by Wana Duhart
When we witness school-aged youth shooting and killing schoolmates, it is a reflection of the widespread use and acceptance of violent means to resolve conflicts in big cities and small towns, and by people of all ages. It’s also evidence that the grownups have yet to figure out how to communicate with our youth, so that we are both aware and responsive to the complexities of their needs, fears, and insecurities.
When a high school student carries a loaded firearm to school and forces a school lockdown, this signals that we have failed to not only provide a safe and secure learning environment, but also shows how inept we have become in our efforts to ensure that students know definitely what is acceptable when it comes to our expectations of them as students and classmates. Indeed, there was a time when every student who entered a school building understood unequivocally that firearms and violence had no place in schools. As adults, parents, and leaders, we’ve seemingly failed to establish home, school, and community environments that reflect the values, standards, and principles that can lead to academic success and life prosperity for all students. Recent acts of school violence prove how far we have to go toward establishing or reinforcing these parameters.
These incidents are ultimately failures of leadership at school and beyond. Somewhere in the lives of those students who feel inclined to perpetrate violence in schools, they have been failed by the adults in their lives who are responsible for nurturing, teaching, and disciplining them. Somewhere along the way, these students have felt ignored, shunned, or disrespected to the point that the only way they feel they can be heard or taken seriously is to act out their emotions or problems through violent means.
These realities are symptoms and extensions of the social and cultural maladies that have evolved as shifts and transitions take place in families, communities, institutions, and governments. The shifting demands on workers, shrinking family resources, cultural mores, and global economic effects are all contributing factors to the stresses and challenges playing out in unusual and sometimes dangerous ways around us every day. New social and economic realities have created new “normals” for a lot of people, which is equating to unexpected tension and unease emotionally and financially for families and communities. And we are seeing the negative impact of these new dynamics in workplaces, schools, and other spheres across our communities.
As these effects continue to trickle down and spread beyond households and into public institutions such as schools, our challenge continues to be how to respond effectively and in a timely manner, to produce more positive behaviors and attitudes from our youth. We’ve got so much work to do in order to mitigate the spread of impulsive, abusive, and sometimes violent patterns of behavior being displayed by some of our young people.
It all starts with how we conduct ourselves and how we relate to each other in front of them — in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities. We’ve got to stem the tide to prevent innocent kidding around between classmates and simple school pranks from escalating to a point of no return. We don’t have to look very far beyond schoolhouses to understand that the preponderance of acts such as bullying and other serious incidences between students is essentially a microcosm of the disrepute, intolerance, abuse, and violence that are damaging all kinds of interpersonal relationships in public and private domains. Our charge is to make sure that we act before this social and moral deterioration becomes an epidemic in our schools and our communities at large.
Wana Duhart is the Founder and CEO of Trahud Enterprises, which develops alliances in education that yield innovation, creativity, and flexibility in public schooling. and has spent three decades working in varying capacities across many sectors. She is the author of the book A Call to the Village: Retooling Public Schools and publishes her own blog, The VillageSpace.