Their View | What we can do now to prevent violence through schooling

June 11, 2014 

Oregon School Shooting Vigil

A candlelight vigil was held at Walt Morey Middle School in Troutdale, Ore., on Tuesday for Emilio Hoffman, the victim of a shooting at Reynolds High School on the same day.

STEPHANIE YAO LONG — AP

Within every school — yes, within every middle and high school and higher education college and university in the United States — there is at least one student who is ready to act out in violence, most recently in Troutdale, Ore., Santa Barbara, Calif., and bucolic Murrysville.

What alternatives are available to Oregon, California and Pennsylvania school children, and school children everywhere, other than to accept the next tragic mass stabbing or shooting in one of their schools? Are they and school leaders’ helpless — perpetual victims of those who are angry or upset? What can young people, their parents and school leaders do to positively effect incidences of human violence in our 21st century society by improving the mental health and well-being of all of our citizens?

I think it is notable the lack of a comprehensive and broad-based approach adopted by education leaders, locally and nationally. It is almost as though if they do not talk about, it will go away — well, it will not.

Instead of schools being the victims of violence, they can be the source of teaching positive psychological well-being. We can institute newly researched best practices now with the commitment of concerned and compassionate and effective leaders. We can prevent incidences of violence by young people through our schools.

Lawmakers, gun and mental health advocates, and education and mental health leaders all agree that addressing gun and all types of violence should take a broad spectrum approach, in other words to take a larger, more inclusive and encompassing view of the central issues and problems.

School leaders generally do not want to arm their teachers and make schools a place devoid of caring and personal relationships so needed by children to learn and develop properly. It is encouraging that “as a result of the fiscal year 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, will provide expanded help to meet the mental health needs of individuals, families and communities across the nation,” and that, “project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) will provide training for teachers and other adults who regularly interact with students and provide mental health services to youth and their families.” It is time for all school leaders to act to participate in project AWARE and put a stop to the madness. Our children are suffering in silence with nowhere to turn for understanding who they are in a confusing and complex modern world.

New research published in the most comprehensive book to date on psychological and physical well-being statistics demonstrates that “over 75 percent of America’s children are not mentally or physically well.” At a time when educators are attempting to provide mental health best practices in support of the U.S. Departments of Education, Justice and Health and Human Services Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative, and teachers are searching for new methods to empower the socio-emotional well-being of their students, there are research-based practices that represent broad spectrum approach advocated by lawmakers, mental health practitioners, and education and health policy makers. Why the silence from education leaders on adopting these best practices?

The research is compelling and conclusive that poor self-knowledge is associated with a broad range of mental disorders and social problems, including depression, suicidal tendencies, eating disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, violence and identity disorders like that suffered by Arapahoe high school student Karl Pierson (who acted out in violence in December 2013).

We can help teachers and mental health practitioners focus on teaching self knowledge as both a violence prevention model and key to academic success. Self knowledge is the No. 1 protective factor for children’s mental health.

This timely research provides a comprehensive framework for affecting the psychological and physical well-being of children and adolescents through schooling. The breakthrough model of the self known as the “Integrated Self” or “iSelf” demonstrates how to affect the psychological, emotional and physical well-being of children through parenting, schooling, counseling and medical methods. We need to teach about the mind and the self to children to better prepare them for 21st century challenges. If all of the disaffected youth had been taught the iSelf model, he would be alive and well today, and we could have prevented this most recent tragedy.

Young, adolescent mass killers in Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Arapahoe, Murrysville, Santa Barbara, and now Oregon, were all taught in American schools, without learning a moral compass nor about what is healthy and positive psychological well-being. We can agree that all seven individuals acted out in violent behavior toward their fellow citizens and human beings, without the emotional regard characterized by healthy self-knowledge and psychological state of mind. Further, the violence is attributed to the lack of a healthy identity, a self-concept that includes such positive psychology attributes as: purpose in life, contributing to the greater good, and constructing a reality based upon empathy and emotions.

Teaching self-knowledge as a part of a broad spectrum approach to prevent future acts of violence is possible now. I challenge the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, and Education, and local Portland communities to take immediate action and focus upon teaching self-knowledge that leads to positive mental and physical health outcomes. Let us all join together to prevent further incidences of man’s inhumanity to man.

I know that we can do better, and should do more to honor the goodness within all of us.

Henry G. Brzycki is a positive psychology and education expert and president of The Brzycki Group, a human development and learning organization. Contact him at Henry@Brzyckigroup.com.

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