Every human being learns a little bit differently from everyone else. A friend of mine, who is quite successful in her professional career, is strong in math and science, but struggles to interpret complex, wordy texts. When I simply took snippets from a document she needed to read and translated them into a flowchart, she was able to easily understand and interpret this information. Some people cannot concentrate or study with even the slightest distraction, and others need a bit of background noise in order to focus. I have always found that I struggle to excel in subjects that I do not find to be interesting because I am immediately distracted by thoughts of the traumas I’ve experienced. Thankfully, when I was in high school, a wonderful tutor realized that if he could get me immersed in a passionate debate, I could, while distracted from my trauma issues, learn math. I had an exceptional GPA at an elite univeristy, which dropped markedly when I transferred to a local college. Those around me were shocked and could not understand why I was struggling to learn at an easier school, and I had to repeatedly clarify that I did not need classes that were easy- in fact, classes that did not feel challenging enough bored me and I typically learned nothing. I had, originally, chosen a school that teaches primarily through active debate, discussion, and community engagement, as I knew that I would have no trouble learning in this environment. I firmly believe that it is possible to teach anyone who is willing to learn, and the key is figuring out how to comform teaching methods to the needs of each individual student. Unfortunately, most schools, in practice, do not agree.
The classroom environment, as it currently exists, can make learning difficult for the most well-adjusted child. Children are expected to sit still for hours on end and quietly absorb material that is, all too often, being dryly read off the blackboard. When children act out, they are punished, with little to no concern for why they are acting that way, as the onus of the problem is placed on the child- either he’s “just a discipline problem,” or, more commonly, he is assumed to have one of a handful of “disorders” that, often, encompass little more than children not acting like perfect, miniature adults, such as ADD or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). Abused and otherwise traumatized children often end up in this predicament, as trauma can make concentration exceedingly difficult and often leads to acting out behaviors that can mimic excessive but age-appropriate rebellion and defiance. When abused children are punished or labeled in this manner, it takes the focus off the source of that child’s struggles (the abuse) and puts it on the “problem child,” who will then have a more difficult time being beileved about the abuse. The answer, for any children who are unable to conform to the unrealistic standards that modern classrooms set, is assumed to be discipline and/or medicating these children into compliance. Instead of placing such unfair expectations on young children, why not work on changing the system so that children who struggle to learn in such an environment can be taught in ways that address their specific strengths and challenges and so children who struggle due to trauma and other issues can find appropriate help?
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