I heard someone say to someone else recently, “Don’t neglect your own needs”, which prompted the thought that not only do many people not know or understand their own needs, they sometimes don’t seem to know or accept that everyone is different and everyone has a different set of needs.
The reason this thought is appearing in this particular blog is that it should be applied to both homes and schools. We must NOT neglect children’s needs. Those of us who are parents and have two or more children will surely understand that children can be as different as chalk and cheese, and have wildly different needs. And if you consider how difficult it is as a parent to get to know even one or two children and truly understand their personal and individual needs, then have some sympathy for teachers who can have thirty or more children in their class whom they are supposed to know and supposed to deal with ‘in loco parentis‘. (Clearly this problem is most acute in secondary schools or high schools where teachers might see individual children for a little as 40 minutes a week and possibly never even speak with them individually.)
It’s not as though children themselves, especially the youngest of them, know what their needs are for themselves, and can articulate them for the benefit of adults. Imagine how that could change your life as a parent or an adult! What the youngest children are biologically programmed to do is scream the place down if their needs are not being met – which is part and parcel of their instinctual intelligence. They usually don’t know what they’re screaming about, and you as a parent often don’t know what they’re screaming about, but you have a very big incentive to figure it out as soon as possible and deal with whatever it is – usually hunger or thirst or physical discomfort or tiredness or frustration . . . . . . come to think of it, the list can seem endless.
The good news is that children eventually learn to speak and become able to articulate their feelings and needs. The bad news is that as children get older then their emotional and psychological needs become quite complex and not at all easy to understand either by themselves or by anyone else. They may not scream and cry any longer if their needs aren’t being met, but that doesn’t mean they’re not in pain or not suffering.
A key question for parents and teachers is to what extent we assist [or indeed hinder] children in getting to know themselves and their needs – what 3Di calls ‘personal intelligence’. The way that personal intelligence is developed is through a combination of self-observation, interaction with others, and individual reflection/meditation. If we don’t stop to consider our actions we don’t learn from our mistakes, etc. If we don’t know our needs ourselves then we’re at a very big disadvantage in life. Those who would take advantage of us can appear to know us better than we know ourselves.
The way many schools deal with the ‘in loco parentis’ issue is to assume that what parents want for their children is nothing at all to do with developing their personal intelligence – or, for that matter, developing their social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and so on. The assumption is simply that children go to school only or mainly to become literate and numerate and pass tests and examinations in academic subjects. A more enlightened point of view is that anyone who makes such crass assumptions is hardly fit to be a parent or an educator since that way of thinking leads to a denial of children’s human rights and may even be abusive.
We should perhaps think more deeply about what it means to be a parent or in loco parentis. I’m writing this on a Sunday morning and thinking about the way that churches and other religious organisations set out to deal with the spiritual intelligence and spiritual needs of themselves and their children. Many religious people assume that anyone who isn’t religious therefore has no concern for spiritual intelligence, but of course this viewpoint is false. Atheists and humanists can be extremely concerned for (and have a highly developed understanding of) the spiritual wellbeing of themselves and of children. Whereas, in contrast, we know of certain senior figures in the Christian faith, for example, who fail to understand what the word ‘spiritual’ means and tend to run a mile when they hear the word. Obviously words can mean whatever we want them to mean, but it seems some words and some concepts are too sensitive, too loaded, too capable of ambiguity for us to even begin to get to grips with them. Far better, it seems, just to stick with the religious texts and a literal interpretation of them.
Returning to the subject of personal intelligence and individual needs, another comment overheard recently was, “Take time to enjoy your own company”. What many extroverts find difficult to understand is the fact that many introverts DO enjoy their own company, and need time to do so. In fact, of course, extroverts can also enjoy their own company, just as introverts can also enjoy the company of other people. It’s a question of proportion and balance. It’s also a question of opportunity.
And again we need to ask – to what extent are children entitled to and enabled to enjoy their own company either at home or at school? Because just as it’s possible to be lonely in a crowd, it’s also possible to allow children personal space in a school or a home. Yesterday we wrote about tablet computers and their uses, particularly in learning about music and learning to compose. If you took time to view the video links on that blog you’ll have noticed that these devices – like any computer – can either be used individually or with a partner or partners. This is an analogy for all learning in schools, and teachers will know that individual children can become completely absorbed in their own work and their own thinking even in a crowded classroom – be it in art or writing or reading or mathematics or music. And so on.
The question is – to what extent do we allow them the opportunity for self-absorption and individual learning? At the other end of the continuum are the schools where everything is done as a whole class, including rote learning through chanting texts and times tables. Which one is better? Take a look at the outcomes. Which schools and which countries produce rounded young adults who not only achieve high tests scores but also possess high degrees of imagination and creativity, and high levels of personal, social, emotional and spiritual intelligence? We’ve written about this often enough so we won’t bore you with it yet again.
Incidentally – 3Di is not an agent for Apple and we’re not interested in promoting particular brands of tablet computers! As far as we’re concerned they are all capable of doing similar things. We’re also aware of the controversies about the way Apple now assembles its hardware in China. It seems Apple uses Chinese companies that pay their workers very little – instead of using American companies in America that pay decent living wages. Recent reports have indicated that even if Apple assembled its computers in America the company would still make (even after taxes!) billions of dollars in profit. Obviously this is a moral as well as a practical and financial issue – and it’s a question for Apple and its management and shareholders to deal with, as well as a broader issue for all American people. Obviously Apple wouldn’t want people to stop buying its products on the grounds that they object to its excessive profits and the way those profits are kept in individual and corporate vaults instead of being used for the betterment of society as a whole. No doubt companies like Apple consider these issues very carefully and make their commercial decisions accordingly.
The other thought we have about tablet computers is that countries such as China will soon start putting into schools very low-cost tablet computers and ensure that all children have access to them whilst they are in school, at least. Many parents around the world can already see the tremendous benefits of giving their children such machines – though many parents are unwilling to pay sufficient taxes to ensure that all children have access to them. This will raise some interesting questions in various countries – concerning collective and national wellbeing as well as individual competitiveness and wellbeing.