“Education Is Ripe For Disruptive Change”

First thing in the morning, I grab my Galaxy Note 4 and open my mail. On top of the pile, the online UK newspaper ‘The Guardian’. Its first article: ‘Self-harm amongst girls aged 13–16 rose to 68% in three years, UK study finds’. Nav Kapur, professor of psychiatry and population health at the University of Manchester, and a co-author of the study, found that on average boys and (more often) girls experience their first episode of self-harm on average between the age of 10 and 19 years old, roughly the time-period that kids are attending high school.

The study also revealed that youngsters who self-harmed were about nine times more likely to die an unnatural death than those who did not, 17 times more likely to die from suicide, and 34 times more likely to die from acute alcohol or drug poisoning.

What causes this rise in self-harm, especially in girls? Dr. Kapur isn’t exactly sure, but points at previous research suggesting a growing number of young women are experiencing mental health problems, with contributing factors including worries about appearance.. The rise of social media, and online content around self-harming could also play a role, noted the team.

And lest we forget: also amongst teenage boys anxiety levels are rising.

And help isn’t exactly effective: it appears that only half of people who present to health services as a result of self-harm get a proper assessment from a mental health professional. Read: HELP!

“High Schools breed anxiety. Stop building them!”

In spite of well-intended attempts in schools, particularly high schools, these (often massive) institutions are rarely equipped enough to deal with anxious students. Especially when the levels (of anxiety) are very high, and have developed in what is commonly called ‘an anxiety disorder’.

“School personnel will likely recognize some symptoms or manifestations of your child’s anxiety at school, but they may not realize they are caused by an anxiety disorder, or how they can help.”
~ Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)

No wonder many (anxious) students learn to hate school, as being places where they are misunderstood, their distress not seen or neglected (or ‘reasoned away’) and full of perceived pitfalls that can trigger an anxiety attack even before anything ‘real’ has happened.

Living the life of a contemporary teen, isn’t easy, especially when you are diagnosed with an ‘anxiety disorder’. Says high school student Samantha Goodyear to a Huffington Post reporter in the summer of 2014.

“I was diagnosed last year, and I spent most of my grade 10 year of high school learning how to cope with my anxiety while also trying to maintain a normal, balanced teenage social life, something I quickly learned is not easy to do. Navigating the ups and downs of high school is overwhelming as it is, and having to deal with a mental disorder on top of it sometimes made it seem impossible to succeed.”

What has been the ‘traditional’ response?

Homeschooling.

There’s the traditional homeschooling where the parents emulate (and somewhat follow the curriculum of) schools. And then there’s ‘relaxed’ homeschooling, a.k.a. unschooling: here parents try not to recreate school at home, but adhere to the principle of ‘learning from life’.

Homeschoolers or Unschoolers are proud of what they are and do:

“The coolest thing about our un-traditional approach (besides the ability to stay up til 2 a.m. and sleep late!) is that we’re ALL learning in ways we’d never have expected.”

But their upbeat attitude has not always shielded them from drawing heavy criticism, being accused of being irresponsible (towards their children):

“Ah, so many things to unpack there, but at the root of it is a misconception I hear a lot: Unschooling is a great way for young children to learn, but teens can’t succeed in life without a more traditional education.”

The reason why parents resort to homeschooling or unschooling, is simple: stress-reduction in an otherwise interesting (learning-evoking) situation:

“We needed something less stressful for Sarah than public middle school. That stress took a lot of forms, but basically, the poor kid was literally getting sick thinking about some of the facets of her day. Everything from changing classrooms to dealing with a locker to changing clothes for gym class to getting up earlier to remembering what books go to which class to walking through noisy, crowded hallways put Sarah in a panic.”
Says: the Conciliottoman family, a five-person, three-cat, one-dog menagerie living in central Pennsylvania. We started our journey into homeschooling as of February 29, 2012 — Leap Day — and we’re loving the leap we’ve made!

Putting teens (there’s more than a few Sarah’s, as you can imagine) in school buildings — and I haven’t even raised the issue of school dropouts or teens that get grades that are an insult to their intelligence — isn’t effective in bringing those teens where we — the adults, their parents, caretakers, family and the community — want them to thrive: as mature, balanced and resilient adults, able to manage themselves (while having fun in the process).

Then why continue putting them there?

Home- but particularly unschooling experience — has shown that teens, supported by their caretakers, are perfectly able to organize their days, filled with learning AND relaxation, in a personal mix that differs from teen to teen, naturally. Isn’t that why most of us, adults, didn’t feel happy in a working place that we left, because in the working process we were not allowed to be who we are, as an individual, different from others?

Stop building high schools and use the time (and money) that would otherwise be wasted in constructing another anxiety-breeding place that teens grow to hate going to, and form focus groups instead, getting together — parents, government officials and educationalists. AND teens — to arrive at a local formula for ‘happy schooling’. Which will hopefully render a patchwork of initiatives across the country that suit local needs of local teens and their families. AND make teaching and learning appealing again, for everyone! Whether at home, in a community building or in a local church. Or a forest, mountain ridge or out there, in the desert!

And finally, let us not forget in what era we are living: it’s 2017, for crying out loud. Time to dig tech! But there’s a catch: technology — as in ‘individualized, technology-driven education’ — can easily be used to preserve the (anxiety-rendering) status-quo. Tech can be — and is already — applied to existing educational settings a.k.a. schools, and used to a variable degree of satisfaction with both teachers and students. But these (students) are not the one’s that I am talking about. The Sarah’s and Samantha’s of this world. For them something else needs to happen. And tech can help!

Living in the 21st century, apart from the general Internet, there are enough tech tools (learning channels) available for both parents and students to keep them busy learning. But if you’re not ready (yet) for higher learning through Coursera, and don’t want to be involved in any type of online classroom activity, there’s always Google docs that you can use, in combination with YouTube video content, that will enable you to chalk out your own route (helped a bit by your dad or mom) …

Still …

For some this isn’t good (or challenging) enough.

So what is needed?

Disruption. Disruptive change, to be precise. And it seems there is no better time than now.

“Education is ripe for disruptive change leading to innovative practices that improve learning outcomes for our students […] Disruptive innovation compels educators to go against the flow, challenge the status quo, take on the resistance, and shift our thinking in a more growth-oriented way.”
~ Eric Sheninger, Senior Fellow for the International Center for Leadership in Education

Who will take the lead?

Who will begin designing the blueprint of the next AirBnB or Uber in education? Or should we simply leave it to Amazon, Google or .. Facebook?

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