Is individuality to be contained or nurtured in schools?

Conformity versus individuality of students has been a huge debate among educationists, parents and child psychologists. Recently, this issue has come to the fore via Elizabeth Weil’s essay in the New Republic, “American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids”. In this essay, Weil discussed the approaches adopted by teachers to keep children disciplined, focused and motivated in the classrooms. She argued that under these circumstances, an ideal student is the one, who is compliant, not overtly expressive, stays quiet in class and does not challenge the rules set by the teacher.

Conformity in schools plays a major role in fulfilling their tasks of educating the teens and preparing them for the world outside the walls of school building. Obediently, with their heads down, students are taught to become successful executives and agreeable members of society. Parents dream of a teen that is great academically, is good at sports and does household chores whenever asked.

But teachers and parents forget that teenage is the time when kids begin to express their individuality. They will have occasional outbursts, throw tantrum, express intense passion for a certain subject or activity and prove to be headstrong. These behavioral patterns are part and parcel of teenage life and more prominent among the teens who have a strong sense of individuality. On the contrary, school management and teachers regard this behavior as hyperactivity in children, something that needs to be ‘cured’ and not understood.

Almost every other parent is advised to give ADHD medicines to their kids, so that they remain calm and focused in the class. In most cases what school therapist diagnoses as attention deficient disorder, are no more than normal, hyperactive teens who are trying to express their individuality. Parents need to be careful while administering drugs to their kids. To be on the safer side, get a second opinion, preferably from a private child psychologist or therapist before giving medicines to your teens.

The tussle between school’s efforts to conform and kids’ desire to express their individuality is best portrayed in the movie Stepford Children, in which the behavior of children is modified to assimilate in the society to the extent they become robotic. Conformity does give results in the shape of well-adjusted kids, but at the cost of passionate, creative, smart and lively individuals.

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