Parents Want Social Interaction For Their Kids, But Will Schools Scratch That Itch?
As parents scramble to figure out schooling and childcare arrangements for the fall, one of the central themes arising in my conversations with families across the country is that making sure their children have social interactions is paramount.
I think that’s a top priority as well. It certainly is in my household.
What keeps haunting me in those conversations, however, is the assumption by so many parents that traditional schools will provide good socialization opportunities for their children—or, frankly, that they ever have.
Children, it turns out, also want to have fun their friends. When Clayton Christensen, Curtis Johnson and I revised “Disrupting Class,” one of our core arguments was that having fun with friends is one of the most important priorities in many students’ lives.
But traditional schools tend not to perform this function well.
At the extreme end, roughly 20 percent of students age 12–18 report being bullied in school. Among parents with children in K–12 grades, over a third believe that bullying is a problem at their child’s school, according to a Harris poll.
Although not all students experience negative relationships like this, the question arises: are traditional classrooms optimized to help students form positive relationships?
Teachers are responsible for instructing large batches of diverse students, and they have limited time to connect with each student one-on-one. Whole-group lecture offers little opportunity for students to form relationships with each other or with the teacher during that time.
Schools themselves are stretched to provide a full suite of academic, extracurricular, and social services. The elimination of bullying and the assurance of a safe, positive environment can fall through the cracks.
Even more to the point, as Diane said to me on our podcast, “We all believe that school should be a social experience, that it should be joyful, that our kids should like it, and that they should actually be learning. … But what parents are thinking of as social learning actually isn’t.”
If you take a step back and remember some of your own schooling experience, you can likely see her point. If a student seeks to be social during class, that student typically gets in trouble in a traditional school.
Just remember the fate of the class clown. Or, in my case, why many of my middle school teachers likely thought I had written an autobiography when “Disrupting Class” was first published. Or how students who ask a friend for help in understanding something get in trouble for doing so in the middle of class.
It is of course true that school does afford some opportunities for social interaction—during recess or extracurricular activities or in the hallway before, between and after class. But the fact that these are all outside of the classroom as opposed to woven into the fabric of schooling itself shows just how much better and joyful—and more social—schools could and should be.
This picture doesn’t take into account that in-person schooling will be even less social this year given that students will be wearing masks—so it’ll be hard to pick up on physical cues and read faces, staying at least 3 to 6 feet apart, and experiencing a lot of “student shaming” by the adults when students violate safety protocol.
In the piece for Forbes (which you can read here) , I offer suggestions for what a positive social experience in school would look like, but I think this is where the “pandemic pods” and microschools I’ve been writing a lot about will come in to play as well.
For some more recent media on the topic, check out the following pieces in Yahoo! (“Want to get your kid in a learning pod this school year but don’t know how? Start with this expert advice.”), as well as this piece in Parade titled “What Does Hybrid Learning Mean Exactly? We Break Down Every Question Surrounding the Hybrid Teaching Model.”
Future U Is Back
Future U is back with 2 new episodes–one in which we welcome our listeners back, preview some of our upcoming shows, and discuss the news in higher ed from the summer, as well as a show in which we talk to the president and CFO of Dickinson College, one of the first institutions to reverse course and announce students wouldn’t be coming back in the fall. With many more colleges having gone this route in the past few weeks after they brought students back to school, you won’t want to miss this conversation.
With the media also increasingly writing about the fiscal challenges colleges face and the prospects they might close, I interviewed Linda McKinnish Bridges, the president who decided to close the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, for Forbes. If you want to know what it’s like to be the president to close a college, read the piece, “‘A Failure To Thrive’: Closing A College.”
And finally, as more four-year colleges flip online, check out this NPR report on students taking a second look at community colleges.
As always, thanks for reading, listening, and writing,