is an open letter to the Minister of Education, Hazel Manning.
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.
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.
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.
in schools, writes Goleman, is a failure on the part of adults to impart
emotional intelligence in our children.
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.”
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:
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
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
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
there are answers.
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:
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
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.”
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?”
are no marks given in classes in emotional intelligence. “Life,” says
Goleman, “is the final exam.”
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’.
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.
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.