Friday, December 13, 2013

Newtown: what have we learned?

As the one-year anniversary of the Newtown tragedy approaches one cannot help but think that we have done little to improve the quality of school life in a way that will help avoid the replication  of such terrible events.
Since that fateful day almost 200 children have been killed by guns and yet nothing significant has been done to curb the sale and possession of fire arms.

There has been a raft of misguided strategies such as those identified here  where people and organizations have grasped at straws in order to try to protect those who are most vulnerable. Some of the suggestions have seemed pathetically comical such as throwing erasers and cans of soup at gunmen or having bullet-proof white boards available. At one point I even thought I might have to include instructions on how to use a gun in my math education courses when arming teachers was being suggested.

In this article, the piece I find most hopeful is the section on what steps should be taken to help prevent such tragedies. Interestingly, these suggested steps are based on extensive research and give hope that there might be a solution since it appears sadly, that our culture is too dependent upon guns to give them up. According to the article schools should develop a strong emotional climate based on listening, trust and caring; reduce bullying and remove the code of silence. In other words, we need to create school environments that are sensitive to students who are having difficulty; an environment in which it's alright to seek or offer help to an individual.

This sounds like a wonderful set of goals and yet do we really value these attributes in our places of learning. Recent trends in Education would suggest we don't. What seems to be more important is creating climates of competition in and between schools where many schools are identified as failures based on a narrow set of test scores. "Race to the Top" even implies that life in schools is a competition where only a certain number pf participants can succeed. In the UK there are even "League Tables" where schools are compared based on student test scores. Not surprisingly there is a clear correlation between those schools that do well and those where the students' parents have higher incomes.

A competitive climate of success and failure will not encourage an environment of trust, caring and sensitivity researchers suggest is the key to making our schools safer places for students and teachers. We owe it too our children, our students to be better than this.   

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