Last week I registered my son for Kindergarten in our local public school system. As I was walking back to the car, I glanced at the email alert on my phone: a man armed with a rifle walked into a public school in a neighboring school district. Welcome to the graphic horrors of modern education in the United States.
While I was initially planning to write about how confusing and flawed the registration process is for a new parent, I have been sidetracked by the issue of violence in schools. I deeply believe that the Columbine shootings changed something in the depths of our collective psyche. A morass was opened and this possibility now existed of exercising the pain and fears of growing up in deliberate acts of violence upon others. You don’t even want to know how many in-school crimes are listed on Wikipedia.
No parent can assure her child is safe when she puts her child on the bus. It’s enough that children have to do earthquake drills, now some schools are preparing to respond to acts of terrorism with “active shooter drills”. (Huffington Post reported on this in February 2014.) What have we come to?
My daughter has enough anxiety over the transitions between classes, short lunch periods, and playground squabbles. Preparing to make the right decisions in the face of a possible armed attack would push her and many other kids over the edge of panic. We know that anxiety rates are increasing in our young people. It seems we are pushing more fear their way to process without providing them the techniques to acknowledge, work through, and move through these issues. I just read an article that said that the incidence of suicide in my home state of Washington is 14% higher than the national average.
I found out that yesterday my daughter and her friend broke down in tears on the playground after a third friend yelled at them both. The third girl is a socially savvy child who has more of an understanding of how little social games can yield her what she wants. Last year on a field trip, I witnessed how things turned on this young girl when her “friends” chose to gang up on her and tease her; it left me with a sick feeling to my stomach. I forgot how early these struggles for social power, domination, and acceptance start.
Later on in the day I attended a PTA meeting where the principal updated us on the school’s proposed move to incorporate more social-emotional learning into curriculum. The idea is that when students are more aware of themselves and one another that they will become more engaged students who perform better on examinations. The research seems to be backing this claim up. But what happens when there isn’t a motivated staff collective to apply for such opportunities? The social curriculum which has been available from our school district is limited in the breadth and scope necessary to deal with the complexities of this group – students from age 5 up to 14. The peer mentoring that had been piloted at the school was yanked when the peer tutors were being bullied.
I’m looking at a complicated issue through my lens on one small school in one part of the United States. Add in sexism, discrimination, religion in schools, and it all becomes one ugly problem that seems impossible to fix or even put a dent in. I give thanks that my daughter has compassionate little classmates and is being guided by an extraordinary teacher, but I know that sooner or later she will come home with a problem I don’t quite know how to fix. My heart is already breaking…