The purpose of modern schooling has never been to empower children. I would argue that school has quite the opposite effect and is geared more towards keeping children obedient to authority. I mean think about it. In most schools children have to wear uniforms that stifle their self-expression. They have to call their teachers by ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ as if to say that adults are somehow superior to children. They learn to memorise information, which is largely inapplicable in daily life, in order to regurgitate it later, without ever learning how to think for themselves or become self-sustainable human beings. Creativity and artisanship aren’t valued in the same way that academic intelligence is, and right-brain learners are tragically left high and dry.
But what if we flipped the system on its head? What if, instead of disempowering children and treating them as somewhat inferior to the rest of us, we empowered them in every way imaginable? To start with, schools should focus less on theoretical studies, and more on learning real life skills. Children should learn how to grow their own food and cultivate a garden. They should learn how to build their own home using sustainable materials. They should learn how to collect their own rainwater, how to produce their own energy, and how to pull things apart, repair them and make them new again. When we teach children practical life skills, we show them that they are capable of thriving without the need for any system – we empower their independence and their right to be self-governing and self-sustainable.
We need to do away with uniforms, with titles, and with strict policies on acceptable appearance. Children should be allowed to be as they are, and that includes how they choose to express themselves by the way they look and dress. Teachers and students should be treated as equals and should both be addressed on a first-name basis. Children should learn critical thinking skills, philosophy, and media literacy, so they can learn to be independent thinkers and not subservient to a system that continually and invasively tries to mould their opinions. Schools should allow space for creative play and artistic expression in order to meet the needs and innate desires of those of us who are otherwise struggling to be heard.
If we truly want our children to be empowered, we need to bestow upon them the responsibilities that we normally reserve for adults. The truth is, children are far more capable and competent than we give them credit for… we just treat them like they aren’t.
At Fitzroy Community School in my hometown of Melbourne, even the youngest children are trusted with sharp knives to chop the vegetables in the morning for the communal school lunch. At the Kin School in Tekos, Russia, children get involved in the design and construction of their own school, and are in charge of cleaning and maintaining the school grounds themselves. At the Green School in Bali, the children are tasked with solving real-world problems regarding the sustainability of their school, their wider community, and the planet.
My point is, we need to stop assuming children aren’t capable of bigger things. We need to let them take risks. We need to let them fail on their own. We need to make an effort to give them autonomy over every aspect of their lives.
Children are powerful beings.
It’s time we started treating them that way…
Will Stanton is an activist, writer and teacher who is devoted to changing the education system worldwide. He has created a new education model called the Six Dimension Model which aims to empower children and help them become who they are (sixdimensionmodel.org). Will is the author of Education Revolution, which dissects the problems in our current education paradigm and outlines steps to reach a new paradigm. You can grab a copy of the book in Kindle and paperback here.
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