The children are watching!

Marius the giraffeI was so disheartened to learn of the Copenhagen Zoo’s decision to kill and dismember a young giraffe that I could barely read about it. It was difficult to think about it, much less write about it. Then, I found myself thinking about the lessons we could learn from this unfortunate incident.

My understanding is that zoo officials declared that this young giraffe had no place in their very specific breeding program and was taking up a valuable space. Even though other zoos had offered to adopt him, the decision was made to kill him and feed his body to the zoo’s lions….in front of a crowd of onlookers that included children.

What did these children learn? While they may have learned a thing or two about the zoo and its breeding program as zoo officials have stated, it is likely that they took away some undesirable lessons as well. They learned that when someone does not fit, or is unwanted (deemed so subjectively, by other individuals), it is acceptable to rid the world of his presence. They learned that the murder could be acceptably made into a public spectacle. They learned that the body could then be desecrated, in the public eye. We are told that viewing was optional, and children were allowed by the choice of their parents. Have any of those children been traumatized by what they witnessed? How will those parents process this with them? If they chose to allow their children to see this, one might speculate that their views lean toward acceptance of this type of event.

Have we forgotten that children are the ones who will either perpetuate or challenge the status quo? Are we serious when we say we want a less violent society for them to inherit. What are we doing to ensure that?

“Seems like every other day, lately…..”

preventing school violenceLately, I’ve heard people talking about the stream of shootings on college campuses and in public places. Yes, it does seem like it happens frequently. Or, are we just becoming more aware of it? Probably, a little of both.

When I think about this, I feel outraged, saddened and sometimes helpless. Then, I remember what my work is all about. I know that there are some things we can control and some we can’t. When it comes to preventing school violence, we can control at least three things:

  1. We can create an environment that is welcoming and supportive to all who spend time in it. This means taking an honest and difficult look at the realities of our school climate, from the perspective of the students.
  2. We can learn about the warning signs of violence, suicide and other destructive behaviors and make sure our entire staff knows them.
  3. We can develop a process for identifying and assessing students, staff, parents and visitors that exhibit behaviors of concern, and follow up with intervention.

Of course, we’ll never be able to control or stop everything that the complexities of human behavior will bring our way. But we can ensure a safer environment for everyone in our schools by getting these three things right.