I n my work as an educational consultant, I have visited many schools all over the world. I have observed, in both traditional and alternative schools, that children’s basic rights are often ignored. I believe that all human beings, no matter how old they are, must be granted the right to take care of their bodily needs. The child’s body and whole organism are by nature determined to move and learn in specific ways. When we adults refuse to collaborate with the child’s natural development, we create immense, unnecessary suffering. Even seemingly harmless experiences such as occasionally being denied the right to go to the toilet when needed, can leave trauma and health problems that are carried into adulthood.
The widespread assumption that children should sit still and listen, has been repeatedly disproved by scientists, psychologists, and educators. Children are meant to move their bodies and play. This is how they learn best. Furthermore, children in all school models are still being discriminated against, shamed and punished for having different learning styles. Sadly, children who learn more quickly or more slowly than their peers are often neglected in the classroom. Sometimes, learning content simply is not interesting enough or even age-appropriate. If children are unable to relate to the subject matter or the way in which it is delivered, they naturally lose interest. Children are drawn toward classroom activities that are aligned with their stages of cognitive and emotional development.
The “school model” itself will not protect children from abuse. Every single teacher and parent needs to take responsibility for his or her own well-being and for the child’s well-being.
The UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (pdf) outlines very basic human rights (e.g., to protect children against child labor and violence and secure their right for education). My list of children’s rights starts from the assumption that children are in an educational environment. I hope this list of rights will raise awareness for the subtle abuse and hidden suffering that occur in schools every day. If we allow children to feel more comfortable in learning environments, we adults will also feel better and happier! Instead of having to worry about being thirsty or feeling emotionally drained, children will consistently have their needs met. Children will gain the opportunity to experience true, authentic learning with joy. This leads to a lifelong love of learning.
All children have the right to do the following:
- Go to the toilet when needed.
- Have drinking water available.
- Move the body when needed.
- Learn to take care of personal needs.
- Learn and process emotions through play.
- Learn through exploration, trial, and error.
- Make mistakes and not be judged or shamed.
- Learn at a personal pace.
- Fully understand a subject before being tested.
- Not to be tested involuntarily. Instead, share knowledge by free choice, only when ready to receive feedback on learning progress.
- Not to be punished. Instead, children should be respectfully encouraged to become more self-disciplined.
- Not to be compared with peers. Instead, acknowledged as an individual student with individual talents, opinions, and characteristics.
- Not to be judged for being different.
Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Coal miner, his wife and two children. Bertha Hill, West Virginia. Sept 1938.