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Soul Full Learning

Posted in Motherhood on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 at 6:26 pm No Comments

Student swamped under paperworkOriginally written March 2011.

The problem: Is test driven education destroying creativity, soul full learning, and creating stress and illness in children?  A review of current research and literature regarding education that reports on children from Kindergarten through High School. Study Methods: comparative research of efficacy of homework, links between school and stress and personal stories.  Basic findings; no current research supports or validates test based education or the quantity and quality of homework routinely assigned from K-8th.  There is a connection to stress, depression, suicide and drop out rates linked to the current model of education.  Conclusion or implications; educational reform is needed.  The educational reform should be based on an education that contributes to a love of true learning, creative thinking and a balanced life for children.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”  W.B. Yeats

Soul-Full Learning

Children are losing their childhood, health and even their lives to a passion-less, soul -killing education that is based on philosophies that are unsupported by research.  Research has been conducted and thoroughly reviewed by respected members of the American Psychology Association and other organizations finding that test scores on standardized tests and correlation to the amount of homework given bare no efficacy in a real education. The current test driven standards by which the government dictates failed the purposes for which they were created and in fact are damaging the lives of children and eroding family life.  Homework is responsible for a large portion of the problems children and families face.  There is no separation of the mind from the body, therefore the type and quality of the education we subject our kids to directly affect their well being, emotionally, physically and spiritually.  Are we to risk our children’s lives, souls and health to an educational system that is damaging, dysfunctional and disruptive to our children and families?

Recent Research and Statistics


There is a calling to learn something we love, something that feels right somewhere inside of us.  Few children are able to meet that need through public education and college.  In a culture that believes vocation is learning a skill so you can make money, regardless of your passions, it is no wonder that many children are stressed, depressed, disengaged and suicidal.

In a new documentary, Race to Nowhere, mother and director Vicki H. Abeles experiences an awakening to the crisis in education that is having a disturbing somatic expression in children.  Ms. Abeles begins to ask questions of parents, students, educators, colleges and psychologists, realizing this is a wide spread problem.  During this time she decides to make a movie to bring awareness to the public and create a change across the nation.  Most often, The Race to Nowhere is screened in school’s.



I saw the strain in my children as they navigated days filled with school, homework, tutoring and extracurricular activities. But it wasn’t until the crisis of my 12-year-old daughter being diagnosed with a stress induced illness that I was determined to do something.


After months of long evenings battling homework assignments, studying for tests and panic attacks in the middle of the night, we found her doubled over in pain, and rushed her to the emergency room.


Our test and achievement driven education system contributes to higher dropout rates and rates of burn-out.


Research shows that playful learning leads to better academic success than does a skills-and-drills approach, but this isn’t happening in many of our schools.


The amount of homework assigned to kids from 6 to 9 almost tripled between 1981 and 1997. Assigned homework increased from about 44 minutes a week to more than 2 hours a week. Homework for kids aged 9 to 11 increased from about 2 hours and 50 minutes to more than 3 and a-half hours per week (The Race to Nowhere 2011)


Pair the above research with these statistics:  From 1980 to 1992…“the (suicide) rate increased among persons aged 15-18 years by 28.3% and among persons aged 10-14 years by 120%.

While the causes of suicide are complex the CDC does include severe stress from school as a causal factor in suicide. (CDC 2011) http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/wk/mm4415.pdf   Suicide is also in the top 3 causes of death for the 15-24 year old. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001915.htm


A 2006 synthesis of research on the effects of homework found no correlation between amount of time spent on homework and achievement for elementary school students, a moderate correlation in middle school (Race to Nowhere 2011)


The kill and drill approach is doing what the phrase says.  Education and real learning are not taking place and stress, anxiety, depression, stress-related illness, even suicide are on the rise.


Within the movie and on the Race to Nowhere website is a plea to Medical Professional to be aware to the signs of children stress.  These include depression, anxiety, headaches, dizziness, change of appetite, different sleep patterns and stomachaches. http://racetonowhere.com/medical-professionals



Physicians are now seeing children for conditions such as stress, stomachache, head ache, attention deficit, sleep disturbance, exhaustion and eating disorders compared to the mumps and measles of yesteryear.  http://www.livestrong.com/article/14204-5-things-you-need-to-know-about-stress-related-illnesses/#ixzz1EGLwTyWD


Amazingly, three-quarters of all health problems are related to stress and emotions.

Indeed, 75 percent of all health problems brought to doctors is emotional stress-related, according to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Our work is cut out for us as we identify that source of stress and shun it to avoid increasing medical costs and other stressful situations.


The Center for Disease Control has published a study on their Preventing Chronic Disease Public Health Research, Practice and Policy pages.  This enlightening study, Exploring stress and coping among urban African American adolescents: the Shifting the Lens study, was conducted on a small group of 9th grade students and results showed that the highest stressor as perceived by the children themselves was school work. (Appendix.)

School stress was clearly articulated by the majority of teens. In the pile-sort activity,

school work was identified as the most frequent and important source of stress. Teens felt

stress from the increased amount of homework in the ninth grade and from worrying about

exams and grades. More boys (83%) than girls (61%) expressed worry about the amount of

school work (P = .36). One participant reported, “School cause stress, oh my goodness, so many

tests to take, so many classes to go to it give you a headache, it just wouldn’t feel right, like all this

pressure put on you for just this one little thing that you need in life to get through life and it

wasn’t right, all these tests.”


Several teens discussed stress from teacher relationships, particularly from a perceived lack of respect from teachers as well as general conflicts. Student–teacher relationships were a critical source of stress that youths cited as inhibiting their academic performance and school functioning


One participant commented, “My stress only comes from school. . . . But I deal with it most of the time with my family — I talk it out.”  (Chandra A, 2006)


Personal Stories and Interviews

Many stories from parents and children show the connection of stress from school and emotional, physical and mental illness. Thomas Moore writes of his ability to see the connection and the solution to his daughter’s illness with intuitive skill.


One day my daughter Siobhan was sitting on the bed with my wife and me when  I noticed a swelling on her neck.  I have had thyroid problems for thirty years, and there was no mistaking that bump.  It turned out she had Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid.  She was fourteen and just starting a new life in an excellent local high school.  She did well in school, but she couldn’t handle the load of homework and the long hours.  She would get up at 6 a.m. and still be finishing the day’s homework near midnight.  She was beginning to look chronically sick and exhausted.  So, we decided to homeschool. The Dance of Learning by Thomas Moore page 7



When my daughter Madison was in pre-school, she absolutely loved it!  She didn’t want to leave.  She was a very social and busy little girl with no other siblings at home.  Madison had a very different experience when she started Kindergarten in public school.  She loved the children, the school and the teacher but the homework was grueling.  She was very articulate regarding the issue.  She would say, “this is the same thing we did at school!”, “this is boring”, “I want to play”, “why can’t I just do all of this at home”?  At 5 years old, she was already aware that the system provided at the public school level was not appropriate for her, it was already killing her little soul.


I persisted and struggled through homework with her, every evening it was a battle.  The homework battle is an extremely common theme among families.  The first questions and most of the conversation once children come home for school is regarding homework.


It went on into first grade, when stomach aches and headaches began.  Getting her to school and doing homework was beginning to give me stress symptoms!   Madison continued to have bodily symptoms of stress caused by her public school experience.  One day she came home in tears saying that she liked school but she didn’t feel that she belonged there.  I pulled Madison out of public school and home schooled her.  Her symptoms dissappeared, there was a noticable change in her focus, energy, and physical stress symptoms within one month.  As her soul healed so did her body and mind.


Madison continued to clearly articulate what she wanted to learn and how she wanted to learn it.  She despised working on sheets out of workbooks.  They were like school, “boring.”  When I asked why it was boring she would say things like, “there is no color, it doesn’t say anything interesting about animals.”  We did math with chalk on the driveway, made soap, created a huge medicine wheel in the back yard all the while learning math.  Using a Waldorf Curriculum, Madison and our whole family flourished in the creativity, rhythm and respect for nature inherent in the philosophy.  There were field trips, stories, singing, music, art, outdoor play, a gentle flow to our days and no homework.  At the end of our year of homeschooling she expressed a deep desire to be with other children in a school. She was clear that returning to public school was not an option.  Madison integrated into a Waldorf School with ease, no physical symptoms and no homework, she was happy.


Rudolf Steiner, the man behind Waldorf Education believed that children should have plenty of time to play and be creative.  He also believed that education would help children develop abilities and capacities they would need as adults and that an understanding and inclusion of children’s forming body, spirit and heart were all critical in the process of education.  He had a strong belief in academic excellence but saw no benefit in homework as busywork.  Homework in a Waldorf Curriculum isn’t introduced until 3rd grade, and an example would be writing a poem.  In the upper grades he would encourage it as voluntary, and something that the child becomes inspired to study. http://www.steinerbooks.org/research/archive/faculty_meetings/faculty_meetings.pdf

He did not disapprove of children doing work at home – his commitment to academic excellence meant quite the reverse – he simply disapproved of their being made to do specific ‘homework’. His idea was that the teacher should be able to inspire the pupils so that they could then go off and study on their own. http://www.freedom-in-education.co.uk/newsletter/august03.htm


Today Madison attends a Waldorf Inspired Alternative Public school.  The school wants to continue to learn, grow and share their vision with other schools.  Madison absolutely loves her 5th grade teacher.  He listens with respect to the children, he is connected on a deep level to each of them and teaches them things that inspire and enrich their lives.  Madison’s symptoms of headaches and stomachaches return only when she is overscheduled or has too much pressure and stress.  Madison listens to the messages her body sends and as her mother, I respect her needs and make adjustments whenever needed.


Rudolf Steiner also saw the connection between the body and mind and how teacher and education could impact the students physical and mental well-being.  Rudolf Steiner in his book Soul-Economy explains a situation where a teacher may be teaching a lesson and notice a particular child go pale.  Being a well trained and intuitive teacher, he/she realizes too much memory content had been given to this particular child and if left unnoticed and unattended to it would further progress into a psychological issue of anxiety.  This imaginary situation he is describing would then be remedied by showing the child beautiful pictures and images about the content they were studying and lessen the memorization for that child.  http://books.google.com/books?id=NVG7-E6uT3gC&printsec=frontcover&dq=rudolf+steiner+and+stress+in+children&source=bl&ots=ryOELF38Cy&sig=yWeYfQua3rv74Jwfp9Cyx2JprhY&hl=en&ei=kEptTc7DJIeisAOEo6W-BQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=false page 78-79


My Experience

My memories of school are that the work was usually boring and repetitive and what made a class fun was the teacher.  The classes that I enjoyed the most in school were choir and music , with my favorite teacher Mr. E.  In addition, I was pleasantly surprised with my A period Economics when we were allowed as a class to choose a business and actually operate it that semester.  We choose singing telegrams and it was very successful.  This is an example of a teacher that allowed us to actively engage in critical thinking and be creative.

My own experience entering college to discuss my plans with a career counselor revealed that regardless of what you were passionate about and interested in, you needed to do what you could make the most money at.  Therefore, I was discouraged from pursuing psychology and instead directed to a business degree.  During the process of attending college and developing a successful career in Business I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Bladder Infections and Occular Migraines.  By the time I realized that I wasn’t happy in that line of work, I was 30 years old.  After changing listening to what my body needed and what my soul was calling for I changed careers, started a family releasing the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Bladder Infections permanently. In my experience when I was able to reduce stress and listen to the messages my body was sending me, I was able to rid myself of the condition.  I also engaged myself in learning and studying what my soul had really been after and it fed and nourished me greatly.





Research that correlates stress, depression and suicide specifically to school and homework stress needs to done on a larger scale.  We know suicide is occurring at younger and younger ages and are seeing an increase in stress and stress-related illnesses in children.  There is a correlation to stress, but conclusive research based evidence needs to be conducted. Intuitively, parents and children know what is causing problems and disruptions in their lives and are beginning to make changes.  Children, parents and educators are taking a stand, writing books, filming movies, starting organizations, sharing their stories and creating a shift in the collective unconscious which will bring the soul back into education.  The call of our spirits to align with our true calling, our vocation, will bring our bodies, minds and spirits to a state of balance, health and happiness.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  Albert Einstein




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