I have only a few memories from kindergarten. One is playing with blocks, which I remembering enjoying, one is launching one of those blocks across the room and hitting a kid in the head and making him cry, and another is lying on a mat and being restless and bored and then getting whacked by our spinster teacher (who clearly, sadistically enjoyed it) with a pointer for not going to sleep while lying on our mats.
I remember little from first grade though sixth. I have some memories from sixth grade, though. One is getting rowdy in class when the teacher left and being punished by being made to sit with some other kids in front of the principal’s office for a week. There was also an improvisation comedy skit I remember well.
I think I remember little because I was so bored and every day was mostly the same.
Seventh grade was a hell except for some fun after school and on weekends, eight and ninth grade were marginally better but still not good, and high school was a blast on weekends. Otherwise high school was a bore and a prison, and from seventh grade through being a senior I spent a lot of time in my imagination.
These days, I would have been diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder without hyperactivity, and probably put on Ritalin, most especially since I paid little attention in class, did not do my homework, and made poor grades.
Even though I had no use for high school, some kids apparently liked it. Some of the athletes and cheerleaders seemed to like it a great deal. I sometimes get the impression it was the highlight of their lives, like it was for Al Bundy and Hank Hill.
For some of them, high school was a lot of fun. For me and others, it was no fun at all. How best to describe it? We never played.
Athletics is play, and so is being a cheerleader. That’s one kind of enjoyment, and schools encouraged that. There are other kinds of play, and school did not encourage them when I was attending, and a lot of them still don’t even today.
The psychiatrist Stuart Brown, who has studied play for years, said it is essential not just for kids, but also for adults. When he studied a group of murderers, he found almost all of them were severely play deprived as children.
He described various kinds of play. One is competitive play (sports), which in high school is supported. Those in engage in this kind of play get the attention, the newspaper articles and the respect of the community.
Those people he called the Competitors. Others he described as Jokers (and in middle school I was a class clown). Others he described as Storytellers, Explorers (physical or intellectual), Kinesthetes (physical activity, such as dancing and sports), Artists, Directors, Collectors and Performers.
I don’t fit the Competitor but I do fit the Storyteller, Joker, Explorer and Artist. I’ve into trouble with the combination of all of them. Schools promote Competitors (whether sports or high grades) and Kinesthetes (sports) and in a limited way, Performers (cheerleaders, who are also Kinesthetes). But no matter what schools support, the majority of students are expected to sit dully in class for several hours a day -- which is not enjoyable and no play at all.
Brown found the benefits of play to include improved health through less depression and stress, and increased empathy and a sense of belonging leading to less interpersonal violence, And public schools support any of this exactly how?
What kind of effect does it have on so many children to essentially spend 12 years in schools overwhelmingly deprived of play? Not a good one. Their spontaneity is destroyed, and while spontaneity isn’t random (you have to practice before you can be successfully spontaneous), when you have only practice followed by tests, what is created is anxiety and lifelong nightmares of being trapped in school.
While I had no fun in high school, I had fun on the weekends. The area I was raised in, my friends and I were going to bars when we were 15. And I had a fun time, for years. I wanted more of it, though. I tell people it was a cross between “Animal House” and “American Graffiti.”
When I got to college, I was pretty much done with that intense partying. Many of the kids in college had not done what I had done in high school, and they went crazy. We had riots that made the news across the nation. I saw students throw up in public and get arrested left and right for being drunk.
They had been deprived of the playing I did as a teen, and look what happened to them in college! They went nuts. I consider that a law of human nature: “What you’re deprived of as a kid, you will go nuts obsessively trying to find it when you’re older.” (Or, “What you had when younger, and it didn’t go right, you repeat when older to make it right.” Or, “What you had when younger, and liked, you keep trying to find when older if you don’t have it.” They’re all variations of the same thing: trying to repeat today what happened in the past.)
It cannot be a good thing for children to spend 12 years in a sit-march-sit environment in the public schools. When it’s boiled down, I was almost always bored in school. For twelve years. I sometimes wonder if I have brain damage.
Some people claim the schools need more money, better teachers, blah blah blah. I disagree. I think they should be closed down, and I have for years. And if private schools imitate the public schools, they won’t work either.
It’s been known for a long time that parents and family have an enormous effect on the development of children. But what about the effect of 12 years of sitting in a chair and being bored and restless in public schools? Being abused and deprived of affection by a family is one bad thing, but being abused and bored for 12 years in school is another bad thing. Look at the dropout rate these days.
I know of very few people who enjoyed school. Think about the passed-out kids in “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off” when Ben Stein is torturing them with his lecture. Some former students, like me, still have nightmares about being permanently trapped in the Last Day of High School. Or failing the last test on the last day and having to repeat the entire four years.
Society loses a lot of kids who drop out of schools and end up going nowhere in their lives. It is fault of the families or the schools? Both, I’d say. But don’t pretend it isn’t partly the school’s fault, because it is.