After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. last month, I heard an interview with one of the students who pointed out he was born after Columbine and has never known a feeling of complete safety.
This struck me. The fact that an 18-year-old student has never felt totally safe speaks to a deeper concern and a more insidious symptom of our society.
Every day, our students are bombarded with threatening information, and many are confronted with real-life threats more frequently than we can imagine. They are exposed to crime, terrorism, wars, and natural disasters. Movies, TV, social media, music and games feed their imaginations with images and possibilities that without context and guidance from the adults in their lives can result in a distorted view of the world. It is a view that promotes a sense of fear and insecurity that in reality is not matched by the facts of the world we live in.
At the start of this year, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote an opinion piece titled “Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History.”
He pointed out that a smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before, and the proportion disfigured by disease and suffering from illness also fell.
Kristof went on to write: “The world is registering important progress, but it also faces mortal threats. The first belief should empower us to act on the second.”
As educators, we are in a position to help correct the distorted worldview that children seem to possess. We can educate both the students and their parents. We can address the social and emotional needs of our students and involve them in educational and social activities that demonstrate the best of who we are and who they can be.
As an example, look to Colegio San Ignancio, one of our member schools in Puerto Rico that was wracked by Hurricane Maria last September.
Despite damage to the school and the prolonged lack of electricity, the school community pulled together and was the first to re-open after Hurricane Maria. Student volunteers along with parents and teachers provided food, water filtration systems, clothes and other assistance to their neighbors hit hard by the hurricane.
“It not only allowed students to see other people’s reality and how the hurricane had affected them, but also to realize that through their actions they could make a difference in the lives of others,” Father Flavio L. Bravo, school president, told a Carribbean newspaper.
Yes, we need to make schools safer. And yes, I would like to see fewer guns in our country and more regulations about who can purchase and own them. But that is not a solution to the bigger issue of children not feeling safe.
Making our schools hard targets ironically would miss the target of making our students truly feel safe. To do that, we need to help students see all the positive and promising things that far outnumber those that are so frightening.