Emotional education and society..
Posted March 1, 2011on:
Judging by what we read in the papers at the moment, Scotland is not a great place to be growing up in at the moment. Drinking, drugs, and dangerous sexual activity are endemic in our society. Knife and gun crime is the norm amongst many children who roam the streets in feral gangs without a care for anyone or anything. Our kids have to deal with higher rates of poverty, alienation, and broken homes than almost anywhere else in the developed world, and this has resulted in feelings of being fed-up with their lives and even clinical depression. Existing pastoral education systems are failing miserably targeting luke-warm platitudes at kids who are too old; Too little too late is the message from the so-called experts.
In past TESS articles, I’ve written about multicultural education, homophobic discrimination, and sex education. All issues of emotion, and it’s this aspect of children’s’ personalities that I feel we need to focus on in more detail, because maybe the problems being highlighted by the media at the moment all stem from a lack of emotional development education. Many children appear to have no understanding about how their violent and abusive actions make others feel. Psychologists refer to this type of understanding of the way other’s feel as a ‘theory of mind’ and it seems that this should be an area of children’s development that we, as educators must concentrate on more. ‘A curriculum for Excellence’ rightly stresses the importance of such things as citizenship, responsibility and collaboration, but if this initiative is to have its full impact upon our pupils’ education, it must be solidly underpinned by a robust and, more importantly, well-funded pastoral support and care mechanism in schools. At the moment, this core component of our education system is at best, piecemeal.
Much of the available research evidence suggests that community education officers working for local initiatives and health education organisations such as the excellent ‘Fast forward’ group, and Stonewall Youth, both based in Edinburgh are far better at getting these messages across to children than their teachers. Perhaps it’s because they are trained specifically in strategies that are shown to be effective with kids on the streets. Meanwhile, teachers are expected to be Jacks and Jill’s of all trades and usually end up as masters of only a few. That is not enough for our children.
I have previously argued the case for specialist educators for sex education in schools and I am glad that recent press debates on the future of this have also been in favour of this. Andy Kerr, when health minister in the last Scottish government, introduced a raft of proposals to deal with these issues, but I think we now have to widen this debate and look at the emotional education of children as an area worthy of highly trained and motivated specialists. Community education workers mostly work for groups reliant on limited lottery funding for time-limited initiatives or charity donations, and often in temporary premises unsuitable for the job. And there are just not enough of them. Surely the best place for this work to be based in is our learning communities, and more importantly, as a fully-funded extension to the pastoral care system. This would eliminate the reliance on donated funding and the need to spend time preparing grant applications.
Schools could be used after hours to provide a base for activities focused on showing children how to deal with their feelings and develop their emotional behaviour away from this destructive path so many seam set upon at the moment. Learning communities draw together nurseries, primary and secondary schools and so the activities could be targeted towards the ages of the pupils who need them the most. Of course this will require a sea-change in an education system already overburdened by new initiatives and policies. A sea-change also, in the funding policies of councils who are cutting at the sharp end of services instead of looking at how they could share service provision and gain on economy of scale or reducing senior manager numbers.
Change can only take place when individuals are willing to change their behaviour for the good of society as a whole. Our children already show a remarkable capacity to absorb changes. The adults who are responsible for the delivery of education must now show the same willingness to change a system which has for too long now been fragmented and uncoordinated. Society has already indicated that substance misuse and unchecked behaviour is unacceptable anymore. Now is the time for the governmental hand-wringing to stop and for definite action to start.
And in this election year 2011, are any of our political leaders courageous enough to act?