Saturday, 12 November 2011

Living and Learning in Interesting Times

Many people have heard the phrase, "may you live in interesting times". Less well known is the fact that it is actually one of a sequence of three statements; the other two being, "May you come to the attention of those in authority" and "may you always get more than you wish for". Taken together, these three statements are  quite ironic. They seem to wish a person well, when actually they are a curse, wishing the recipient far more stress than they ever bargained for.

These statements could easily apply to today's schools. Who wouldn't support a school system that is interesting, brings students more than they hoped for and is overseen by well intentioned authorities? Much is made of the need to engage students, to prepare them for an uncertain future and ensure that they are overseen by alert, caring and responsible  people. While such efforts are honorable and well intentioned, for many students school is already stressful place, and the urgency with which the new education agenda is being promoted must be tempered with an ethic of care and calm.

The world is already a fast and confusing place. Many students lives are programed from the moment they wake until late into the evening. If its not school, then its after school activities, a job or even just an active social life. Even unscheduled time is filled with stimulation, as kids get wired into  their computers, smart phones, ipods or television sets.  Its little wonder that some students tune out, shut down or display any number of anti social behaviors. For many, such behaviors are defense measures against the bombardment of relentless stimulation.  Research indicates that stress and other mental health issues now impact as many as one in four students.

In our district we like to talk about developing students who are not just the best IN the world, but also best FOR the world. To do that we need to consider what is truly in best interests of students and take steps to promote personal wellness and positive mental health at least as much, if not more, than the academic, technological and active social agendas. While it is important for students to engage and be active with the world around them, it is even more important that they have a healthy base from which to launch their efforts. Keeping well needs to be more important than keeping busy. Considerations such as sleep, nutrition, and healthy recreational activity, where the focus is fun, rather than constant competition, need to be in the forefront of the new education agenda, not tacked on, and dealt with as wishful after thoughts.

There is no doubt that we do live in interesting times, It is also interesting how many of us yearn for the "good old days" when life was simpler. Its important to remember that for our students the future is now. What will they remember when they look back? As we prepare them for an unknowable future, we also need to do our part to provide students with a less stressful and healthier present. Taking the time to advance an agenda that emphasizes personal care, wellness and positive mental health has a positive impact on that future. In a world where instant results and a constant pressure to achieve are increasingly the norm, we must take the time to make sure a 21st century education is really a blessing  and not just an ironic curse.

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