Education Opinion

Finding Emo

By Nancy Flanagan — June 18, 2010 2 min read
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Sometimes, the cure is worse than the symptoms.

Over at The Core Knowledge Blog, the chat is about schools actively discouraging exclusivity in friendships, in favor of let’s all get along. Nobody really needs a best friend, a report suggests--and pairing off can lead to cliques and bullying. Lots of interesting comments, but my favorite--and I sincerely hope it was made with tongue in cheek--came from tm willemse:

Having a basket of friends rather than one or two sounds more like an investment strategy to spread risk. Kids learn what we teach them.

Telling kids they can’t have best friends--Up against the wall! You two! Where are the others in your assigned group?--is ludicrous, of course. But--as a long-time middle school teacher, who’s had to deal with plenty of 7th grade girl angst and boy swagger, I have some sympathy (or perhaps empathy) for the general idea of developing tolerance and kindness in groups of children.

Discouraging dyadic friendships is probably counterproductive (and what about the kid who had no friends, and finally makes a connection?)--but aren’t business moguls always saying that their employees don’t know how to work together? Isn’t that another thing the schools are supposed to be doing poorly?

Here’s my question: What should we be doing in schools to discourage the kind of budding “leadership” that eventually causes executives to hoard power, refusing to play nice--to take their golf clubs and go home? Shouldn’t the opportunity to learn be equitable? And doesn’t that mean that the adults in charge need to pay attention to (forgive me) building learning communities?

The social and emotional aspects of learning (ideas that make traditionalists’ eyes roll) are real things. They’re necessary but insufficient in a good education, just as content expertise alone does not make a good teacher. We may wish that kids would come to school ready to immerse themselves in rich curricular content, but the reality is that students don’t learn much when they aren’t comfortable enough to take an intellectual risk.

Separating content and emotional security in the classroom is a false dichotomy. You don’t have to love the kids you’re teaching, but you do have to care about relationships--across the spectrum--to be an effective teacher.

I really like the language that the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards uses, their first “core proposition” for excellent teaching: Teachers are committed to students and their learning.

Teachers must care deeply about their students’ well-being in the classroom. If you’re not committed to your students -all your students--and their learning, maybe you shouldn’t be taking responsibility for teaching them.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.