Thursday, October 27, 2011

The "Peters" in Our Classrooms

Attending a program for leaders in nursing, a religious sister, president of the Catholic Nurses Association, reflects on the words of a middle school teacher who was present, and whose words made a lasting impression on her.

The teacher mentioned the difficulty of keeping order in the classrooms; students show no interest in learning and reprimands are as useless as is punishment. "There are now in our classrooms," he went on to say, "many students who are like the protagonist Peter in the novel 19 Minutes. The Peter in my classroom, after continual bullying by his classmates, stabbed one of them with a mechanical pencil, making him cry. He never considered what he was doing to Peter, but during lunch break threw a chair at Peter and beat him."

(19 Minutes is an American novel that recounts the events leading up to a high school shooting and its aftermath. The killer is one of the students with the name Peter. The novel shows his deepening alienation from his family, his neighborhood, and his classmates because of the bullying, until his feeling of being an outsider causes him to snap and he begins his killing rampage.)

The sister recalls a newspaper story about high school students who, without being provoked, routinely interact by using abusive language, a practice also common among students in grammar and middle school. She  tells us about a father's violence and abusive  language that caused a mother to come to her for advice; her child had stopped speaking and his behavior was becoming belligerent. The sister also mentioned that her own niece, when in grammar school, had dreamed of being a singer but now in middle school has lost that dream. She hears this often. Who is at fault? she asks. Who should take responsibility? Will anyone acknowledge the anger in our children, help them to clean up their speech, heal their wounds, sooth their crying, and give them something to dream about?

It all begins in the family, she emphasizes. That is where character is formed.  What they receive from the family will determine their future. Just because the family next door is sending their child for extra studies does not mean that is necessary for their child. Many times it's not the child who is being considered when these decisions are being made, but the desires of the parents, whose desires have become more important than the desires of the child.

Parents and teachers should work together, she believes, teaching the student what is proper and improper action. It's not punishment but the 'rod of love' that is needed. Fear, insecurity and violence, as well as the abusive language directed at the Peters of the world can be eliminated or reduced if parents, teachers and other adults showed our youngsters more understanding, respect and love. She ends her column by reminding us that Jesus hugged the children and put his hand on their heads and blessed them.

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