by Gene Royer - a voice of reason in a babbling society. January 25th, 2001
There is a morbid play-on-words making the rounds: A school counselor asks a child why he brought a weapon to school. The child answers, "Well, it's not the school I don't like. It's just the principal of the thing."
The joke is sick for two reason.one of them not so obvious. --And that not-so-obvious reason lies in the question: When are school officials going to wise up? Children don't commit deadly violence at school because teachers or principals are mistreating them. They often do it because of maltreatment by other children.
Of course, there are exceptions; but if we listen to the words coming from the mouths of students concerning this latest shooting in California, we hear (paraphrased) "a skinny kid who got picked on a lot." Does that ring familiar with other incidents of the recent past?
As my friends know, I keep a large contingent of cats inside my house. In a feline society there is always one dominant cat. It may be a large tom or an equally fierce female, but within the group, one will be the domineering animal. In my case, I have a large tomcat from which the others step aside when he comes through; and he makes it his business to assure all newcomers that he is the boss. It would be cruel and inhumane for me to put a smaller, weaker newcomer into an enclosed area with him because the poor creature would soon be cowling in fright.
The same is true in our prison system where weaker prisoners are often put into unsupervised areas with larger, more domineering prisoners. I need not spell out the consequences; as solving such atrocities are on the agenda of all prison reform organizations.
Yet that is exactly what we often do in our school system, and the consequences are as grave. We have a situation where vulnerable children are, by law, forced to share unsupervised areas-at the harshest end of the spectrum--with overbearing bullies, and/or are subjected to cruel teasing by more benign students at the other. Cruel and inhumane treatment is often so subtle as to escape our benevolent eyes.
Dr. Edwards Deming, father of Total Quality Management, showed us that when a system fails, most often the fault lies with the system itself, rather than the people involved. I am neither an educator nor a child behaviorist. I am a parent who makes his living as a management consultant to school boards; and, as such, I see how the application of Deming's maxim in the public school system is undeniable.
School officials argue, "But bullying and teasing are childlike/adolescent traits which are common to all generations. We've all been through it."
Yes, we have-and for most children, these are trials they can and do overcome. But some-the perpetrator in this last shooting for example (a skinny kid who got picked on a lot)-may not be so ably equipped.
A man overboard may drown or die of hypothermia; yet, the court of inquiry will not busy itself determining which. It asks what caused the accident. It is the "cause" which must be uncovered and addressed. In the days following this latest school tragedy, experts crowd the TV screen asking "why", as if it were a big mystery. Well, maybe it is.to so some.
It was from a wise school superintendent that I first heard the term, "bully-proof" the school-an apt turn of words that will hopefully catch the ear of administrators across the country. Behind that succinct verbiage is the solid judgment that: (1) addressing correct attitudes as to how students should treat each other, and (2) teaching positive understandings such as those which pertain to cause and effect, are as important to the social development of students as are the abilities and academic skills the school intends them to obtain from its curriculum.
This writing does not intend to absolve the shooter because personal accountability is one of the attitudes that must be inculcated in school children, nor does it advocate rearing a generation of non-confrontational wussies. Instead, it seeks to remind schools of their responsibility to ensure that student socialization is civil and supervised. That is what professional educators are pledged to do.
It is difficult to close an article such as this; yet, we must, lest we be accused of piling on. But can overstatement be a fault when so valuable a commodity as our children lies in the balance?