The Real Business of School

by Rick on June 7, 2021

The Pandemic is teaching us (or has taught us, or would be teaching us, if our minds are open) that the real business of school is social-emotional intelligence. Young children already know it. Ask a five or six-year-old what they are looking forward to in school and they will say: “friends.” These days we should already have learned how to teach academics virtually. What’s missing is the challenges of other people.

Four-year-old Larry was a little challenged when teacher Margaret suggested that he and Walter  go the block area and build something.  It was the first day of school, and he was a little scared to be thrown together with someone he didn’t know.

Neither of them knew what to do at first, so they put together a little house of blocks, and put a sign on it: ‘Sweet House.’ When Margaret came by they told her that their little house would be a place where you could go and buy sweets. Margaret, whose normal demeanor was not effusive only said, “That’s nice,” but they didn’t care.  By this time they were friends, and they remained friends to this day (seventy-two years.)

Larry’s challenges are faced by all children starting school, each in their own way. In varying degrees of imperfection, they are up to the challenge, and on some level each know (regardless of what the adults say) that is the main reason they are there.

Children’s brains are designed to know how others feel. They are wired with mirror neurons; when someone else is hurt, they feel it. By five-years-old they are expert at learning what others are thinking and wanting.

We also know that children rise (or fall) to our expectations of them. It would be smart to assume they care about others and are working on the never-ending task of understanding other points of view, and developing a repertoire for harmonizing their needs, values and interest with those of others.

School would be a better place for learning the three R’s and everything else, if all teachers, parents and politicians knew that.

The process of learning what other people think and feel begins in infancy.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Peter Holleley August 6, 2021 at 10:39 am

Nice to see, be remind of, this home truth.
Rick, I hope you and family are well. I seem to have been dropped by your email list. Can you put me back on, please? … (The never-ending supply of home truths is necessary for body and soul!)
Peter in Toronto

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