Successful living requires purpose. Without purpose there is no sense of resolve or determination, no reason for which something is to be learnt or done. In saying this, what is the purpose of our education system? Surely, it’s not to get children to solely excel at exams, develop superior intellectual powers or accumulate large sums of money later in life. Too much pressure is being applied, too early on in life focusing on these “academic” areas which has an adverse effect on the mental health of young minds. Our schools are in danger of becoming exam factories with curriculums that pay lip service to developing well-being, character and resilience within the child.
The epidemic of mental health issues we are seeing is because children feel profoundly disempowered. They have lost their voice – as a stakeholder they have little involvement in the decision process of what they are learning or any opportunity to explore their passions. And no, this does not mean that schools should not have order or discipline, but solely focusing on old-school academics does not engage the child – it demotivates them and hinders their path to wellbeing. With no involvement from the child comes no commitment from them either. Many children today find school tedious because they just can’t make any connection with the “lessons” in the classroom nor the happenings within the real world. Due to this disconnection their minds drift off, they become bored and ‘shut down’. The only way the children of today will retain any knowledge is if it is delivered in a way that is personally meaningful to them. Knowledge shared with them should in fact help them to make better life choices. Lessons should lead to the maturation of a child’s upright character so that they can lead their own lives effectively and work well with others.
Knowledge is not power. There are many examples of very intelligent people being utterly deformed in character and totally lacking any practical wisdom. These people have had an excellent formal education, yet score low in character, and they offer a warning of what not to become. For example, the 29-year old British banker, Rurik Jutting, who killed two prostitutes in his hotel room – provides us with a grave warning of someone who had the best education money could buy but was completely void in character. Jutting was educated at the same elite Prep school as Prince Edward and David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and later attended the famous Winchester College – rated one of the best private schools in Great Britain. He was intelligent, wealthy and successful in the eyes of the world. Jutting was educated, but a danger to the world because of his lack of moral character and practical wisdom. Knowledge should not be mistaken for wisdom. Would you say Jutting was wise? Most definitely not! But he was educated and intelligent.
Personal development is linked to character and integrity; the three gradually grow together and arm you against the low temptations of instinct. These three pillars provide you with a strong conscience that eats away at your soul when you give in to the seductions that quick pleasures offer. Shakespeare said it well, “what is it about man that for one sweet taste of the grape, he will destroy the vine.” Personal development without the cultivation of the right character is pure prostitution – there is no lasting love, only empty progress to the next shallow conquest. Our education system today is selling the drugs of academic achievement and intelligence as if it was some guarantee to live a happy and successful life.
The current education system is designed for academic competitiveness – schools are all competing with each other to try to get their students to score higher in tests than the other. This mentality stays with the children later on in life leading them to doing anything possible to be on top, to be the winner no matter how or who they step on to achieve it. In the private sector the culture is; the higher our test scores the more backsides on seats we can get and the higher fees we can charge. We have an educational culture that grossly exaggerates the importance of intellectual ability, or more accurately test taking ability. This limited model of intelligence that the education system prostitutes in our youth is more of a hindrance than a help to navigate life successfully. Across the world children in classrooms are passive receivers of other people’s thoughts, there is not enough active effort within the curriculum to waken the mind, personalise the learning and build up the character of the child. Many children are not cultivating their minds and character at school but merely killing time.
Something written by a school headteacher moved me tremendously, she said,
“I am the survivor of a concentration camp, my eyes saw what no person should witness, gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians, infants killed by trained nurses, and woman and babies shot and killed by high school and college graduates – so I am suspicious of education. My request is to help your students be more human. Our efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated ikemen. Reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic have value, if they serve to make our students human. At school we teach everything in the world except the most essential thing, and that is life. Nobody teaches you about life, you are supposed to know about it. Everyone assumes it’s something we should get by osmosis, but it’s not working by osmosis.”
For education to lead to a better world it must first focus on the individual character of the child and then develop skills within the child so that they can play a successful role within the workforce. Consider, for example a school where every child from the age of five through to eighteen is taught Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. These 7 habits are timeless character principles that lead to personal independence and social effectiveness. Habits that empower staff and pupils to take responsibility for their mental health. By applying these habits throughout the school, its culture is changed, every teacher, member of staff and every single pupil is affected positively. A framework is provided for all to negotiate the daily obstacles, emotional moments and difficult decisions.
Teachers are working on themselves daily, they are becoming more effective and being valued more by teaching their pupils how to be successful in school and life by practicing these habits daily. Whenever hard moments arrive they collaboratively refer to the 7 habits and find solutions. Everyone is taking responsibility for their life, and learning how to work together to the benefit of all. Everyone is engaged – the school, teachers and pupils have a vision. They all know what’s important and are prioritising to make sure time is invested wisely. They are working together to find ways for everyone to be involved and win.
Teachers and pupils learn to appreciate each other’s differences and try to understand each other before making judgements. Everyone is pulling together and reaping the benefits of collaboration. The school has a culture that values time to recharge, rest and reflect by making it one of their highest priorities. School has become a place of learning life skills for the 21st century for pupils and teachers alike. Teachers teach character and help every child find their unique voice. Consider, the power of this, the implications of this for our future.
The expertise to deliver this exists and the revolution has started. Schools all over the world, be it less than 1%, have started this ‘Leader in Me’ process that teaches the 7 habits to teachers, children, and then to parents. For schools to become relevant, to reach every child, it must connect with the everyday life issues that our children are facing. Formal education must reflect real life living. Education can no longer be about merely providing the child with information, to be pertinent, its purpose must be authentic and meaningful so that children can relate and fully grasp the information shared and allow them to make better life choices and have high life aspirations. To be “real” it must be current and honour the world that the children of today is living in.
Our children need to be equipped with tools to thrive in this ‘modern world’ and help them to find their own unique voice. As such, the status of the ‘teaching profession’ will need to change so that it is up there with the highest, because teachers will no longer just teach information, they will now change young people’s lives for the better that will affect future generations. I visited two schools that breathes this philosophy, Mrs. Rae Walker’s Fair Isle Primary School in Scotland and Heather Davies’ Giles Junior School in England. It was an inspiration to see teachers and children living the 7 habits and the impact it was having on their personal and family lives. Children, teachers and parents are learning vital life skills that enable them to take responsibility for their mental health and making the kind of life changes that you only see in the movies.
United Education Group