We’re inundated by reminders of hate, violence and hopelessness at home and abroad; bombings, suicides and homicides light up our televisions, text messages and newsfeeds. As a therapist I can’t help but think about this societal illness, where it starts, and how it progresses. I can’t help but wonder where we can impact positive change. And I keep coming back to the idea that we’re doing our young people and students a disservice. We need to start changing our schools.
This isn’t about blame or finding fault. It’s about starting a new conversation in our country about the purpose of education. The more we focus solely on information retention and standardized testing the more we seem to lose our ability to understand ourselves and those around us. Art, music, and physical activity have fallen by the wayside, and with them we seem to have entirely lost emotional intelligence, an ability to empathize, and ways of genuinely connecting with one another.
In my practice I primarily treat adults. They come to me because in their mind “something is wrong.” They’re depressed, anxious, addicted, or all three. For those of us who have done work on ourselves we generally don’t see it this way. Instead we: Honor introspection, self-reflection and the commitment for improvement. We recognize our own humanity, and that we’re impacted by our surroundings and upbringing. We understand that everyone on the planet has battle wounds.
What if instead of waiting until we’re adults or “something is wrong” we taught these simple truths from the beginning to our students? What if we taught self-reflection and empathy? What if we helped them truly see themselves, and others, from a place of growth and compassion? Our youth need more from us. They need to feel at a deep level that they’re not alone. And it needs to be true: we need to be there backing them up with support, kindness and encouragement.
From a young age I realized that my school was unable to provide me what I really needed. Sure, they taught me math and English, but I’m talking about emotional intelligence. When they couldn’t give it to me, I went searching for it. It prompted my research and reflections. I found it, but this is an education and exploration that students shouldn’t have to go at alone.
Many teachers do all they can. They hold a nearly impossible task of trying to balance pressures from administration, national standards and the diverse needs of so many students. And they shouldn’t be tasked with this alone. We need to support these leaders in building up our students mentally and emotionally. Scholastically and supportively.
When we do we’ll be serving them for the rest of their lives. They’ll be healthier, more productive, and happier. Undoubtedly with a rise in self-esteem, we see a decrease in suicide. With a rise in emotional literacy, a decrease in violence. With accountability and support less people slipping through the cracks. Less violence. Less anger, and vengeance and shootings.
And with that, we’ll also be serving ourselves as well.