One of my favorite thinkers right now is a researcher at the University of Houston named Brene Brown. I’ve embedded her TED talk at the bottom of this post, and I’d recommend setting aside 20 minutes at some point this week and watching it. It’s really important.
Her latest blog post is titled, “Cool: The Emotional Straitjacket.” Here’s a quick excerpt:
What has a decade of research on authenticity, shame, vulnerability and courage taught me about “being cool?”
The greatest casualty of the endless pursuit of cool is connection. When we don’t let people see and know our true selves, we sacrifice connection. Without connection, we struggle for purpose and meaning.
* * *
We send kids to school for 13 years and all we ask is that they learn some basic academic material. Even with such an embarrassingly modest goal, we still achieve poor results. That’s why every major politician in the modern era has weighed in on how we can improve our schools.
I haven’t seen Brene Brown write about education, but maybe she should. I believe the most pressing issue we face in our schools has nothing to do with the teachers union, charter schools, or pedagogical strategies. Our biggest issue in education is that schools are set up in ways that nurture insecurity and fear.
When kids show up at school, they’re placed in an environment that is segregated by age, which creates an artificial standard of development against which they’re constantly judged. So, a 14-year-old, regardless of her unique developmental path, is supposed to be doing exactly what all the other 14-year-olds are doing.
Kids have little autonomy at school, which makes it difficult to develop the inner strength that comes from making decisions and learning from the consequences of those decisions. The only important decision they get to make is whether or not they’re going to follow directions, and swift penalties are imposed on those who choose not to comply.
Kids are judged by metrics imposed by someone else—the teacher, the state superintendent, the legislature—often in areas in which students have very little interest. Many kids have skills and talents that simply aren’t honored at school.
A perfectly natural response to this environment is to do whatever is necessary to fit in, to belong. That can mean disguising one’s authentic self and conforming to the norms of the cool crowd, the anti-cool crowd, the jocks, the headbangers, or whatever.
* * *
When we don’t let people see and know our true selves, we sacrifice connection. Without connection, we struggle for purpose and meaning.
Let’s create schools in which our first focus is on creating a safe environment in which kids feel good about themselves and they feel comfortable being themselves and taking risks. Then, watch how easy the academic material becomes.
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