You, Your Child, and School: Navigate Your Way to the Best Education by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

4. Raise Them Strong

  • More than eight of ten teenagers say they experience at least moderate stress during the school year. The stressors include school sources like high-stakes tests and college admission. They are joined with home-based stressors like parents fighting and financial problems. For poor kids, home stress usually comes in much bigger doses. Digital life can add even more stress. Other problems might include drugs, pornography, and inactivity. Poor physical health is also causing increases in diabetes, obesity, ADHD, autism, learning difficulties, anxiety, and depression.
  • So what does a parent do to fight this trend? First, be on the lookout for signs of stress like headaches, fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration, change in eating habits, and isolation from friends. If things seem bad enough, consider seeking professional help. Beyond that make sure they get enough sleep, go for at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, have opportunities for unstructured play, opportunities to get into nature and the real world, and can take measured risks with supervised exposure. Here Ken explains the science behind these tips along with specific resources.

5. Understand What School is For

  • We all have an inside world of thoughts and feelings and an outside world featuring the environment and other people. Education needs to deal with both. There are four main purposes. The first is economic development which involves finding a good job. Current schools may be educating for yesterday’s jobs. Then there is social development. While schools should help, parents have a bigger role here. Learning is social and we learn much from others. Schools need to give students chances to collaborate and work with each other, not just next to each other. Next is cultural development which is the total of values, beliefs, and behaviors we are surrounded by. Children learn as they absorb their surrounding culture. Finally, we have personal development and education needs to be personal, not standardized.
  • Given these purposes it’s clear that education needs to be about more than academic work. Eight competencies need to be addressed. Curiosity is something children come to school with. Schools and parents need to keep it alive with things that interest and inspired them. Creativity is something we all have and education needs to develop it. Criticism is where you examine ideas and information using reason and evidence. Collaboration involves working towards common outcomes and it needs to be practiced. Compassion involves the development of empathy and the avoidance of things like bullying where it breaks down. Composure requires that you know yourself so you can avoid things like anxiety and depression. Finally, citizenship deals with understanding your society and finding ways to fit in and help out.

6. Choose the Right School

  • Here Ken tells parents what to look for in a school along with some progressive options. Is the curriculum broad, balanced, and dynamic? How does it vary from one subject to another? What is the mix of desk study and practical work? We know it is important to move during the day. How does this happen? Ken is a big promoter of dancing in schools and cites evidence that students involving in regular dance lessons do better on standardized tests.
  • How much time do students spend engaged in group work? Research shows that doing so allows them to better learn content as they explain things to each other. They also get to work with students outside of their circle of friends. Do students of different ages mix during the day? A lot of cross-age learning and nurturing can happen. How are children assessed and what emphasis is placed on standardized summative testing as opposed to daily formative assessments that can inform teaching and learning? Does the schedule have any flexibility?
  • Be sure to visit and get a sense of the environment. Is it joyous or cold? Is there a strong connection with the community? Are parents welcomed to visit? Ken gives a list of ten symptoms that indicate your child’s current school isn’t working for them. Do they hate school, come home tired and cranky, complain about conflicts, are they excited about anything at school, and does the school want them medicated. Ken ends with examples of other approaches such as homeschooling and unschooling. He mentions several specific progressive schools with an emphasis on Montessori schools, which seem to offer most if not all of what Ken is pushing for.
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