July 22, 2012

Aurora Is Not About Blame.

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

~ Aristotle

Everyone is shell-shocked over the tragedy in Colorado and now the blame and speculation is running rampant.

There have already been a few Christian hate-mongers who’ve claimed that atheism is to blame, which is especially odd when you consider that the gunman (I’d rather not use his name) was a practicing Christian. Then, others want to blame gun laws—as if this genius couldn’t have killed all these people by other means. On the flip side of that, some are claiming that we should all be packing because the fear of retaliation would have deterred the shooter. Still, others have proposed that stricter punishment and harsher jails are the best deterrent.

I think they are all missing the point entirely.

I’ve worked in and around schools my whole life and I have always specialized in “at-risk youth.” Even when I was a child myself, I tutored classmates who had been misunderstood and often cast aside by teachers. As a teacher and a parent, I’ve witnessed school personnel bullying and even encouraging bullying in order to pressure students to conform.

Since my earliest years, I’ve noticed that (most) everyone wants to feel love, acceptance and achievement. I also understand that we need direct instruction and guidance for the most important life skills we’ll ever use: social and emotional skills. Yet, they are never taught or recognized until after they’ve gone awry, and even then, it takes far too long for people to get help, much of which is ineffective. As with anything, it is best to be proactive rather than reactive.

We are a reactive, punishment-based society. That is not to say that punishment does not have a place in modifying behavior, but it is not effective as a primary source of learning. In fact, punishment in the absence of true learning and positive reinforcement does not lead to desired behaviors and often yields undesirable consequences. Again, I am not arguing against punishment, but I will attest to the fact that punishment should never be the primary focus of teaching. I remember participating in a workshop many years ago when the trainer asked an entire faculty of teachers to define discipline. Not one of us defined it as teaching, yet that is the first definition.

So, what should we be teaching?

Our country has moved toward an emphasis in math and science at the expense of arts and humanities. In my humble opinion, that is a huge mistake. Math and science could easily teach people how to kill, but only arts and humanities have a hope of teaching them why they shouldn’t. You cannot punish or coerce people to empathize; you can only persuade and inspire them.

Furthermore, we continue to push and reward those who excel above all others in academics and sports with little regard for the fact that relationships and empathy and love matter far more than competition.

There are a few things that I strongly believe we should do:

1. Give arts and humanities the importance that they deserve.

Even those who excel in science and math subjects need them desperately. We all do. They transcend barriers, teach empathy and value individuality while helping us understand that we are interdependent.

2. Individualize education.

We’re no longer prisoners to teaching in rows with chalk on a blackboard. People are individuals and they will learn and grow best when we teach them as such. We have technology that makes it possible; it’s time to use it.

3. Directly teach social and emotional skills.

Our children need direct training in the most important life skills they’ll ever use and frankly, many teachers and administrators need that training also.

4. Stop reacting and begin truly investing in our future.

We spend far more on reacting to our failed attempts at raising our youth than we do on actually raising them. Even if you’re not concerned with the ethical implications, perhaps you will understand that we’re just wasting far more resources by reacting.

I very strongly believe that the suggestions above would greatly help our society as a whole. We need them to raise a more peaceful, cooperative world. Whether anyone likes it or not, we are all in this together.

Last, but not least, we need to recognize that life is precious and our time with each other is precious. Tragedies are a part of our tenuous balance. I don’t think we should lock up our children or look high and low for blame. I think that we should be reminded to be thankful for our blessings, hug our loved ones, strengthen our communities and move forward proactively.

Forever hopeful,



Editor: Brianna Bemel


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