I have been thinking about posting this letter for a long time. I have always talked myself out of it, thinking how on earth can one person change something so large and important? But isn’t that where the best ideas start, with one little voice in the darkness?
So hear goes…
This is my open letter to the Department of Education, UK councillors, teachers and pupils alike,
I am writing to you as a concerned citizen about an issue that keeps appearing in the national press.
It breaks my heart every time I see another teenager has taken their own life. The Samaritans website states that suicide now accounts for 3 times more deaths than road accidents and the Office for National Statistics website has said that teen suicide is at an all-time high in the UK. To me, this is a massive problem that needs some attention, but the Government seems to be focusing their time on the Brexit arguments and how much we should be spending on plastic bags while people are quite literally dying around the country.
As a survivor of the high school bullies myself, I know how it feels to be picked on. I know the pressures of exams and keeping up with the latest trends and all the other things that teenagers have to deal with but the difference nowadays is how blatant the idea of suicide is. It now dominates soap storylines, teen TV series, social media, something that I never had to deal with.
I know that there is a big drive at the moment, through various channels, to reduce the stigma about mental health issues but I still can’t help but feel like everyone is missing the point. Although it is amazing to get the general public talking about mental health, we are still focusing on talking about it. The old saying goes: ‘What you focus your attention on will grow’. I really think it would be more beneficial to put this effort into the solution of helping teenagers, rather than the problem.
A few years ago, I heard the famous quote from a very young John Lennon. His teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. John Lennon said he wanted to be happy. The teacher told him he had misunderstood the question. John said the teacher misunderstood life.
I wish I had heard this quote when I was still at school. There is so much focus on exam results and what job you are going to get when you leave education, that the thought of being happy in life is totally overlooked. It is not even discussed as an option. I always knew I wanted to work with children once I left school, but that is only a very small portion of my life now. I am a teacher, but I am also a sports fan, I like to sing, I do all sorts of creative hobbies, I love to cook. My job is a proportion of my life, so why is the whole of our school years geared towards getting qualifications for a job. Why isn’t it teaching us about other areas of life?
I feel that a good solution to this problem is how we use the Personal, Social and Emotional class that is taught in high schools currently. With all the knowledge we have about mindfulness and how stress affects us, I really feel like the Personal, Social and Emotional curriculum could be put to better use. There is no formal qualification to be gained from this class. A well rounded citizen that is ready to live in the real world is the qualification. Each student will carry it within their thoughts and actions rather than on a piece of paper.
In Canadian high schools, every pupil has to undertake a ‘Life Skills’ class, where they learn about how to budget their finances, the jargon used relating to bank accounts and mortgages, car maintenance etc. Real skills that every student will need at some point in their lives. It is these skills that will show British students that there is a whole world out there to be lived in. The bullies and stresses that surround them now will be for a finite time, but this type of learning would encourage students to think past this time and plan for the future, away from the stresses of needing certain grades in the class.
My vision is to create a curriculum for these classes that would involve all of the skills needed to survive in this new, technological, social media obsessed world. Things like mindfulness, stress management, the Mediterranean diet, finance budgeting, political party values, interview skills, workplace Human Resources, running a business would all be worthwhile skills that need to be encouraged to show students that they have the power to shape their lives, rather than be sucked in by thoughts that drive them to ending their lives prematurely. It is turning the focus, making students think about what they can achieve, rather than being focused on the negatives in their lives.
Between the ages of 4 and 16, a child will split the majority of their time between home and school. Therefore it is the responsibility of the Department of Education to get children ready to live in the world. Currently, too many children are opting out of living.
So something needs to change.
Thank you very much for your time.