Re: The Physiology of Education

We are undermining our educational system -- the best in the world -- in an attempt to make it better. Until now, we have produced the most creative group of highly educated people in the world, as

Mar 18, 1999 at 2:06 pm

We are undermining our educational system — the best in the world — in an attempt to make it better.

Until now, we have produced the most creative group of highly educated people in the world, as evidenced by our scientific innovations among other things. In fact, the desire of foreign students to take advantage of America's higher education programs is relentless.

Equally relentless has been a national trend among educators and politicians to ignore this state of affairs — the most sought after education in the world — and instead focus on educational failures to justify the misguided manipulation of children. The excuse for this abuse usually takes the form of a comparison. For example, the Japanese kids know so much more when they finish high school than our children do.

Actually, I was recently in Japan attending seminars. Education of Japanese children was described as follows: Children and parents spend a great deal of nervous effort working from kindergarten through high school with the sole purpose of getting a child into the right college so that a career in a good company is assured. Competition is tough. Once the child succeeds, his general attitude as a college student is, "I had no childhood, I have only a future of work ahead."

So what do college students do? Party.

In travels to Germany, our group discovered that the Germans, again emphasizing a work ethic in early education, view Americans as "creatives." Business leaders look to us for innovations that they can then systematize and improve upon.

Thus, despite the ebbs and flows in America's influence on the masses as a single unit, because of the fact that we are a huge country made of 50 states some of which are larger than the whole countries we compare ourselves to, we are by far the most innovative country in the world so far.

The trends in adult thought and action that now threaten our system result from fear — that we are not as good as we should be — and neglect. The neglect is from intellectual laziness that creates assumptions based on personal opinion. The neglect also arises from an adult refusal to make early schools either healthy or suited to the development of well-rounded human beings.

Over and over again, educators, place all energy into intellectually and physiologically misguided attempts to influence young children.

This often takes the form of pushing abstraction, normally a skill of early adolescence, into the early grades. Abstraction divorces the child from childhood and developmental reality: intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Abstraction also separates teachers and, many times, the higher the teacher's degree, the worse the separation from a whole awareness of what children are. More and more, children are becoming producers of test scores. Teacher's more and more, are trying to be child psychologists, authoritarian figures replacing family responsibility, or just police.

Here is an example of written instructions given to first- through third-graders by a zealous and acclaimed teacher in our school system: "Greek Mythology has been kept alive for over 3,000 years. ... Greek culture is a forebearer (sic) of our own art, architecture, philosophy, great conquests, democracy and love of fame. Unfortunately, much of this came at the cost of human happiness and the well-being of women and children. Reading the myths can prompt thoughtful discussion of just about every problem in the lives of modern children and adults."

Who in the world was this teacher talking too? Certainly not the college seminar where this type of statement belongs so that its erroneous assumptions can be exposed and debated. Certainly not the parents who are not in the classroom. No, the recipients of this teacher's expertise were defenseless 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds.

Emotionally, despite the fact that multiage level classes were originally intended to allow freedom in rate of learning, this class was up against something quite base. The children were pitted against each other constantly in spelling and mental math competitions, regardless of achievement level or age. By the way, the math homework was taken from a text designed for fourth to sixth grade, up to five grades ahead for some of these kids.

This might seem like an extreme example. But, as a nation, all we hear about are reading programs geared toward an end of first-grade achievement. Or, in some cases a reading-well goal by the beginning of first grade. In fact, more than 20 years of longitudinal research demonstrates a learn-to-read age range of ages 5 through 9. Thus, written tests before fourth grade, from everything we know scientifically, are inaccurate and unfair.

Some programs have backed off of this method to allow development with great success. What does all the research show?

To prepare a sound mind, the most important subjects in early grades are music, art, gym, recess and foreign language. Early math should deal with spatial relationships that are tangible. All learning should be accompanied by a sense of play. Written material should be presented in a variety of forms and not pushed. And physical movement should be a continual part of most activities.

A great majority of schools, public and private, city and suburban, have neglected what I call the physiology of education. Gym, art, music and free expression are being curtailed. Movement is being restricted to an extent that would create lawsuits from corporate employees against businesses that acted similarly. Almost all buildings are out-of-date. Visual disturbances are epidemic with more than 80 percent of doctoral candidates being nearsighted. Asthma is on the increase everywhere. But most indoor air in schools, in terms of ventilation, doesn't come close to the quality requirements in the average casino, industrial warehouse, or, yes, school building.

Combine the physical assaults with the stress of learning, especially abstract learning, pushed ahead of even anatomical development, then think about the rampant increase in and expense for treatment of attention deficit disorder, dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Consider that "learning disabled" children placed in gifted programs because of a single talent fare quite well, while those left in standard settings resist intervention, remaining disabled. It is not just the disabled that are defined as such, but the different and the potentially brilliant.

Since colleges and perhaps trade schools are the institutions where testing is sane and rational, and undoubtedly age appropriate, this is where we should leave the main, career influencing measure of proficiency. Earlier schools should abound in variety and independence as long as they meet needs of human health, functioning, and freedom of individual development. This was the American way. Abe Lincoln sure would have a hard time becoming president today with his educational background, but maybe some personal trait of his could have been of much needed use recently. Perhaps schools other than the occasional experimental school will address the growing needs of those entrusted to our wisdom, regardless of a childish outburst, or emotion, or unique trait. Regardless of these being children.

In the meantime, our adult tantrums should end.