Guest Blog – “Every day is worth living”

I had the amazing fortune to receive this from Christopher Burgess this morning.  Not only am I very lucky to have this piece from him to share with you, I would also like to make this the "unofficial" announcement that he has joined SocialSmarts' Board of Advisors.  This is compelling and I encourage you to read and share with anyone who is concerned with the lives of our children.

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Do you ever delve into a stack of statistics and just find yourself mesmerized by the data, data that shocks your inner core?  I had that happen to me recently as I was doing some fact checking surrounding instances of children committing suicide, specifically children who were bullied into suicide by others (both adults and children).  I concluded, we lose too many precious children to “bullyicide.”

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) a person dies of suicide about every 15 minutes or approximately 96 people take their own life each day.  Sadly, for every person who succeeds, there have been between 8 and 25 failed attempts.  That math works out to approximately 800 to 2400 attempted suicides in the United States each day. 

Looking solely at the numbers for youth between the ages of 5 and 19 we see that right around age 10, suicide moves up to the third leading cause of death (See table 1).  Sadly, according to the NSPL, the suicide rate amongst young people has more than doubled over the past two decades.

   Rank       Ages 5-9     Ages 10-14       Ages 15-19
1 Unintentional Injury
1,072
Unintentional Injury
1,343
Unintentional Injury
6,616
2 Malignant Neoplasms
485
Malignant Neoplasms
515
Homicide
2,076
3 Congenital Anomalies
196
Suicide
270
Suicide
1,613
4 Homicide
121
Homicide
220
Malignant Neoplasms
731
5 Heart Disease
106
Congenital Anomalies
200
Heart Disease
389

Table 1: Leading Cause of Death of Children

Digging a bit deeper into the available information, I wanted to know where, geographically, suicides were occurring.  I was startled.  No state is exempt.  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, based on 2007 data (the most recent), the top ten states are:   Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, West Virginia, Arizona, Oregon and Kentucky based on the number of suicides per 100,000 of population.   (See table two) (more…)

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What are our kids (not) learning?

This post is long overdue.  I promised on July 4th, I'd write it the very next day.

Funny how real life has a way of messing with our plans, huh?

So, another "Independence Day" has come and gone; another year in our country's lifespan.  I had a very eye-opening personal experience that to me shows we are getting farther and farther from what our country was founded for in the first place.

During 4th of July dinner, when we were playing Sousa marches in the backyard, pursuing the American pasttime of searing flesh over hot coals, and listening to the far (and not so far) off booms of the M-80's exploding around the neighborhood, we got into a discussion with the kids about the true meaning of this national holiday.

Middle daughter, who has just finished 5th grade, at the top of her class AND in an advanced program has gained THIS understanding of Independence Day (I paraphrase, but you'll get the idea):

  • The 4th of July is when America was born.  It's when all 50 states and all 13 colonies were finally "together."  She went further to explain that this was symbolized by our flag which finally had our 50 states and 13 colonies all repsented on it.
  • Next I asked her about the Declaration of Independence.  Well, she'd heard of it. They talked about it in class.  "We learned it was important. It declared our freedom."  I asked her about freedom from WHOM and she told me, well, they never "got to" that in class.

Is this troubling anyone else?  I had a chat with a dear friend of mine the year that eldest daughter was going into 5th grade because I had concerns about what my kids were learning -- or not -- in school.  This former Assistant Superintendent assured me that 5th grade was when the kids would really start learning the important things about our country.  I had fond memories of my own 5th grade, where we did reports on each of the Presidents of the United States, did our states' reports and studies, and generally learned the basics about civics such as the three branches of our nation's government.

Apparently our kids today don't get that -- or at least -- not yet?  They have studied the lifecycles of slugs and isopods (fancy word for "sowbug").  They did 5 weeks on ancient civilizations and played a fantasy game with it (my daughter's group were the Mesopotamians). They've studied Native American tripes several years in a row...but what have they learned about the United States, how we came to be, why -- not much.  Oh, but they were shown a video that explains the "facts" of Global Warming -- Al Gor's "An Inconvenient Truth" no less!  I guess since he was Vice President that helps them relate to our government and our country's leaders, right?

I'm not trying to knock "other knowledge" because I'm sure they are learning things that are both valuable and interesting. But, I'm not sure how slugs and isopods will help my kids be better citizens, learn to judge why they live in this country, what's important about it, and how our government, laws and legislation work. Maybe they'll say about that: "Well, we knew it was important but we didn't 'get to' what was important about it." There is key learning here that just isn't happening. 

Sad commentary for our great nation on its 233rd birthday. That too many of its young people don't get a chance to know you, America, why people fought and died -- and continue to do so -- because they still believe what our Founding Fathers believed. The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave.

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“6 Ways to Kill Piper” — What’s wrong with our children?

Returning from a recent trip, I was waiting on a connecting flight in Chicago when I happened to see the story on CNN about elementary school kids who had created a video cartoon depicting a variety of ways to kill their classmate, Piper.

What caught my attention even more is that this occurred virtually in my own backyard -- Spanaway, WA. 

Originally, the story had been reported on last week by Seattle NBC affiliate King5 TV.  Now, it was headline news in many forms of media.The incident involves 11- and 12-year olds attending school at Elk Plains Choice School who created this "masterpiece" depicting their top six ways to kill a fellow student, and then posted it on YouTube for the world to see.

This story is tragic on so many different levels.  Not only is it terrible that these kids concocted this graphic cartoon and posted it on the Internet for anyone to see, but the bigger issue is that these kids would come up with such a thing in the first place.  Eleven- and twelve-year olds should simply not be thinking this way, much less acting on their thoughts in such a manner.  School-based violence and harassment is continually increasing and happening at younger ages. Clearly, something is seriously lacking in these children’s social skills, values and character development that is not only tragic now, but will likely only escalate if it remains unchecked. 

And, while we may argue that schools shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of providing social skills education, the reality is that too many of our kids are entering the school systems without these critical lifeskills and positive character foundations. And every facet of the education system – from students, to teachers and staff, the learning environment and achievement, and more – is negatively impacted.

What has happened to our children and to the so-called "innocence of youth?" Today, in response to another media inquiry, I compiled a list of recent incidents of school-based violence.  It's not an exhaustive list, by any means, but does highlight notable events in the past 2 1/2 years or so. They include the infamous Florida Cheerleader Smackdown, beatings of teachers in various forms, plots by students to torture and kill their classmates, and even an event in which the "ringleader" posted his admiration of the Columbine shooters on his MySpace page.

I ended the document with a catalog of school shootings since Columbine, and one of the things that stood out is that the youngest offender was only 6 years old.

It's clear that the managing and mitigating programs we are spending so much money on every year in schools across this country aren't helping in proportion to the financial investment and that of other resources dedicated to the problem.  Our schools are too often battle zones; our children are at risk.

Not every school is this way, mind you, but if you look at the cross section of geographic locations, ages of the perpetrators, circumstances of the incidents and what drove them to do it, you'll see that ANY school in any town has the potential for this kind of tragedy.

When the gut-level reaction of schools considering programs that work on pro-social skills and character development is "we can't afford it," we have to INSIST that it's no longer a matter of "nice to have."  The reality is, we can't afford NOT to do this because lives -- our children's lives -- are literally at stake.

As a result, I contacted the principal of the school and copied the Superintendent of Bethel School District offering to donate SocialSmarts for the 2009-2010 school year. We'll see if they take me up on the offer. It's an opportunity not only to turn around the significant negative publicity the school and district must be receiving, but also gives them a chance to make a positive and lasting difference for all their students, staff and families.

What is it going to take before we finally say "enough" and make a concerted effort to stem the tide of kids gone wild, and dangerous, damaging behavior in our classrooms, on the playground,  in our neighborhoods?  I can't think of a better investment for our taxpayer dollars.

I'd welcome your comments and observations.

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