Blog #12: Educoercion

In subsequent blogs I hope to focus less on what is wrong with our educational system and more on what can be done to help us move in a more positive direction. But first, I feel a need to highlight a particular element in education, and to give it a name. I call it ‘educoercion’. To coerce is to compel by forcible action. Too often, children are forced to do something they are not inclined to do willingly. We should be aware of when we are doing this.

How can we bring our teaching to the place where children will see learning as something they want to do, are willing to do? A healthy child wants to learn about the world, wants to participate, to be engaged and to find meaning and connection. I think I can say that unequivocally. How do we destroy this longing, and so early on?

Many teachers find themselves in the position of being drill sergeants, putting their students through their paces, passing out worksheet after worksheet. ‘Drill ‘em and kill ‘em’ is perhaps the most evocative term that teachers use to describe this practice. I have heard it used for many years. It speaks volumes. It is hard not to hear the cynicism behind this utterance. We should be outraged to hear it. It is the new normal, though, and like so much of the new normal, it is perpetuated by the pervasive feeling of powerless among all concerned.

What has brought us to this pass? A certain amount of drill is, of course, needed to reinforce basic academic skills. The practice has it roots, however, beyond what worksheets themselves do. It is emblematic of the bankruptcy of our educational system. If we do not meet the children, then we have to put them to sleep, anaesthetize them, so they don’t create disturbances. It is the way it is because current practices do not motivate the children to work willingly, so they must be coerced.

Children are called upon to work “mentally” far more than is beneficial. We as adults may tend to be trapped in our heads, but children don’t seek to be. And it is not how they learn best. We are trying to force them to think like us, abstractly, conceptually. But they are not there yet, nor should they be coerced into being there prematurely.

We need to make ourselves more like them, if you will. We are trapped in our heads, perhaps. They do not seek to be. We need to understand the child as he/she develops. If we can picture circumstances where we can meet them where they are and lead and guide them without coercion, we will be well on our way to reformulating our picture of education.

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