The greatest tragedy in America is not the destruction of our natural resources, although that is great. The truly great tragedy is the destruction of our human resources by our failure to utilize our abilities, which means most men and women go to their graves with their music still in them.
The tragedy is compounded when those in leadership positions do not utilize their abilities to properly inspire those in our sphere of influence to become all that they are capable of becoming.
- Oliver Wendell HolmesThus begins the title page of the manual that about two-thirds of Durango High School teachers have been trained in this summer. Under the auspices of "social-emotional learning," the catchall phrase of educators attempting to do more than impart facts and equations and philosophies, we have come to realize the social-emotional piece of young peoples' development is sadly lacking.
And what is that piece? Being prepared. Being polite. Being prompt. Being productive. Being a participant. Having a positive mental attitude. Being ethical. Being truthful. Being responsible. Being respectful.
Sad, because teaching those qualities used to be the sole venue of families and communities. I truly believe most families give it a good try, but they're up against far too much outside input and influences. The amount of inane, anti-social and just plain trashy information - and misinformation - and images our kids are subjected to daily is, quite frankly, more destructive than an entire fleet of passenger planes piloted by terrorists. More, because there isn't one corner of our country that is immune to it. It's 100 percent pervasive.
Let me give you just one local example of what that exposure is leading to, despite our traditional definition of having had a "good upbringing." I've substituted behaviors and circumstances to protect identities, but the end result is real. The actual situation recently was related to me by a local business owner I've known and trusted for years.
Amber was, by all appearances, a highly successful DHS graduate. She'd been a class officer and active and accomplished in sports and activities. She'd received a scholarship to a prestigious college for her grades and athletic accomplishments, and was considered a role model while attending DHS. Her nuclear family was intact - biological parents, older brother, younger sister - and she was a regular churchgoer. She'd gotten a job at my friend's place of business before moving on to college, and while reviewing videotapes of one day's activities, he observed her pocketing money that should have gone in the till.
When finally confronted - "finally" because the owner couldn't believe what he was seeing based on the girl's reputation in school and the community, as well as his own experience with her, and had to wait to see it happen again - she was asked if she felt any guilt about her stealing.
She held her thumb and forefinger about an eighth-inch apart. "About that much," she said. About that much.
That's not a reflection of her upbringing; it's a manifestation of the world she and her peers saw and continue to see in movies, on TV, in music and on MySpace and other Internet machinations. Not to mention what she saw and still sees in real life. A U.S. congressman yelling "You lie!" to the president during his speech to a joint session of Congress. What an excellent lesson for our young people in respect and decorum. About that much.
The term "social-emotional" is unfortunate. It connotes some type of therapeutic, touchy-feely approach to education, when, in fact, it is nothing more than what most of us were raised to be: trustworthy, kind, responsible, caring, involved, respectful; aware of the difference between right and wrong, and able to admit to being both. I believe a better term for it would be "ethical education." That way, it wouldn't be so scary to those who hear "socialist" in "social" and "indoctrination" in "education."
There has been no decision made as to whether Durango High School will adopt and formalize a social-emotional learning approach; one third of the teachers remain to be trained before that can happen.
Because of the common sense of its application, however, many teachers are using it with - so far - positive and rewarding results.
The six "P's," which I noted at the beginning of this column - prepared, polite, positive mental attitude, participate, produce, prompt - circle the ubiquitous demon on the cover of the student handbook.
Is that a subliminal attempt to institute social-emotional learning on unsuspecting students and staff? No, it's because those six things are what we want our students to be and have.
And maybe if Amber had that consistently drilled into her by every teacher and staff member for four years, she would have hung her head and cried instead of cavalierly dismissing her actions.
Greg Loheit is coordinator of The Center, a program for at-risk children at Durango High School. Reach him firstname.lastname@example.org.