“Social-emotional skills’ such as teamwork, collaboration and communications are fashionable these days, writes Diana Senechal. She thinks students need to learn “a different way of being with others, a way of coming together for something interesting and beautiful.”
Teen socializing can be one of the most miserable experiences in life. If you don’t fit in, you have several options: to try to fit in, to take pride in not fitting in, to ignore the whole thing, to experience shame, or to build friendships over time. Many young people do a combination of all of these—and still go through school with a sense of rejection that stays with them for years, even decades.
If students get together to study a work of literature or music, they “come together as participants and witnesses, as people with ideas and questions,” Senechal writes. In her eighth-grade English class, she “came to know my classmates, and they me,” in discussing The Sword in the Stone, Henry IV, Antigone, The Glass Menagerie and more.
Something similar happened in other classes, in chorus, and in our production of Romeo and Juliet. We were given room to think about something, to appreciate something, to work on something substantial.
Most group work “degenerates into regular socializing with a task added on,” Senechal writes. “Too often, the group members shut out the student with the unusual idea (who, in many cases, would get much more done if allowed to work alone).”
Teamwork is not good in itself, she argues.
Just as much as students need to work together, they also need to think and act on their own. . . . Yes, there are times when you need to learn how to work together (on something specific)–for instance, how to act together in a scene, or how to conduct a physics experiment together. Still, the teamwork skills (if that’s the right term for them) will be determined by the work at hand. Teamwork as a generic skill does not exist (or if it does, it’s dreary).
. . . schools should offer more than the purely social; they should give students something worth learning and doing together, something beyond the peer group and its limited, limiting judgments.
Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.
I think people learn teamwork only when they’re on real teams coming together to dramatize Romeo and Juliet, sing in the chorus, march in the band, win the game, put out a newspaper and so on.