In the evening before going back to school and starting work again, my daughter started to produce some strange symptoms, which we didn't know where they came from at the beginning. First, we noticed that she dropped a lot of things, she seemed fully distracted and some kind of palpable tension slowly started to build up in her. This eventually resulted in blaming herself for everything, saying how useless she was. This is not something that we had ever told her. So why is doing this to herself? - I asked myself.
Then she burst out in tears and asked me to go with her into their room to talk.
The tension building up in her started to take shape as we were talking for quite some time that seemed like long hours. This post would not be enough to tell you about all the feelings, worries, anxiety, questions that came out of her like the steam you want to hold back, but it is escaping. My replies to her are also shortened here.
She was in tears all throughout this long chat, and these are a few things she told me.
First she would not even look up at me, but slowly started to say:
"I'm not sure I can tell you all about this, because I'm worried that you'd be angry with me. My teachers would be angry at school if they had found out."
"We love you the way you are, so just tell me anything you want."- I replied.
"Mum, I want to get the stars for my work (they get stars only for absolutely perfect work, and can get a shiny sticker after collecting ten stars), but I hate writing so much. I just can't do it right."
"Why do you want to get stars and stickers?" - I asked
"I don't know."
"If you don't know the answer to this question, then these stars and stickers are not important to YOU. What is important that YOU know that you are content with your work, or what you would like to improve on. The stars and stickers won't tell you. It's only YOU who knows it."
"Mum, I got only 8 out of 10 in my last science test, and the reason why I didn't know the answer to these two questions was... (and she explained them to me)."
"Well, you just gave yourself a 10 out of 10." - I told her. "You know what went wrong and why, so you have learnt from it and there's nothing more important than this." Then I wrote a 10 on her test paper and signed it: "from mum"
She was still crying when she told me about the next thing.
"Mum, why do we have to put our bags on the desk between the two of us when we are writing tests? I cheated by looking at my mate's work once and was told off . It felt so bad. Why can't we help each other? Why is it not allowed to teach each other? Why is it bad if we whisper the answers to each other?"
So school is teaching our kids that they are not trusted . The teacher is thinking: "you might cheat, so I'm going to prevent that". If this is what they are teaching them, how can they expect the kids to trust their own teachers, I wonder. How can one teach without mutual trust?
Why do they have to write 10-20 tests per subject per term in the first grade? Why not use collaborative learning and teaching tools as it is said that this is the method used by the school? Why not teach kids to evaluate their own work and learn from it, rather than use imposed tests and grades that don't mean anything to anybody?
Having said that, I still think that we have managed to choose one of the best teachers at this school. The problem is that today's state-school educators have been conditioned to such a state of helplessness that they don't even question any of the rituals used in "education"- see, for example, preventing kids from cheating above. They got out of the habit of thinking: "Now hang on a minute. What does this do to the kids? How will they feel if I do this? What effect will this have on their feelings and then their reactions, behaviour? Is this really necessary? " Oh, god, so many un-asked questions.
My daughter, who was the happiest little human being on earth about the thought of starting school and learning how to read and write "properly", looking forward to learning about the real-world things, have fun with her mates last September as you can see it on the photo above...and I could continue her list here through long paragraphs, produces serious stress symptoms that go unnoticed at school. The trouble is, however, that it is not only her. This is a mass phenomenon that is explained by the teachers when asked as "this is the way it is, there's nothing more I could do". There are a great number of kids who drop out of school or move school, where they will go through the same things - lucky, if they don't.
Teachers are kept so busy with administrative duties, marking kids' tests, staying up late to correct every letter that is not round enough in red that they don't have time and energy for real education. So of course, they'll end up saying "this is the way it is, there's nothing more I could do".
Can we pleeeeease wake up and start changing the education system? I am totally aware that this is not going to happen overnight, but pleeeeeease do start thinking.
This was just a plea from a mum, one of the many mums around in Hungary.