Our education is failing our children

March 27, 2022 | 04:40 pm PT
Do Hai Teacher
Children are always the unwilling bearers of adults' expectations, even more so when the education system is not helping them to grow into their best selves.

As I was about to drift off to sleep, screams could be heard from the neighbors' next door.

"You're supposed to find the common denominator first before calculating! How long will you keep sitting there?"

Then came the sounds of a child crying. The mother smashed the book into the desk and continued the verbal assault.

"Nothing goes into your head!"

The noises did not stop until about an hour later.

The next morning I went to a convenience store nearby. The cashier, while handing me my stuff, glared at her young son.

"Get to your desk and study!" the woman shouted. The boy stood in place, seemingly paralyzed out of fear.

"I will kick you out of the house if you don't study properly! All you do is play!" she berated him.

The boy turned around and slowly treaded back into the house.

About 10 years ago when my eldest child was in first grade, I was that kind of a mother too. I sat next to him every time he studied, scolded him and forced him to write each and every word perfectly. Sometimes I hit his hands when he made a mistake. Looking back I deeply regret what I did.

So I decided to change, starting with my second-born. When he was in second grade, the teacher told me his handwriting was among the worst in class, he lacked focus, was not meticulous in his calculations, and needed to be beaten into shape.

One day he came home in tears.

He told me the teacher threw his notebook out, made him rewrite and forced him to stand outside the classroom. I held him in my arms and consoled him. Then I spoke with the teacher, telling her to let my child develop at his own pace. What good is beautiful handwriting and perfect scores if he has to bend over backward for it? As long as he is healthy and happy, so am I.

But just this morning the teacher's voice was once again blaring from our laptop.

She was speaking to a bunch of fourth graders studying online: "Where's Le M., why are you not answering? Gia H. too, you're not paying attention to the lesson, are you? If you don't want to learn, get out of the room."

I could feel resentment bubbling up inside me, but I am aware that teachers also have it bad. They too must be facing life's many burdens and having high expectations for their students and children.

But then, kids are just kids. They are always the unwilling bearers of adults' expectations, be it at school or in their own homes.

I am not suggesting that we should satisfy all our children's demands at all times; that is not education.

Education is about helping them figure out their strengths and weaknesses and inspiring them and helping them see the beauty of knowledge, exploration and curiosity.

But the problem is teaching as a full-time job is not inspiring to teachers in the first place.

There are long hours and the fact that students need to show results among countless other things teachers are expected to fulfill.

Day after day the job's difficulties wear them down, slowly and imperceptibly. If teachers have neither the time nor strength left to see the beauty of knowledge themselves, how can their students?

Our children are the future, yet their education seems to be stuck in the past. I believe there are no bad students, we just need more appropriate approaches.

My second-born sucks at sitting still for handwriting practice or to do calculations, but he is at his best when he invents tools to make his games with kids in the neighborhood more interesting.

I often spend time in the evening with him to watch videos about nature and wildlife, the Earth and space, and even cooking shows. We also have debates and discussions. That is how I get him to be comfortable with the learning process.

But what works for my son is not guaranteed to work with other kids. There needs to be more research into personalized education methods to meet the unique demands of each individual.

Investment in education is never wasteful since good education will open up so many doors in future. While changes to education methods are important, the burden should not fall on teachers alone. Parents also need to learn how best to teach their children.

One thing is for sure: fear and violence are never the answer.

*Do Hai is a Vietnamese teacher. The opinions expressed are her own.

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