The Rights of Children at Schools

In 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.

UNESCO’s Rights Of Children are very basic human rights (e.g., to protect children against child labor and violence, and secure their right for education). http://www.unesco.org/education/pdf/CHILD_E.PDF 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.

THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN AT SCHOOLS
by Carmen Gamper

All the children have the right to do the following:

1. Go to the toilet when needed.

2. Have drinking water available.

3. Move the body when needed.

4. Learn to take care of personal needs.

5. Learn and process emotions through play.

6. Learn through exploration, trial, and error.

7. Make mistakes and not be judged or shamed.

8. Learn at a personal pace.

9. Fully understand a subject before being tested.

10. Not to be tested involuntarily. Instead, share knowledge by free choice, only when ready to receive feedback on learning progress.

11. Not to be punished. Instead, children should be respectfully encouraged to become more self-disciplined.

12. Not to be compared with peers. Instead, acknowledged as an individual student with individual talents, opinions, and characteristics.

13. Not to be judged for being different.

This declaration will be available as a poster soon.

by Carmen Gamper
www.NewLearningCulture.com

6 thoughts on “The Rights of Children at Schools

  1. 1. Go to the toilet when needed.
    I agree this should be a necessary right as long as children are still taught to be responsible and go to the toilet before lessons if possible as it disrupts the class if teachers have to wait or they are having to catch up on work afterwards

    2. Have drinking water available.

    Always. Was not allowed bottles in classrooms in my scool as a child.
    3. Move the body when needed.

    Part of ‘discipline’ is being able to postpone arbitrary desires until a given task is done. Exercise is still extremely important
    4. Learn to take care of personal needs.

    Not sure exactly what is meant by this one
    5. Learn and process emotions through play.

    Emotional development is always important
    6. Learn through exploration, trial, and error.

    Probably the most effective learning method, however only works if the individual is actually interested in the given subject and the subject in itself is actually applicable. One cannot really learn more theoretical things like maths, geography, chemistry through ‘trial and error’ in any orderly and efficient manner. Putting A-B-C blocks together to make words might work
    7. Make mistakes and not be judged or shamed.

    Depends entirely on situation, in an open discussion there is not much reason to shame for mistakes. On the other hand, punching somebody could be a ‘mistake’ but it still needs to have a negative association attached with that behaviour either through punishment or an empathetical response on the part of the offender. Not everyone is capable of ‘feeling bad’ for hurting someone or even understanding this, thus punishment is required to associate pain with a destructive action so that the individual does not repeat it.

    8. Learn at a personal pace.
    This is done through creating separate classes for people of different abilities, in mixed classes ‘slow’ people hold ‘bright’ people back and vice versa.

    9. Fully understand a subject before being tested.
    This is an optimal preference, however I do not believe this is always possible as it ignores the fact that not everyone can grasp everything they are being taught. Deadlines are important because they can be very helpful to push people to work harder for a test

    10. Not to be tested involuntarily. Instead, share knowledge by free choice, only when ready to receive feedback on learning progress.
    A poor idea in my opinion because it does not reflect real live environments and situations which can be high pressure and people are required to be ‘ready at all times’. Of course this depends on what age of children you are talking about here

    11. Not to be punished. Instead, children should be respectfully encouraged to become more self-disciplined.

    [see my previous post]
    12. Not to be compared with peers. Instead, acknowledged as an individual student with individual talents, opinions, and characteristics.
    I do not agree with this, as a standard of uniformity has to be achieved for all subjects at least at a basic level as a prerequisite for almost any subject or task. If this referring to Grading based on ‘ability’ and not ultimate performance, then I think it is a fundamentally flawed idea. For example, when I was younger, I was graded based on my ability seen in IQ and SAT’S tests. Scoring over 150 in IQ and very high in SAT’S I was expected to churn out work to an extremely high level. Whilst people with lower abilities than me scored A+ and B’s for their work I was routinely given C-,D-,E for the same, if not better work. In order to get the same grades I was required to work significantly harder (resulting in getting less than 7 hours sleep nightly often) in order to to achieve the same result. I believe that emphasis should be put on the subjects which enjoy (I do not believe anyone is ‘born’ with a talent) and brought to their highest ability. Although this ignores that you still need people in society to do medial jobs that are not enjoyable.

    13. Not to be judged for being different.
    Depends what is meant by ‘different’. If one is talking about personality differences, I.E clothing choices in a non-uniform school or interests ETC. then I agree. However if talking about dysfunctional or more unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour then it is absolutely right for them to be ‘judged’ in order to identify and change their issues

  2. ‘Not to be punished. Instead, children should be respectfully encouraged to become more self-disciplined.’

    Has this ever worked, ever? If there parents haven’t bothered to discipline them or teach them how to become self-disciplined, how do you except them to learn out of thin air? I believe children cannot be expected to learn these things by themselves, they need to be guided and taught based on rewards/punishment. There is no growth without resistance

    • Thank you for taking your time for this elaborate feedback on the Rights of Children at School. Your point of view is completely understandable because you very likely have never experienced children learning in self-directed ways at schools where emotional well-being is equally important to academic excellence.
      In response to your thoughts about punishment: There is a large movement of parents and educators who realize the detrimental effects of punishments and who are willing to work with children on their disciplinary issues and much kinder ways. Check out these 2 examples: http://www.positivediscipline.com and http://www.essentialparenting.com

  3. Hi Carmen, I couldn’t agree more with you. Where did you take it from? I mean, is there any official source (UNICEF, UNESCO, etc) which recognises such rights?
    Thanks

    • Thanks for your question! I wrote this list of the rights of children myself. The UNICEF and the UNESCO’s rights of children are more basic, e.g. to protect children against child labour and violence, and secure their right for education: http://www.unesco.org/education/pdf/CHILD_E.PDF

      My list of children’s rights is more refined and starts from the assumption that children are in an educational environment. I have been exploring lots of different school environments for many years, and unfortunately I have observed that the children’s basic human rights, for example to learn to take care of their bodies, are not respected. Children are shamed and punished in public schools, Waldorf schools and even Montessori schools. It is not the school model itself that protects children from abuse, it is every single teacher who needs to take responsibility for his or her own well-being and for the child’s well-being. Teachers and parents almost anywhere are stressed and pose for themselves and their children unrealistic expectations creating a lot of unnecessary suffering.

      I hope this list of “The Rights Of Children At School” will raise awareness for the subtle abuse and hidden suffering that is happening in schools every day. If we allow children to feel more comfortable at school, also we adults will feel better and happier! In addition, children will have the opportunity to experience true, authentic learning with joy which leads to a life-long love of learning.
      Carmen

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