By Arjun Walia
Children spend a vast portion of their lives inside educational institutions. From a very young age, we are put into schools and told how the world works, learning to absorb information rather than question it over the course of many years. We memorize enormous amounts of information, much of it irrelevant to our future lives, with the goal of acquiring the credentials necessary for us to find our place in this world. All of this, quite often, leaves us incapable of thinking critically, and while there are admittedly many positive aspects of modern day education, the drawbacks do appear to outnumber the benefits (at least in my opinion). I believe it is these issues within the education system which are inspiring more and more parents to choose alternative forms of school for their children.
One of the main issues with the education system is its lack of relevancy and real-world practicality. Children are rarely taught the kinds of skills which will most benefit them in their adult lives, and accordingly feel lost after they emerge from the education system, paper diploma in hand. It would be great to see schools begin to implement other subjects into the curriculum beyond those most commonly found in academia — subjects which help the child deal with and develop their inner selves rather than smother them with pharmaceuticals. Children have become a massive source of profit for the pharmaceutical industry, and we need to start addressing this issue at the root, treating the causes of children’s distress and not the effects.
Below are three subjects which should be included in every curriculum.
This one really is a no brainer, and it should be implemented into school curriculums for various reasons. One of those reasons is health, and the benefits in this area are well established in scientific literature. An eight week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), for example, recently determined that the brain will literally begin to rebuild itself in just 8 weeks. It’s the very first study to document that meditation produces changes over time in the brain’s grey matter, and you can access that study and read more about it here.
Another example comes from a study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins. They found that just eight weeks of meditation training was as effective as medication in treating anxiety, depression, and pain.
According to The Art of Living, which is an educational and humanitarian movement engaged in stress-management and service initiatives, these techniques could improve intuition, enhance sensory abilities, improve awareness and foresight, increase confidence, remove the fear of the unknown, and increase creativity and intelligence. They’ve seen this through their own experience, and through the immense success of their program, which could easily be replicated by schools.
Dealing With Emotions
Our emotions are a constant presence, and dealing with them appropriately is essential to success in everyday life. Managing our emotions is not, however, something we are taught in school as children. Humans are complex animals, but mainstream education ignores much of that complexity, instead focusing on learning and regurgitating information in order to get good grades and find a job. Because of this, children miss out on important developmental growth, which is why many adults today also lack such skills. Meditation can be a great tool for dealing with one’s emotions, and it’s important for schools to reflect a need for this kind of personal development in their curricula. If these faculties of a child’s physiology are left unchecked, it can lead to a host of developmental and behavioural problems within the classroom.
It can also lead to physiological problems as well. Scientists over at the HeartMath institute have studied how different emotions create physiological benefits in your body. Did you know, for example, that you can boost your immune system by conjuring up positive emotions? Or that negative emotions can create nervous system chaos, and that positive emotions do the complete opposite? They’ve shown that the heart can actually send signals to the brain, the nature of which depends on the person’s emotional state; they can both help or hinder our nervous system. The heart beats out the largest electromagnetic field in the body, and information is encoded into this electromagnetic field depending on how we feel. This can affect the people around us as well. This research demonstrates just a few of many reasons why managing our emotions is essential to our health and happiness.
Another predicament that plagues mainstream education is its insistence on directing children rather than letting them direct themselves. Children are often unable to discover their interests and don’t have enough time outside of school and homework to engage them once they have determined what they are. This also creates a host of emotional issues, as many children are forced into career paths which do not excite them. The very act of being in school prevents many from even knowing what they are passionate about. Dr. Kelly M. Flanagan, a clinical psychologist, explains just how detrimental this enforced obedience can be:
When we can’t say ‘No,’ we become a sponge for the feelings of everyone around us and we eventually become saturated by the needs of everyone else while our own hearts wilt and die. We begin to live our lives according to the forceful should of others, rather than the whispered, passionate want of our own hearts. We let everyone else tell us what story to live and we cease to be the author of our own lives. We lose our voice — we lose the desire planted in our souls and the very unique way in which we might live out that desire in the world. We get used by the world instead of being useful in the world. (source)
We seem to have created one of the worst possible environments for our children. They spend most of their childhood lives in educational institutions, for hours every day, being told what to do, how to do it, and, occasionally, why it needs to be done. Then they do the same thing in post-secondary education, and again in the workplace. Children may be learning some things of value, but they are also learning something highly concerning — obedience and conformity. While children are busy growing up and trying to find their place in the world, they do so with the knowledge that they will have to find a job and ‘conform’ in some way, shape, or form. As a result, many of us fail to listen to our own intuition and desires. We become deeply unhappy.
Implementing strategies or even full courses on how children can learn to deal with their emotions will be a crucial step for mainstream education to take if it wants to move forward, see improvement, and help children develop into complete, functioning, and happy human beings.
This is a big one, especially since food today faces many issues which were absent just one or two generations ago. Today much of our food is genetically modified and sprayed with harmful pesticides. While countries in Europe are banning as well as publishing studies showing the potential negative health/environmental effects of GMOs, North America is teaching children that GMOs are necessary to combat climate change and global hunger. (For more info, read “Why 19 countries in Europe just Banned GMOs.”)
The GMO debate aside, schools are littered with processed, unhealthy foods, featuring vending machines filled with disease-causing sugar and cafeterias filled with junk food. This not only contributes to the epidemics of obesity and disease which plague the Western world, the United States in particular, but also sets children up for a lifetime of nutritional deficiencies and poor eating habits. Classes about proper nutrition and global food issues are woefully lacking in the education system. Even when they do exist — and are not mandatory, which they should be — they rely food guides released by the government, which have been paid for by the food industry and whose recommendations have been proven to be problematic.
Proper nutrition is obviously vital for children’s mental stamina and focus and their emotional and physiological health. The bottom line is, school lunches today are setting kids up for a wide range of diseases as they enter into adulthood. We as a society are then paying both the literal and figurative costs of this neglect.
About Arjun Walia
I joined the CE team in 2010 shortly after finishing university and have been grateful for the fact that I have been able to do this ever since 🙂 There are many things happening on the planet that don’t resonate with me, and I wanted to do what I could to play a role in creating change. It’s been great making changes in my own life and creating awareness and I look forward to more projects that move beyond awareness and into action and implementation. So stay tuned 🙂 firstname.lastname@example.org