When compared to other developed nations, the U.S. is behind when it comes to education and child development. Educational leaders and child development specialists are calling for changes in how we view and regulate children in our society. One common misconception among American adults, especially aging adults, revolves around a child’s autonomy or to what degree a child is allowed to have control over his or her own life. Educators and social scientists realize the importance of providing children with opportunities to practice autonomy and independence, and they’re calling for a reexamination of the way we lead and educate our children. We must teach children to respect themselves and their minds. Encouraging children to ask questions about the world around them allows students to engage in critical thinking and practice problem-solving skills, skills that children can carry with them into Adulthood.
Our social scientists, educational leaders, and mental health professionals realize the importance of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but the American educational system continues to promote rote learning and memorization for our students. We focus on test scores and attempt to compete against the educational achievements of other countries, countries that have embraced systems beyond scores and rote learning. We should look to the educational successes of other nations and examine their teaching practices for ways to improve the way we educate our own youth.
Problems with rote learning
Despite strong teacher training programs within our colleges and universities, our standardized testing based curriculum uses teachers as mere information givers. We focus on test scores and test-taking skills rather than working to develop creative and critical thinking skills in the minds of our youngest citizens.
When test scores fall below expectations, we create stricter guidelines within our curriculum. We take away flexibility within the classroom by not looking for new and innovative ways to improve our educational systems. This leaves teachers unable to create authentic learning opportunities for students. Educational leaders need to look for ways to support teachers in creating more authentic, problem-solving based and exploratory based curriculums.
We should be encouraging our teachers to present our students with real-world problems and allowing their students to ask questions and investigate these issues while working toward a viable solution. This project/ problem-based approach to learning not only encourages children to seek out the information themselves and learn more authentically, but it also engages our children in critical thinking. We must work toward strengthening the skills that children will need moving forward into adulthood. Educational psychologists argue that this type of classroom environment encourages a deeper understanding of the content matter while also increasing student motivation.1 (Phyillis C. Blumenfeld, 1991)
What does this have to do with our kids saying no?
Students from a very young age learn about the world around them through their experiences with the adults that they interact with. We want our children to grow up to be assertive, confident and successful adults. To achieve these things, children need to practice those behaviors in their youth. Children practice these skills with their parents, educators and care providers.
It’s not easy raising assertive children.
Rather than see a child’s dissent as misbehavior, we adults can use it as an opportunity to practice real-life skills in a safe environment. When a parent or teacher allows a child to disagree, they present that child with a chance to learn how to oppose someone with respect, thoughtfulness, and open-mindedness. This allows the child to practice being assertive.
A child, when allowed to assert themselves in a safe environment, will learn to assert themselves in other more complicated environments. That child will gain the confidence and skills needed to face the variety of situations and problems that adulthood will present. Project-based learning opportunities teach students social skills, critical thinking and they allow children to ask questions as they work through a real-world problem.
Allowing our children to disagree with us, instead of to blindly obey adults, instills feelings of autonomy. This confidence helps them to learn how to be assertive in their own lives. Rather than being offended when our children challenge our authority and question our motives, we should see this as a valuable lesson, a teachable moment if you will. We can encourage respect, assertiveness and innovation if we allow our children to think and communicate this way.
Both the home and classroom are ideal settings for children to practice essential life skills. There will always be a need for memorization within our educational system, but we must leave room for our children to question things, search for answers, and disagree in a safe environment. Practicing in a safe space gives students the confidence to move into adulthood and question their world and assert themselves appropriately. Perhaps if we start thinking about our children’s interactions this way, and shift the way we perceive disagreement with our kids, we will see our children grow into adults with more confidence and the ability to respect others and regulate their own emotions. It is vital that our children have the opportunity to practice saying “no” in a safe environment with adults they trust.
1Blumenfeld, P. C., Soloway, E., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning. Educational Psychologist, 26(3-4), 369-398.