Monthly Archives: September 2015
I once had a high school English teacher (Mr. Olzman) who opened his first class with a speech something like this: (forgive my memory almost 20 years later). “I don’t expect you to respect me. I am going to EARN your respect. There are 17 students and 17 teachers in this classroom. We all have something to teach and something to learn from one other.” This one to one education method was one of the most effective I have ever experienced. We edited each other’s English essays. We actively learned together, from each other, and were respected for our thoughts. The One to One Model of education – where we learn from each other (parents, students, and staff) by establishing mutual respect needs to be a core component of the future of education.
As a parent I feel like what I want in my child’s educational experience isn’t unique. I want my daughter to have a place to play with other kids around her age. I want her to have the freedom to run around outside as much as possible and to be a kid as long as she feels the need to be. I want to be welcome as a parent to be involved in her education and have open and honest dialogue with her teachers. I want her uniqueness (and every child’s uniqueness) honored and not taught or trained out of her. I want her to feel safe and loved and excited to learn about her world.
What I see and am experiencing in education is the opposite and it astounds me. Already, in only preschool, I’m coming face to face with an educational system designed to make the children fit into a mold that conforms to the system (an out dated model designed to produce conformist corporate cogs. Not free agents or entrepreneurs). In this system we worked to explain her unique needs in detail, a plan was laid out and then the school decides it doesn’t have the bandwidth to meet her needs and changes the plan. This doesn’t work for her – she has an accident, she feels stress and shame. I have heard many other parent stories such as these around IEPs and other deviations from the system process in public school systems. How frustrating is it to have your child treated like a number that is out of sequence instead of a unique human being.
Systemizing kids is wrong and it will never yield educational results that match my dream for kids or their families. If we are a nation that honors diversity, uniqueness, and merit we must find a different solution than the one to many uniform educational model. We cannot have young children arrested for making clocks, or suspended for twirling pencils, or shamed because they have sensory processing disorder and are terrified of the public toilets because the flush noise sounds like an explosion to their ears. We can not teach children to mindlessly consume information dictated to them from a “teacher” and regurgitate it back on to a test later if we hope to have critically thinking, involved future adults. Children need to be respected for their creative thought and unique perspectives and capabilities.
I’ve long been interested in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and often thought that although it is a theory of psychology – it makes complete sense when applied to physiological systems including nerve systems and brain development. If a child, adult, or even mechanical system is stressed – it is not going to develop or perform optimally. If a human being is focused on basic survival – the neural system is not going to develop the ability for complex abstract thought and projection. It’s going to focus on getting air, water, food, and rest. And therefore the brain development in this scenario would be limited to what the body needed to focus on to survive. This article (http://news.sciencemag.org/brain-behavior/2015/03/poverty-may-affect-growth-children-s-brains) talks about a scientific study that shows poverty correlates with less brain development. A very interesting finding for us educators to look at and find creative ways to address!
From a sensory perspective – I wonder what children with Sensory Processing Disorder (a neurological challenge) need in order to learn and develop optimally. Because these children’s systems are on high alert, and often acting at a high level of stress due to unpredictability and fear of assault from the external (or internal) environment – how can we create a safe and calming environment where their nervous systems can calm, and take in new material and develop new pathways? All children to optimally learn need to be able to filter out ambient sensory noise, or need to learn in an environment that limits sensory noise. In a traditional classroom sensory noise includes tiled and echoing rooms, other kids voices, other kids and teachers bodies (standing in line), banging lockers, desks and books, alarm bells, buzzing and flickering poor quality lights, unpleasant smells, traffic, construction, etc. No wonder kids come home from school stressed out!
The Common Core Debate – This article presents the information well and lays out many of the reasons I’m opposed to Common Core.
My daughter would be at high risk of trauma or failure in a public classroom. Why? Because certain sensory needs are not addressed in a typical classroom – and when these needs aren’t met for her, the repercussions are pronounced and obvious. Symptoms of high anxiety (nail bitting, sleep disturbances, emotionally on edge, panic attacks, etc) and sensory over or under responsiveness become very apparent. For more typical children symptoms of not having sensory needs meet may appear as tiredness, hyperactivity, disinterest, apathy, moodiness, and / or stress.
The bottom line here, whether you have a sensory typical or atypical kid, is the public school system is often failing to address the fundamental needs of developing children. Much of our educational pedagogy is based on 60 year old theories that lack the benefit of modern developmental and cognitive neuro science and Psychology (Montessori, Waldorf, etc). And much of our educational policy is implemented in a top down maner from politicians to educators.
Many public schools are also failing at their secondary purpose. In addition to the failure of meeting the basic educational and physiological needs of students, the system is also failing to produce engaged and participatory members of our society. As Daniel Pink lays out in his book, Free Agent Nation, our working culture has shifted from a model where an employee dedicates herself to a parent company that cares for that employee over her lifetime (loyalty being the key virtue) to a network of self responsible free actors / individual contributors (self actualization being the key virtue). Education is still being taught in the one to many, one common core standard fits all method – which is not teaching the critical thinking and self responsibility skills needed to succeed in our present society.
Sensory School is my response to the fact that the current state of education is not keeping pace with scientific research or cultural change. I want to build a school where each student will have their basic physiological, developmental, and social needs not just met – but full filled. A school that will help each student on his or her path to self actualization by working with them to build the skills, passion, and confidence to be successful. A school that knows what it means to be a kid with fundamental sensory integration needs (whether typical, hyper or hypo sensitive) – and will design and evolve a curriculum and educational pedagogy that supports the sensory system.