A cry for help, by Joe Gauld

By Reade Brower | Jul 12, 2018

This week I cede my column to Joe Gauld, founder of Hyde School in Bath and a career educator, leader and innovator for more than six decades. Joe follows up my recent column on suicide with a more in-depth and thoughtful look.

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The 25 percent increase in suicides since 1999 should be a wakeup call for our nation. Clinical depression and other health problems overwhelm some of us, but that does not explain this tragic increase.

Consider:

The present opioid crisis. Heroin combined with prescription painkillers created the crisis, which is killing more Americans in a single year than were killed in all the Vietnam War years. American cocaine and heroin use has put drug lords in virtual control of many South American countries.

Gun violence. Yearly deaths from guns in the Unite States are 56 times greater than in England, 32 times greater than in Germany and 96 times greater than in Japan.

Other troubling signs. Every day we learn of tragic domestic disputes, road rage, local terrorism, school shootings, political discord, outright hate, rich-poor inequality, homelessness.

The Conference Board, a nonprofit research group that has traced American job satisfaction since 1987, found that it slipped from 61.2 percent to 43 percent over three decades.

Then, when I think how a quarter of our young people are experiencing anxiety and a “failure to launch,” my mind remembers this:

In World War II, the British Admiralty became concerned that their young sailors lacked the will to survive when torpedoed. They sought the help of Kurt Hahn of Gordonstoun fame, where Princes Phillip and Charles were educated. The personal challenge program we know today as Outward Bound was born.

We should learn from their example. Our educational system is devoted to  academic preparation of youth; all else is optional. No matter how good this system is, it will at best give its students “success” in life, but it will not give the vast majority fulfillment.

Except for those who are gifted academically, all other students struggle. Young people may appreciate hard work put into school to gain success in life, but they also know success — as it is measured by American capitalism and materialism — does not guarantee fulfillment — as we see from the job survey.

Fulfillment comes not from what you gain on the outside, but from the expressions of your own potential or character.

Are young Americans in the process of seeking fulfillment? If so, why so much anxiety? Why are altered states from drugs, including pot, so popular?

The problem is rooted in an educational system that doesn’t address our youth as individuals, or help them realize their unique potentials and character — the true source of deeper fulfillment and meaning.

Children are born with a unique potential and an inner guidance system to help them develop it. If we recognized this and took it seriously, we could develop a partnership with them, gaining both trust and motivation. I have experienced high school seniors sharing their childhood dreams, revealing a spirit that would vitalize any educational setting.

Education today has many flaws; a huge one is its primary reliance on competition to motivate students. It is in our DNA to rely upon each other — it’s why our human species survived while others didn’t. Competition can bring out the worst instincts in kids — like bullying and cliques — making them and others feel worse about themselves.

However, if education would establish a process where students are responsible for each other, they would not only find their better selves, they would learn and practice maturity and leadership.

The importance of this individual approach to education is that it gives each student the vital support he/she needs. It has been my experience that kids generally need to face an adolescent challenge in order to develop the deeper confidence to deal with life.

Americans who experienced this competitive/achievement system of education form the values of our society. However, these values do not reflect the deeper values of our families.

We need the courage and concern to devote education to the unique potential and character of children, which will best serve their preparation for a meaningful and fulfilling life.

It will strongly motivate students. It returns leadership to parents and family. It will inspire teachers as mentors — why they entered the profession.

If this sounds too idealistic, let me suggest that American education has wallowed in the above problems, ignoring a new frontier that will inspire and energize latent student, teacher and parent potentials.

How much more pain is needed before we decide it’s time for real change?

“I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen, heard, understood, and touched by them. The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand, and touch another person.”

--- Virginia Satir, psychotherapist and author (1916-1988)

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