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Why Traditional Schooling Makes Some Kids Look Like Behavioral “Problems”

Picture this.

In a traditional school setting, students are grouped into classrooms of roughly 20-25 kids (could be more, could be less) with one teacher. Only in exceptional circumstances, such as an extremely large class, does a teacher usually have a helper in the room. Traditionally, it’s one teacher to about 25 students.

Students are grouped together in little clusters throughout their classroom. Many teachers understand that young students can’t always sit for long periods of time so they allow students to stand up or wiggle if they need to.

However, the presence of the desks and the chairs suggests that students OUGHT to be sitting and working. It suggests that learning OUGHT to take place at a desk. It suggests that paper and pencil is the primary form of learning, while other forms of learning are secondary.

The subject matters most focused on also suggest which areas of expertise are “important” and which are not. The two main subjects students are required to learn are language and math, but those subjects only cover a small portion of the jobs we can fill in life. They’re no more valuable than any other subject, but somewhere along the way, they’ve been deemed so.

Some of the most famous people in history have failed at school, but made incredible discoveries when allowed to explore whatever they found interesting.

For students who struggle to sit still, who don’t learn in linear ways, who are bored by the subjects that are valued in academia, or who have to process their thoughts in unique ways, traditional school settings don’t set them up for success.

They might even set them up for becoming “problem” children.

The positive movement we’ve made as a society is the understanding that children who don’t do well in traditional schooling might just learn in different ways. The area where we’re still stuck in our thinking is that traditional school settings are the preferred way to learn, whereas other methods are merely tolerated if it’s necessary for a certain child.

Imagine if those alternative teaching methods were applied to all children from the very beginning? It sounds impossible because of our large class sizes and extremely specific learning criteria imposed on teachers by the state. However, if there was less focus on WHAT kids are learning and more focus on HOW they’re learning, I think a lot more learning would actually take place.

Consider those kids who are behavioral problems.

What if they were allowed to pursue subjects that interest them? Would they still roll their eyes and argue when it was time to get to work?

What if they were allowed to learn by using their hands and building? Would they still cry/sleep/throw fits when you asked them to show you what they learned?

Would other kids still hate doing group work with them?

Would they still struggle to remember what was taught?

Would they still seek “fun” in other ways that distracted all the other students?

Would they still hide under the playground equipment at the end of recess, refusing to come back inside?

Imagine if kids were allowed to (*GASP*) learn outside! Or allowed to dance. Or allowed to play to learn. Or allowed to explore their classroom. Or allowed to explore their own curriculum.

It sounds messy, but I think it could actually be much less complicated and much more effective. And for those behavioral “problem” kids, it could completely transform their educational experiences.

Non-traditional settings for education could mean more kids graduating high school, fewer kids ending up without jobs, and fewer adults ending up in the criminal justice system.

They just need to be given the opportunity to love learning.

Why Traditional Schooling Makes Some Kids Look Like Behavioral “Problems”

W. R. Cummings

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APA Reference
Cummings, W. (2018). Why Traditional Schooling Makes Some Kids Look Like Behavioral “Problems”. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 28 Aug 2018
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