As I read of the tragic shooting in Florida, the 18th in a U.S school this new year, I am once again feeling an all too frequent mix of reactions: shock, grief, frustration, compassion……..Most of all I am overwhelmed with our seeming powerlessness and inability as a society to really do anything to stop these senseless acts of violence. It weighs as a heavy blanket over my day, making it harder to focus and find joy in daily tasks.
We are living in a kind of oppression, not the “enemy occupation” of classical warfare, but a new kind of subjugation in which the soul is attacked in random ways and we feel powerless to do anything. For it is not just the school shootings that weigh on the collective psyche: so many shocking instances of sexual harassment, the loss of a sense for “truth” in politics, “fake news,” racism, regression in environmental advocacy…….the list goes on and on. It all amounts to ever-higher levels of stress and morbidity, even for those not directly affected by specific actions. It all weighs on our collective conscience.
As a professor at Antioch University who has dedicated a lifetime to educating future teachers and trying to support all our schools, I am dumbfounded at the singular disconnect between the daily tragic events portrayed in the news and what is happening or not happening in our school. Few seem to connect the dots between the quality of education our children receive and their preparation to meet an increasingly violent world.
For years, the mantra has been: apply pressure on teachers to adopt new standards, absorb new mandates, and test, test, test. What has this accomplished? Have test scores jumped? Are our school-age children happier, actually learning more, better prepared for the real jobs that await them? If for many the answer is No, then we need to do a fundamental reexamination of what we are doing in our schools and for our schools.
I spent a year interviewing teachers and parents, researching literature, and writing a short book published recently with the title: Education for Nonviolence, the Waldorf Way. Based on that work, I can identify a few immediate needs: more time for children to play in nature, less abstract intellectual work, project-based learning, arts that develop emotional intelligence, cooperative games that build social skills, mental health programs, and counseling for children before symptoms are overt, and above all, age-appropriate curriculum. The Common Core and other “reforms” in past years often have good intentions and good content but are woefully devoid of any real understanding of age appropriateness. Any experienced teacher knows it is vastly different teaching a second grader than a student in 7th…….yet rarely are teachers given the freedom to teach to the real needs of the children in their care. Instead, they live in servitude to the “Big Brother” of publishing houses, tech gadgets, and “new” programming designed by politicians and theorists.
Above all, we need to work on community, within our schools and surrounding them. When a teacher is allowed to “loop” with a class and follow through on projects, learning needs, and social challenges within a group, children have room to grow in a safe environment. When parents serve as volunteers, supporting non-profits (and schools) in the community, we demonstrate positive role models that our children so desperately need. Rites of passage need to be honored in new ways, teachers need our support, and we need to stop “telling” schools what to do and instead, start listening to the needs of our children.
Together, we can still turn the tide and work towards a world that will one day be worthy of our children.