School. (What do you want?)
What world do you want?
I am a school psychologist. I have been a school psychologist for 15 years. I have worked in tiny rural districts where meetings were canceled when someone’s cows got loose. I have served suburban districts tumbling over themselves to keep up with rapid urban sprawl spilling across their manicured edges. And now I serve a large urban district with generational poverty, low graduation rates, and a constantly dwindling budget.
Before I was a school psychologist, I spent years serving as a teacher or a teacher’s associate in an at-risk middle school program, a youth emergency shelter, off-site day programs for teenagers with severe behavior disorders, and a juvenile detention center. I know some things about behavior and mental health and young people.
I also know some things about school.
What I know about school is that, with very little exception, SCHOOL holds human beings for 9-13 (14 if you count preschool) of their very most critical developmental years. Considering this, I have long believed that SCHOOL is:
...opportunity to create a sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humanity.
Never again in the course of a human life will there be such a universally focused 9-14 year span of concentrated attention and INtention. Never. Never ever ever. School is it. Period.
“But it starts in the home!” No. It starts in SOME homes. Some homes (an increasing number of them, in fact) are squished under a cinder block of poverty or addiction or tired and chronically stressed parents, because they have to work 3 jobs to make rent.
“Church!” No. Church is not mandatory. Nor should it be. Also, some churches preach hate (but they call it “loving the sinner and hating the sin”) that makes queer kids stuffed into the pews want to die.
“What about the health care system?” No. It’s not universal nor universally accessed 5 days a week, 9 months of the year, for 9-14 consecutive years.
School is it.
Considering that there is ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER INSTITUTION IN OUR COUNTRY that has the prime real estate in human development that SCHOOL has, it would make sense that we would FLOOD it with resources.
We would PAY and RESPECT teachers and teacher associates and counselors and administrators in a way that reflects the profound importance of their profession. Being a teacher would be a desirable profession. Educators wouldn’t need second jobs to pay their mortgages. They wouldn’t leave in droves.
We would hire more teachers, build new buildings, improve existing ones … and that way, we could shrink class sizes. Smaller class sizes mean greater individualization of instruction (which means greater academic achievement), stronger and healthier connections between teachers and students and students and students. These relationships alone are protective.
We would fund ARTS in the schools, and we would do it wildly, because the arts give weight and voice to the soul and connect us. Because everyone needs a place to feel they belong, and if a math class isn’t it, and a basketball court isn’t it, maybe an art class is, maybe the theater is.
We would break the bank for mental health. We would have multiple school-based therapists in every building – not one therapist shared between 3 buildings who has a 6 month waiting list. Like educators, we would pay them enough that they didn’t need a second job to pay their mortgage. They also wouldn’t leave in droves, which means our schools wouldn’t have a revolving door of therapists.
School funding would not depend on property taxes. Kids in poor neighborhoods would have all of the same educational opportunities as kids in wealthy neighborhoods. Kids in poor neighborhoods, kids from immigrant families, kids from marginalized communities, would not have to wait for big-hearted do-gooders to volunteer their time and money to help them find a level playing field.
It is absolutely absurd to me that this is not obvious to everyone. ABSURD. How is it not GLARINGLY obvious that our schools, considering the profound and cross-cutting impact they have on every human being in our country and our shared life together, need MORE not less, and that by pumping them full of opportunity, completely flooding them with resources and assistance, EVERY SINGLE ASPECT OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE benefits?
Sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humans do not dump oil and garbage into the ocean. They do not clear-cut the rainforests and watch biodiversity and oxygen stores die. They look for solutions.
Sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humans do not rob liquor stores or your home. They don’t steal your car or launder money from your church.
Sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humans do not commit hate crimes.
Sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humans do not beat their children or rape women walking home after dark. They do not molest the neighbor’s son.
Sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humans do not run you off the road and into a ditch because you cut them off in traffic or failed to use your blinker.
Sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humans do not fear books written by or about people they do not understand. They read them with an open mind and heart and know how to discuss them with intelligence, curiosity, and compassion, so that they learn to understand. Sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humans do not fear difference.
Sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humans do not shoot up schools or grocery stores or churches or shopping malls or movie theaters.
And yet…. year after year, especially lately, I watch resources for the schools I serve shrink. I watch waiting lists for therapy and psychiatric evaluations get longer and longer. I watch our options for how to help young people inch closer and closer to 0. Do you know how many conversations I have had this year alone about kids who need serious help, and we have nowhere to send them?
Simultaneously, we watch an utterly mind-boggling resistance from lawmakers to enforce common sense gun laws. WHY? Why no background checks? Why is age 18 ok? Why no wait period? Why are assault rifles so sacred? Why are we so quick and cool with regulating everything else under the sun? Like my uterus. Why is my uterus of greater interest than the guns that keep lighting up our schools?
So… fewer and fewer resources to educate and create sensible, empathic, self-regulating, critical thinking, and connected humans + fewer and fewer mental health options + greater and greater ways to mass destruct…
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN?
WHEN AND HOW DOES IT END?
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
I dropped my son off at school this morning. It was raining. He slept with me last night, because he watched a YouTube video of someone exploring caves with a remote control car and a camera. He wouldn't even brush his teeth alone in the bathroom. He brushed them in the living room. He is in the 4th grade: just like those 19 children murdered in Texas yesterday. He gathered his backpack and lumbered out of the car. I told him to have a great day. I told him I loved him very much and would see him after school. He said, “Love you, Mom. See ya.” And I watched him walk into school in the rain.