Elementary school serves as a foundation for children’s future educational experiences and for their cognitive, moral, psychosocial, and sociocultural development. Not only do children need to learn basic knowledge such as Standard English in both written and oral forms along with basic mathematical operations, but they also need to learn how to think critically and abstractly and to develop a sense of self-identity and wherein they reside within society. Traditional schools tend to rely on what Freire calls the “banking education” in that the teachers teach and the students are taught, the teacher knows everything, and the students are assumed to know nothing (Freire, 2012). This is narrow-minded and yields a generation of individuals that are taught to think alike as oppose to cultivating their creativity and individual identity. This is the key distinction between passive learning and active learning.
Teaching methods that utilize critical pedagogy and literacy traditionally emphasize dialogue between students and teacher around text, be it oral, written, or visual. Increasingly evidence has shown that utilizing movement, especially in the form of mindfulness and yoga, has proven to be an effective active teaching method. Active teaching methods tend to keep students more engaged, learn to think for themselves, thereby fostering self-confidence and self-awareness. The development of self-confidence and self-awareness are critical factors in a child’s mood, psychological well-being, frustration tolerance, and ultimately resorting to bullying and other forms of violence. Research has also shown that the implementation of yoga (a practice that is both mindful, requires focus, teaches acceptance, allows for movement and enhances bodily awareness) into the curriculum in elementary schools has statistically proven significant to enhance childrens’ executive functions and cognition, social and emotional well-being, self-esteem, and attention span (Diamond, A., 2012).
Yoga is a non-judgmental practice in which students can engage in several partner and group exercises that enhance overall acceptance and morale in the classroom. The focus on mindfulness and breathing, calming and soothing yoga poses, or intense and fierce yoga poses are skills that children at a young age benefit from when dealing with tolerance of extreme emotions of anger, sadness, and frustration. Based on studies, yoga implemented into the elementary curriculum through physical education classes or through literature, mathematics, history, or science lesson plans would enhance education for our youth, but have beneficial social and emotional effects. Self-esteem, development of a self-identity, acceptance and compassion towards others are preventative factors for future violence and bullying. Violence prevention should be a critical factor when choosing and justifying a curriculum. In Massachusetts, the current Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework (101 pages) for grades preK-12 hasn’t been updated since 1999 and includes 2.5 pages on violence prevention. Clearly given the horrible trending rise in school shootings and social media with inappropriate forums and advertisements, this needs updating!
An elementary school curriculum should recognize the child from a cognitive developmental and multicultural perspective, should be child-centered, use critical literacy and pedagogy, and promote acceptance of and compassion towards others. The curriculum needs to facilitate successful acceptance of others and diversity, other factors that lessen the likelihood of bullying, hatred towards certain ethnicities and religions, and ultimately violence towards those students that are “outcasts,” or unaccepted and bullied students who surpass their frustration tolerance threshold and seek violence against their perpetrators or the school district itself.
To begin the elementary year it is necessary to look at where the child is coming from. Based on an ecological model of development, the child is influenced by a microsystem, his or her family or school, the mesosystem or interactions between two microsystems, the macrosystem in which lies culture, government and community and the exosystem, which represents major life changes and developments. In order for the teacher to have an understanding of each child’s background, it is necessary to meet the child’s family. After this initial meeting, the teacher should have a better understanding and can be more culturally sensitive and aware of the child in addition to gaining insight into family perspectives on what the school experience should be like for their child and what is expected of their child in school. Weinstein et. al highlight this point in their article, Culturally Responsive Classroom Management: Awareness Into Action. They give the example that “Hispanic parents may tend to expect their children to be quiet and obedient in school and to seek advice and approval before acting.” They emphasize the importance on the teacher responding to student’s behavior taking into account the background and the cultural influences of the child outside of school. Isn’t it unfair to reprimand a child that is only acting in a way that they are taught at home? A disconnect between home and school values leads to confusion of self and identity, creating divisions between home, school, and students within school. By schools holding each child to the same standard and imposing the “dominant cultural values” with regards to appropriate student behavior on the student, the school and the teacher are perpetuating discriminatory practices and marginalization of “others.” Acknowledging that each child comes from a different background and learning about these different backgrounds from day one helps the teacher to become a “culturally responsive classroom manager,” welcoming, and modeling acceptance of each student from day one.
Along the idea of fostering ethnic tolerance and respect of each child’s unique background, the students and the teacher need to engage in active dialogue about what the rules of the classroom. Students and their teacher interactively need to create a list of rules that respects and accepts each individual in the classroom including the teacher; it is necessary for teachers to right rules that use childrens vocabulary that reflects each of their lives. This interactive method of devising rules for the classroom is significant in that it opens a dialogue from day one in the classroom about respect, acceptance, and indivuation. Through collaboration with students, the students learns that they are taken seriously, individual self-confidence in the classroom is boosted, and attention, academic achievement, and behavior may be positively affected.
The goal of the elementary school curriculum is to allow students to explore their sense of self and identity and to do this through encouraging students to learn about their culture and to develop a tolerance for multiculturalism and diversity. The curriculum should be an exploration of the past, present, and future and should introduce a wealth of knowledge so that the elementary student graduates as well informed, accepting, compassionate towards others, open-minded, and with a sense of self and identity (of course which will forever be evolving even as an adult).
Feeding on acceptance, multiculturalism, and embracing of different identities, gender tolerance and avoidance of stereotypes needs to be intertwined into a curriculum reflecting 2018, not 1999. It is imperative that children learn that they can identify themselves as whatever and whoever they want to be, regardless of societal influences. In Pelo’s observations at the Hilltop Children’s Center, she describes that even at a young age girls tend to role-play with “girl roles” and boys tend to role-play with “boy roles.” Even a two year old was able to identify what appeared to her to be a boy’s mask on her friend versus her girl mask that had long braids and freckles. Many of the interactions even at the preschool age indicate that children already have formed gender identities and may be influenced by society’s gender stereotypes. In the elementary classroom this is likely to be the same case. It is necessary that children understand that they can be one gender but have “stereotypical traits” of another gender. A girl must learn that it is okay to be powerful and to want to play with “boy” toys such as trucks, construction blocks, Legos. It is okay for a boy to want to play with dolls and play house. Yoga is neither considered a sport for a girl or a boy; it is gender neutral, culturally unbiased, and means “union,” unifying all individuals through its practice.
Currently, many elementary school children fear going to school, an environment which should be a “safe haven” for students to learn. Students even at an elementary age may have lost trust in their school’s ability to keep them safe. It is very difficult to learn in an environment where the child is constantly worried about their safety. The environment must be welcoming and feel safe to all individuals, not just individuals that are male, white, and Anglo-Saxon. More than ever we need to make sure that our children feel safe when they come to school and we need to institute a broader means of communication between parents, children, the school, and children with faculty and staff. Children and parents need to be taught from day one how to report odd or dangerous behavior anonymously.
In order to make our schools safe we need to work on preventative measures that not only include teaching adaptive coping skills through yoga, mindfulness, and cooperative group games, but also relying on our children, parents, and the entire community even outside of the school to have eyes and ears open to any odd, violent, or threatening behaviors and to report them. It is not enough to just report (we’ve seen how that has worked, take the Parkland shooting for example), but there must be action and we must demand that such reports be taken seriously and investigated. Children aren’t born with a weapon; they aren’t born full of hate and with the goal of killing others. There are signs; signs that can no longer be ignored until an atrocity. Signs are part of preventing an atrocity from happening and part of keeping our children safe.
School districts are under so much pressure in many states for their students to achieve high scores on standardized tests; these scores are even used to determine how much funding the school will get for their annual budget. As a result curriculums often focus on rote memorization and drill practices solely teaching to standardized tests. There is no standardized test on mindfulness, yoga, social and emotional health, compassion towards others, respect, frustration tolerance, and peace; why waste time to teach such life skills, morals, and higher levels of thinking? Clearly this is a rhetorical question. However, maybe we should test schools on their teaching of morals, school spirit, safety of their community, bullying, students coping skills, then maybe schools would spend the time to implement such critical components into their general curriculum. It is only with a curriculum that upholds all of these tenets (not tested on standardized tests) that this future generation may thrive as culturally tolerant, independent, virtuous, industrious, and active in bringing change into our world.
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