Sociology in the News – The Rise of Therapeutic Education

Via Context Crawler, this article in the UK Times discusses the rise of therapeutic education and its consequences: "kindergarchy – a new (affluent) world order in which children rule."

"Anyone with children at primary school will instantly get the picture: no child’s existence is complete without “circle time”, or “show and tell” sessions at which they are encouraged to parade their achievements and examine their feelings. The received wisdom on child-rearing says nothing should be allowed to damage a child’s sense of self-worth: just last week the Football Association (FA) decided to ban teams including children under eight from publishing their results, for fear of putting the kids under too much pressure if they lost a match. (…)

Our child-centred society means we fret over what our kids eat, what they wear, their friends, their exam grades and their safety."

And like many American trends, it is spreading to other rich countries (parents in poor countries don’t have time for such nonsense… and I’ll cope to that right off the bat: mommy blogging – feminist or conservative or any shades of grey in between – is annoying… like the late great George Carlin said, "no one cares about your children… that’s why they’re YOUR children"… but I’ve already copped to not liking children).

"It is becoming a worldwide trend. A recent production of Snow White at a primary school in Japan featured 25 Snow Whites, no dwarfs and no wicked witch, as parents objected to one child being picked out for the title role. In Sweden a boy was prevented from handing out invitations to his birthday party at school because he was “discriminating” against the two classmates he did not invite."

But is it really what it seems… let’s bring in the sociologist:

"Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, believes our child-centredness is really adult-centredness. “It’s a way of reassuring ourselves that our children are going to be insulated from pain and adversity,” he said. “We tell children they are wonderful now for tying their shoelaces or getting 50% in an exam. But really it’s our way of flattering ourselves that we’re far more sensitive to children than people were in the past.”

The trouble is, Furedi says, that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. “You’re subtly giving kids the message that they can’t cope with life,” he said. “I have a son of 12 and when he and his friends were just nineI remember being shocked at them using therapeutic language, talking about being stressed out and depressed.”

I think we can thank years of conservative propaganda against women as workers and mothers for creating such a culture of guilt that parents may overcompensate in any way they find. After all, that’s what the family values crowd is good at: hectoring and bullying people with guilt and shame.

What they’re not so good at? Pushing for comprehensive family policies that cover all families, policies to give parents more time and less stress, economic policies that do not require parents to work longer hours to keep up with the cost of living. Huh, better to keep harping on gays and abortion.

Couple that with the noxious influence of popular psychology and you get these results. We have all seen the consequences in our college classes: students with "test anxiety", students who come to tell you that they NEED an A for this class (my usual answer is "fine, earn it"), students who come to meetings with their parents. I’m sure all academics have stories like these.

On this topic, here is the book to read: The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education: How Teaching is Becoming Therapy.

But here is my favorite part of the article:

"While researching The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, its co-author Dennis Hayes, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University, discovered a leaflet telling students that if they studied sociology they might come across poor people and get depressed and if they studied nursing they might come across sick people and get distressed – so the university offered counselling. "

Anyway, again, George Carlin had a great segment on this in his last HBO Special, "It’s Bad for Ya!" (no embed available, it’s the first part, you can find the rest from there).

2 thoughts on “Sociology in the News – The Rise of Therapeutic Education

  1. Thank you for posting this. As a teacher I find this troubling. I have stories of student entitlement that make me cringe. I wonder if anyone has read Alfie Kohn’s work, and how it would fit in with this. He writes about education and parenting, specifically critical of rewards and punishment as tools of education/parenting.

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