Yesterday I was talking with a teacher in a very small school who has had 3 or 4 students this year attempt suicide or report suicidal ideations to the point of having to enter a monitored treatment program. We are talking 10 year olds. Some friends, some not but all dealing with mental health struggles that I don’t remember having experienced when I was a kid.
Today a student brought up the Iran conflicts and another wanted to talk about the fires in Australia. If it is literal fires burning or just the different conflicts in the world we have significant issues going on that need to be talked about. Our kids have questions.
I think if we took a poll we would see that mental health issues have spiked significantly from when we were young (I say that as a 37 year old, I imagine it becomes more and more rare the older we look back) I wonder if it is reported more now but regardless I do believe we are seeing students with a higher level of frequency having to deal with issues that need significant help.
Of course mental health is not the only issue, we have students having to navigate, sometimes seemingly solo the trials of poverty. Others intolerance for whatever reason. Bullying continues to be an issue in our schools. We add all of these issues together and it is a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
I wrote the first part of this blog yesterday and then this morning I woke up and discovered this tweet by the incredible Tricia Ebarvia on Twitter.
Just an example of the ingrained racism that exists in our school systems. I read this tweet and remembered a conversation where a fellow teacher mentioned their belief that “as a people” first nations don’t value reading and that is why their kids are so much further behind than their white counterparts. I was floored by the racism in the statement and more disgusted by the other heads in the conversation nodding in agreement. How this blatantly racist myth was continuing to be spread was evident to me. I was new to the division and turned to call out the racism and thankfully another teacher who had more years experience also jumped in to call out the racism but the myth still exists and continues to be used to excuse and defend the poor reading results that seem to be coming from those communities. I can’t help but wonder why we as educators are not looking at things like institutional racism, poverty rates among families on the reserve, access to books, access to breakfast and other dynamics instead of just putting the results on their culture. Probably because it is easier and many are not interested in doing the hard work to address these inequities.
Two days ago when I was pushing back on a quote that basically implied kids who work hard and give it their all will achieve their goals it was implied that I was somehow trying to crush the dreams of kids by saying we should not perpetuate that myth. That we should tell kids that trying hard is great but making room that there are factors that society needs to work on, systems in place that require some kids to work so much harder that society needs to address. I was greeted by a white educator (I would normally not point our race but in this instance it provides context) telling me they are sick and tired of white middle class educators talking about the barriers that keep kids from achieving their goals. Saying that the claim bordered on White Supremacy. I feel in some way they must have misunderstood what I was saying. Or they misunderstand white supremacy but regardless they wanted to shut down the conversation, they wanted the nice little fairy tale that hard work pays off for everyone to continue. It doesn’t. Some of our students will need more support than just their hard work and we as a society need to provide that support through challenging and changing this system of inequalities.
These last few weeks I have made clear my distaste for the message that kindness cures all. I am not in any way against kindness. I think it is support important. I do not however find the message around it profound. Kindness is common sense and being unkind is not generally the source of the worlds problems. My bigger issue comes when I see how much EduTwitter, which I am an active participant holds tightly to the one small act of kindness message. This Starfish idea. I read that fable the other day again and thought it was such a nice story, the boy was right, making a difference for that one starfish was a great act for that one starfish and yes if everyone on that beach was chucking starfish back in the ocean maybe we could save all the starfish but they are getting washed back up tomorrow because that is the system. Kids are not starfish and telling a sweet story and doing one small kind act is not going to fix the system.
Our kids worlds are on fire. Racism, bigotry, mental health issues, poverty, opportunity gaps, achievement gaps, bullying, world conflict, social media and the spread of misinformation that contribute to the rise of anxiety not to mention underfunded education programs that disproportionately impact communities of colour are hurdles that require more than simple acts. The other day I made the comment it is like trying to put out a fire with an eye dropper and the more I see the more I know this to be true.
Yesterday I talked to my kids about the world water crisis, we also talked about Iran and Australia and other things too. We addressed misinformation and the need to examine sources for accuracy. Going forward I am going to focus more on “tough” topics. I am going to work on compassion, empathy, kindness and action. Even a million eye droppers will not put out a fire. The heat would evaporate those little drops before they make a difference. We need educators and communities coming together to address the issues causing our students lives to be in turmoil.
Their Worlds are burning. We need to do more.