What struck me hardest in today’s INVISIBLE CHILDREN presentation at a suburban elementary school was the dedication and desire my audience of 60 educators have for the children in their classrooms. Even the most difficult kids.
Martin Luther King Day was a train the trainer day for these teachers. Our discussion on trauma and dealing with traumatized children sparked keen conversation and shined a light on the depth and scope of the mental health issues students bring to school.
Did you know that 37% of children overall and 57% of Black children are reported to child protection services in America by the time they turn 18. (American Journal of Public Health 1.17)
This a particularly American problem and it is growing. Educators, like social workers, law enforcement, adoptive and foster parents, must grasp the new mental health reality if they are to succeed in their work with at risk children..
Most of my audience today “got it” when I talked about child abuse, foster homes, and what it takes to get into Child Protective Services and why abused and neglected children exhibit irrational and sometimes dangerous behaviors and need to be understood if learning is to occur.
Teachers need to know that some of their students are medicated with psychotropic drugs and how that impacts a child’s thinking and behaviors. It’s a complex topic that teachers could use help with in appreciating the dramatic impact these drugs are having on so many very young lives (and their behaviors in the classroom).
Not every teacher understood how counter-productive it is to punish medicated or traumatized children.
Not everyone gets it that trauma changes the mind and impacts mental health forever in ways that are hard to comprehend.
Punishing damaged children is proven not to work for the child (it does not positively change behaviors) and it reinforces the negative self-image and reptilian behaviors already a big problem to the child.
30 years ago, discipline and punishment ruled the day. There were very few other responses inside a classroom beyond strict discipline.
50 years ago, teachers threw erasers. Screaming at students and name calling happened in the schools on a regular basis.
100 years ago (just before suffrage) men had the “right” to beat their wives. Today, parents have the “right” to beat their children and deny them medical treatment for treatable diseases (34 states allow religious exemptions).
Empathy has always been important, even when it almost didn’t exist in education. Some of us raised and educated in harsh disciplinary environments didn’t get the memo about the E word.
I student taught at a Catholic Junior High my final year in college – discipline was demanded everywhere all the time.
When the satisfaction we get from punishment of already damaged children (and the attendant bad results) seem a better answer than empathy and understanding for the child’s missing coping skills, we need to examine our (best) practices and core institutional training. It really is not working for us to use ineffective methods that fail the child, the school and the community.
“What we do to our children, they will do to society” (Pliny the Elder, 2400 years ago)
Recommend the exhibit to your college/university/museum – start the conversation where you live.
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