A Sunday newspaper appeared on the table the other day. One that I don't usually see. Three articles attracted my attention. One the front page the title was "The secret story of violence in schools' with a photo of a face with a large bruise under the eye. The article began with descriptions of student behaviours towards teachers in New Zealand schools. Pushing, verbal abuse, kicking, teacher cars being vandalised. Possibly not very different from many schools in other countries. The article stated that in some cases schools were asking teachers not to report these incidents for fear of involving the police would lead to negative publicity.
The second article "Wagging school the daily deal for 29,000" with a subtitle -Chronic truants are getting lost in the system and ending up in crime or teen pregnancy statistics.
One student was reported as saying he had regularly skipped school since the age of 13. "School was boring and dumb and I didn't know what to do. I just wanted to get stoned and hang out with my mates"
Since that time this student had joined an alternative edcuation program where he was attending class because the lessons were interesting.
It is not news to us that the longer students spend outside the classroom the more likely they are to end up illiterate, on welfare and living a life of crime. They seek pleasure - using drugs and alcohol rather than pursuing a life where they have a chance at happiness through positive, generative relationships.
The third article was more uplifting. It outlined an equine assisted learning experience. Through an organisation called New Zealand Horse-Assisted Learning Organisation ( NZHalo) 'at risk' students, special needs children including autistic children, troubled youth are able to benefit by attending these learning experiences.
All of these articles have a unifying theme. Belonging and connectedness. In the first article about violence, students who feel connected are happier and therefore less likely to use violence to get what they want. If students are not connected at school they go where they feel connected. When students truant they do not find school needs satisfying and they go where their needs are met.
The NZHalo learning experience was more than connecting with the horses. One group learned to ask for help from their classmates with managing a horse, something that they did not previously do. Another lesson was about setting boundaries.
Making learning relevant, engaging and needs satisfying is what Choice Theory teaches.
The elimination of coercion makes for a quality learning environment where all can succeed and become productive. Fix the system rather than the individuals. Truancy officers do an important job but why would students want to go back to the same old situation when it is not needs satisfying.
Read the blog written by an Australian teacher about how she connected with her students.
Just imagine if the teachers from a whole school did this. Or a whole nation of teachers did this. How different things would be.