The pleasure of learning and the need for enthralling teachers. That is the core of an op-ed prof. dr. Jan Derksen, a Dutch clinical psychologist, published in the Volkskrant on Saturday. We immediately had to think about that teacher in Belvedere that apparently had no clue about how to deal with an autistic student. By doing exactly the wrong thing – a basic mistake anyone with rudimentary knowledge of autism would have known to avoid – the teacher triggered a violent reaction from the kid. The teacher plays victim, the student has done it. That is, in our book, the world upside down.
Education has always been on the move, also in the Netherlands. The Council for Secondary Education, chaired by Paul Rosenmöller has come up with the umpteenth suggestion to put students at the heart of the school system.
We almost hear Derksen produce a deep sigh – one fueled by despair. We have had the study-home wherein students were at the center and whereby the teacher became a classroom assistant, he notes. The initiative died a silent death. Before the study-home there was a trend to rob the teacher of his function as a role model by putting educational materials at the center. These days, the student must receive a tailor-made diploma.
Derksen notes that the underlying image of the student is all wrong: it perceives students as cognitive machines consisting of modules of different strengths. Education must connect to this image.
No, says Derksen, that way it looks like the young student does not have emotions, wishes, conflicts, positive and negative experiences and traumas. “As if it is wrong for the development of young people that they learn to adjust to a school system with an appurtenant level of ambition.
The education system has forgotten something, Derksen points out. What would that be? The system has forgotten “that learning in its psychological essence runs through identification with teachers whose classes are enthralling.” The system has also forgotten that learning is a lot more than cognitive development, he adds.
What is then so wrong with putting students at the system’s center? Derksen says that the proposal from the Council for Secondary Education stimulates the “in our society already in excess present narcissistic characteristics by connecting to the wellbeing of the student instead of teaching these youngsters to deal with the frustration they encounter in certain courses and entrusting inspiring, proud and well-paid teachers with this process of stimulation.”
Derksen furthermore expressed his concerns about the renewed talk about so-called top talent in the student population. “In reality this is a very low percentage. “Putting them at the center only leads to disappointment and to dropouts among that much larger other part.”
Derksen ends his op-ed with a question: “Where are the education-experts with sufficient authority to limit our education system to its core – good teachers who teach youngsters the joy of learning.”
That is something to think about for our Minister of Education. Obviously, the options in a small community like St. Maarten are more limited than they are in a larger country like the Netherlands. It is interesting though that the Netherlands wrestles with its education system too. It is tempting to think that everything is better on the other side of the ocean, but this is not a given.
At the same time, the incident with the autistic student in Belvedere teaches the community and parents something: teachers (not all of them, but some of them) understand insufficiently the condition of the students they have in their classroom.
This means that teachers who deal with special needs children have to go through appropriate training. It will make their life a lot easier, and it will certainly benefit the students. Teachers who understand, will have a much easier time with their students than others who are grasping at straws in total darkness.