A US History Lesson Teaches Us That America’s Public-School System Is Operating on the Wrong Side of Humanity

America’s public-school system (as well as school systems throughout the world) is operating on the wrong side of humanity. How so? To make the point, here’s an American history question that you probably never had in school: What happened on December 14, 1799? Unless you’re a real history buff, you’re probably stumped, so here’s a hint: Just the opposite happened on February 22, 1732.

Okay, so if George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, this means he died on December 14, 1799. Now here’s a follow-up question that will stump just about everyone: What was Washington’s death attributed to? Ready for this: involuntary manslaughter, with an explanation.

You’ve probably never heard this before in the context of Washington’s death, but that’s what happened. Washington had a serious throat infection with related complications, and, attended by three of the best physicians, was administered several treatments, including being bled of slightly more than 80 ounces (five pints) of blood over a 12-hour period.

Back then, the prevailing paradigm of the medical community was that if you were ill, your blood was tainted. So in order to heal the sick patient, he or she had to be bled. This process is called phlebotomy or bloodletting. And back then, if you didn’t do this as an attending physician, you were being negligent. As such, it still took the medical community a half century before this type of phlebotomy was banned.

Of course, if a physician did this today to cure a serious throat infection, his or her medical license would be revoked and the physician would be prosecuted. But given that this happened back in 1799, and phlebotomy was thought to be a correct form of treatment, it was a totally different paradigm.

How does this history lesson relate to what’s going on in our schools today? Over millions of years of evolution, human beings have been genetically programmed to engage in sustained, high levels of physical activity. When we do, we thrive personally and socially. When we don’t, we develop disease, dysfunction, and despair, which are manifested by chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and depression. We also experience societal problems, such as the troubling conditions in our schools. Combined, this leads to consternation around so many issues that are currently confronting us.

Yes, like Washington’s physicians, our schools are certainly well-intentioned, but they are unwittingly operating on the wrong side of humanity by using a predominately passive, sit-at-your-desk , sedentary learning methodology to “educate” our schoolchildren. Is it any wonder that one of the last places kids want to be is in their academic classrooms? The children are trying to tell us that they should be learning in an active, physical way. But because the prevailing pedagogical paradigm is predominately sedentary, our educational system is therefore operating on the wrong side of humanity.

In today’s educational world, to say this is heresy, but current and emerging research from neuroscience, evolution studies, and medicine validate this, as do studies showing that kids who are the most physically active, especially aerobically, do better in school than their more-sedentary peers.

To make the point, here are quotes from two distinguished neuroscientists: From Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, Ph.D., of UCLA: “Humans have evolved to thrive on physical activity. Without it, not only do our bodies go awry, but so do our brains.” And from Philip Holmes, Ph.D., of the University of Georgia: “It occurs to us (neuroscientists) that exercise is the more normal or natural condition, and that being sedentary is really the abnormal situation.”

Yes, our bodies and brains go awry because it is abnormal to be sedentary, which is the prevailing mode of learning in schools here in America and around the world, a learning mode that operates on the wrong side of humanity, figuratively draining the life blood out of the students.

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait a half century to glean from Washington’s death a most important lesson that, despite flying in the face of the prevailing paradigm, moves us to stand up for the very humanity of America’s schoolchildren.

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