Why do people send their kids to school? (Part 2)

This is a follow-up post to one of my earlier posts “Why do people send their kids to school? (Part 1).”

Why do people send their kids to school? To me the most important reason why people send their kids to school is to understand the dynamics of the society and learn to survive/ thrive in them. Whether one realizes this fact or not, whether one accepts it or not, schools are the closest possible and the safest simulator of societies available to kids.

One might ask, ‘Wouldn’t a family serve as simulator of the society?’ The answer is no. One’s family might be the biggest influence in his/her life. But it does a poor job of simulating a society. A society consists of vast number of individuals with infinite shades of multiple characteristics interacting billions of times in a day in real time. Most of these interactions happen between people on equal terms and most of the rules of these interactions are set by the interacting people themselves. In a society we are influenced by the actions of people whom we might not even know.

Number of Individuals: A family at best consists of few individuals. In the case of a nuclear family with just one kid, there is no one in the kid’s age group with whom the kid can interact on a day to day basis. Even a decent sized school would have a fair bunch of kids in every age group in the neighborhood of the kid’s age group.

Infinite shades of Characteristics: Most families are homogenous groups (Ethnicity, Language, Religion, Economic Strata, etc.). Most kids for the first time in their lives, would interact with kids from different ethnic and religious background in their schools. If we were to include other intrinsic characteristics like (extroversion vs. introversion, assertiveness vs. timidity, aggression vs. compassion, multiple intelligences, etc.), it’s virtually impossible to meet people across the entire spectrum of these characteristics in one’s own family.

Number of Interactions: With only a few members in the family, the number of interactions will be fairly limited. Add to this the fact that we are dealing only with people with whom we are related or whom we like (at a broad level). But in a society we will have to interact with people whom we like/ don’t like, know/ don’t know, with whom we don’t share the same ideology, with whom we agree on a few things but don’t agree on a lot of issues, our neighbors whom we don’t like, etc. Only a school will provide such a variety of situations and variety of interactions for kid.

Rules of the Transactions/ Interactions: In a family setting except for a few rules all others are pretty much relaxed. But in a society rules are rigid and there are consequences for breaking rules. In school just like in a society every child will have to abide by a broad set of rules set by the school authorities. Similar to the society in schools there are groups of people in charge of enforcing these rules (teachers). In interactions with their own classmates/ friends the rules are set by the interacting kids themselves.

Influence of Others’ Actions: In a society we are often influenced by the consequence of other people’s actions (sometimes we might not even be aware of what those actions are or who that person is). E.g. a few days back just before Diwali when tropical storm was in full swing in Chennai, a group of six boys from my neighborhood ventured into Marina Beach to take bath in the sea. Unfortunately three of them drowned. As a result there is an increased police patrol in the beaches in Chennai and in some cases people are prevented from entering the waters. Most people who head to these beaches would not even know who these boys were, but will face the consequence of the bad judgment of these six boys. In a family setting such kind of anonymity is impossible. We can easily trace back the consequences to actions of individual members in the family. Only schools replicate this aspect of the society very well.

Dynamics of the Society: In a society not everyone is equal; some people are more equal than others. There are some sources of power/ visibility (wealth, connections, knowledge, etc.). Only in schools kids will come to terms with this aspect of the society. In schools certain kids will have higher visibility due to the fact that they are studious, athletic, able win awards for the class/ school, good looking, kids of influential people, know the teacher or the principal at a personal level. The existence of such dynamics in schools might not be desirable but their mere existence ensures that the kids grow up into adults with an understanding of this aspect of the society.

Also in schools kids experience firsthand something similar to social progression: Kids who meet the requirements of the current class (standard) will qualify to move to the next class (standard). In addition they also get to know the concept of people’s representative through the class representatives and school people leader (however the process followed to choose people’s representatives in a real society is completely different).

The reason why we choose a particular school is because we expect the school to train our kids to gain entry into the best colleges and subsequently into best workplaces (A school is the first step in a lengthy ladder that would eventually lead to financial independence). But we completely lose sight of the fact that schools serve as simulators of the society and help to inculcate the habits and skillsets required by kids (to thrive in the society) when they grow up into adults. Put simply the role that schools play in teaching skills related to curricular and co-curricular activities is broadly appreciated, but the role that schools play or should play in teaching life skills is not properly understood (especially by parents) much less appreciated. Understanding this contribution of schools would help the government and school authorities to redesign the school curriculum/ school experience for the better and will help the parents to choose schools that are better suited to teach life skills to their kids.

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