July 16, 2014 By Jennifer L. W. Fink
My son saw the headline — “Why So Many Kids Can’t Sit Still in School Today” — over my shoulder.
He yelled, “Nobody can!”
To my son (who’s had his own issues with sitting still in school) and many other kids, the idea that school itself induces fidgeting is not at all a new idea. But many adults still seem somewhat perplexed by the prevalence of kids who have a hard time sitting still. Hence, articles such as the New York Times’ “A Link Between Fidgety Boys and a Sputtering Economy” and the Washington Post article my son saw over my shoulder.
“Do you want me to read it to you?” I asked.
“Sure,” my son said.
I read to him as he ate his lunch. Three paragraphs in, my son said, “That person is very, very smart.”
A bit further into the article — around the part where a local teacher comments that “at least eight of her twenty-two students have trouble paying attention on a good day” –my son interrupted me again.
“That’s what everyone is. They’re just too scared to bring it out.”
Shut Up, Sit Still and Be Quiet
My son is eight. He’s completed preschool, kindergarten, first grade and second grade, and in those few short years, he’s already figured out — and is aware of! – the power imbalance between students and teachers, kids and adults. At age eight, he knows he needs to move. He know most kids need to move far more than than do in a school day. But he and the other students already know that they can’t say anything about it or they’ll get in trouble.
That’s disturbing to me, and I hope it’s disturbing to you as well. Because what my son and his friends (and your kids) are learning is that it’s not OK to speak up and talk about what they need.
My son may only be eight years old, but he knows what he’s interested in and how he prefers to learn. Most educators, though, never ask him. Most educators are so focused on getting through all of the (adult-created) curriculum and requirements that what the kids need is an afterthought.
Meanwhile, our kids learn to shut up, sit still and be quiet. They also learn that there is something wrong with them if they can’t sit down, shut up and sit still. Go back to the WaPo article. Listen to the 6-year-old boy saying, “I hate myself” and “I’m no good at anything.”
That’s not a kid who’s being overly dramatic. Those are the words of a kid who spends hours every week in a system that tells him that his innate drives are wrong.
A Better Way
The true irony here is that mounds of educational and developmental research show that kids (both boys and girls) learn best when they are physically and intellectually engaged. When they are allowed to follow their interests and to learn through experience and experimentation.
Right now, school districts around the country are implementing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs that encourage kids to creatively and collaboratively solve problems. STEM programs are more than simple science, math and tech classes. According to the Englewood School District, STEM education “is active and focuses on a student-centered learning environment. Students engage in questioning, problem solving, collaboration, and hands-on activities while they address real life issues.”
Industry and business leaders have long been asking for employees who can creatively problem solve. In response, the federal government has allotted millions of dollars (via Race to the Top grants ) to support STEM education. And yet, in too many places, our youngest students are told to sit down and shut up.
I asked my son how adults could make schools better for kids. His first answer was, “Make recess better. Let kids bring bikes and stuff, and have longer recesses.”
His next words were profound: “They need school to be kid-friendly place, not a grown-up friendly place.”
I hope our educators and policy makers are listening.