Saturday, June 02, 2018

Creating Community at School by Antonio SolisGomez Copyright 2018

In 1975, I attended a graduate program in Library Science at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I was one of fifteen students selected to participate in a one year program designed to train Spanish speaking librarians. We were offered a small stipend, in my case $350 per month to support my wife and me and our two children. It was inadequate even then, when median household income was $8,600. We students quickly realized that we had to band together to survive and we began sharing meals and some of the unmarried students shared apartments. We also learned that we had to support one another academically and we instituted group study sessions, sharing class notes and research and we organized to assure that everyone got up in time to attend class.

Our presence within the larger library school population was more than unusual it was revolutionary, because everyone else was in competition for grades, for internships, for letters of recommendation and for other perks. We in turn were a community, feeling strongly that the failure of one was the failure of all. However notwithstanding the fact that a few regular library school students joined us, we were a separate, exclusive group.

In the larger world such groups had always been around, for they were characteristic of the age, of an energy that has supported separation into the us and the thems. Whereas the formation of groups seems innocent and inevitable, the negative attributes that have accrued such as intolerance, prejudice, bias, hatred, and violence have been the basis for wars, genocide, unjustifiable poverty, malnutrition and short life expectancy. But that is all behind us.

Painting by Miguel Moreno

In 2012, as predicted by the Mayans via their calendar, humanity birthed a new age of unity, tolerance, peace, and heart based decision making. Across our world we are being provided glimpses of the changes ahead i.e. the cessation of the oppression of women and concomitant opportunities for women to participate as equals in every endeavor; transparency in government and in the marketplace; diplomacy as a solution in lieu of armed conflict; the economic and social development of the underdeveloped regions of the world; the acceptance of differences in sexual orientation; and the raised awareness regarding the need to honor and protect our Planet Earth.

Although the news media carries countless stories that seem to belie the emergence of this new age, what we are witnessing are the last throes of those wanting to hold onto their privileges that are slowly slipping away but it is as if they are trying to prevent the ocean tide from returning to the water.

This new age has also ushered in new responsibilities that would never have been possible under the old energy based society of separation, exclusivity, intolerance and violence. One outstanding example are the student survivors from the mass killings at their high school in Parkland Florida, stepping into roles unseeming for young people as they began advocating at a national level for some restrictions on the types of weapons available for purchase.

But as important as gun control is in the context of mass shootings, there remains the larger problem of the conditions that have led to the creation of individuals that have been compelled to take such horrible and drastic action as shooting and killing fellow students and teachers.
Although the home environment is important, it is the school environment that is key and improving conditions there, can mitigate a home life that is unbearable for a young person.

Elimination of those negative conditions in schools entails creating a school culture that would be supportive of every student academically, emotionally, socially and when deemed necessary, economically, so no student would ever feel isolated, unworthy, unattractive, socially inept, ostracized, lonely or unwanted. And who is to create such a utopian school community?

In the world prior to this new age, such a question would never have been posed much less a solution actually offered and attempted. But given the example of student leadership, manifesting out of the Parkland Florida shooting, across the country, allows the possibility of students assuming the concomitant responsibility of creating and maintaining a school culture that exemplifies unity, tolerance, non-violence and love, whereby all students regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, degree of attractiveness, home life, racial and or ethnic makeup, religious views, dress style or skin color can be integrated into the academic community.

Furthermore this huge responsibility can only be undertaken successfully if each and every student becomes committed to creating a culture where every student feels welcomed and accepted. It will never be accomplished if only the administrators want to create it, nor will it become a reality if only the student council or charismatic student leaders want it. They are needed, but it is the entire student body that holds the promise for success.

Heretofore anti-bullying campaigns have been implemented at many schools and even the President’s wife has made such a campaign one of her goals as First Lady. But what is being suggested is a larger, more comprehensive approach for it is not just young people who have been bullied that have acted out in such a danger fashion. There have also been individuals who have felt isolated, alone, angry, unappreciated and cast out of the everyday school life.

And how does a student body begin creating a community at school, how does it begin to mitigate the divisions that have traditionally surfaced and excluded some of its members. It has to begin by students becoming aware that violence at schools is only partially the result of the easy availability of guns. The majority of that responsibility lies in school environment and of course in the home.

The next step is for a student body to believe that it has the power to change the circumstances in their school that helps an individual fester dangerous and deadly thoughts toward their fellow students and teachers. The next step would be individual acts of inclusion, of tolerance, of charity, of compassion, of acceptance, and of unity that come from the heart for when such acts emerge from the heart it will prevent obtrusion and unwanted solicitous behavior.

Many young people are now ready for such a large responsibility and more will be born shortly into this new world to help create such a school community. It will take time for a total change to come about but it is inevitable.

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