by Aiden Archer, PH.D
March 26, 2013
America is not new to the experience of school shootings, since they began in the 1700’s. However since the 1990’s and the wearing of black garb and shooting of assault rifles with a background of macabe music and violent video study, we are in an era which wreaks of social degeneration and mental health destabilization in the schools.
Although angry students who educate themselves with violent videos are primed to strike at the heart of a school, killing and wounding others, it isn’t just a maladjusted youth, a disturbing home life, a diet of violent videos which can be causes for such assaults, but problems in the schools social & business structure themselves, which contributes to these ongoing disasters.
As a Substitute Teacher for more than ten years, I found myself witnessing a vast array of cruel, angry and insensitive Teachers and Administrators of America’s school children.
I believe these to be at the root of school violence. “In talking with a child in a local park one day, he said, “The schools are like jails, everyone is all nice when the parents are there, but when they leave, the cells get locked and everyone gets all mean.” He was only 8 years old, but the words he said, spoke volumes.
It is stunning to hear the yelling teachers in second grade class rooms; teachers who ignore children’s concerns and teach “reading, writing, math and shut-up”; counselors who call kids who have been bullied, “cry babies” and Administrators who disrupt classrooms, by yelling accusations to students in the hallways.
With Conflict Management and Positive Behavior Programs involved in the schools, how do we still have countless incidents of child abuse by adults there? Could it be that practicing the skills of these programs is not expected of the adults? How is it possible that professional educators could knock a seven year old blind student off his feet and drag him down the hall? Why is it allowed to tear up kid’s artwork? How is it Ok to not allow students to use the bathrooms or get a drink of water?
Our schools are run by a paradigm called authoritarianism. Punishment is the systemic practice used after an incident occurs. Is punishment a safe practice? How effective is it? When the model uses domination to get compliance and conformity, in all honesty, why should we truly expect anyone to obey? After all, punishment is a recipe for bullism and oppression. If a child views him or herself as a victim of punishing adults, should we really be surprised when he hurts him/herself and/or victimizes someone else? Students have been suspended for saying ”They understand how the school shootings could happen.” Why should kids ever listen to us, if we can’t listen to them? Students are even drugged into obeying, while their true emotional needs are neglected, then they are punished for their upsets caused by the neglect!
Basically, the dominating educational systems practice is negatively based and causes the children to be, shut down, stressed out, on edge and unappreciated. In this new millennium, with the most tragic Sandy Shooting in our midst, we simply cannot afford to recycle dominance through one more generation. Dominance doesn’t support or guarantee safety in the schools. To the contrary, it creates oppression, emotional chaos and is inhumane.
After using the behavior-management techniques I was taught in college while working on my teacher’s credential, I learned through trial and error that our children were usually getting the wrong message with warnings, time-outs and punishments. They would obey, but would also internalize their anger.
Since this ill-fated communication style didn’t teach about what the challenge or problem was, most of the kids would go on to repeat the mistake. I learned to use a cooperative, equitable stance with children one that nurtures and guides rather than blames and punishes. I discovered that I was most effective when working to understand children and their emotional, physical and intellectual state of being, rather than from my expectations or demands which could cause confusion, stress and ineffectual results.
I practiced being concerned and kind while kids cried or complained, then asking helping questions and listening with understanding. We were then ready to move forward with resolve. This positive communication practice proved to be the path to true conflict resolve. It became vibrantly clear that children are sensitive and fragile, as well as easily hurt and distressed by adults’ disapproval and domination.
Another focus of concern is within the realm of harassment with most students being attacked at some point and barraged with negative communications, including but not limited to name calling, prejudicial and stereotypical statements accompanied with cussing, yelling, spitting, hitting, punching, kicking, slugging and sexual innuendos by other students.
There is no doubt, teachers and children face a difficult time in schools because of all the emotional casualties which occur day in and day out. However, it’s actually not the casualties so much as it is the neglect and lack of constructive communication skills and positive resolve involving and surrounding these incidents which is most disconcerting. Students’ peer cultures are due for serious reform as well. All voices are to be treated equally. The basis of the problem is not the “anti social kids”,but the anti-social dominating system which allows prejudice and harassment within the schools’ peer cultures. Emotional and gender equality is a must for social health to be acquired and sustained. Therefore emotional safety is of paramount importance.
What truly connotes safety? Will a tall fence make it happen? Video cameras, campus armed police, locked doors and security gates? What’s underneath the need of such restricting conditions? We must look deeper to get at the truth of what creates true safety in the schools.
Most school reform efforts don’t begin to touch the depth of the problem in schools today because of the narrow view of the status quo; the cookie cutter education; the restricted curriculum; dominating leadership, punishment reinforcement, financial mis-directions, denial, excuses, oppression and inundation from all of the above.
Our children urgently need the adults in their lives to provide a vision for helping them to be emotionally safe and healthy in the schools, heart to heart. Prevention, first and foremost, followed by intervention and recuperation, are desperately needed. Communication based in new social values of equality, guidance and inclusion, must replace system and cultural neglect, punishment as control and alienation. With the adults leading the healing with the children.
With emotional safety, a new world opens for us to explore – the interior world of the human being. In the schools we become aware we are as safe as we make others feel safe. We come to understand that physical safety is a direct result of just how safe we are emotionally. What constitutes emotional safety? Prevention? Guidance? Nurturing? Self Esteem? Empathy? Conflict skills? Equality? Holism? Compassion? Which of these is practiced regularly in our schools by both the adults and the students?
Is neglect of emotional well-being safe practice, best-practice?
Because of the focus on standardized, basic-skills education and the lack of time, skills, personnel, or requirements to emotionally socialize students, is it safe to ignore and punish negative peer-to-peer communications by shutting them down or blaming one child rather than another,for the sake of efficiency? As well, is teaching to tattle on one’s classmates, even paying them, a safe practice? What about blaming parents for interactions which actually are taking place in the schools? Is the blame game “people friendly” or a problem-solving attitude?
Just when do we exercise emotional safety communications? Since there are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of safety, how can we expect children to grow up healthy without hands-on values and ethical safety guidance delivered by emotionally healthy adults? Indifference to the emotional quality of peer and intergenerational relationships in the schools directly results in an unconscious fear for school safety. In the big picture, it is my belief that the safety crise in the schools, the communities, the cities, the counties, the states, the continents, the governments, the world is proportional to the neglect of emotional well-being in humankind.
Holistic Education, is the sustainable umbrella curriculum we must shelter under if we are to heal as a society. It teaches the whole human, emcompassing natural mental, emotional and physical health standards and practices, sustainable environmental studies, the arts and cottage industries. It includes emotional health education emphasizing cooperative communications, positive, conflict management, creative problem solving and stress –reduction skills and practices.
Holistic Education contains Equality Education, teaching equity for gender, race, ability and class, as well as, practice of prejudice reduction for all ‘isms’. Compassion is a must. Our ultimate education goals should be the development of healthy individuals within positive peer cultures in the schools and an International Equity standard for all children. Long term outcomes are emotional health and safety for all children and society at large.
The negative effects of the Domination Paradigm, have created such a tangled, dysfunctional emotional web between schools, students and homes, it simply must be abandoned for something truly operative. Replacing the frayed and worn old paradigm of top down orders, domination and prejudice are intergenerational heart-to-heart communications designing whole, new, room-sized rugs made of comfort, understanding and love. One that all children can sit on, call their very own and from where they can be heard, felt and understood. Holistic education is whole brained education, the way to a society of whole people.
About the author:
Aiden Archer, PH.D is a Veteran Public Educator of thirty years, Specializing in Special Education & The ARTS, Elementary Education and Holistic Education with additional experience in High School Drop-out Schools, Middle Schools & Juvenile Delinquent Education Settings.