Children don’t really go to school to learn

There is a dark side to ‘going to school’ that we do not want to talk about or that we are blissfully unaware of, writes Jonathan Jansen.
ACTION-PACKED There is a dark side to ‘going to school’ that we do not want to talk about or that we are blissfully unaware of, writes Jonathan Jansen.
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Why do children go to school? I know what you’re going to say and I know what the average student is going to say: to learn, right? Wrong.

Can you imagine that this morning millions of children are rushing to school out of an earnest desire to learn quadratic equations or conjugations of the verb ‘to be’?

As the kids would say, LOL! No children don’t go to school to learn; that is simply a byproduct of being inside the brick walls (if that) of a building we happen to call school.

I caught a number of children outside their classrooms the other day.

For them, the entire reason for coming to school is to avoid being in the classroom.

Like hanging out (wait for it) in the toilet.

I nevertheless asked them: “Why did you even bother coming to school today?”

Their response was as amusing as it was puzzling: “to learn, Sir”.

The first reason children come to school is that parents force them to go to school.

Parents, where such exist, must cajole them out of bed early in the morning to go to school.

Sometimes there is a threat or worse. But an older child seldom goes to school hopping and skipping with joy on the way to this dreaded place of confinement for six to eight hours a day.

Of course, preschool and first grade children love going to school.

It is a novelty at this point, something to look forward to, a place to play in what is for the first two years a relatively unstructured learning environment.

But as the novelty wears off and routine sets in, school becomes a burden.

So, why else do they go?

Consider the alternative, sitting at home.

At school there are friends to meet, mischief to get up to, an extramural sports game to participate in, a trip to the slave lodge or the botanical gardens, something fun that breaks the drudgery of schooling.

Middle-class schools have a lot of these distractions built into an expanded curriculum paid for by the largesse of parents who expect nothing less.

But make no mistake, distractions affect all schools and all children.

I watch with some irritation, I must confess, how some children look forward to a scuffle with a teacher.

The menacing big boy or the stubborn girl who refuses to listen to the adult in the room; laughter all round — this is the kind of entertainment you will not get by staying at home.

A full-scale brawl broke out at Glenvista High School the other day, with chairs flying between teacher and pupils; my heart broke, but not those of the children.

The video went viral.

Some children in such moments even applaud and egg on the combatants.

This is the unexpected and spectacular curriculum children look forward to, edutainment, the cynic might call it — but a damn good reason to wake up in the morning.

We do not want to talk about it, but in many places the school is an active crime scene as drugs of all kinds get distributed there.

Children as young as 14 are already stoned before the first-break.

Do not for one moment think this is only a phenomenon at poor and working-class schools.

It happens everywhere. Not my Johnny, I can hear you saying. You might want to pay attention.

Sometimes children get lured into addiction unawares, a sweet laced with the dangerous stuff.

The kid is hooked and the business takes off.

Gangs on the outside might even demarcate school X as their turf and God help any rival who encroaches on their territory.

For most children, however, school is a big social gathering.

Friendships are being forged that sometimes last a lifetime.

Believe it or not, there are WhatsApp groups of students who left school 30 or 40 years ago.

Sometimes, school friends become partners with families of grown-up children.

That’s a great reason to go to school and we know its value from the Covid-19 years.

Children told us they missed their peers and, wait for it, they longed to be with their teachers.

Being in such community is good for the personal and psychological wellbeing of children.

But there is a dark side to “going to school” which we do not want to talk about or are blissfully unaware of.

Children also go to school for adventure that sometimes turns dangerous for their health and places them in harm’s way.

Those who are most at risk come from broken homes where there are no parents present in their lives to offer a countervailing curriculum (lived experience) that could protect the child from druggies and other dangers.

When those guardrails don’t exist at home, there is another victim along the way: the long-suffering teacher whose joy and enthusiasm for the greatest profession is slowly but surely snuffed out.

These teachers spend as much time doing crowd control as they might teaching their favourite subject.

Let that sink in for a moment.


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