The U.S. by far has had more school shootings than any other industrialized country.1 Since the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, which left 17 people dead, there has been a serious debate on why these shootings are happening and how to keep our students safe. The U.S. government has turned to a Federal Commission on School Safety to take on this challenge. They issued a report in December 2018 that recommended the following:
- Improving school climate through character education and combating cyberbullying;
- Improving school-based access to mental health and counseling services;
- Taking steps to improve threat assessment; and
- Improving school security plans.
There have been mixed reviews about this report. Some believe there’s not enough being recommended on “HOW” to prevent violence in the schools, and others point out that they are leaving out gun control.2-3 No matter the reaction to this report or what their recommendations are, there is only one question in the minds and hearts of our board and staff at i.b.mee. (I Be Me), –”What is the root cause of this serious challenge?” At i.b.mee. (I Be Me), we are about researching and developing a new framework of education that takes care of not only the root cause of violence, but the root cause of just about all the challenges our young people face today, which are many. Epidemics of teen suicide, chronic disease, addiction, incarceration, dropping out of school, ADD and depression, (just to name a few) are widespread, not only in the U.S., but in other countries as well.
It is critical that we get to the bottom of these challenges and quit putting a bandaid on them. I was told a story when I was in one of my college health and wellness courses that depicts this concept really well. There was a medical doctor standing by a river and all of a sudden he sees a person coming down the river drowning. He goes in and pulls the person out and performs CPR and saves her. Then he sees another person drowning and he pulls him out and does CPR and saves him. Then, here comes another and he saves her, and then another, and he saves him, and then there are so many he can’t save them all. A wise person walks by the doctor as he sits there exhausted and wondering what to do and says, “Hey Doc, why don’t you go upstream and see who is throwing them in?”
What is upstream to all these young person challenges, especially school shootings? The root cause has nothing to do with school security plans and taking steps to improve threat assessment or gun control, although these are great steps in creating a safety plan for any establishment. There is always room for safety improvements and we could discuss gun control for months because there is so much to talk about. (i.e. discussing the research about the other countries who have had sound gun control policies that really work). However, we must go deeper; we must go upstream to understand that this is a human-being issue. This is a personal issue. The root cause of these challenges stem from something way more, -the lack of positive self-worth and a sound, loving self-concept. People who hurt others and hurt themselves don’t really know themselves, believe in themselves, or most importantly, they don’t love themselves. This can sound a little “woo-woo” and unscientific to many. Believe me, it has taken me years of study to get to a place of scientifically understanding what humans need to thrive, -to be healthy, and to feel happy and successful in life. There is a plethora of research in Psychology, Neuroscience, Wellness, Psychoneuroimmunology, Epigenetics, and other disciplines that all boil down to the fact that the more we learn to accept and love ourselves, in other words, feel really good about ourselves, the more we give and connect with others and want everyone to be successful too. We actually will then support each other in our goals and dreams and work toward a common good.
Yes, …although the act of Nikolas Cruz, who shot the 17 individuals at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was deemed “evil”, we must remember that, he, the boy, is not evil. We know, theoretically, that people just don’t usually shoot and kill people just to do it. Something had to have happened to him in his past that made him feel not “good enough” in some way. It is common knowledge now that Nikolas was held back a grade a couple of times, had been expelled, and his mother had died. Traumatic experiences like Nikolas had, without nurturing, positive support to make sense of them and not to blame himself (which would be normal for a child), could cause any kid to act out negatively, have chronic disease, form addictions, look like they have ADD/ADHD, be depressed, or be violent, -that list of challenges we started with. 4-7
It is imperative that as adults, we learn how to connect with all students and make school (and home) about building a child’s positive self-concept and increasing self-worth. In value-science, they call this putting the intrinsic value of the person first and not having to “do” something to prove your worth, that you are born totally capable, creative and complete. Research unequivocally shows that the more we focus on learning and growing from within a child’s true interests, and they get connected support in times of challenges by not being judged for mistakes and empowering them to see their strengths, then they will form healthy belief systems, values and self-worth as well as naturally be intrinsically motivated to learn the life skills to move them forward successfully in life.8-10 Truthfully, we don’t even need research to know that this is just common sense.
Currently, students who come to school and don’t fit into the current mold are tossed around and made to fit in, which creates more disempowering beliefs about themselves (trauma in their nervous system). The goal of the conventional education system is to try to fit everyone into one square hole and we are made up of circles, squares, triangles, and octagons. When we expel a student who is already feeling “bad” about him/herself, then that just reinforces and deepens their disempowering belief systems about themselves. That young person automatically believes and even sometimes will say, “Of course I am being expelled….what’s new!” This belief is connected to their emotions (and vice versa), and these beliefs and feelings are connected to their behaviors. What they believe, they will act out. Quite simply, how we behave to get connection from others, is in general, how we will behave to get that connection again. And, against most adults belief systems, the child is not misbehaving on purpose just to get the adult riled up; he is misbehaving because he is getting connected with from another person. Again, theoretically, Nikolas shot people because his past experiences caused so much hurt and anger that was bottled up in his nervous system which caused so much shame within himself (caused by his lack of past positive connections to make sense out of his challenges) that he “disliked” himself so much, he wanted to cause pain on others. In that moment of shooting, he is letting out his pain in the only way he knew. (There are other factors to why people commit violent acts, but we are focusing in on what we believe is the root cause.)11-12
So, in the U.S., we are just in the beginning stages of changing how we treat kids that don’t fit in to the current school system. I feel that these students have so much brilliance to offer but the way the system is structured, (one-size-fits-all) does not allow them to unleash this brilliance. In fact, research shows that in general, students who make average grades and who make a point to learn what they love, and take part in a variety of activities in the real world, thrive more in life.13 Students who learn how to just become “A”-students, and spend their time “making the grade” (who I call professional students) are more likely to suffer more in the real world, because the real world is not “A”-student-like; the real world likes students who have learned how to make decisions on their own, are resilient, can collaborate, take ownership for their behaviors, love to learn, can persevere in the face of challenges, and are passionate about what they do. After that, being proficient in skills becomes important, because we all know that you have to be able to do the skill to continue to get paid for what you do.
Imagine an entire school of students and teachers, free to be themselves, free from judgment, learning social and emotional skills, working on their passions and learning pertinent skills in a healthy and stress free environment growing their worth, confidence and skills to be themselves. Hard to see this vision? Absolutely. But at i.b.mee., we see it clearly. We see many establishments already understanding and applying new-paradigm information effectively and creating learning environments that build the most important thing, the self-worth and confidence of the child, -the freedom to be themselves. This has nothing to do with test scores, achievement, competition, or sitting in desks and doing what a teacher tells you to do all the time. Having to yell and control a class is not empowering or fun for the teacher either! It has everything to do with creating a connected, inspiring learning environment where the inherent needs of our young people are TRULY being met. Unfortunately, I see it all the time, schools and school districts giving lip-service to what we know children need to thrive. The words “empowerment”, “whole-child”, “mindfulness”, “social-emotional learning”, “compassion”, “wellness” and “student-centered” are words often stated in a school’s mission and philosophy, but when you participate in the day to day life of the school, they are not actually implementing those concepts, or if they are, they are implemented by a person “telling” the kids something or making that concept an add-on in the curriculum, instead of the students experiencing them as part of the everyday values and life in their school. I have found that not being able to apply these concepts in schools is not being done purposefully, but administration has not been trained nor have they been in environments like these in order to know how to apply these concepts into everyday life. In addition, old-paradigm education system rules and guidelines based on standardized curriculum, testing and controlling teaching methodologies, take precedent over the true needs of the student. We are not to blame the school or staff, but the education system that has set up disempowering and detrimental expectations and trainings that create disempowering teacher and staff beliefs about what kids need to thrive, and that actually undermine intrinsic motivation, creativity, partnership, connection and passion.
We see learning environments where all students are intentionally empowered with teachers and administration that are also intentionally empowered. We have been experimenting in schools, taking risks, talking to students, and determining how to get to this root cause, -how to truly build positive self-worth so that every student knows who they are, moves forward with what they are excited about, takes ownership of how to get there, and works collaboratively in teams to positively support each other’s goals. We know that this creates “internal nervous system resilience” so that they have the ability to handle real world challenges with life skills that employers really want and need. These skills are not what employers are generally getting right now from college graduates. These skills need to be integrated into the everyday life of students starting in preschool.
The good news, is that I am seeing things slowly starting to shift. I see bits and pieces of the new learning and living paradigm all over the world, -healthy and empowering learning environments being brought to life (improving school climate). They all look different, but they all have one thing in common, they are bringing to life the concepts and principles that truly make young people thrive. Part of the system change will be bringing updated, effective practices such as life and well-being coaching into the schools that compliment mental health services that are highly needed in all of our schools right now. Our country should be adding money to mental health and coaching services for our schools. It is embarrassing that we STILL run our education system the way we do in the U.S. knowing what we know. It is like having a cure for cancer, violence, addiction and suicide right in front of you, but no one uses it because people and organizations with power who have false knowledge and mistaken beliefs know it will keep them from controlling the masses, and making money (on standardized testing and core curriculum for example), so they don’t allow anyone to use it. Although we are making some strides in shifting from the old paradigm to the new paradigm of education, it will be up to the people in the trenches, the students, teachers, administrators and parents to use their voice for change as we all come together over the next 5 years to “demand” that our kids and teachers are allowed learning environments that we know will lead to healthy, empowered, connected, creative, supportive and peaceful people which will in turn, (it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this) will create and maintain a healthy and peaceful world.
When the education system shifts, the whole world will shift.
I truly believe it.