It is 12:08 am. I just got off the phone with my eighteen-year-old son who is in his freshman year of college. I had decided to try to go to bed at a decent hour tonight (11:15 pm?), but at 11:30, I got the following text from my son,
“Two mass shootings in one year with AR-15’s. It really does just make me sad.”
He’s eighteen, for goodness sake. He should be texting me about the big test tomorrow, or the concert he wants to go to this weekend, or the girl who just broke his heart.
But he can’t sleep because he is sad. And he can’t understand.
“I mean this guy even has priors,” the next text says.
This has been in his head ever since Sandy Hook. He is frustrated by the unwillingness on the part of so many to do anything about this problem.
“It is so wrong. I mean the signs were there.”
So I called him. And we talked. Not about girlfriends, and parties, and tests, but about the issues that really bother him – like guns and mental illness and a society that refuses to deal with these issues that keep him awake at night.
We joke about moving to Australia ( yes, we got that idea from the Daily Show – thank you John Oliver), but we also talk seriously about his future and his desire to help those who are suffering in some way. And yes, he listens to my now all too familiar rant about the need for mental health services (as well as other wraparound services) in our schools.
I can’t sleep now. Thoughts of guns and mental illness and hunger and sickness and how can we make it all stop. When I first went to bed, before my son’s text, I was thinking about the radio show that I will be doing in the morning. I am supposed to talk about Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education. Now those thoughts jumble with the conversation I had with my son. I can’t help but think that part of the promise is that we will take care of our children so that maybe we can prevent these things from happening in the future.
I had an email earlier today asking me for data that shows that wraparound services are related to student growth. I wanted to scream! Are you kidding me??? Common sense tells me that if you take care of a child’s basic needs, the child will do better in school. But let’s say, worst case scenario, that there is no data to support that or that there is even no correlation at all (which we all know is not true). Should it really freaking matter?! As a society, shouldn’t we want to take care of our children – to make sure they are fed, healthy, mentally well – even if there is no effect on the student growth measure?? Shouldn’t we want to give them access to counselors who can help them deal with depression, anger, and stress? Shouldn’t we consider that this might actually help prevent mass shootings and suicides and host of other problems down the road? Shouldn’t we give them easy access to health care professionals who can take care of their toothaches and give them a pair of glasses so they can see the board? Shouldn’t we do all this just because they are our children?!
Of course, of course, of course we want them to learn. Our passion is to teach them everything their minds can absorb. We live to see them advance in their education, and we love when they come back and share their successes with us. We invest ourselves in that success.
So let’s experiment with this. Let’s keep all our neighborhood schools. Let’s put a structure in place that allows the educators, parents, and community members to identify the needs of that school. Let’s invest in the wraparound services that meet kids’ social, emotional, and health needs so that they can focus on learning. Let’s provide supports and professional development to our teachers so they can meet the academic needs of our students. Let’s try all this and see what kind of data we produce. I am willing to bet everything I own that not only will we see an impact on student growth measures but we will also see happy, healthy students who graduate ready for the next phase of their lives. Game on! Let’s go!
In a few short hours, I will be on Workforce Radio talking about Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education and thinking about it in the context of a world where mass shootings occur. But I struggle to put into words my deep conviction that we must take care of the whole child if we want them to grow to be whole adults.
I can talk in broad generalities about hope and opportunity and fairness and equality but it is all just empty rhetoric without action behind it.
So I will end this blog instead with my personal promises for action:
I promise that I will dedicate a part of each day to advocating for wraparound services in our schools.
I promise that I will work to ensure that children have access to a well- rounded education that includes the arts.
I promise that I will spend time talking with our members each week to get a deeper understanding of their frustrations and their solutions for how we can make the system better.
I promise that I will push for the voices of teachers, students, parents, and community members to be heard in keeping and strengthening local neighborhood schools.
I promise that I will continue to partner with other organizations in fighting for the needs of children, their families, and their communities.
I promise that I will only support politicians who really understand the promise of public education and will fight to provide the resources that will allow schools to fulfill that promise.
I promise that I will provide the supports, services, and professional development needed for our members to be leaders in our schools in designing teaching and learning conditions that lead to results.
I promise to keep children at the center of all our work.
What will you do to help reclaim the promise? Share your thoughts below.
And thank you for sharing my late night rant!