By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant / belizeguidance.blogspot.com
As we approach the end of 2013 I would like to thank readers of belizeguidance.blogspot.com and my Guidance Counselor column for their loyalty and participation/comments, or sharing my articles. I am thrilled to note that, this year, readers from Belize as well as 32 other countries in six continents read my blog and Guidance Counselor articles; many readers, including Belizeans, expressed their concerns (via blog, email, and various media outlets) regarding Education in Belize as well as in other countries. Despite the fact that the Belize Education System classifies me as a “retired” educator, I still look forward to tackling and discussing many more challenging topics on Education, including some that many powerful people would prefer not to discuss publicly.
This year, I grew another year older and wiser as a parent and “retired” educator; however, I remain very concerned about the direction(s) in which youth throughout the world today seem headed. Interestingly enough, my parents before me and their parents before them probably thought likewise. However, this year and several times since 1999 (Columbine) in the USA there have been violent mass shootings and suicidal massacres in Elementary and Secondary schools by students of all ages. Moreover, each year now, in an effort to create bully-free schools throughout the world, the entire month of October is devoted to trying to counter and diminish bullying in schools, and foster a greater awareness of this violent and hostile problem. Considering these psychologically and physically damaging and all too familiar occurrences in schools today, as we end this year I directly pose more pressing questions to all readers, especially parents and educators throughout the world,
1. Do young people today know what it is (or how) to empathize with others?
2. Have we taught our young people, past or present, the great value of experiencing empathy?
3. Is it really their fault if they (youth) choose to stay on a very indifferent or self-centered road, as so many of them now seem fully entrenched on?
4. Unlike robots, can students “learn” values without experiencing empathy?
5. In this highly-advanced and rapidly-advancing Technological Age, are we adequately preparing our youth to live in a world of tomorrow, where many of us adults today will not exist?
A “no” answer to any one of the above questions signifies that already our young people are in big trouble, and are fully headed for even worse!
Many hostile and dehumanizing criminal events often disrupt daily life in Belize today. They not only keep increasing an already high level of poverty and crime in our society, but very negatively affect our once world-renown peaceful way of living. Worse even, they are causing our youth to feel less and less human, and become more and more violent and indifferent toward each other. Yet, political leaders, Education policymakers, and the overall public in Belize seem to stubbornly and adamantly prefer to think that the problems caused by and/or among our youth today will probably or eventually “blow over like a lee sea breeze”. Well, no matter how often that very convenient Belizean phrase may be used by those who are “in charge”, current problems, especially in schools, will not just blow over.
Today, many people in our global society feel no empathy (not sympathy) whatsoever for others. As a result, the rich keep getting richer and the poor even poorer, and this vast polarization keeps getting wider. The new Pope, leader of the Catholic Church, considers this concern a top priority and constantly reminds everyone of the urgent need to address this situation. Unfortunately, many rich and/or poor parents today do not have the time to teach or show (by example) our children how to cope with conflicts -- internal or external. It also seems that both the busy professional/career parents and the extremely poor ones who are always away from the home now expect schools alone to teach values, including empathy! But, should schools bear that responsibility?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines em-pa-thy as, “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feeling”. The full definition provided includes, “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”. In simpler terms, we empathize with others when we try to identify with them and make an effort to understand their circumstances and behavior(s), especially if they are different from ours. Teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, social workers, politicians, and all those who work directly with the public (all ages) must make an effort to have/experience empathy for the people with whom they deal every day. Those who administer Human Resources in corporations, unions, or any institution are required to be professionally trained and qualified to empathize with employers and employees. English teachers explain to students who must study great works of literature (plays, novels, short stories, poems, etc.) that the way to appreciate them is by trying to empathize or live through the characters that each author portrays, whether they be rich or poor, good or evil. The opposite of empathy is indifference, or “I could care less about you”.
Before our modern and global Age of Technology, “parenting seminars” or “motivational speakers and coaches” were rare, yet today they are needed more and more. Society used to hold Elementary schools responsible only for teaching students the 3 R’s or basic Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be the only responsibility of schools today. More and more, social and emotional learning, SEL curricula, are being introduced in schools in developed countries like the USA. Just as we learned to use (and copy, i.e. CXC) the British system of Ordinary and Advanced (O and A) Level examinations, I am sure that we could learn to work more positively and productively with young students in Belize today by studying how schools in other countries implement SEL curricula. One such school in the USA (Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility) stresses the 4 R’s with students: Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution. Without a doubt, these type schools advertise new job descriptions and preparation/qualification requirements for teachers. In the peaceful and compassionate spirit of Christmas, I encourage policymakers of our Belize Education System to adapt similar SEL curricula to help provide young students with much-needed coping, communication, and resilience skills that so many of them just are not getting at home anymore. In another article I will provide detailed examples of SEL curricula.
Once more, thank you readers for your loyalty this year and for your participation and comments, going back to when I first loudly urged everyone in Belize to, Wake Up And Smell the Coffee.
These articles are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. If we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, then we can learn from our mistakes as well as success. Way to go, fellow educators!