I do a lot of work with youth and young adults who are meandering their way through the Ontario education system and periodically, through my e-counselling network, catch a young person in another province and the consistent issue that I ultimately end up working through with these kids is a sense of meaning in education.
Back when I was in high school (Fellowes High School, Class of 2007; Rideau High School/Bishop Smith Catholic High School, Victory Lap 2008) my teachers from Grade 9 to Grade 12 instilled in me and my fellow students a sense that as boring as their lives in the school may feel that it was going to lead to what we want to do for the rest of our lives. It didn't matter if you were in the Academic/University, Applied/College, Open, Mixed, or Workplace/Apprenticeship stream courses; in each course there was at least a shallow sense that being in that class had a time-bending connection to your future.
My sister, who graduated this past week, didn't feel that sense of meaning from her teachers except for her tutor who took additional time to help the coursework mean something for what my sister felt called to do in her adult life. To my understanding from working with youth today this is a very common feeling. There is no sense of urgency. Little sense of guidance.
It could be said that my teachers went above and beyond but my teachers are teaching my young clients.
Instead what I see the issue as is more to do with what teachers are able to do. Updates (downgrades) to the curricula are making it so that teachers have less time and less ability to connect with students. Relationships that couldn't be built in the classroom were often developed in extra-curricular activities but teachers are being forced to back out of those activities because of the amount of class-work that needs to be done in unreasonable time-frames. School counselling staff are also significantly under-trained to handle personal issues that are getting in the way of their pupils' studies, much less help prepare students for their careers with small schools amalgamating into one great blob.
Yes, I have no problem saying that small schools being closed is part of the issue. I trace it back to Emile Durkheim and the theory of anomie. Although typically a sociological theory it has powerful psychological ramifications. Durkheim wrote about anomie in his work "Suicide" (1897) but back in 1893 he was referencing the lawlessness (hence anomie: a- prefix for without and -nomos suffix and standalone word for law); transliterated for French) that was appearing as people left the rural regions in favour of growing towns and cities. Often combined with the word anonymous, anomie helped explain how the loss of shared ideals while the society became heterogeneous - as different people and their norms join a society there is a time of connection and assimilation and during this time there is deviance as the society adjusts to share ideals - in combination with Merton's Strain Theory.
I scale down anomie to attach it to the schools that are amalgamated as the local populations surrounding those schools decline and those students are transferred as a money-saving method. Changes in curricula, behavioural norms, and other basic social controls make it easy for youth to fall through the cracks and perceive meaninglessness. As his book's title suggests, Durkheim believed that the pinnacle of this social disorder was the perception that there is nothing to live for and with no sense of meaning there is little left to do but kill oneself or their future.
Join me in calling for the ministries to put more funding forward for trained educational/career counsellors into the schools because this cannot continue. I am sick from what I am seeing.
Just a way to get a few thoughts across outside of the office. In this blog you may even find entries that assist in your healing without needing a session