Wednesday 22 May 2024

What are we doing to little kids?

This blog post first appeared in Malta Today

Ever since school started I’ve heard several anecdotes about what can only be described as rather over-the-top practices and directives which have come into force over recent years in our educational system.

One directive concerns what is allowed or not allowed in school lunch boxes. Now, I know that there has been a concerted effort to encourage parents to send children to school with healthy lunches and snacks, and that can only be commended. But as usual, we have gone from one extreme to the other, and when I hear of a long list of food which is forbidden (like crackers, what’s wrong with crackers?) then I start to scratch my head. And when I hear about situations where children have birthdays but are only allowed to take one, specific type of plain cake or cupcakes (failing which, said cake cannot be consumed), I fear we are verging into almost totalitarian territory. I can understand not allowing nuts because of possibly nut allergies, but since when is chocolate cake such a threat?

Like the Soup Nazi in Seinfeld, I have images of all these teachers pointing dramatically at the door telling the little tykes, “No cupcakes for you!”

The lunchbox issue, however, pales into comparison when one learns about the directive regarding small children who need to use the bathroom. Basically, teachers cannot help them in any way, not even if a child soils his or herself. I had heard about this before, but this week a very distressed mother wrote to me about what happened to her daughter. With her permission, I am reproducing it here:

“Today I can understand more than ever why parents speak about home schooling. I do not agree with it because I think that children should mix. However, today my experience made me understand many things much more than I ever knew.

The education department has chosen to put forward a directive whereby children in Kinder One (three-year-olds) have to fend for themselves in the bathroom with no help. I was not aware to what extent the directive holds. Today my daughter put this directive to the test. I received a call during my errands whereby I had to drop everything to go and tend to her needs. I found a humiliated child standing by a wall with a disapproving-looking assistant teacher. She was disapproving at my daughter for letting her bladder take the upper hand and was disapproving at me because I was not there within minutes. Because a mother should not run errands for the family but should be on standby for the school.

My daughter was not even wiped, no care or physical contact was ever manifested to relieve her of feeling as though what she did was not wrong but just something girls her age do, especially on their first day of school, which can be overwhelming. My heart was totally broken, an innocent child cannot find the same love her Mum gives her because of the few accusations (many times unfounded) of pedophilia addressed at teachers. I can understand the directive protects teachers from having to go through an unfounded living hell. Yet what about the impact on the young defenceless children? Why are children expected to be adults at such a young age?

I can now understand why my mother said school used to begin at the age of five. I am sick of people trying to transpose adulthood on children. Can we ever get down to their level? Do we really want to? I thought allowing her to be in her comfort zone would be enough, yet it seems it is not. She is not allowed to take a reducer for the toilet, she is expected to wipe herself, whatever her needs are. I could not believe that her assistant teacher could stand impassively and not even wipe her over her clothes just a bit. Yet it is a directive like all the many nonsense directives educators and others come up with.

I am totally in doubt if I will send her to school this year. I feel I need to protect her from daily humiliation and from the lack of empathy. Little children just want love and affection no more no less.”
I can understand this mother’s pain. What I cannot understand about this blanket directive is this: Surely to avoid any possible abuse towards children, anyone working with children needs to be thoroughly vetted FIRST and then allowed to be a kindergarten assistant, teacher, or whatever? Rather than tarring all educators with the same suspicious brush (because it surely must be awful to be considered a potential pedophile!) why not just make sure you are employing people completely above suspicion?

It is surely a sad state of affairs that tiny children cannot even hug their favourite teacher any more because she/he is given strict instructions to keep the children at arm’s length for fear of any possible nasty allegations.