Recently the faculty at the school where I teach has had a couple of meetings about teen suicide. Within the past year, our school had lost a couple of its teen members due to suicide. This prompted me to ask a neighboring teacher if he remembered a prominence of teen suicides at this particular school. He told me that there were a long string of years in the past when there was at least one suicide at the school each year. To follow this up, our principal decided to look deeper in to the problem. He initiated a plan to survey our current students. From the findings that the guidance department shared, it was concluded that over 50% of the students at our school had at least had suicidal thoughts. When they were surveyed as to why, many of issues presented were academic in nature like homework load and testing and standardized testing. Of course, in both meetings the staff was instructed to keep an eye out for changes in students and the number to suicide prevention. In one of the meetings, the presenting psychologist, specialized in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, suggested a few behavior management suggestions. In the second meeting, it was suggested that we as educators reduce homework and apply a schedule where students minimize the number of tests in a day.I applaud the efforts but I don’t believe these will result in much change in the situation.
So what else can we do as a staff? On the small scale, I believe some Jungian and Humanistic approaches could help. On the Humanistic side, I feel that our biggest job as high school educators are to produce better people and citizens of the communities in which they will live. That is, we need to produce better personal growth as human beings. On the Jungian side, we need to respect the Inner Self of each student, as well as the Inner Self of each employee of the school system. Also, it seems as if other approaches of psychology seem to focus on repairing things after they are broken. My experience of Jungian psychology is that repair is part of the equation but so is directing ourselves to a place where we can recognize when things are slipping into old patterns. That is, being more conscious of what we are doing, whether good or bad. For me, the best tool for this transformation is Active Imagination. It is a powerful tool but not really my emphasis for this particular blog.
This particular blog is about the harmful cultures at any high school. Not only that but the lack of a bridge between these cultures. At this point, you mind may be searching for the cultures I am speaking of. Well, let me get to it; There are three dominant cultures at every high school I have worked and attended; The parents, the students and the teachers. All three are sure they have the correct perspective. All three believe they have the background that make them qualified to make the right decision. The parents believe that they know best for their kids. They believe that they need to push their kids to work hard, get good grades and do all the things that will get their kids into the best school possible. The teachers believe that their class is the key to that quality education that will get those kids into the best schools and will help the student to be prepared to excel at that good school. If the students and parents would just listen to the teacher, then the student will get that great school that it deserves. Then there is the students. On the outside, they just don’t want to be there. They are tired of being told what to do. They are tired of the boring classes that they see will never be used in the Life after school. However, on the inside, they just want everyone to be happy with them so they will leave them alone and they get on with their lives of being young and free.
In the end, all of these groups have their rights to feel this way and they are right. However, all three groups, in my opinion, are a little too rigid. A good college is optimum. Yes, educators usually know the path to that great test score and skills that will be needed at the next level. And, yes, kids should be allowed to be kids. So how do we do this? I think the first thing we need to do is relax and be flexible. The kids are not lazy if they don’t do things that we did. The kids are just not getting what they need. It is our job to know the kids to the level that we understand what their wants and needs are. When we learn this, we can adjust our programs to help the kids find what they want to do. I believe that parents and educators may project too much. We know the way we learned and got our education so we think it is the best way. And when the student doesn’t act the way we did, we think that they are lazy and/or rebelling. They are just growing in their own way. When I was in high school, I loved math and band but hated going to all those other classes. I was proud that I gave little effort and still was able to mange a 2.3 GPA. Fast forward to 40 years later. I am on the verge of earning a PhD in psychology and I never took a SAT or a GRE. I have been successful despite not having done those things. I was called lazy and unmotivated. When my parents offered me cash for Honor Roll, I achieved it. When they didn’t, I didn’t care. Do I want my students to follow my path? Absolutely not! Do I understand when they do? I really think I do. When I see that, I usually look at what I am doing to destroy their love of learning. In the end, I want them to find their destiny and their love of learning. When we do that, I believe the threat of suicide is greatly decreased.