A Tragic Indifference to Violence

A Tragic Indifference to Violence

We are becoming desensitized to violence as a nation.

I was watching the news last night and it was chilling when the newsman said, “Well here we go again, another shooting at a mall in …”

I cringe every time I hear about a shooting or an overwrought public display of violence. It scares me to think about my kids or my wife being caught in such a terrible situation. But what really stung me about this latest report of random public violence was the resignation in the voice of the man bringing the news. He didn’t sound shocked or horrified. He didn’t even sound exacerbated. Instead, he sounded like he had to reread a story he was all too familiar with and one that was no longer a horrible surprise. That scares me.

Violence is nothing new…

…and man’s willingness to use violence as an expression has been around since the beginning. But we live in a new time of instant access to information and so many means of rapid communication that every one of these stories is played out again and again on televisions, computers, tablets, and phones. We no longer live in our neighborhoods and our towns. Instead we now live in a global community that seems much smaller because we see and hear so much. Atrocities and meanness have always been there but they have never been so accessible.

Couple the hard news of ongoing violence and the marginalization of individual suffering with the ever expanding boundaries of “entertainment” and we have generations growing up that are no longer appalled by what they see and hear. Television shows and movies celebrate, in graphic detail, killing and violence and meanness. Music glorifies the aggressiveness of domination and downgrades the temperament of the meek. The world can be a mean place, always has been, but it is being redefined as a place of acceptable excess because so much meanness is so easily accessible, it is often sensationalized, and is then celebrated.

The real warning sign was in the voice and on the face of that newsman last night. Gone was the shock and the sadness. In its place was a resignation and a realization that this is the world we live in and these stories are becoming commonplace.

So what does this have to do with kids and classrooms and teachers and parents?

Everything.

As I said earlier, violence is nothing new and media’s sensationalism of violence has been around since the early days of print press. But the general lack of empathy and the general lack of distaste and even disgust for the overt sensationalism of violence is new. The gory and graphic details of violence that are now pervasive in entertainment and even the news is new. And the more our kids see the less shocked they will be.

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that says when incongruent events exist it creates additional stress and the person experiencing the stress will compensate by becoming less affected by the incongruence. I heard dissonance in the newsman’s voice because he had to report on horrific violence but he wasn’t really surprised. He wasn’t shocked. He wasn’t even really appalled, and I think that was what was appalling. This is not an attack on that newsman but it is instead a statement of concern that when we are no longer disgusted by disgusting behavior then we have begun redefining acceptability. It may sound silly to say that such public displays of violence can be redefined as acceptable but think of the school shootings and the publicly violent acts that have been carried out and the interviews with the offenders and the notes they have left behind said they wanted to experience in real life what they had experienced in a video game or seen in a movie. Sociopathic and even just plain stupid behavior has always been there but the access to the fringes of human behavior has never been so easily attained.

tv kid

As a society we have to begin drawing distinctions between right and wrong and we need to realize that removing excessive violence and sexuality and filth from our common discourse is not censorship, it is a cultural responsibility. Take charge and know what your kids and your students are being exposed to.

Go to websites like www.pluggedin.com and read and know the language and violence and sexual content of your kids’ television shows and movies. Read the lyrics to the music before you say yes to the download. Be proactive and when something is a bad influencer say so and then take away access to it. And finally, talk to your kids and to your students. Help them understand and discern those things which bring goodness and growth to their lives versus the things that marginalize and are negative.

When a horrific event, such as another shooting at a mall, occurs take the time to talk about the value of life and the need to value this precious gift. Bad things will continue to occur. I just hope when they do we have enough humanity left in us as a society that we are shocked and appalled because the day we become indifferent is the day we will have accepted it.

Related Posts: Learning IS a Behavior | Our Kids at the Blackboard of Life

The Teacher Dropout Rate

The Teacher Dropout Rate

An interesting study from Alliance for Education Excellence found here provides some interesting findings on why teachers are leaving the teaching profession. Here are the top three reasons for the teacher dropout rate:

teacher dropout reasons

The study also states that the cost of replacing teachers who are dropping out of the teaching profession is conservatively estimated to be $2.2 billion. The costs per state range from $8.5 million for North Dakota to over $500 million for Texas. Do you think that raises a few eyebrows?

But Why Are Teachers Leaving?

Let’s speak honestly about why teachers are leaving the profession. There is a distinct feel amongst teachers and administrators that there are so many mandates and so many expectations that the flexibility and the time necessary to build a real learning environment just doesn’t exist. When the issues above are coupled together it is easy to see how “lack of planning time” and “too heavy a workload” go hand in hand. This is an age-old problem and it is a problem that lots of people in lots of professions deal with. So why is this so problematic? Are we to believe that teachers are just not willing to work long hours and gut it out? Of course not.

The real issue is that when your classroom is untenable due to behaviors (issue #3) and you don’t have the time to deal with them (issues 1# & #2) then you end up in a downward spiral and the learning environment – and therefore teaching environment – suffers.

Teachers are very willing to work long hours. They are willing to work at home and on weekends. They are also willing to go the extra mile to prepare for the subjects that are based within the competencies of their education and training. Believe me, I know how hard teachers will and do work. I am married to a 1st grade teacher and she spends her day teaching twenty seven 1st graders. She spends her evenings grading and planning and preparing. Willingness to work is very seldom the issue for a teacher.

The Real Problem

The true problem lies in the fact student behaviors need to be dealt with but the schedule and the workload and the legislative mandates make behaviors a non-priority – except that it is the behaviors of the students that is diminishing the learning and teaching environment and making the classroom difficult. Aside from the fact that teachers are given strict mandates for performance they are also dealing with 20 – 30 different personalities spanning multiple racial, socio-economic, functional, and familial backgrounds in order to create an environment where learning can occur.

teachers dropout too

When you work long hours and spend a great deal of time in preparation and then you go into a classroom that is not manageable and yet you have stringent benchmarks for academic performance, teachers are being driven away.

We now have an educational system that espouses accountability, yet the accountability is measured solely on the academic proficiency of the students. Reading and science and math are the benchmarks of a job well done. Yet when you look at the reason teachers are leaving it is not because they cannot teach reading and math and science. It is because their classrooms are untenable and they are not given the resources and time to change them. They can do their job; they just are not given the chance.

Teaching to the Test is Not an Education

Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that “Intelligence plus character is the goal of a true education”. Mandates have replaced that with “a high standardized test score is the goal of a true education”. Yet while testing is important and the United States must be the standard bearer for academic performance and ability, teaching to a test is not an education.

A fact in all classrooms is that we have students functioning at different levels of academic ability and different levels of social ability. The vey make up of our classes coupled with the proficiency standards coupled with the time and resource restraints means that there will be some kids slipping through the cracks and this is hard for teachers to take.

The true problem lies in the inherent fact that the range of functioning within a classroom is not limited to academic abilities. There is also a range of social functioning that has a direct impact on a teacher’s ability to create and maintain a learning environment.

How do you teach to a test when you have students who won’t sit down and be quiet?

How do you teach the rigors of science when you have students who don’t understand the basics of social rules?

The classroom is after all a social gathering and even though it is autocratic by design that autocracy only works when the authority is understood and respected.

“Teaching Interrupted”, a study found at Public Agenda states that 85% of our current teachers feel that new teachers are not prepared for what they are going to experience in the classroom. These new teachers know how to teach reading and science and math. They aren’t equipped to deal with the students who are disrespectful, students who have no support system at home, students who have no desire to achieve, and then a system that accepts none of the above as an excuse for not reaching pre-designated goals.

True Classroom Success

The issue is that we have defined a successful education as one that creates a student population that scores within an acceptable range in the certain education areas that correlate to future potential employability. The problem with this is that this form of fundamentalist education does not take into account the students who are not prepared to participate at this level. When the push is all academics then when does the training for social competency occur? Students are not given the self-confidence and taught the social parameters for societal success and this diminishes their ability to be a part of a socialized classroom and this makes teaching and learning more difficult.

Teachers are not leaving the profession because they cannot teach.

Teachers are leaving because they are not being allowed to teach what is important. Rene Descartes once said, “To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.” People go into the teaching profession because they want to teach. They want to mold the minds of children and create opportunities for them to succeed in life. Teachers are leaving because the opportunity to truly educate is no longer valued within our legislated system. Yes we are teaching. But we are not fully educating and preparing our children for life. And teachers are walking out. Their actions are speaking volumes.

I think teachers and administrators are trying to teach us something…

as they walk out the door.

They want the time and resources to prepare their students for life. Yes, competing and success within the global economy is important but so is self-esteem and friendship. The strictures of science must be learned but the value of respect and tolerance is just as important. Reading is an absolute but so is good citizenship. Teachers are trying to tell us something and until we listen, children will be left behind.

The Game of the Week | Sportsmanship

The Game of the Week | Sportsmanship

This past week the sports world was in full tilt. We had Super Bowl Sunday plus a full slate of college and professional basketball games followed immediately by college football’s National Signing Day. For a sports fan, it is a great time of the year. But let me tell you about the best game I saw all weekend.

My youngest daughter, 9 year old Abbie, plays Upwards basketball. Upwards is a terrific place to learn the skills of basketball. All of the kids wear wristbands signifying their level of skill and they have to guard or be guarded by a player of a similar skill set. The kids are taught to love the game and try to win but it isn’t all about 8 and 9 year olds winning the game. It is about fair play and being a good teammate and learning to love the competition of athletics.

As I begin this story let me preface it with this:

I don’t believe that every kid should get every trophy. When we water down competition we water down incentives. One of the great lessons that sports teaches our kids is that there will be times in life when we lose. Bouncing back from a loss is a much more important lesson than actually winning. There should be an MVP and there should be an All Star and there should be a winning and losing team.

Losing is real and our kids need to learn how to deal with a loss and try to get better.

OK. I will climb off my soap box now and back to the story…

I am the coach of my daughter’s Upwards team – the Upwards Bears. We have a cool little yell where we slap hands and count to 3 and then everyone yells “Go Bears” and growls. It is actually quite fun to watch little angel faced boys and girls growling before the game.

My Abbie is a natural athlete and the leader of our team. She is tall and athletic and skills come very easy to her. She was the leading scorer on her soccer team and is the leading scorer and rebounder on her basketball team. She also one of the leaders in blocked shots, rebounds, and steals. It just comes pretty easy to her and when you couple that with the fact that she loves to practice and she tries to emulate her older sister who is a varsity player, she is just a good player.

This past Saturday we were playing a team that was clearly outmatched.

Even though you try to match skill sets, the kids on the Bears were just more comfortable playing together and were much more confident. We jumped out to a pretty big lead early in the game and it was obvious that the other kids were getting frustrated. Our kids just weren’t missing and the other team couldn’t hit a shot.

At halftime I told our kids that they needed to pass the ball 3 times before they took a shot. I reminded them that we had practiced passing because a good pass is worth a lot more than a bad shot. This was a way to let them keep playing without just running up and down the floor and running the score up too high. The Bears took to the court and their passes were crisp and they made sure there were at least 3 passes before the shot. But the shots kept going in.

Now as a coach I am in a quandary.

I only had 6 players that day because some were out sick so I couldn’t sub in the “B” team. I also couldn’t tell our kids to not try because that flies in the face of what they are supposed to be out there doing. Instead I called them over and told them I wanted them to pass the ball at least 5 times before shooting, to take good shots and make them, to play aggressive but clean defense, and to try. But I also wanted them to cheer on the other team and encourage them. Make them work for the ball but if they stole it tell them good job. If they made a shot give them a high five.

I told them it was time to practice being a great sport and to encourage these kids…

and to recognize and appreciate that the other team had not quit.

We went out for the last quarter with a big lead.

What I watched over the next 6 minutes was the best sporting event of the weekend. I watched 8 and 9 year old kids playing and trying hard but they were also working their best at being great sports. I watched a little girl from the other team who had been frustrated beam with pride when she finally made a shot and my kids ran over to her and high fived her. I watched my kids yelling “You can do it” to the other team when their players were not wanting to take a chance at missing another shot. I even watched my little girl, my ultra-competitive little girl, clap for the boy who was guarding her when he stole the ball from her and called timeout. It was a good play and she told him so. Then I watched the best play. Right after the timeout my daughter stole the ball back from the little boy and scored and he immediately told her good job. That’s sportsmanship. They both hustled they both tried and they both did their best. And they did it with grace.

Don’t get me wrong. Neither team gave the other any free passes. There was no let down or feeling sorry for anyone. Instead, we reminded each other that this was a competitive game and we were there to compete but we were also there to be good sports.

I love college football. I am not a huge fan of professional football because it is a little to mercenary for me. I love the pageantry and the pride that goes with playing for your school. As I watched these little kids play a game that no one outside of the First Baptist Church gymnasium would ever know about high five each other and encourage each other and still play with heart and pride I thought, this is how it is supposed to be.

Yes we won. I couldn’t even tell you the final score but it wasn’t close. But the biggest winners in that game were the kids who made a new friend and saw the value in lifting each other up while still giving each other their greatest compliment which was trying their best. Trash-talking and being brash and arrogant has taken a center stage in a lot of sporting venues.

I wonder how many more people would watch the game and take pride in their teams if it were played at a very high level by people who let their effort and their skills talk instead of their mouth. I know for the Upwards Bears they left the court proud and even in defeat, so did the other team.

Go Bears.

A REAL Valentine’s Day

A REAL Valentine’s Day

Over the past week every time I turned on the radio or television I heard about Valentine’s Day. I kept hearing that if you really loved your wife then she needed flowers and chocolates and maybe even diamonds. Then I heard that if you really loved your kids they needed new toys and clothes and maybe even a new phone. If an alien landed on this planet last week and all he knew of our civilization was what he heard in advertisements he would think that this is a very expensive and shallow place to live. He would think that relationships are built on stuff – really expensive stuff.

Friday was Valentine’s Day and like a good husband I bought my wife chocolate covered strawberries – her favorite. But unlike any other Valentine’s Day, my wife and I weren’t going to go to dinner or to a movie or out for a romantic evening. Instead, my wife was taking my daughter to basketball practice and then to dinner with my daughter’s friends while I took my son and 7 of his buddies along with my youngest daughter to the go-cart track for the beginning of my son’s birthday slumber party. I know at some point late in the evening my wife and I were in the same room for an hour or two but there were at least 10 kids at all times in the room with us – most often between us.

Now you might hear all of this and think that we are being neglectful of each other or you might think that we needed to make time to get away. Maybe you are right. But here is another way of thinking about it:

My oldest daughter is in her junior year of high school and in the back of our minds is this huge ticking clock counting down the minutes until she moves away to go to college. This isn’t a countdown to a glorious event for us. My heart already aches when I think about not sitting with Meg at dinner or following her around the state to basketball games or taking her and her friends to church devos or the movies.

My son just turned 14 and he wanted to race go-carts with his buddies. Daddy was the chauffer this year, not one of the buddies. He is about to enter high school and has started spiking his hair with mousse and working out and wearing enough cologne to gag a musk ox. I am worried that if I turn around he will be old enough to drive and will be on his own.

My little one is 9. She isn’t that little any more. Now I will admit that I took great joy in having a conversation about the Minions from “Despicable Me’ with her this morning. We had a thorough and earnest debate over which Minion we would welcome into our home to live with us if they knocked on our door. I love those conversations and those moments of innocence. I love the connection with the thoughts of a child and the innocence of pure unfiltered love.

My wife and I finally laid down about 2:30 in the morning of Valentines. Needless to say there was not hint of a romantic thought coming from either of us. Instead Sylvia sleepily told me about Meg’s practice and how she took a group of girls to dinner and they laughed and she listened to them talk about boys and their dreams of the future. She told me about how they laughed and giggled and she said she even joined in and felt like a kid again.

I told Sylvia about playing “Guitar Hero” at the go-cart track with my little Abbie and how I couldn’t keep the beat to “Rock and Roll All Night” despite the fact I grew up listening to it. I told her about Hunter racing the go-carts and Abbie climbing the rock wall and how happy they were. We then talked about the fact that 7, 14 year old boys were asleep in our front room and how the day would begin very early the next morning.

I kissed her goodnight and thought about the day. I realized how precious few Valentine’s Day moments there are left with My Meg and Hunter and Abbie. I looked at my sleeping wife. Then I realized – this is what a day of love is supposed to be about. This is a good day.

A Day in the Life of a Teacher

A Day in the Life of a Teacher

Morning comes way too early.

I just closed my eyes and now it is time to start all over again. The morning shower is about the only time I am going to have today with a little silence. I have found myself standing under the water a little longer each day as the school year is passing. That moment of peace is my chance to brace for the day. The problem is that in my moment of peace I can’t take my mind off of my kids who are struggling. I can’t stop thinking about the things I should have done to make learning a little easier. Wait, I have to clear my mind. I just need 5 minutes for me. The rest of the day can be for the kids.

I get to my classroom early in hopes that being extra organized may make the day a little easier and make my teaching time more effective. Wouldn’t you know it, there is a Mom waiting by my door wanting me to explain why her little angel was in trouble yesterday when all he was doing was “trying to express himself”. I spend 5 minutes acknowledging that self expression is important and I tried my best to get her to understand that there is a time for self-expression and there is a time to sit and listen. I’m not sure if I got through to her or not. I did let her know that the rules are the rules and learning to keep the rules is part of learning. It never ceases to amaze me that parents somehow see the rules as oppressive rather than educational. Oh well I…..oh no, the bell just rang. So much for being extra organized today.

There was a movie in the 70s called “The Swarm”. That is what the hallway and my room turns into. There are bodies everywhere and they are all talking and buzzing around at a speed I can’t quite keep up with. The day has begun. “Everyone sit down and get your books out”, the tug of war between my will and 20 kids desire to talk and have fun and seemingly do anything but learn has begun.

Teacher and student at board

As the morning progresses I work my way through a group reading, taking special care to listen closely to little Mykele because he has really struggled with reading chapter books. He makes it most of the way through his paragraph but tears start to form as he struggles with the last sentence. I find myself in full protective mode and jumping to his aid and nursing him through the last sentence. I am not sure whose relief was greater when his turn was over, his or mine.

From there we were onto math and my stomach was tied in knots as I called on little Karen to go to the board and complete the problem. I wanted to cheer for her and I so wanted to give her hints to complete it. Come on Karen, you can do it! Please let her do it!! She did it! I want to high five her so bad but class control dictates a smile and a pat on the head instead. I feel like I just conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro.

This is the moment I live for – the moment when the light comes on for a child and suddenly they understand and suddenly they have learned.

I just changed this child’s life and if I were any more proud of her I would break down in tears. What a moment. Now it is back to the board and Billy is struggling.

It is so hard getting the kids to calm down after lunch.

It takes me a solid 10 minutes getting them to sit down and get back into the class mindset. Charlie and Zach just won’t hush. They couldn’t keep their hands to themselves and lunch and I ended up eating half my lunch and throwing the rest in the trash thanks to the boys deciding that French-fries can double as missiles in their game of table commando. Why am I not skinnier??

Afternoons are so much harder than mornings.

I am tired. I feel like I have been wrestling a 34 armed wriggling, giggling, smelly animal. The kids are getting tired and they are ready to run. Sitting down at a desk and reading goes against every instinct and urge they have. The afternoons are just harder. It feels like I am pushing a wet noodle up a hill trying to get the kids to focus. I love science but this afternoon even I can’t find my enthusiasm for rock formations. I am trying because I know if I show the kids that I am not enthused about learning this then there is no way they will be. It is so hard maintain abject enthusiasm all day. The afternoons are so much harder.

I give up. They won’t sit down and they won’t be quiet. There are going to be some unhappy moms and kids tonight because behavior slips are going out. Charlie and Zach and Lakarsha are shoe-ins for getting a slip. The whole class is watching them instead of me and I feel like standing on the desk and screaming “Just pay attention and we can be done and go home!!” But I don’t. Nobody wants to pay attention and I am tired. I can’t find my enthusiasm for rocks either. The afternoons are just harder.

One and a half hours to go.

My lesson planner shows that I am behind schedule. I am behind because I keep getting interrupted by kids not listening and not paying attention and wanting to go to the bathroom. It feels like I am investing my time in quick sand.

I take a rare break and sit at my desk and try to collect my thoughts. I have now been on my feet for nearly 6 hours. I have answered questions and reminded kids to keep their hands to themselves and told kids to be quiet so often that I feel I need a flashing “Be Quiet” neon sign in the back of the room.

I then remember something I heard in staff development session. A speaker once charged us with thinking about the amount of time we spend telling kids to sit down and be quiet and pay attention. His question was: “What if we reinvested that redirection time and turned it into proactive lessons on how to sit down and be quiet and paying attention?” When I first heard him say this my only thought was “Yeah, good luck with that when you have 20 kids constantly needing something and wanting to be doing anything but the lesson you are teaching”. But maybe that was the point.

School is about academics but the payoff for academics is down the road. There really isn’t an immediate gratification for learning about math and science and reading and writing. Sure you get those moments of pure gold when little ones like Karen suddenly get it. But those are the moments of the day. The hours of the day are spent redirecting the kids’ thoughts back to learning.

OK… I’m going to spend 15 minutes working with my kids

on calming down and being quiet.

Kids group on floor

I’m not going to wait until I hit my boiling point, I am just going to take the time and work on it. I have a friend that teaches in a school that is working on social and emotional development and she shared a lesson with me one time that focused on getting kids to calm down after transitions by using signals. I soon find myself teaching the kids our own special class signals for quieting down and sitting down. The kids really get into it because I tell them that these are going to be our special and secret signals. We have a song for clean up time. We have a bell on my desk that is rung when it is time to sit down. We have double clap when it is time to be quiet. The kids voted on these signals and we practiced them several times. We even practiced being out of our seats and getting back into our seats when they heard the bell. They really got into it because it was like having their own secret handshake. And when one of the kids didn’t snap into place the other kids reminded them to do so before I could. They had taken ownership in these ideas and they wanted to see them work.

Little Karen had her “ah-ha” moment this morning and I had mine this afternoon.

The 15 minutes I invested felt like I had just hit the jackpot on the slot machine. The kids learned a lesson but the pay-off was as good for me as it was for them. I even appointed room captains to be in charge of the bell and the clap and the song. They each appointed a co-captain for each table. They thought it was so cool. Now sitting down and being quiet and paying attention are not on any of our tests but I can’t get them ready for the test if they aren’t sitting down and being quiet and paying attention.

The final bell rings and the swarms descends back into the hallway.

I take a deep breath and look at the mountain of papers on my desk. I only have 20 kid’s papers in math and science to grade, get 20 packets ready for tomorrow, write my Friday letter for the parents, make sure everyone’s permission slip for next week’s field trip is in place, attend my afternoon staff meeting, and then go home and be a parent and a spouse.

The whirlwind begins to slow down when my head hits the pillow.

I can’t hardly keep my eyes open and I think that there must surely be an easier way to make a living. Then my thoughts drift back to little Karen and I remember the exact moment when the light went on for her and she figured out how to do the problem. I remember the joy that came across her face and the pride that swelled in me.

That is my moment. That is the reason I will do it all over again tomorrow.

My eyes are heavy but I know why I am a teacher.

The social and emotional development program referenced above is Leaps. Leaps has over 240 social, emotional and behavioral lesson plans along with classroom, small group, and individual assessments. It’s not reading writing and arithmetic but it is amazing how much easier those are to teach when the class is learning to behave! You can get some free Leaps lesson plans on www.goleaps.com. There are also all kinds of videos and papers about how to make your class more manageable.

Refocusing on Humanity

Refocusing on Humanity

I woke this morning to news that Russia and the new Ukraine government are in a political standoff with military options mobilizing. There was also news of another major storm that has temperatures as far south as Austin in the 30s heading east and picking up steam and looking like it will slam the east coast again. Then there was the appalling news of a school in Nigeria where terrorist had killed a schoolyard full of children and burned their bodies in some twisted attention grab in the name of a twisted view of their religion. The news went on and on with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I watched and read and listened to a litany of events that should make a grown man seek refuge. But one horrible story gave way to another, and the incredible news of the Nigerian tragedy faded from the television screen and a smiling anchorman talking about a rampant pack of Chihuahuas in Arizona segued into a story of absolute silliness. Those dead children were worth a 20 second mention – about the same as a pack of ankle biting dogs.

When I was young the world was larger. Not many people flew and the internet wasn’t even a dream yet. There were 3 major television channels and the anchorman for the national news at 5:00 was a trusted and respectable man. Today, news is on 24 hours a day on approximately 300 channels a day. Of course about 23 hours a day of that stuff on all 300 channels doesn’t really pass for news but is instead a flurry of opinions and fireballs thrown to provoke controversy and stir political passions for ratings. But it is there, nonstop. And it is full throttle and fully encased in violent picture, horrid stories, and pain on a global level. Have things gotten worse than they were 20 years ago? No, there are no new sins. There are just more people talking so they are finding more awful things to talk about.

humanity - quote 1

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a diatribe on the news. We need to know what is happening in this ever shrinking world. And I do not loathe the speed and access with which we get news from around the world. I do however worry about the access our kids have to so much awful news that is presented in sensationalized formats. Kids today are bombarded with images and stories and words that would have never been allowed on a television screen just 20 years ago. Now those images are not only on TVs, they are also on phones and tablets, and computers.They are everywhere and there are so many of them that they have begun one-upping each other on the graphic scale for attention and “clicks”.

Here’s the danger of our current state of information access and presentation: When our kids see things that are disconcerting and should be alarming over and over then they will become less disconcerted and less alarmed each time they see it. When our kids hear of the deplorable acts of extremists in Nigeria over and over they soon start tuning out the news and are less shocked by the event. And here’s an even bigger complication – when our kids play video games and watch movies and television shows that show these types of horrible things then they are even less sensitive to it when it occurs in real life.

I do not fear that kids today are less human than those of 20 years ago but I do worry that their definition of humanity has changed. When easily accessed entertainment mediums constantly bombard our kids with violence and gratuitous sex and salacious language then the norm of acceptability is constantly redefined and what is shocking becomes further and further removed. How do I know it affects our kids? Because when I heard the news I was momentarily appalled but I wasn’t shocked, and until I sat down to start writing I wasn’t outraged either. Now I am angry with myself for accepting the news of schoolyard kids being murdered, for political and religious extremism and not having the human decency to pause and think and pray on what has happened.

humanity - quote 2

Our kids today are growing up with constant access to images and words and actions that are not humane and cannot and should not be in the lexicon of our humanity. We can’t stop that. But we can be what we are supposed to be. As adults, as teachers, and as parents we must be fierce guardians of our kids’ innocence and their sense of right and wrong. We cannot shelter them from the atrocities of this world but we can help them understand right from wrong and we can help them understand the fading but absolutely necessary skill of empathy. We cannot prevent people from sensationalizing bad things but we can stop those things from coming into our homes and our classrooms and our personal discourse. We cannot stop the fact that the world can be scary and mean but we can shelter our kids and help them grow their humanity rather than allowing an exploitative world to take it from them one image and word and action at a time.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once spoke of the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” and the “fierce urgency of now”. He was of course talking about overcoming the atrocities of bigotry and achieving equal civil rights for all man. Today we need that same “fierce urgency of now” in our public and a personal reclaiming and guarding of our children’s rights to innocence. We cannot be a part of the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” by being so personally desensitized to sensationalism that we become a condoner of vile games and shows and music that target our children’s fragile formative years. We cannot abdicate our role as guardian of our children’s minds and souls to a box of wires that gives them entertainment but also redefines their worldview of humanity.

It is time to be shocked again when shocking things happen.

It is time to be saddened again when people are hurt.

It is time to be outraged again when children are targeted.

It is time to be human again.