We talk about the health of children all the time. But we rarely talk about anything that would lead parents to take their kids out of school. School is so sacred that people who are supposed to be protecting kids are scared to come out and say what kids really need.
1. Obsesity and sleep disorders
I’m in New York with my kids, and we stay with my friend Lisa Nielsen at her bright red bottom-of-Harlem apartment. Throughout our stay I listen to her give interviews to media outlets about her views on education.
Today School Library Journal asked about the flipped classrooms. This is when kids watch videos of teachers at home and then classroom time is devoted to discussion. The idea is that it’s a waste of time to lecture kids in person. They can do lectures on video.
The whole flipped classroom argument seems to be to be an argument for doing Khan Academy at home, so you can watch videos about what interests you. But Lisa is not doing an ad for Khan Academy, so she sticks to the message that kids should not be lectured to in school. Kids should have interactive, discussion-based learning in school.
Then School Library Journal asks, “Isn’t the flipped classroom with its push to watch videos at home a problem for parents who want to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics who want to limit screen time?”
Lisa says, “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time because of obesity, irregular sleep and less time for play. But all these things are negative side effects of school.”
2. Compromised emotional resilience.
I was at the doctor’s office for a checkup a few weeks ago, and she asked the kids very leading questions. For example, whether they eat two servings of vegetables a day, if they brush twice a day, and so on. It’s clear that this is the new way to help families to learn healthy habits without preaching to them.
Then she got to mealtime. She said, “Do you eat family meals together at least three times a week?” And I said, we eat almost every meal together. We homeschool and both me and my husband work from home. She congratulated me and told me the health benefits of the family meal.
I wanted to say, “Then all kids should eat at home instead of at school, don’t you think?” Because the benefits of a family meal far outweigh the benefits of going to school every day.
Psychologist Christopher Peterson says that people overvalue quality time with their kids, and what we should focus on is the quantity of time. He reports that kids who eat family meals together are happier and healthier than kids who don’t.
Psychologist Jayne Faulkerson studies family meals in conjunction with the University of Minneapolis Eat Project and Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. These think tanks have found associations between family meals and what psychologists call developmental assets. Developmental assets are the internal attributes and the external forces that shape a child as he or she grows. Internal developmental assets include positive identity, high self-esteem, and social competency. External developmental assets include family support and expectations of child behavior, and community.
Ironically, top private schools are very focused on developmental assets rather than test scores. But the real way to encourage developmental assets is to create an education system that does not undermine the family meal.
3. Mental health disorders.
Lots of mental health professionals think that ADHD is wildly over-diagnosed in young kids. Most often people cite how teachers need kids to do things that are not age appropriate in the classroom, like sit still, stay inside all day, and speak only when given permission.
Let’s consider, for a minute, that the kids are properly diagnosed. The Atlantic reports that the medication is not changing the symptoms in 90% of the cases. So we owe it to the kids to try something else. The logical thing to do would be to take kids out of school. Then we can see if the medication works outside of school. That would be a logical first step.
Then we could take the radical step of seeing if kids who do not go to school also do not exhibit signs of ADHD. The rate of diagnosis for ADHD is a national health crisis that we are not likely to understand until we remove kids from the school environment to see if school is creating false symptoms.
When we talk about the health of kids, there is a gap in the discussion where school should be. School is off-limits when we talk about what’s unhealthy for children. It reminds me of the way the tobacco industry would lobby Congress in the 1970’s to make sure no one came out and said cigarettes are bad. As soon as the lobby lost power, it became common knowledge that cigarettes are bad.