A textbook for Hazel

 

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Category: Children/Teenagers Date: 17 Mar 02


This is an open letter to the Minister of Education, Hazel Manning.

 

Dear Madam Minister,

 

Forgive me for using this obvious means of getting your attention. But the most recent reports of teachers being accosted, verbally abused and intimidated by mobs of students at the Arima Senior Comprehensive School seem to merit this arguably sensational method of communication.

 

The runaway escalation of violence, abuse and intimidation of schoolchildren towards one another and their teachers; the manner in which authority has been hijacked from this profession must be worrying you, at least as much, if not more, than the rest of us, since the onus of “doing something about it” rests on your shoulders.

 

A solution came to me unexpectedly in the form of a book. It is by Daniel Goleman, ‘Emotional Intelligence - Why it can matter more than IQ’, who essentially contends that IQ is only one measure of several intelligences crucial for life’s success.

 

Violence in schools, writes Goleman, is a failure on the part of adults to impart emotional intelligence in our children.

He argues: “In 1990, compared to the previous two decades, the United States saw the highest juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes ever; teen arrests for forcible rape had doubled; teen murder has quadrupled, mostly due to an increase in shootings. During those same two decades, the suicide rate for teenagers tripled, as did the number of children under fourteen who are murder victims.”

 

Goleman cites the case of Cecil, a “socially paralyzed” child suffering from dyssemia (from the Greek dys-for ‘difficulty’ and semia for ‘signal’) a learning disability in the realm of nonverbal messages:

“What could Cecil have been taught earlier? To speak directly to others when spoken to; to initiate social contact, not always wait for another, to carry on a conversation, not simply fall back on yes or no or other one-word replies; to express gratitude towards others, to let another person walk before one in passing through a door; to wait until one is served something, to thank others, to say ‘thank you’, to share and all the other elementary interactions we begin to teach children from age two onwards.”

 

Considering many adults among us lack these basic skills, it is scary to think we have and continue to mass produce a people with symptoms of a ‘socially paralyzed’ child, where the lack of small courtesies has given way to an emptying out of potential intelligences, making way for inchoate destructive rage.

 

We must begin again by acknowledging that the mobbing, intimidation, flouting of authority in schools is the sour fruition of over a decade of neglect of our children by those parents and teachers who themselves didn’t know better.

 

Fortunately, there are answers.

Goleman speaks of the resounding success of a primary school in San Francisco, Nueva, which has incorporated emotional literacy or ‘Self Science’ in its syllabus. Its school director Karen McCown, explains:

“When we teach about anger, we help kids understand that it is almost always a secondary reaction and to look for what’s underneath - are you hurt? Jealous? Our kids learn that you always have choices about how you respond to emotion.

“A key social ability is empathy, understanding others’ feelings, perspectives, and respecting differences in how people feel; being assertive rather than angry or passive; and learning the arts of co-operation, conflict resolution and negotiating compromise.”

Topics covered include:

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self awareness - recognising feelings and building a vocabulary for them.

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managing emotions: realising what is behind a feeling (for example, the hurt that triggers anger)

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learning ways to handle anxieties, anger and sadness.

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taking responsibility for decisions and actions.

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following through on commitments.

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understanding consequences on decisions about issues such as drugs, smoking and sex.

 

At the end of the eighth grade as students are about to leave Nueva for high school, each is given a Socratic examination, an oral test in ‘Self Science’, such as “what are some healthy ways to deal with stress, anger and fear?”

 

There are no marks given in classes in emotional intelligence. “Life,” says Goleman, “is the final exam.”

 

And Nueva’s children are more responsible, assertive, popular, helpful, considerate, democratic, and more likely to succeed than if they had not been exposed to ‘Self Science’.

 

Ultimately, we adults are responsible for fashioning our children’s lives, even destinies. If they achieve their full potential and give back to our world, the celebration is ours. If they advance towards us with menace in their unseeing eyes, in mobs; if their future is narrowed to grim, dreary subterranean worlds of crime, ignorance and teenage pregnancies, the blame for moulding that monster, too, is ours.

 

Goleman’s book contains an appendix with a syllabus. You have it in your power to be an agent of change. I urge you to use it.

 

Yours truly,

 

Ira Mathur

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur