January 24, 2014

Emotional Intelligence: What We Really Need to be Teaching in School. ~ Dakota Snow

Schools exist to exercise our academic aptitudes, but when it comes to our emotions, we’re on our own.

Internal struggles often carry over into many students’ school performance, so why don’t we just develop their emotional intelligence alongside academics? Are the two of them not equally important? I know I would have benefited from a class that teaches the many factors that affect our happiness, or contribute to our (lack of) motivation, or techniques to help us to concentrate in class.

This would improve the general performance of students across all disciplines, even “unrelated” ones, because our emotions govern our ability to learn. Students need guidance just to navigate their minds, which are complex and vastly difficult devices. As we get older, our identities unfold before us, and we run our minds for miles just to keep up with ourselves.

But lately, students don’t have time to chase their own identities because they’re all so busy studying for standard tests. A lot of us lose sight of who we are along the way and go on to spend the rest of our lives trying to find ourselves again.

Sadly, a lot of schools would balk at the idea of investing time and effort in developing their students’ emotional intelligence.

Nobody studies happiness or motivation, or how to concentrate in class. Although, why is that? These are qualities that we expect to see in students—to be motivated, focused—and when we don’t, the student is approached and asked what is the matter. How should they know? No one’s ever taught them what could possibly contribute to their lack of motivation or difficulty focusing. Instead, we diagnose them as “clinically uninterested” in school.

We blame the students.

Even though nobody has ever stopped to teach these students any of the technicalities of their minds and emotions. We expect students to know their emotions just the same as we expect them to know math or science or grammar—subjects we spend years engraining in their brains—but we don’t dedicate a drop of education to emotions.

When we ask them what’s the matter, chances are they honestly have no idea.

How can we expect these kids to have the answers? That’s the educator’s job. But because nobody knows what’s causing all these troublesome emotions in the first place, we prescribe these students drugs to silence their “distractions”—leaving them comfortably numb.

We put them on anti-depressants and mood-stabilizers (tranquilizers for the mind, essentially) and pills designed to help them focus and enhance their overall performance. These are often risky medications, not to mention they’re expensive. The pharmaceutical industry, predictably, is booming. In the mean time, depression levels are ever rising, suicide rates are skyrocketing, and every day more students are diagnosed with ADHD—so we give them Ritalin—the quick and easy, instant fix.

This only treats the symptoms of the problem, some of them imaginary. ADHD is a side affect of ineffective educating, if anything, but instead of restructuring education in a way that works for students, we continue trying desperately to squeeze them into molds that they continue not to fit.

According to the current model, education only cares for academic intellect, distancing us from our own emotions in the process, despite the fact that our emotions are a constant force, and oftentimes the hardest to operate and understand. There are methods of strengthening and exercising our emotional intelligence, but these have largely been left out of education. They’ve been deemed a waste of time. But I say this: Unless we teach them first to understand themselves, what’s the sense in teaching students anything? What good is shoving all this academia down students’ throats if we don’t teach them how to swallow and digest it?

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Assistant Editor: Jane Henderling / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: elephant journal archives

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Dakota Snow