How Schools can Teach Mental Health (without compromising the current curriculum)
Aloha and welcome back to my blog!
If you’re new here, welcome, my name is Ella and I help you retrain your brain! If you don’t know anything about me yet, back in 2008 I survived a hemorrhagic stroke and a slew of mental health struggles before and after that. It took me until 2018 to start turning that rock bottom feeling I had into my breakthrough and I have not looked back since. Now, I post videos every other Sunday teaching you how to turn your rock bottom into your breakthrough. If you don’t want to miss any up coming videos, make sure you subscribe and hit the notification bell below. And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram where I am more active day-to-day.
Today I want to talk about what seems to be a popular topic, and that is whether or not we should teach soft skills mental health in school.
The idea for this video came to me after seeing the above post by @letstalk.mentalhealth on Instagram. The beauty of this post is really in the caption which you can read below:
There are three points I want to touch on today: (1) What is the purpose of the education system, (2) What should the public education system teach children, and (3) How should those subjects be taught?
What is the purpose of a public education system?
The purpose is to: prepare children to be productive members of society (meaning, they should be self-sufficient and contribute to the economy).
There are bajillion and one ways to be a productive member of society, and since it is impossible to teach those bajillion and one ways, the education system teaches the most basic topics that can be applied to multiple areas of life: math, English and grammar, science, art/drama teaches creativity, history. When we arrive to high school, classes get more specialized and include things like shop class, biology, calculus, law, sociology.
Changing the curriculum doesn’t happen over night. But the world around us changes pretty quickly, particularly since the technological revolution began in the late 90s and early 2000s. New skills are required to adapt and adjust to new changes so that you can still be a productive member of society. I don’t know if anyone could have anticipated the public education system needing to change so quickly to keep up with the changing world around us. And I don’t think anyone could have anticipated which skills would need to be covered more heavily in the public education system.
Is it the job of the public education system to teach us everything we need to know in the world? No. I think that is our job as individuals existing in this world. If you want to exist as a productive and independent person, you need to be the one to go out and figure out what skills you naturally excel at, what do you need to improve heavily, and what can you pass on developing? To exist as a productive member of a society is a very personalized experience.
That leads me to the second point…
What should the public education system actually be teaching us?
As for the things they already teach us, I wouldn’t remove them from the system completely. I think I would definitely adjust the frequency they are are taught for example, growing we only had art every Friday, yet we had math every. Cleary there are kids who excel at fine arts and creativity more that black and white thinkers — so why not teach art twice a week and math 3 times a week? Or maybe when kids get to grade 5 or 6, they can decide whether they want to take art 3 times and week and math twice or vice versa.
I think art is now more important than ever because of the technology sucking up all our time. Kids don’t even know how to be creative any more, so maybe by giving them more opportunities to be creative, that mindset will stay with them after school and during summer vacation.
I think we could also adjust what we want kids to learn about certain subjects. For example, I do think it is important to learn about history, particularly about your own country. But instead of having kid memorize dates and facts, why not , for example, teach kids how wartime leaders problem solved and led? Or how Presidents and Prime Ministers communicated and developed strategic plans. By teaching kids how plans can be strategic, you are indirectly teaching them how to think about long-term and the importance of delayed gratification.
So yes it is important to teach hard skills, but I also believe soft skills have a place is the curriculum.
And that leads me to the third point I want to make …
How Should we Teach?
Teachers barely have enough time to teach 1 course as is. And I certainly do not believe in making school days longer. So the question remains, how do we teach soft skills in addition to what we already learn in school?
I think the answer is, we simply integrate the discussion of soft skills into the objective subjects already being taught.
Here are some examples:
- Empathy – Growing up, I went to Catholic school. Now that I am older, I have friends that went to public school; in our discussions we came across the idea that religion classes in-directly taught empathy. For those who do teach religion classes, I think empathy-focused lessons could be quite helpful. Please know, I am certainly not telling everyone to go to religious-based schools. If religion is not something you jive with, I think allowing people to share their personal stories of challenges or struggle in drama classes, for example, would be helpful for creating empathy.
- Mental Health – Do you remember the lessons from each of the books you read in English class? There were some stories I remember, but I can’t say I read a book in English class that taught me anything about creating a more meaningful life. That is why I highly recommend the book, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl be read in high schools. It is a true story written by a psychiatrist about his time surviving numerous concentration camps during the second world war. It is chalked full of tactical and easy-to-understand tips for creating a happier and more fulfilling life.
- Organization – I know many schools are able to give agenda books to students at the beginning of the year. I think consistently explaining the importance of this practice throughout the year is helpful for kids learning organization. To be clear, I mean the importance of organization and time management should be explained; teachers should just tell everyone “write your homework in your agenda books” without providing an explanation as to why that is important.
- Manners and interpersonal communication – This one seems fairly straight forward and I know a few teachers who did a great job teaching this to me growing up. Well communicated questions like “may I please use to the washroom?” can overflow into different types of communication in life. I also want to be clear and say that teachers cannot be solely responsible for teaching kids everything. It is my opinion that parents should teach kids basic manners and communication in the home, so that kids are prepared to use them once they arrive at school.
- Problem Solving – I know you can learn problem solving in objective courses like math and science, but what about learning how to problem solve big, subjective ideas? When I was in grade 7 and 8, every Friday we had a class called “current events” where one person would share a current event in the world as a debate topic, and then individuals would either agree or disagree. I think this concept is great, but is even more important to teach kids how to listen, explain their argument, and respectfully disagree with each other; that addition would be a fantastic teaching in my opinion.
All-in-all, here’s what I think …
I am a big believer in the idea that the more that is taught, the less you learn. Meaning that, learning to become the most productive member of society you can be needs to be a personalized experience. As humans, we each have a personal responsibility to learn how to be productive in this world; and I believe the best teacher is experience.
Regarding the public education curriculum, instead of just adding and removing subjects, I think the best thing to do is make slight adjustment to how things are currently taught. What do you think about our current public education system? Would you like to see any changes? Comment below to let me know what you think.
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As always, I hope you have a great day and don’t forget to make this the year of you!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. Any information and content on my website is not a substitute for professional health advice.