Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Culture of Death: Reaping What We've Sown

What you are about to read are my beliefs. You don't have to agree and you can argue against them. Just know that my beliefs are based on my experiences and are shaped by how I see the world. I will readily admit that my beliefs about school culture are shaped by my political beliefs (conservative, not necessarily "Republican") and by my religious beliefs (Christian, in particular Roman Catholic). 

If you believe, like I do, that school culture is a microcosm of the culture at large, then you might want to stop and think about the larger culture that surrounds the school.  Acknowledge that your political and religious beliefs will probably influence how you perceive school culture and you'll be armed with a better understanding of how and why you see things as you do.

I firmly believe that we live in a culture that "celebrates" death over life.  Abortion is legal and fought over as if it is a fundamental human right to abort (kill) a human inside a mother's womb.  The very fact that we accept abortion as a society means that human life is devalued.  Period.  The culture of death that we live in also teaches that "doctor-assisted suicide" should be considered as a viable option for those suffering from a long-term illness.  These two issues alone have so perverted our culture that we have come to accept these issues as just part of the world we live in.  In my mind, that's a pretty sad state of affairs.

As a direct result of those two issues, we have seen the glorification of death creep into all aspects of our society.  Gangs have risen from the already depressed and troubled parts of our society.  Why?  Because instead of being loving and compassionate people who want to help others live, we view the poor and outcast as dispensable "beings".  Their suffering and poverty makes us all cringe and then we turn to cold "logical arguments" like:  "They are lazy."  "They don't want a better life."  "They choose to live this way." and the list goes on.  We've allowed ourselves to justify ignoring these humans in dire need.  As a result, they've adjusted and adapted to the lack of empathy and concern and have become self-reliant in their own way. 

When you live in a society that doesn't value life, you will quickly see the decline of "civilized" behavior in areas where hard times have come.

If you ever watch "Gangland" or any of the documentary shows on gangs in America you'll begin to pick up the recurring theme of "no one cares about me except this gang".  You'll hear the gang members talk about the expectation of dying young.  You'll hear them repeat that death is expected.  You'll see and hear them talk about how little they value their lives and the lives of others.

By now, you're probably saying that this doesn't explain the recent school shooting.  I'd argue that it does.  Let's leave the poor and destitute and focus on the middle class for a bit. 

We, the middle class, have enough disposable income that we can go to the movies, rent movies, download music, and buy or rent video games.

The Top 5 video Games of 2012 according to Forbes magazine all revolve around hunting down and killing others.  All five. 
Of the Top 10 Video Games of 2012 according to the Video Game Awards, nine (9) are warfare and killing games. 

Of the Top 10 Movies of 2012 according to US Magazine, four are movies that glorify killing others.

In a spirit of honesty, I'll tell you that I've played some of the video games.  I'll also tell you that I'm capable of separating fantasy from reality and that I'm grounded enough to know when enough is enough.  I was raised in a home that valued life.  Even when I played cowboys and indians or cops and robbers as a child, I knew it was fantasy and, at the end of the game, I went around and offered a hand to help someone up off the ground.  I wasn't raised in a world that saw death as "nothing". 

This culture of death in which we live and in which my children have been raised has come to maturity.  The devaluation of human life is so pervasive and so ingrained that it has become acceptable to watch gruesome killings on television nightly.  The more gory, the better the drama it seems.  We simply shake our heads and offer platitudes when we read that the murder rate in Chicago is now over 470 people.  That's 470 human lives that have been lost to murder in one city.  Detroit isn't much better. 

I know what some of you are thinking:  this last shooting was at a quiet little town that doesn't have a climbing murder rate.  Most of the mass murder events that have happened have taken place in towns that were relatively quiet and had low crime rates. 

I understand the argument.  For me, that makes things all the more serious.  This idea that death is "nothing" and that human life has no value has crept into our quiet little towns and is exploding in front of our very eyes. 

My point is simply this, school shootings and all seemingly random acts of violence will continue until we reverse this culture of death. 

(My next post will be about my perception of issues with the mental health system in the United States.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Ugly Truth About School Culture

So what is The Ugly Truth About School Culture?  In my humble opinion, it’s that school culture is talked about extensively but seldom sees much attention beyond talk.

What is school culture?  School culture is the climate or the feeling the students, parents, teachers, support staff and the community have about the school.  The overall school culture is the general feeling when one combines all of those pieces into a snapshot.  In my mind, the most important part of school culture is the student perception.  The students are the majority in the school and they, along with the teaching and support staff, set the dominant culture.

That’s a wordy way of saying: School culture is best summed up when you ask a kid how they feel about the school they go to.  If they answer in a way that makes you think, “Gee, I wish I’d gone to a school like that!” then it’s a great place.  If that’s not your thought…

Experts on school culture will argue that there are a lot of factors that determine what the culture truly is.  I guess they are right.  I prefer to think that the school is simply a microcosm of the surrounding society.  So, if your child attends a neighborhood school, then the school’s culture will probably mirror the primary culture of the neighborhood.  If it’s a friendly, family-oriented neighborhood then your school will most likely be the same.  If it’s an unsafe and crime-ridden neighborhood then your school will most likely reflect that, too.

Of course, nothing is as simple as the cookie cutter answer above.  School cultures are shaped and molded within the building by the administration, the teachers and the support staff.  You can have a really great school culture in the worst inner-city, crime-ridden neighborhood.  They are anomalies when looking at the broader picture but they do exist. 

I’m going to give you a list of questions to ask your children.  You must promise me to abide by the following rules before and while you ask the questions.



Ask your children these questions:

1.       What do you like most about your school?

a.       What makes you say this? 

b.      Can you give me some specific examples?

2.       What do you like least about your school?

a.       What makes you say this?

b.      Can you give me some specific examples?

3.       What do you think needs to be changed in your school?

a.       Why do these things need to be changed?

b.      How would you change them?

4.       Do you feel safe at your school?

a.       Why do you (feel safe) (not feel safe) there?

b.      What would make you feel more safe?

After you’ve listened and they’ve answered.  Think about what they’ve said.  Do you have any questions for the school administration about their comments?  Feel free to share your child’s answers in the comments section.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What Can Be Done?

I know it’s been a while since I last posted.  Life caught up with me and my job kicked into overdrive.  I am toying with resurrecting the blog and attempting to actually schedule some writing time and posting time into each week.  I hadn’t planned on posting anything until after January 1 but recent events have changed that plan.  I feel the need to write about this issue.

I’ve been asked by several people, “How do you feel about what happened in Newtown, CT?”  It’s an oddly worded question but I think the intent behind the question is something like, “What can be done to prevent these horrible events from ever happening again?”  My immediate answer is that NOTHING can be done to prevent these events from happening again.  The only thing you can do is evaluate what went wrong and what went right and determine if there is a way to deter, slow down, or stop the event once it begins.  That’s a scary thought, but it’s the truth as I see it.

People have asked me if schools are truly “safe”?  I believe many schools are as safe as they can be.  They have taken appropriate steps to ensure student safety.  Some continue to be lax in their security.  Again, I think the underlying question is, “Are schools doing enough to protect the children and the staff or is there more that can be done?” 

I guess my response to that question is this question:  “How restrictive of an environment do you want your children to learn in?”  And, I would follow up with, “Are you willing to pay the monetary price through increased property taxes and other taxes in order to provide that restrictive environment?”  There’s a cost associated with every benefit. 

School shootings scare the hell out of me.  The most vulnerable of our society are attacked in these situations.  Their lives are forever altered.  Dreams are shattered.  Innocence is ripped from them.  The security blanket of their lives is torn off and fear is allowed to envelop them. 

We send our kids to school to get an education.  We send our kids to school hoping that they will have a good day and that they will see their friends and that they will leave a little bit smarter than when they entered.  That’s what we hope will happen. 

Reality is a bit different. 

I’ll follow this up with a few more posts.  I think I’ll tackle it from different angles and, hopefully, give you something to think about.  Up next, The Ugly Truth About School Culture.