Sunday, January 8, 2017

What Our Schools Need Now, Is Love, Sweet Love

No more 'live' violence, please.
I’m just finishing up a wonderful 2 week period of holiday, home, and memory making with my loved ones. Those two precious weeks given us closure to one year, and a beginning to a new one. This often calls for a period of reflection on the past, and goal setting for the year to come.  I honestly spent a good amount of time doing some research on the internet, and in between, a little of catching up with friends via social media. This is where my world as an educator began to shift and fill with angst for the future.

I was overwhelmed with videos -horrifying videos- of children of all ages and stages doing very cruel and unkind acts to one another live. I dislike this new live trend on social media. What followed were unfeeling and apathetic comments from strangers. The content of the video(s) should have made anyone, if not everyone, simply want to jump in to rescue the ‘victim’. The comments were coming from people of all races and ages. Did I mention that these videos coming across my social media sites were unsolicited? I did not search for them. I did not have to click on them to view them. They were there, running for me to view. Many times sponsored by the news media. This is not news. You don’t have to be in education to be worried. As a human being, I am worried. Where do we stand in the academic world with this new media? Let’s take a look.

Preschool – In the Lead
I have consulted with many groups, both locally and nationally with regard to social emotional learning practices for young children who have endured trauma. Research           continues to support a positive correlation between SEL program integration and academic progress (CASEL, 2015).  All fifty states have SEL curriculum programs in place at the preschool level.  However, preschoolers are not the ones producing or posting these harmful videos, thankfully. We can say with confidence that talking about social skills, and emotional learning at an early age produces results. The neuroscience of a preschooler demonstrates that 3-5 year olds are emotionally impressionable in part due to the brain’s grey matter which is quite fluid and dynamic, and rapidly developing. Dare I say, this is possibly a more difficult time for our children than the teenage years? It’s also one of the most important stages with regard to creating a kind and sensitive human being.

K-2 – It’s Not Too Late!
Effective SEL curriculum programs include lessons in all five areas: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness, and relationship skills. It’s in the areas of social awareness that we must make greater efforts and strides with the work.

We need to talk about, teach, model, and integrate regularly at an early age very basic human kindness, acceptance, and sensitivity toward one another. The state of Kansas has a well-defined SEL curriculum that uses the language respect for human dignity in its social awareness component. I love that language - human dignity.  In addition, Kansas included a standard to help students recognize and read others’ expressions. We know that with an increase in spectrum disorders, as well as screen time, our students have a more limited ability to recognize and interpret the feelings of others. We need to assist them with those skills.

There is a plethora of research available by K.H. Lagattuta regarding the developing brain of 2-7 year olds and understanding emotion. In that rather current research (as recent as 2012), she concluded that by age 7, most children have an understanding of empathy for others. By this age of learning, we should have a well-established curriculum that is as intense and thorough as reading and mathematics. 

A Hope-Filled Future
Millennials, the term used for our current group of parents raising our next generation of children have unique value systems as a whole, according to a recent study ( ) conducted by Achieve Guidance and The Case Foundation. Though often criticized for being a generation centered on self and with wavering interests, research has determined these young adults are generous and less materialistic than their predecessors. They will give little, but will give what they have to benefit others. Various studies have shown that, in general, the majority of millennial parents would prefer the following for their children:

  • A choice in education (online, charter, public, private, parochial, etc.) that is affordable – if not free.
  • Diverse and engaging learning experiences. 
  •   An updated view from all of ‘family’ (eliminate the former model of nuclear family).
  •  Less emphasis on standardization and more emphasis and a child’s unique learning capabilities and individuality.

We can see the true educational cycle of educating the whole child will return. This includes the social, emotional child. If a giving nature and accepting spirit is alive in the home, and the educational process can regularly bring forth tolerance lessons that include empathy and sensitivity, I see a future free from harm, bullying, and peer-to-peer related trauma.

Just Do It
Basic human kindness and sensitivity needs to return to our classrooms, lived daily, and modeled always – most importantly by the media. It is not ok to post vulgar attacks on one another live. Why does the news media repeatedly promote these videos? Information is necessary, sharing the violence post trauma is not. Tell us about the video, and we will then find ways to teach, act, and model better behavior. We have the ability to change this. We have to change this. We must make education a safe, sensitive learning space free from fear and any trauma to our students.