Chapter 10: Modern Schooling
from the book "RootEd: How Trauma Impacts Learning and Society" by S.R. Zelenz
"Little children love the world. That is why they are so good at learning about it. For it is love, not tricks and techniques of thought, that lies at the heart of all true learning. Can we bring ourselves to let children learn and grow through that love?" John Holt
Many teachers and administrators in public, charter, and private schools feel that they must control children in order to ensure a constructive learning environment. Teachers and administrators do not trust children. They do not trust students to make decisions about their own learning. They do not trust students to help teach one another. They do not trust students to learn on their own.
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I have witnessed many teachers in schools recoil at the notion. Their number one issue is classroom management. Classroom management currently dictates a large portion of school time. Stopping the children from behaving in ways that prevent learning or “waste time.” The pressure to perform a certain level by a certain period in time is very real for the teachers, who then put this on the students. The teachers are pressured by the school district and the testing mechanisms put in place to make sure everyone learns certain things by a certain period of time regardless of their abilities, cognitive challenges, personal challenges, and speed in which they learn. The student is the product rather than the focus of the learning environment.
As a result, there are various strategies that have been used in many schools to curtail and prevent behavior issues. These can range from time out, having their desk moved to another part of the room away from their peers, detention, or loss of recess. In extreme cases, the student may be placed in in-school suspension, external suspension, or even expulsion. Some schools even resort to isolation chambers. The challenge with these actions is that attending school is compulsory, so they are literally putting the student out of compliance with their own government’s compulsory attendance laws. The primary focus is to put fear in the student, so they give in and comply. It has much more to do with the convenience of the adults in achieving the objectives than it is about understanding why the child may be reacting the way that they are.
Some schools implement awards systems to motivate good behavior. Utilizing operant conditioning methods derived by B.F. Skinner. In essence, children have been conditioned through training methods to respond on command. I have witnessed teachers use clapping, whistles, songs, and other trigger sounds to achieve these command responses. The orders received in the classroom are frequently:
Raise your hand
Go to the bathroom on permission
Eat when we tell you to
Do not skip school
Do not leave early without external justification provided by an authority
Rewards are then offered to children to achieve these tasks consistently. They are lauded as high achievers and dutiful citizens. They are given special prizes, privileges, and public acknowledgment. These manipulative ploys are using the brain’s reward system to attempt to manipulate behavior. The brain’s reward system is designed for survival. It is not designed for use by external parties for manipulation and control. To do so is actually rewiring the brain development of the child permanently. This is also found in those who threaten victims in domestic abuse. The mechanism is the same. Programmed hypervigilance is achieved.
Students are often discouraged from reflection. Teachers will publicly shame a student for staring out of the window or for not looking at the lesson being taught on the board. There are many things that could have been occurring in the child’s mind during that time. The child could have been thinking about an experience they had that their mind is attempting to resolve or find a solution to. They could be envisioning something they wish to write about or create. They could even be contemplating the lesson being offered at that exact moment in time. Maybe something the teacher said rang something meaningful in their mind and they are truly grasping the concept on an even deeper level than the teacher offered. All of these reasons are valid brain processing responses to stimulation and brain development. To have a teacher interrupt this process disconnects the development that had been occurring.
Educational Gains Not Met
Perhaps we would feel more confident that education was truly serving a public good if the education outcomes and gains promised were achieved. However, this is simply not the case. The purpose of education is not and never has been improvement of educational skills. None of the research studies that have addressed the efforts used to support the testing machine have been taken seriously unless they supported testing. In fact, there is no grant funding for research that doesn't support the sales of some kind of educational material. Anything that supports human interaction changing between adults and students is blatantly ignored by grant funding unless they can support the manufacture of a product to support this change. Despite this, the basic educational skill proficiency of students in the United States is bleak:
The assessment shows roughly one-third (34 percent) of U.S. eighth-graders and 40 percent of fourth-graders showed proficiency in reading and math in 2017 -- a trend that's remained since a jump in scores in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the last report in 2015, that figure was 25 percent for 12th graders.(Farland, 2018. Para. 5)
There is currently no evidence that the non-stop efforts to reform education, as previously mentioned in other chapters, have failed. Gimmicks are utilized and entertainment efforts engaged to lure children’s interest. It is failing. What it has done is teach adults how to be manipulative through efforts that condition children for narcissistic abuse with absolutely no evidence of educational attainment at the end of the effort. This is abuse.
There is much discussion over the theoretical white washing of education in America. This is not accurate. Education is not directed for any particular culture in America. In fact, it has removed every culture from its curriculum. This is why we see a lot of our white population with resistance and fear over other white populations worldwide. It isn’t exclusive to those of color. Those of color are easier to identify visually, but those who hold on to their cultural identities are attacked vehemently.
This is not a mistake. It was intentional since the inception of compulsory education. The removal of all cultural identities and the formation of holidays unique to America were formed in a vain attempt to create a unified population. It is clear that this has been a profound failure. This also ties deeply into epigenetic trauma and ancestral roots that will not allow a population to forget where they come from. The only response left is hatred for those who still demonstrate healthy expression of their culture or denial of one’s own roots. As if we are orphans from any ancestry. There is a huge disconnect in identity when this occurs, and schools have exacerbated this wound with their curriculum enormously.
Our current education model began in China. It was there long before it made its way to Prussia and beyond. The United States of America only pushed it in the last 170 years. In order to know what the education system is designed to do, one needs to look at the countries who had it first. As we can see, America is next in line for a communist state. Yes, this is the point of the system. It was never put in place to liberate citizens. It was put in place to replace slave labor or to condition the slave labor in specific directions. They put tinsel on it to get people to comply, while simultaneously making it compulsory and illegal to not participate. Propaganda is spread to make the population reinforce this belief so that independent thought is not allowed. Media is controlled. Entertainment is controlled. Loyalty is to the state first, employer second, and family last. A compliant workforce must be weak.
Tribal culture values strength and integrity. Protection of the clan. Not what we have in America. Countries with unified cultural populations are able to incorporate their cultural ancestry as part of their education. This means that America will never achieve this goal as it is a melting pot nation. To attempt to remove cultures entirely is genocide of identity. To try to create a unified identity violates epigenetic identity. It cannot be done, and it will present cultural clashes for centuries. This cannot be removed from human identity.
Study tribal cultures and the way they interact. It is evident that it is a critical component to their entire existence. It's not something they study under a microscope and analyze. The result of colonization was the separation from the core human components, making everything systematically separated and controlled. In order to accomplish this, reinforcement of cultural identity denial is absolutely required. It is all around us in the U.S.A., and it is intentional. To deny one’s roots and the core values of one’s ancestral people makes one dependent upon the information they are being fed to lead them. The lack of core identity found in the U.S.A. is painfully obvious and has exacerbated our abusive tendencies. Abuses that are directly in correlation with not accepting one's stripping of identity.
This brings us to the oppression that is inherent in this type of educational system. In order to oppress identity and create a uniform population that will serve their employers, it is important to keep them from focusing on what they resonate with. They cannot be tempted to find things that are counter to the end goal of a compliant workforce willing to accept conditions that may not be in their best interest. They push awards and possessions as goals in order to motivate the students and the workforce.
The oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves. They cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have. For them, having more is an inalienable right, a right they acquired through their own "effort," with their "courage to take risks." If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the "generous gestures" of the dominant class. Precisely because they are "ungrateful" and "envious," the oppressed are regarded as potential enemies who must be watched. (Freire, 1970, p. 59)
In an attempt to appease angry parents who are dissatisfied with the schools, there have been recent attempts to launch “charter” schools that are theoretically more in tune with the children and their individual interests. However, in practice, they are not really any different from the schools the children left. They may have better facilities. The expectations remain the same. Many of these schools are heavily supported through philanthropic investment from those who wish to have their own influence on education.
The largest issue with philanthropy today is that the government is excluded from solving the problem and the government is society (democratic society). So, by circumventing this, philanthropists are pushing personal agendas forward through contributions that ultimately benefit them in the end. Charter schools are a perfect example of how wealthy are using government funds to support their own financial coffers under the guise of providing improved education. There is no accountability, and the families are misled in believing that they are gaining an improved education for their children.
This is not to say that public schools were healthy nor provided what is needed. The issue is that no one is actually doing what is healthy or needed for children. The entire structure is about education jobs, curriculum development profits, and more. The education industry is one of the largest employers in America. It is a cash cow. People will not do anything to change the cash flow for those profiting from what is going on. If anything, they are exploiting a government required attendance policy to ensure a captive consumer which guarantees profits for them for many years.
“The Rockefellers and others funded research at the University of Iowa Child Welfare Research Station in the 1940s that tried to show that it was children’s home environment, not their heredity, that determines their success. They proved that if you changed the environment around children — gave them better toys, better ways to play, and such — that you have better outcomes. That was controversial proof that you could intervene in a poor child’s life, that their poverty was not a determinative factor.” Anand Giridharadas (Lindsey, 2018, para. 27)
Although charter schools began in the last 20 years, it is evident that interest in the education industry has been in full force since the 1940’s. This was also around the same time that efforts to increase education enrollment beyond eighth grade also began to expand. The longer we keep children in school, the longer we can profit from the educational industry. With students forced into attendance at least until they reach 16 years of age, and some through 18 years of age, we have even more products to design and more people to employ.
The implementation of student loans in 1965 has seen an ever-increasing push for students of every educational capability pushed to attend college and take out loans in order to attend. The banking industry became heavily invested in education as a result. It is so extreme that the current student loan debt held by borrowers in America exceeds $1.7 trillion dollars. This does not guarantee that degrees were awarded. Debt is owed whether the education is completed. Those with higher levels of personal challenges to overcome can sometimes find themselves in debt and without a degree. Thus, making their situation even worse than it was had they never gone to college in the first place.
It goes beyond cultural oppression and financial oppression. It also includes intellectual oppression. Noam Chomsky has written quite extensively on how education in America is used to suppress intellectual development and encouragement from those who could make meaningful changes to the status quo.
In fact, the whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on—because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions. (Chomsky, 2002, p. 111)
Not only does it limit intellectual curiosity in students, it also holds parents hostage to what they are allowed to do with their own children. Classroom rules are finding their way into family homes and the society as a whole. The school’s demands keep the parents jumping to the beat issued by teachers and school administrators. Family time is no longer family time. It is the parent’s turn to keep educating the child for the school’s goals. Reinforcement of adherence to this can be easily found when a parent tries to remove their child from the school in order to pursue home education. It doesn’t matter if the parent feels that the school inadequately addresses their child’s education needs, requirements to obey the school district’s demands remain (McDonald, 2018).
For those whose children have never fared well in a traditional classroom setting, attempts to utilize individual education plans theoretically designed with parents and teachers together, are limited to the school’s resources and understanding of how to do it. Most schools are woefully equipped to educate children of varying intellectual capacities and handicaps. This includes gifted children. Parents who have removed their children from school in order to meet their children’s individual education needs have often found themselves the target of a child-protection investigation utilized by the school district in order to bend the will of parents to comply with the school (Klein & Preston, 2018). The schools’ vested interest isn’t in the child. It is in the number of heads they can count in their funding allotment. More heads means more money.
Many of the families who find themselves strong-armed are incapable of taking legal action due to their economic limitations (Klein & Preston, 2018).. Those who come from wealthier families will rarely see this type of action taken by a school. Poorer families have come to expect it as a normal process for them. The school district and city government have no fear of financial retribution by the parents who cannot afford to take such legal actions against them. Whether the parents are following school regulations at home or not does not stop these attempts to pursue education neglect actions against parents (McDonald, 2018).
If, as Chomsky suggests, many of us have grown acquiescent to power due to our successful schooling, it can be hard to challenge authority. It can be even harder when that authority is strengthened by government force and when we may not have the resources to fight it.” (McDonald, 2018, para. 12)
Expectations for children have also changed dramatically in the last generation. Students are expected to learn at younger and younger ages, despite research that says such efforts are harmful (Carlsson-Page, McLaughlin, & Almon, 2015). Pressure to perform begins as early as kindergarten. Only thirty percent of teachers had reading expectations for kindergarten students in 1998. By 2010, that number rose to eighty percent of teachers not only expecting reading in kindergarten, but to become proficient readers that same year (McDonald, 2018). Not only does this show disregard for the developing brain at this age, but it also incorporates emotional psychological programming of inadequacy, anxiety, and confusion (Carlsson-Page, McLaughlin, & Almon, 2015).
The pressure to encourage parents to put their children in childcare that incorporates learning skills at younger and younger ages is also disconcerting. Due to the lack of family nurturing time and the high ratio of children per adult, these developing minds are being wired to feel more insecure than those who are raised with a higher number of adults per child in a familiar home environment. These younger years are critical brain development years, and they should not be handed over to strangers for development. The most critical development that can occur at such young ages is social-emotional development, fine motor skills, and establishing their place in a family unit. These fundamental factors are not properly addressed in any school setting or childcare facility as the structure is the reverse of a family unit and no adult is going to have the same level of investment in that child’s emotional development the way that a family would. This eventually leads to disruptive behaviors in the elementary grades and beyond.
The drugging of children for behavioral compliance and management has become very common in America. Since schools have never been questioned as the source of contention, the answers sought have always been how to correct the student to fit the school’s demands and needs. The advent of stimulant medication that demonstrated the ability to alter child behavior in a classroom setting became incredibly focused upon in the 1990s and beyond. The ramifications of such medication on a developing brain had never been studied. The results in the classroom were what determined the medication successful despite the potential risks and side effects. Many parents found themselves bullied by schools and childcare facilities to have their children labeled as hyperactive or oppositional so that they could be adequately medicated in order to make the job of the teacher easier. This was deemed more effective than the punitive strategies utilized to remove the child from the classroom for the benefit of the other students. Not once has the child’s experience been a consideration.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately 11 percent of children ages four to seventeen have been diagnosed with ADHD, and that number increased 42 percent from 2003-2004 to 2011-2012, with a majority of those diagnosed placed on medication. Perhaps more troubling, one-third of these diagnoses occur in children under age six (McDonald, 2018).
As we place children in classrooms and childcare facilities at younger and younger ages, we see steep increases in diagnosis of hyperactivity and attention deficit. Oppositional behavior has also been noted. This is especially true for those who have parents who work long hours and are not able to spend as much time with their children each day. The family connection essential to their young developing minds is ignored and replaced with structured facilities that expect the child to adapt to a group rather than learn to understand its identity within a group as would be done in a family unit. The craving for attention and feeling nurtured is not something that should be diagnosed and drugged. Not to mention that some of these children are actually demonstrating trauma responses. Their “bad” behavior is the only way they know how to cope with what they are experiencing. The response to this behavior is more aggression and detachment (fear and abandonment), which only reinforces the trauma for the child. This is in addition to the expectations in schools that the child may or may not be adequately developmentally ready for.
Another popular trend is to utilize a concept called “mindfulness” to address children’s behavior in classes. There is a new national movement focusing on “Trauma Informed Schools.” While in theory, this should be considered a good thing considering the stress many students are facing every day in their classrooms. Even more critically, schools are not fully aware of the traumas students experience outside of their walls. There can be abuse in many forms taking place in their homes, neighborhoods, or even within the school itself. Although it is supposed to be the school’s responsibility to monitor behavior and prevent abuse within its coffers, it frequently fails to accomplish this task. School shootings have been on the rise since the late 1990’s. Now, it is so common, no one is surprised anymore. Schools initially started closing campuses and hiring security or police to remain on campus during school hours. Now, many states are arming the teachers.
One thing that these mindfulness attempts miss is that traumatized students are vigilant for a reason. This is an instinctive protection against future trauma. To tell someone who has been severely traumatized that they are safe and that their mind is wrong creates severe cognitive dissonance that can wreak havoc on their functionality. They may lash out (fight), stop communicating and resist instruction (freeze), leave the class and refuse to return (flight), or become overly helpful in the attempt to gain approval (fawn). All of these are trauma responses, and one cannot simply tell a developing brain that they can forget what their brain has taught them in order to survive because the class is doing it. It is also truly detrimental for the students who face bullying in school. They know they must remain vigilant to protect themselves. They can never feel calm and safe until they know they actually ARE safe.
Mindfulness can be powerfully effective in the context of overall healing (Mallon, 2019). The classroom isn’t a counseling center, a licensed therapist, or psychologist. Teachers have no business implementing therapeutic tools without training on the entire psychological impact that this may have. This brings to question: how many roles must a teacher play? Security guard, police officer, mother, therapist, psychologist, teacher, and the list goes on. The bigger question is: would it be so bad to change schools so that it isn’t so painful and difficult for everyone? This is not representative of a constructive learning or teaching environment. It is indicative of an organization that has a big goal, and they don’t care what it takes to get there, even if there are serious losses and damages in the process. This is irresponsible management, and it should not be allowed.
I’m heartened that the phrase trauma-informed has entered the public consciousness. It serves as a guard against seeing mindfulness as a quick fix to complex problems. Some educators who promote mindfulness in schools are speaking caution about the fact that even closing one’s eyes feels dangerous to some children — along with offering guidelines about how to teach it safely. Currently, California’s Surgeon General is bringing attention to the fact that Adverse Childhood Experiences lead to poor health outcomes later in life. The point isn’t to make everyone so self-conscious about trauma triggers that we stop taking risks in helping others. The point is to bring the culture in line with reality. Techniques don’t heal people. But techniques, skillfully applied, can be powerful tools for healing. Trauma survivors are uniquely positioned to teach others what really works for them (Mallon, 2019).
Trauma is caused by the sheer removal of a child from his or her home at a young age in order to be educated and pressured to perform much sooner than their developmental capacity can allow. The tactics used by teachers and administrators to reinforce behavior management and conditioning further exacerbates trauma that any child has endured outside of the classroom and within the school itself. The blatant disregard for their developing minds in order to meet expectations and goals for those financially benefiting from their educational experience is criminal.
Lack of Interest
Last but not least, we also cannot ignore the student’s own interest in receiving education in the manner they are forced to receive it. Students are frequently described as showing no interest in education. It has become so commonly observed that researchers did a study to find out how students felt about school. What they found, across all demographic groups, was that negative feelings are prevalent and included feeling tired, stressed, and bored (Moeller et al., 2020). This does not negate positive experiences in school, but the prevalence is concerning as education doesn’t occur when these experiences are normalized. In order for effective learning to occur, students need to feel interested or curious at the very least. Engagement is predictive of deeper and more enduring learning (Moeller, 2020).
If the students aren’t learning, they aren’t interested in learning in this format, and they are experiencing trauma in the attempt to educate them, then what are we actually doing? It is being done for the benefit of adults, but the children will also eventually become adults. What kind of society do we create with this effort? The rise in psychological illness in the adult population in recent decades is an alarming statistic that we are not only harming our children, but our future adult population who will be governing our populace and providing care and services to those who rely upon them for their efforts. What kind of society are we creating? Is this worth it?
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