It turns out there’s a link between success and our ability to control ourselves. In the world of psychology research this is called “self-regulation”. You can think of it as emotional regulation too.
If you learned, very young, to have this control, this self-regulation ability, then you are more likely to be productive and happy and less likely to end up “maladapted” . Children who do not learn to self-regulate end up with severe challenges in adolescence and beyond, and are far more likely to end up in prison or in other situations where you’d rather not be.
What role do schools play in developing this control? How does one even develop self-regulation?
Fortunately self-regulation is a natural propensity for human beings – it’s what we’re designed to become. But, a propensity is not a certainty. We also have minds that reason, but we don’t all function according to the principles of logic all the time because we still have to choose to exercise that reason, it’s not on auto-pilot. Our brains are designed to allow us acquire language because they are “concept makers”. Our brains organize and integrate all the information that comes in and are able to hear/see all the instances of “dog” as one general thing, forming the concept “dog” for us to then be able to attach that label to and then use.
Okay, but what of schools? What we need are schools that function in a way that support the development of self-regulation. One of the things that is essential, it turns out, in developing this is the time and ability to concentrate. The time young children spend concentrating is critical to their developing the ability to regulate themselves. Something goes on in the brain during concentration that supports the development of brain architecture which leads to regulation/control.
But our schools aren’t designed to foster concentration. Concentration is that time when you select an activity and engage with it on your own, for the time that you determine, according to your interest. Ever try concentrating on something you have no interest in? Good luck.
In a typical classroom the student is given a task and there’s a lot of “instruction” and talking. That’s not conducive to concentration. Listening is not the same a concentrating. You may be engaged in focused listening, and it’s certainly a form of concentration, but something else is going on when you engage in a quiet, chosen task where you have the time you need to work through the challenge.
We need to make some changes to schools that allow for greater student “task choice” in order to create the possibility for true concentration. The risks are too great. This is just becoming known, this is on the fringe in developmental psychology. But it’s there. Let’s jump on this and work to help children develop this skill that is natural to us but has long been unidentified.