Why are kindness lessons not on the school curriculum?

The Leaving Cert looms for my eldest but the entire school journey was an education for us all

 It’s hard to get my head around the fact that my eldest will be finished school for good ... in my mind her very first day of school seems like only yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke

It’s hard to get my head around the fact that my eldest will be finished school for good ... in my mind her very first day of school seems like only yesterday. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

I’d been warned by wiser elders, who had gone before me, that when a child in the house is sitting the Leaving Cert, everyone in the house is sitting the Leaving Cert.

We are currently into the second week of language orals and such are the whispered, repeated ramblings I’m subjected to on a daily basis, I’m dreaming about Brexit “as Gaeilge”.Except, of course, on those nights when I have the real “Leaving Cert dream” where I turn over my paper to discover all questions are in Spanish, even though I studied French.

I panic, trying desperately to recall what years of watching “Dora the Explorer” has taught me, until finally I wake in a cold sweat grateful that I never have to sit the Leaving Cert again.

It’s a surreal feeling as we head into those last few weeks of school. It’s hard to get my head around the fact that my eldest will be finished school for good and, though new adventures may await, in my mind her very first day of school seems like only yesterday.

I remember the excitement, and that very first lesson she learned when she addressed her teacher by her first name – in a school that prefers formality.

Jen Hogan with her children
Jen Hogan with her children

Adored her teacher

I remember how much she adored that same teacher and how teacher’s words began to carry more weight than mine – even when we were saying the same thing. That same pattern followed for her brothers.

We, as parents, are our children’s first educators. The difficulty is that we’re still learning too, fumbling along with the best of intentions and hoping that’s good enough. It’s a delicate balance of priorities but it doesn’t take long to realise the power of influence the outside world wields if you’re not always on your game.

This is great when the influencer is singing from the same hymn sheet as you and warning your child that an early night is necessary ahead of the school tour tomorrow.

The joy of learning and the steps towards independence are sometimes bittersweet to behold

Not so great when it comes in the form of a campaign poster during a same-sex marriage referendum that temporarily convinces your impressionable child a No vote is necessary to stop the destruction of the family.

Thankfully, this is easy enough to put right, because children are not born homophobic.

Bittersweet

The entire school journey is an education for both parent and child. The joy of learning and the steps towards independence are sometimes bittersweet to behold. Because there are some lessons you wish your child never had to learn.

And some that I personally wish they could.

At school each wonderfully unique child learns to measure themselves against standardised tests and sporting achievement. Hard work is valued and championed and success quite rightly acknowledged – but why are all things not valued equally?

Where is the value on kindness? In a time where acts of intolerance and hate fill our newsfeed, where youth mental health has never been under so much pressure, and when bullying maintains its stranglehold on society, why have kindness lessons not become core to our school curriculum?

Kindness and empathy are applauded and celebrated when our children are toddlers and smallies. And though in theory an ethos may remain once they go to school, as the years progress and the valued targets become more obvious, excelling at kindness doesn’t seem to feature.

Deliberate inclusion

It may not be a deliberate omission, but how nice it would be to see it as a deliberate inclusion, throughout the entire school cycle, recognising the different and yet same shape it can take as our children get older. A focus away from the books and the sports field.

A focus on caring and compassion and thinking of others. A focus on words, actions and consequences and how to build each other up, rather than tear each other down. A focus that makes up as consistent a part of their education as their academic studies and sporting outlets.

The countdown to the rest of the Leaving Cert continues

Because although these things can be taught at home, teaching and championing these traits at school would reinforce their value.

The countdown to the rest of the Leaving Cert continues. The weeks are passing quickly and the graduation is around the corner. I’m kept up to date as to how studies are progressing, what’s yet to be covered and what had “just better not come up”.

There’s an air of fresh familiarity about it all and, if I’m truly honest, I’d rather her than me.

The future looks bright, though her current dreams are tied up in what these exams may bring. She can be anything she wants to be.

I hope above all else, she’ll stay wonderfully kind.

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