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Julia Steiny: Do Not Succumb to Fear

Friday, December 21, 2012

 

The staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School had taken every reasonable precaution to protect the safety of their kids.

Still, a madman went on a murderous frenzy. The details are now only too familiar, with the media on its own rampage, striking terror in the public's hearts with excruciating images of 20 darling kids' faces. Six teachers and caretakers also died.

I can only remotely imagine how it would feel to have one of my own boys brutally, senselessly murdered. I would be raging, even verging on madness myself. My deepest sympathies go to the whole Newtown community.

However.

We need to bear in mind that no reasonable precaution will stop an insane person, armed to the teeth. Taking action on the impulse that cries "There outta be a law" will only pile on more bureaucracy. Litigious, fearful America is already suffocating under mountains of rules, regulations, laws, policies, and mind-numbing protocols. They don't work. Life can not be guaranteed. People die anyway.

Children die. Despite our best efforts to be fabulous parents and caretakers, children get cancer, have accidents, and commit suicide.

Statistically, the biggest threat to kids is putting them in cars.

Statistically, schools are still remarkably safe.

Mind you, I do not understand why military-grade assault weaponry should be anywhere but with the military.

And we certainly could do better with our mental health system, always a step-child of our health system.

But if fully 21 percent of our teenagers have a "severe" mental disorder, the problem can't lie with biology, but with how our communities and families are affecting kids' biology. We are not organized so kids can roam safely with pals, out in nature, or in fun neighborhoods where they learn about natural consequences. Super-protective parenting doesn't produce the resilient, confident, life-loving kids we want. Their mere survival is not enough. We are scaring them unreasonably.

Most parents I know feel it's too dangerous to let their kids walk to school, even in ritzy neighborhoods, even when kids are overweight, even though "stranger danger" is statistically negligible.

Fear of liability and injury has made playgrounds so boring, children resort to misusing the equipment to milk a little fun out of it, and end up in the ER with injuries anyway.

Many college freshmen go bonkers breaking out of their over-parented bubble, abusing substances and bombing out academically. They know nothing of managing risk.

Our fears are making terrible decisions about how we organize kids' lives.

So here's how to protect the kids as well as possible: Build your community.

Turn off that damn TV. Give fear-mongering a break. Invite the neighbors in to play board games, read out loud, cook together, or just talk. Get to know them. Get to know your kids better. Corral them into supporting a community project. Join a church, non-profit board, volunteer association. Sit on your front porch when children could or should be walking to school to reassure their parents of safe passage. Get out of your electronic cocoon. Invest in face time with other human beings.

And of course, take all reasonable precautions.

But even as we mourn with Sandy Hook's families, resist succumbing to fear. The kids want us to stick with our ideals of the land of the free and the brave. We need not dwell obsessively on the remote possibility of armed madmen.

Even though such insanity is all too heart-breakingly real to us today. 

Julia Steiny is a freelance columnist whose work also regularly appears at EducationNews.org. She is the founding director of the Youth Restoration Project, a restorative-practices initiative, currently building demonstration projects in Rhode Island. She consults for schools and government initiatives, including regular work for The Providence Plan for whom she analyzes data. For more detail, see juliasteiny.com or contact her at [email protected] or c/o GoLocalProv, 44 Weybosset Street, Providence, RI 02903.

 

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Comments:

What excellent points you bring out. Thank you.
As a Second Amendment supporter I appreciate the levelheadedness of your writing. Thank you for setting emotions aside and seeing the reality.

Comment #1 by Wuggly Ump on 2012 12 21

Well said. Especially the 5th paragraph that begins "We need to bear in mind..."

Thanks for the honest, non-politically correct and straightforward language.

Most refreshing.

Comment #2 by Art West on 2012 12 21

Unless you're a teacher in a school with high absenteeism, unruly students roaming the halls, threatening peers and teachers, students that even "restorative" practices can't change, then let's talk about not being afraid.

Comment #3 by barnaby morse on 2012 12 23

@ barnaby morse, Do you have any suggestions on making it better?

I do.
Kid's parents need to be involved if they're not or the kid is still a threat they need to be removed from a the classroom and sent to a detention center. Where a more military approach is taken. There will still be classes only on the basics, reading, writing, math and history. There will also be uniforms and labor. Their areas will be kept clean and they will help with maintenance of common areas.
They will have consequences to their actions. It will not be a pleasant place for those that misbehave, and only acceptable for those that do. No creature comforts. No snacks, video games or ipods. Computers will only be used for data storage, data used for the classroom, nothing online.
This may seem harsh to some, but hopefully it will keep good kids safe and help give the ones that need stricter direction a chance. I don't know if the bleeding hearts will go for it, but it may be worth the start of a discussion.

Comment #4 by Wuggly Ump on 2012 12 23

Wuggly Ump...you're on to something! However, your suggestion that students have consequences, etc., would not get very far since Ms. Steiny serves as a paid consultant to the CF school district in which she touts "restorative practices" so that many students are never held accountable for their actions.

Comment #5 by barnaby morse on 2012 12 24




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