The Chicago Tribute ran a story today about the value of teaching social skills and empathy in elementary schools. As the story goes, “students are expected to meet certain benchmarks, such as recognizing and managing feelings, building empathy and making responsible decisions.”
Now these are indeed valuable skills for life, essential even. The only problem is that you don’t go about teaching them any more than you can teach creativity by having art class.
You can’t decide at 9:45 AM that it’s “social learning time” and give lessons with role playing to demonstrate how to be kind, generous, understanding or caring. These are things that have to be lived in the real give and take of daily life, yes, even at school. You need to have a culture that functions with these as part of its fabric so that there’s a natural development of healthy social capabilities.
I’ve said before in this space the same thing about creativity: it needs to be part of the culture and live beyond art class. Most art classes amount to the teacher presenting the project of the moment and everyone “makes one”. The elements are provided, the plan given and “they’re off”. The children can all be observed running off to pick-up line with their project in hand: all small variants of the same thing. Creativity in motion? Hardly.
The root of the problem here is of course the same: if we care to think in PRINCIPLES. The issue is this: you can’t TEACH this stuff any more than you can TEACH most of what’s taught in traditional schools these days. Children require experiences that will allow them to construct themselves. That is why schools should be “experience labs” more than they should be “teacher-lead classrooms”. That is why the Montessori model works so well: it doesn’t try to hard-teach content, be it geometry, language arts, history or empathy. Yet, Montessori children regularly turn out to be the most justice-oriented, peaceful, and capable children one could want.
Yes, we need to change what’s going on in our traditional schools, but if anyone thinks that this latest social skills effort is going to change who children will become they are sorely mistaken. Let’s go back and REEVALUATE THE MODEL.