Learning Can Only Happen When Kids Are Safe

Mother Sitting With Son Reading Story Indoors
Mother Sitting With Son Reading Story Indoors

I've been travelling all over the country over the past few weeks: wrapping up 2015 with visits to schools and education conferences. We know that at different times of year, it's easy to lose focus on education and achieving goals: holidays, vacations, distractions seem to be ever-present in our lives: that's the message I was imparting to students and teachers in Omaha recently. I got the same rounds of questions in Omaha that I get most everywhere else: questions on how to stay motivated, how to find new ways of approaching learning, what emerging technologies there are to help students learn math and reading, but this year, something new came up: school and community safety.

The school and community leaders in Omaha invited me back to talk about how family engagement can lead to greater student success and less violence. All too often, we think about responding to gun violence in terms of metal detectors, gun buy-back programs or by arming school staff. I told the groups in Omaha what I'm telling you now: that like everything else, education is the solution. I have a three-point education platform about violence that I'd like to share with you for your use and of course, your feedback.

Violence rarely solves conflicts. This is a cliché, but children need to hear it. The way to solve problems is acknowledging problems and addressing them at the core. When people say or do things that hurt us, sometimes that pain turns to anger. Teaching children how to recognize that moment is an important step in encouraging alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. We have to pin-point what causes our anger and address that through dialogue and unfortunately, sometimes moving on. Reminding children that we learn from everything, good and bad, on our road to greatness- they all contribute to our future. Giving children the perspective on long-term growth can be hard, but it will pay off.

Talk about consequences and empathy. Children need to understand that violence has some very real impacts for lots of people. The people hurt by words or actions aren't just the person on the receiving end. Friends and family are also impacted by those words and actions. How would your child's family and friends respond if they were hurt, or dare I say, worse? Would they want other innocent people to feel that way if they hurt someone else?

Talk about opportunity and the future. Too often, violence is the last resort for people who feel that they have almost nothing. The fact that violence is even viewed as a solution is fundamentally wrong, but for some people without the means and opportunity to advance, it can seem like a way out of problems. If we're providing our children with ways to succeed and reach greatness, then they'll be much less likely to see violence as the go to tool in their toolbox.

I know these are all good hypothetical solutions to what can only be described as a national plague of violence but as I said in Omaha, we need to work together as communities to provide our neighbors, friends and families with the tools and space to talk about problems and solve them. Any other solution is just putting a band-aid on a hemorrhage.