become emotionally healthy, well rounded and productive citizens are lessened. The following short list of recent statistics can be strong evidence for this point:
The point must be made that this is a short list of issues facing our children. Additional issues such as bullying, divorce, parental unemployment, poverty, etc. create the need for providing healthy emotional development opportunities for our students.
In 1983 Rudolph Flesch reprinted his book, “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” This book was a shocking wake-up call for educators and parents. It brought to light that we were quickly becoming an illiterate society and the devastating price we will pay if things don’t change. “The 5 Additional R’s” is a wake-up call of equal or even greater degree. One must ask of what value will knowledge be to us if we as a society are emotionally unstable and socially uncooperative? We can’t and should not try to separate the mind from the heart.
Although the educational system can’t be and shouldn’t be blamed and held totally responsible to solve these issues, educators must believe that they can be a positive factor in helping children deal with their issues and develop resiliency skills. Just like quality environments lead to healthy lives, quality educational environments lead to quality lifelong educational opportunities for children.
The good news is teachers already have the tools to create quality classroom environments which develop children’s hearts as well as their minds. No requisitions have to be filled out or additional money needs to be spent. Additional classes don’t need to be added to the existing curriculum. “Who we are as educators” means we are people who love children and adolescents and are dedicated to their happiness and success in life both inside and outside of the classroom. It also means we recognize a strong sense of urgency in getting the focus back on developing the whole child; emotionally, socially, as well as academically.
by Dave Opalewski
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