As a rule-spurner of a student who condemns her academic establishment to no end on the grounds of toxicity and injustice, I am often asked for palpable examples of the flaws and fractures in our schooling system – by curious peers and sceptical adults alike. To chisel one’s argument well at the time of such interrogations is difficult – but when you denounce your institution as frequently as I do, it grows simpler with every tirade.
There are two shortcomings on the parts of our schools I am particularly indignant about:
- Their brazen-faced tabooing of gender, romance, sexuality and LGBTQ+ issues
- Their ludicrous ignorance on the matters of mental health
The school has been a first-rate nightmare on both of these fronts. Children grew up with three inane ideas: sex is dirty, gender is binary and it is A-okay to use the transphobic C-slur unstintingly – even for a teacher. “Girls versus boys!” – kids would plead in the basketball court. “Odd and unnecessary!” – I have always thought. The closest we came to receiving sex-ed was a chapter on reproduction in standard eight Biology: the teacher mumbled the words ‘penis’ and ‘fallopian tube’ and that was that.
When my friends and I begged to have a Pride-themed assembly, we were slammed with a firm ‘no’ from every faculty member that came to hear of it. Of course, the school also obliterated the entire (heterosexual) love story from the year’s production of Sound of Music, making it perfectly clear to us that besides their LGBTQ-phobia, they would rather butcher a classic musical to the hilt than acknowledge that love exists in the first place, so we were not alarmed in the least.
Children grew up with three inane ideas: sex is dirty, gender is binary and it is A-okay to use the transphobic C-slur unstintingly – even for a teacher.
With regards to mental health, they have not fared much better. Most students learn the phrase ‘mental health’ only in their early teens, and they either pursue the subject on their own or encounter it unwittingly online. Provisions exist for students with learning disabilities and campuses typically house a counsellor – but mental health is more than that, and we established this long ago. The curriculum itself is inherently dangerous to students’ well being (as is evidenced by the 8000 student suicides our country sees every year, as per the NCRB).
Stress and mental disorders are explored at length in plus-two elective psychology courses, of course, but this says nothing. When one’s primary source of education is an institution poisoned by nature with scores of mindly hazards (the idea that ‘greed is good’ and subsequent conflict and competition – a student factory, if you will), one accepts that this is the last place one can ask for help. Highly disquieting, in my judgement.
Taking recent developments into account, I assert that the breakthroughs must begin. The decriminalisation of consensual same-sex relations in 2018 is reason enough for LGBTQ+ education to set in, perhaps opening the way for a conversation about sexuality and gender at large. The aforementioned ‘Three Inane Ideas’ will not vanish from young minds in a trice, but the best way to begin that operation is to drive the subjects into the curriculum.
LGBTQ+ activism as a commendable and indispensable human rights movement must be propounded in the classroom in the same way as a feminist, caste and religious progression. To study this must be made mandatory the way it has been in Scotland, establishing the issue not as a bonus piece of trivia but as a moral prerequisite to a student’s position ‘on the right side of history’.
Students have to be taught about social and emotional tools, healthy relationships, positive coping strategies, early intervention and the like.
It is important to note here that for most of history, LGBTQ+ students have had few role models to reassure them of their place in the world. Now there are more openly LGBTQ+ people for them to look up to by the day – artists, writers, chefs, celebrities, scientists, academics – and the course of action that must accompany this advancement naturally is their accommodation and acknowledgement in school.
Besides history and social sciences (even sex-ed, once its significance is entrenched in our system as well), LGBTQ+ lives are also to be accounted for in natural science. The world has legitimized gay and trans lives in scientific terms already and the nation has done so in its law. So, in addition to making students aware of LGBTQ+ movements in the political and sociological spheres, it is time we recognise them in biology.
Coming to mental health, the only way to renounce ‘student factory’ culture and begin the revolution that will rescue our students from a dangerous, stressful and capitalist school system is to first layout mental health programs under this system – endorsing the movement to change it. These programs should be outside of courses for assessment but should be consequential and imperative. Sex education is an independent and obligatory class in most parts of the first world and the notion of mental health classes as a similar, institutionally sanctioned project designed to teach children about social and emotional tools, healthy relationships, positive coping strategies, early intervention and the like will prove to be of the essence in the future of healthful education.
These, of course, are only two of several large and momentous conversations that we must systematise and lodge into our classrooms. Verbal and subjective learning, assistive technology and ability-accommodative teaching, and the history of ethnic minorities in mainstream curricula are other requisite features of the change we seek – and this list is boundless. We know not how far away the prospect of structured modification to our schooling is, but that is precisely why active discussion of such matters is pivotal.
Students long to secure a voice in conversations about their well being, and it is time to begin listening.