I shot up in bed with this searing thought; what if we are getting this explosion of student behavioral and mental health challenges all wrong? What if the essence of their collective despair was what they see in the adult world? Often when you scratch the surface of behaviors we see in school, there is fear, anxiety, sadness or despair. Reports have been linking the “mental health epidemic” to COVID disruptions, but what if that weren’t true. After all, we have not been in true lockdown for more than two school years. Yes, we have had truncated starts and stops to our school days, and some prolonged closures, but consider what has happened socially during this very disturbing time in our society.
Let’s take a look at the time line of gun violence proliferation and the social conditions that might be adding to violence which could easily fuel a spike in mass shootings, intimate partner violence, unintentional shootings, family fire, and gun deaths by suicide. There has been a reckoning on racism quickly followed by a torrential of backlash from certain state legislative efforts to control the narrative, the history children won’t be able to study, the books they can’t read; the bodies of young girls, women, trans and sexually fluid people. There has been a stunning number of police initiated shootings in communities of color that are tearing at the fabric of our society.
Our children are watching our words, our actions, how we respond to each other and the wanton disrespect that is spewed at each other every day. You can’t pretend to want to shield your children from public displays of incivility and then admonish them for doing things that they witness in their own home or communities. Schools can only go so far in teaching civics, citizenship, whether in person and digitally, kindness and consideration. But what if those supposed values are not shared in the community. Not to mention the school districts that are micro-managing the content of classes where critical thinking is introduced.
There is a desperate lack of consequences for egregious behavior at every level of society. Of course, this trend trickles down to school. One of my favorite courses, ever, was taught by Mr. Tom Murphy, a brilliant middle school social studies teacher. It was 1972, we were entering the height of the Watergate crisis and Mr. Murphy introduced our team to the classic book; Values Clarification
Emphasizes the importance of values and suggests procedures for teachers to use in helping youths choose and evaluate beliefs and behavior patterns. –
We took a deep dive into understanding our own values about a variety of issues, ultimately, redesigning what we would imagine the most impactful school would look like. Fifty years later, I vividly remember these lessons, couched between Vietnam and Watergate. Seeds of advocacy were planted and nurtured by a forward thinking educator who brought history alive and gave us the belief that we could change the trajectory of the human condition, but first we needed to understand our own values.
Where are we as a nation, can we find any shared values, especially those that we want our own children to embrace. When incivility is rampant, as it is now, we are seeing the stress and trauma of society playing itself out in schools across the country. We cannot have different rules in schools about how we treat each other than we do in society. I had written a bit ago about how road rage has come out from behind the wheel is running rampant through our streets, into our home and classrooms.
Little by little I began to see that civility was no longer leading the way and that rage was running a tight race for first place instead of thoughtful discussion. You can blame social media, a political party that went awry, addiction to screen time, call it what you will, but to me, it feels like road rage has replaced what used to be considered the golden rule, treat others as you wish to be treated. Well, I certainly don’t treat others with my rage and fury. As often as I have heard degrading and demoralizing comments, I refuse to be silent about civility prevailing. I aim to be the solid object in the room when chaos reigns.
School nursing during COVID and whatever phase we are currently trudging through, has been the most difficult time during the 38 years I have been a nurse. The anger and aggression in the community comes into school and our children are watching how adults are interacting. There is a level of community disrespect that feels very troubling and our children are listening and learning from the adults in their lives. Is there any wonder we are seeing such concerning behaviors in schools?
A thought for the day, the week, the month to ponder. Where do we go from here, because we most certainly cannot sink much lower…