Anyone who reads the newspapers today is aware that crimes of violence, suicide, alcoholism, and divorce are increasing each year. According to the Hammond Almanac for 1980, over 28,000 Americans committed suicide in 1977. Nationally, suicides among youths (10-24 years) have tripled over the last two decades. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people today. It is also estimated that a quarter of a million adolescents make serious unsuccessful attempts to kill themselves every year.
The reasons adolescents take their own lives have roots in the strengths and the deficits incorporated during earliest childhood, in the nature of society, and the
in which they currently live, and in the conflicts and traumas they encounter in
Psychotherapists claim that the major causes of suicide are feelings of worthlessness, loneliness and hopelessness.
The Hammond Almanac also reports that all types of crime were up in 1980. The biggest increase of offenders is among the adolescent ages. They also report that there are over nine million alcoholics in the United States, many of whom are between the ages of 15-25.
It is also common knowledge to us that eighth graders “beat up” on sixth graders, large children extort from smaller children, and every school has what we call social outcasts. In my opinion, this is not a reflection of a healthy society.
I believe that directly related to the above occurrences is a definite
today of dealing adequately with human feelings, awareness, attitudes self-images and human respect. Isn’t it strange that we can maneuver a rocket to the edges of our solar system and yet we can’t stop our children from killing themselves. Charles Silberman states, “Schools can be humane and still educate well.”
He goes on to ask should we prepare kids for life as it is today or should we try to produce another kind of life. What kind of life do we want? What do you want for your children? It seems that educators today want to cram children with lots of facts and skills yet they never seem to be concerned with how these skills will later be used. Whether a disease is cured or a stock swindle is mastered seems to be left to chance. Are we striving for a clever, powerful, $50,000 a year lawyer with high blood pressure, no time for his children, and involved in corruption? I would prefer my child be making $200 a week chopping wood if he is happy, content, and has a good feeling about himself and others. I believe that over 90% of the time our conscious minds and the minds of our children are occupied with immediate concerns and worries of day to day life. Take for example an overweight child; a boy whose parents have just been separated; or a child who knows that he is going to get pushed around on the bus; or the girl with acne or the boy who shares his bedroom with five other brothers and so on. How can we expect these children to walk into our rooms, sit down and learn about the Ural Mountains in Russia or the fact that A
? The fact is—we do, in schools all over the country.
I believe that it is essential first to lessen tensions and to develop self-image and positive attitudes. It is necessary that children spend time (meaningful time) dealing with these problems and tensions.
This unit was designed to make human awareness and feelings as important a part of the school day as Math or Science and not just a once-a-month kind of thing when a fight erupts. I believe that opportunities should be explored that would enable children to explore and evaluate their own inner world.
I believe that success can be achieved in this area by a tactful, sensitive teacher who can also “open up” and allow children to view him as a person with feelings, faults and emotions instead of some kind of teaching machine. One other factor to consider before teaching children awareness, better ways of communication and introspection is whether or not as a teacher we are treading into parental or family responsibilities. Am I one of those professionals who the family needs protection against? As an agent of the public school system I could easily be seen as interfering in the mechanics of the family. Christopher Lasch and others seem to feel that the outside interference of such institutions as schools, social workers, the courts and professional people have a harmful effect on the family. He sees this professionalism as a factor in undermining parental confidence and effectiveness. This, in turn, leads to an erosion of parental authority and a greater dependence on the same outside forces. There seems to be many suggestions made by so called protectors of the family as to policies which can be initiated to “help” the family. Lasch goes as far as to suggest that maybe a policy to contain officials of the state might be needed.
In the meantime, those who care about the future of the family would do well to follow Donzelot’s lead and to have nothing to do with the official search for a national policy on families. What the family needs is a policy on officials designed to keep them in their place.
While I agree with Lasch that there is too much “help” being forced onto families today, I have come to the conclusion that some support must be extended to families. This support should be willingly accepted by families and should be in the form of developing family roles and responsibilities and improving communication skills where such skills are lacking.
Harry Aponte, the director of Philadelphia’ s Child Guidance Clinic spends a great deal of time working with what he calls “underorganized” minority families. He believes that after helping a family develop roles and responsibilities, in other words giving them structure, the family then realizes its own strength and resourcefulness.
They (these families) tend to be underorganized because there are no clearly defined roles—who gives orders, who passes them along. You’re likely to have a single parent, for instance, who puts an older child in charge of the house when she goes out. But the child does not know the guidelines or the limits and neither do the other kids. Instead of having the economic and educational goals that help to organize an upwardly mobile middle-class family, they tend to be much more tied into institutions that may be hostile. We tell them—O.K., we’ll be your community. We help them develop family roles and responsibilities.
I agree wholeheartedly with therapists such as Peggy Papp of New York City’s Ackerman Institute and Dr. Carl Whitaker and Dr. Augustus Rapier who believe that most family problems are between persons and not
individuals. One problem is our lack of training in interpersonal relationships and communication skills. I, personally, am not in a position to enter a home and foster productive communication. I can, however, by using this unit begin to develop in individuals (my students) some important concepts, such as greater personal insight, greater understanding of the self, awareness of feelings and attitudes of others, and improved skills in communication with others.
By enriching an individual in these areas it can be fed back into the family by a family member and foster growth, understanding and cooperation within the family unit.