Public education should include emotional intelligence

Views 32 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 10 - 4 - 2017 | By: Anna Besh

Pick almost any classroom in America. Based on the inspirational posters coloring the otherwise stark white and concrete gray, one would assume that those who studied within its four walls have developed into fully-functioning individuals. With each encouraging mantra, the class is reminded that “nobody’s perfect” or that their “best is good enough;” it seems that the ability to correctly identify and adequately express emotions is a skill that is implicit in basic education. However, today’s anxiety-ridden population of high school and college-age students make it clear that this is not the case.
Throughout elementary and middle school, students spend countless hours regurgitating facts -- multiplication tables, dates in history, names of scientists and their theories. There seems to be no end to the standardization of education. The straight-A students learn to play the system to maintain their grade-driven reputation and the rest are left behind, shrinking in the shadow of an unrealistic standard set by their peers.
The competitive spirit that exists within the classroom is almost tangible. Many students miscalculate their self-worth as equal to their GPA, a mindset which forces them to see each and every classmate as a threat. Although some believe this competition is beneficial, claiming that iron sharpens iron, it seems unlikely that fostering such rivalry between students can be healthy or sustainable.
Not only are students in competition with each other, they are also experiencing external pressures from parents and teachers, and internal pressures from themselves to “succeed,” no matter the cost. Learning becomes a means to an end -- get into a good school and become a doctor -- rather than an end in itself, and the distinction between academic success and self-worth becomes increasingly blurred. The result of this constant pressure to do well, to be good enough, manifests itself in anxiety-driven adolescents who are often not only emotionally illiterate, but are also unversed in the skill of failure.
Like many school subjects, emotions have a steep learning curve. Developing the skill to correctly identify them, learning to feel them fully, and knowing how to sit in the momentary discomfort of sadness or anger takes time and practice. Would it make sense for someone to be expected to solve a difficult math problem if that person were never taught the basics of addition and subtraction? Of course not. Yet this is often what happens in the realm of emotional intelligence.
The school system throws students into the real world, where they encounter failure and intense emotional strain despite never being given the time and space to develop the skillsets necessary for success. Failing a test changes a student’s perception of his or her self-worth; in an effort to survive the emotional rollercoaster of transition and change, older students often implement destructive coping mechanisms such as drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and self-harm. To make matters worse, they are often unaware of the gaping hole left in their education -- it is not until times of conflict and affliction they realize that perhaps something is missing, and begin to ask for help.
Although there is no perfect, immediate solution to this problem, there are small steps that can be taken in order to provide students with a more complete education. Even if it is in small doses, putting the messages portrayed on the encouraging posters throughout schools into practice has the potential to transform students’ views of themselves and their peers. By providing space for students to practice identifying and expressing their entire range of emotions, schools would be preparing students for more complete success and happiness.


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