As explained last time, the college admissions series is on hold while I investigate the Newtown massacre on several levels. Last time I enumerated 15 steps districts are taking to shore up school security. I also alluded to my longstanding belief that better mental health services is the way to go. More about that below.
I also reported how I pre-empted my regular reports on WCBS Newsradio 880 to talk about this tragedy from several perspectives. I shared some of those thoughts and will continue to do so this week and next.
The tragedy was personalized for me. First, much of my consulting work has been in Connecticut; every time a reporter on the scene said — “small-town, New England” — the pit in my stomach deepened. Second, my fraternity brother and his wife, are veterinarians in the area; several of the victims were their clients. And third, the gun incident at the middle school in Mamaroneck on Jan. 3 really hit home: I was an assistant principal in that district for five years.
My heart still breaks every time I see pictures of those 20 Newtown children whose lives were snuffed out. And my heart breaks for the teachers and administrators who made the supreme sacrifice. They literally took bullets to be human shields, saving as many of the children whom they were charged to take care of, and did to highest degree.
For the past seven and a half years, I’ve used this column to “vigorously fight teacher bashing, constantly trying to elevate the profession. At times it’s been an uphill battle. Listeners who heard me say those words on WCBS noted anger in my voice; indeed there was. As I’ve said repeatedly, teachers have been made scapegoats over the past few years. Sadly, it took a horrific incident to let the public know what educators are all about.
I know firsthand what goes on inside a classroom — and the dedication that makes teachers special. As I acknowledged over the radio ... yes, there are “lousy” ones. But there are “lousy” doctors, lawyers, and members of just about every other profession. I can attest to the fact that the vast majority of educators come to school every day and put their students first — as we saw firsthand in Newtown. They are “class acts,” as I’ve come to call them.
I’m only sorry that it took this senseless tragedy to “let the public peer in and see what teachers and others on the school team do on behalf of our children.” Let the demonizing, as someone put it, stop; I will continue to celebrate teachers and teaching in this column and on the radio.
Let me return to the mental health piece which I continue to hammer: “Everyone needs an outlet for rage: Rage: a violent and uncontrolled anger, fury, or temper. (That’s the dictionary definition.) Rage: a state of helplessness and hopelessness that things won’t get better .... a feeling of isolation that nobody’s listening — or worse, nobody cares .... a sense of injustice without any chance of fairness in sight.... crying out — and then an explosion.”
I wrote these very words six years ago in my newspaper column. Very little has changed, except that those “explosions” are becoming much more frequent. Gun control goes without saying. Armed guards in schools? Not the answer. More about that next time.
Yet again, I’ll repose the question I’ve been asking: Why is an increasing number of young people forced to revert to violence, usually resulting in their own demise as well? I want to make my plea once more: Provide a no-questions asked outlet for any student (or adult) in distress. There has to be a person to turn to and a place to unload if the pressure gets to be too overwhelming. Take another look at those definitions of “rage” above; an intervention must be immediately available and easily accessible — before that pressure cooker explodes.
As I also wrote in that column, I make the Corey-Carey connection with my college class. Remember the poem “Richard Corey”? This guy appeared to have everything “to make us wish we were in his place.” Then he goes home — and puts a bullet through his head. The students understand: Looks are deceiving, which leads to a discussion of masked depression and the Corey-Carey connection. Jim Carrey bravely came out of the mental health closet and shared his battle with depression. When I tell this story, every semester some come forth after class and say “you were talking about me, but I thought I was alone.” No, I don’t treat them; my job is to channel them to a trained mental health professional who can.
One more time — schools and communities need to provide this outlet for children and adults at the breaking point. No one has to deal with rage or suffer in silence. Our job is to get the word out that help is available.
Dr. Steven Kussin was a high school principal for 21 years. You can hear his “CBS on Education” reports three times a day weekdays on WCBS Newsradio 880. He is also an adjunct professor at Hofstra University and an educational consultant for school districts around the country. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Dr. Steven S. Kussin, 2013