The first crime committed in the Sandusky 2002 child rape scandal was not five adults failing to do the right thing – after the fact.

It was 28-year-old Mike McQueary walking away after witnessing the 58-year-old former coach raping a 10-year-old boy in the Penn State football shower room.

Imagine what lesson was emblazoned on the boy that day.

This story first focused on Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old coach ousted after a storied career. But the story and crime truly begins when former graduate assistant McQueary did nothing to stop the rape of a child in progress.

The criminal indictment of Sandusky says a shaken McQueary first asked his father for advice and then slept on it. It wasn’t until the next day that McQueary told Paterno what he saw. Paterno then told his bosses. Yet no one ever called the police.

And it was 10 days before Penn State officials talked to McQueary and then longer before officials finally banned Sandusky from bringing children onto campus. That ban sent the message that Sandusky’s crimes could continue off campus – as long as they were out of sight and out of mind of Penn State football.

While all the skirting, ducking and pushing under the carpet was going on, a 3rd or 4th grade boy, who had been knowingly raped, was left unprotected. It is sadly obvious that Penn State was acting much the same way the Catholic Church responded when charges of child sexual abuse by priests surfaced.

Penn State continues to care more about the enterprise of football than the atrocities of child rape that allegedly occurred on their campus. Should they have canceled last weekend’s Nebraska game as a statement of solidarity to get this right once and for all, to send the message to fanatical students that child protection is far more important than worshipping football?

But they did not cancel the game. One child, eight children, a hundred children, it doesn’t matter, the game goes on. Is this the same ethical mistake they made in 2002 when State officials chose to lamely ban Sandusky from bringing children onto campus instead of calling police. Once again, they focused on the game, the machinery of making money and pushed the “problem away,” out of sight, out of mind, a clear statement of their priorities.

The boy, now 19, lesson, then and now is the same, that his suffering doesn’t matter, that powerful men get away with crimes, that nothing is more important than money and football, in this case.

When McQueary walked away, he made it clear to the boy who saw him that he was unworthy of the former quarterback’s protection, that he was invisible and forgettable. When Penn State students rioted and pushed over a TV van because they were upset their beloved hero was ousted, the message was clear: “We don’t care about the suffering of children when stacked up against our scared football habit.’’

In the end, the boy is left alone. He has no option but to get up each morning, go to school and probably continue to deal with Sandusky preying on him. And maybe, the boy thought, it was all his fault. Maybe he should have called out, cried “help!” Maybe then the big man with red hair would have done something.


A Turtle’s Shell

He was smart, maybe too smart for his own good. He was a listener from a very young age and he thought he understood. He listened because he thought he should, because the tension was there in front of him, being served up daily like his morning cereal. He never thought to go to another room, to hide his self from his parents’ unhappiness. Instead he listened and felt like he was pulling a wagon people were shoveling dirt into, making it impossible to move in any direction.

The problem was probably his intelligence combined with enormous feeling. It would have been easier if he didn’t think so much about why his parents were unhappy or why kids were mean at school or why adults were careless with him and how no one did anything when it was obvious something needed doing.

At first he tried to help his parents see that fighting made them unhappy, and his teachers see that that children were being excluded at recess and not just him. But they nodded dismissively and said, “don’t worry, we’ll handle it,” and they never did.

Instead of getting lost in video games, he worried about why adults weren’t better at being adults. And if adults couldn’t do something, who could, because there was no one else besides kids and adults, he thought. I suppose he might say, if he could articulate his feelings without adult prompting, he felt unsafe, which made him weary, which made him not trust, but no one asked him how he felt and he certainly didn’t think to tell anyone anyway.

At school, he knew he was on his own. Homework was easy and always would be. The real problem was he didn’t have friends. There was no one to play with during recess. The other boys controlled the football and threw to the kids they liked. Every time the ball didn’t come his way, he felt a pain in his head, like they were hitting him even though they weren’t. He looked at the adults looking like everything was fine and instead of asking for help, he told them he felt sick and they sent him to the nurses office.

His strong thinking and feeling moved unobserved through the grades and by 6th grade, a hard crust replaced his once soft malleability; his hard understanding of how the world worked made permanent grooves in his pliant brain.

By 10, his thinking made so much sense; he started to grow a turtle’s shell, a shell strong enough to last his lifetime.

Tidal Change

I’m playing with the title of my blog. Just as I grow and evolve, so does this blog. I began it almost two years ago and what I know now is that social emotional learning is for all people, all ages, in all settings. And that’s interesting to me. And maybe social emotional learning should have a different name, living a life, a life of learning or no name at all, no neat packaging.

I want this blog to embody the creativity and freedom of growing and learning in a world that can feel constrictive, over-defined and destination bound. We never stop creating ourselves through experience, thought and feeling and our relationship with our world and the people in our lives. I want to write about that.

So I’m reactivating this blog and like me, you will see changes, a new morphing look, a movable title, writing that will include all sorts of themes and subjects. But mostly, it will be honest, curious, and creative. The ingredients, I think, to living a good life.

Thank you for being loyal readers and supporters as I continue to explore what I believe are important themes in this life we live together.

Our children are called to order by the insistent bells of Education. Each morning we watch them go and hope. We hope they are engaged and motivated, that their teachers are invested and caring, that they don’t become involved with the “wrong” crowd. We hope apathy and disconnection don’t creep in. We hope we don’t lose them.

We hope because what else can we do.

What we know of our child’s school life comes from dry report cards, the briefest of parent/teacher conferences and grades and test scores continuously charting academic standing. All false indicators of well-being. But what we really know is that school is filled with as much risk as luck and a good education is not guaranteed anywhere.

There is something wrong, something missing, in schools today. Parents know it. Teachers know it. Obama knows it. But most significantly, our children know it.

School is a full-time, no-option-to-leave job that lasts 12 years – at least. Still, up to one-third of disgruntled students end up dropping out to solve the problem of non-workable school (and life) conditions. As adults, working for any length of time in a job that does not validate or feed you intellectually, emotionally or socially would be misery – the kind of job too many Americans suffer through because of their own school experiences.

When rethinking our present day educational system, let’s once and for all integrate the social and emotional aspects of learning alongside the cognitive work of development. Developmental psychologist Erik Erikson (1902-1994), who coined the phrase “identity crisis,” offered that each developmental stage presents tasks that must be worked through before moving successfully on to the next stage of development. These tasks are social and emotional as well as cognitive.

The task of adolescence is identity formation, the often challenging, lifelong journey of crafting an identity.

What happens when the “who am I?” question of identity is neglected? Statistics tell us that one in five children suffer from mental, behavioral or emotional problems and that one in eight suffer from depression. Suicide is the third leading cause of death of people aged 15-24, and the fourth leading cause of death of children between the ages of 10-14.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) in school offers time, place and opportunity for students to do the work of identity formation. Students explore, discover and reflect on what it means to be them in relation to others. SEL builds interpersonal (awareness of other’s feelings) as well as intrapersonal (self-awareness) skills. SEL programs are springing up in limited ways in some schools around the country. These programs, mostly for grades K-6th, range from after-school social skills learning to morning circle to in-school curriculum-based learning.

Why are there little or no SEL programs in middle and high schools today when it clearly is instrumental to healthy, rounded development?

The impact of I.Q. testing on education, developed in the early 20th century is profound and reverberates through our entire educational system. We have designed a system of learning that is centered on the “logical/mathematical and linguistic” intelligences, a system that almost wholly disregards the social and emotional dimensions of creating a self. Measuring intelligence means schools teach to tests that measure measurable intelligence. It is a vicious cycle that excludes meeting and serving the “other” needs and intelligences of our students.

Scientifically measuring intelligence (I.Q. testing) was developed in response to managing and tracking a rapidly expanding nation. Intelligence testing became the standard way of managing and tracking our children, unfortunately at the exclusion of all else. It seems we no longer can see our children without it.

The goal of education should be to unlock potential, not to limit it. We have little choice but to trust our schools to care for our children. We hope good teachers will witness and cultivate their unique potential both academically and as developing human beings. But the sad reality is that schools are not set up to tend to the whole child and good attention to the social and emotional aspects of development is left to chance and luck.

As a result, the non-cognitive potential of our children, their feeling, creative, intuitive dimensions are rendered invisible in a system that sees them exclusively through the lens of quantitative assessments, tests and grades. Huge portions of our children’s selves are seemingly not worth validating because they are not measurable or track-able. Yet building a system that honors the whole thinking, feeling, and creative individuating person is the change we desperately need in American education.

When we honor and engage the whole child we promote real growth that leads to academic achievement and well-being. The most recent findings show that student attitudes, behaviors and performance are improved with SEL in the school setting because students who are connected to self and others are more engaged in their own learning. By neglecting the essential work children and adolescents are developmentally charged to do, we devalue their primal drive to know and make sense of themselves and their world. When we place SEL in equal partnership with cognitive learning, we can graduate creative, inspired individuals who reach beyond themselves into a world of their own possibility.

We need to help our children become – fully – themselves, not what we want them to be. To do that we need to integrate SEL into the daily life of Education so we no longer leave our childrens’ development to luck and chance but to careful, thoughtful attention.

I am addicted like a moth to light to those moments of FLOW between people, when insight and connection come together as freely as rain falling.

My children played well when children. They built forts out of blankets and pillows, upturning sofas and chairs, making a mess of the house. It didn’t matter. Their creativity and freedom made me happy and it was easy to make them happy this way. They worked together, linking imaginations through interior tunnels that had few words. This is how they loved each other.

I wonder where freedom goes. As my children grow older, I find myself missing their childhood freedom. No longer can we whimsically float down the wide river of play and imagination. There was school yanking us to shore, to a reality I could not control. School gave my children what I couldn’t, the chance to become socialized. They needed to maneuver on their own. Their ability to be with other children gave them another kind of freedom, the freedom in friendship. But school is a demanding taskmaster and the freedom of play and imagination is not usually welcome.

An ambulance wails in the distance and then stops. The breeze is soft alongside constant noise. Silence is nowhere. Cars and trucks rattle, doors slam, engines ignite, horns quip and a police car passes by. Beneath the pulsating city music are birds. They are everywhere.

You can get use to anything. Our minds are plastic. Only through intention do we create a mind that belongs to our self, otherwise our mind becomes the putty of noise, to be haphazardly shaped by dings and knocks. But when we know we have choice, choice to listen to what we want, to birds instead of sirens, to play and imagine instead of responding only to the rude jerk of school and other taskmasters, then we begin to shape ourselves intentionally, then we begin to pursue the freedom within us.

As psychologists have noted, and parents can tell you first-hand, adolescence is known to be a confusing time marked by experimentation with new ways of being.

Exploring the “who am I?” question is an important part of your child’s development. This is a challenge considering that education today is decidedly cognitive, and does not instructively take on the social and emotional demands of adolescent development. As a result, parents are ultimately responsible for their child’s social and emotional education, the “heart” work of development. And all that at a time when adolescents are trying to create their own identity separate from their parents.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the conscious building of interpersonal (awareness of other’s feelings) and intrapersonal (self-awareness) intelligences necessary for living an effective, engaged life. How can parents support their child’s social and emotional growth? Here are eight tips that support adolescent SEL at home and strengthen the changing parent/child relationship:

1. Active Listening – How a parent listens to an adolescent child can positively aid in the work of identity formation. Parents help their children explore the “who am I?” question of adolescence by listening without judgment or fear. Listening with an open heart helps adolescents make sense of their world and their changing selves as they begin the process of taking responsibility for who they are at that moment and who they want to be.

2. Self-Reflection – Where does self-reflection, the foundation of self-knowledge, fit into an adolescent’s busy schedule? Parents can promote this critical developmental need at home in creative ways – conversation around the dinner table or even watching a movie together. Self-reflection needs time to develop and practice to come naturally.

3. Model Authenticity – Adolescents are keen observers of human behavior, especially of their parent’s behavior. They constantly question truth and reality as they experiment with new ways of being. Parents support their child’s search for emotional courage and honesty by living it themselves – or at least by putting ones best effort forward. A good starting place for parents is to not pretend to have all the answers.

4. Promote Creativity – The adolescent work of creating an identity means stepping into the unknown. Like artists, adolescents enter an empty canvas and experiment with colors and materials as a way to accept or reject new ways of being. Creativity gives adolescents freedom to experiment and create themselves in safe and constructive ways. This can be achieved through art, writing, dance, sports, clothing, theatre and music. Parents validate their child’s creative endeavors when expressing their own curiosity with real questions and interest.

5. Celebrate Mistakes – Mistakes mean your child is taking risks and ultimately learning from their experiences. Mistakes are an essential part of growing. Physicist David Bohm writes: “From early childhood, one is taught to maintain the image of “self” or “ego” as essentially perfect. Each mistake seems to reveal that one is an inferior sort of being, who will therefore, in some way, not be fully accepted by others.” This is unfortunate because “all learning is trying something and seeing what happens.”

6. Parallel Process – Parallel process is learning and growing alongside your child. With each moment of your child’s growth, parents are reminded of their own experiences at that age. Simultaneously, perspective is necessary for parents even when they feel there is none. Adolescence joins parent and child in the human journey of self-discovery.

7. The Struggle is Important – Parents often want to pick their child up after they fall down. It is important to recognize that resilience is linked to learned self-reliance. Adolescents need to learn and accept difficulty as part of life and living. They learn what they are made of when they go through something on their own. Parents need to support the important work of struggle as a developmental imperative.

8. Integrating The Dark Side – It can be frightening to witness a once sunny, “problem-free” child transform overnight into a gloomy, irritable adolescent. Some parents find the emerging darker side (self-doubt, anger, fear, self-consciousness) difficult to accept and send the message that the harder stuff of growing up is not accepted. Parents need to integrate the highs and lows, the good and the bad, to support balance and self-acceptance.

Ultimately, adolescents who are exposed to authentic SEL experiences and practices at home and in school are better equipped to live lives of self-acceptance, discovery and personal responsibility.

Bullying is big news. With kids cutting and killing themselves, the media, legislatures, and school systems are just now waking up to an epidemic that has been thriving under their noses for way too long.

We are searching for answers. Whose fault is it? The bully’s? The teacher? The Principal? The parent?

The truth is, we are missing the boat about what causes bullying and why it exists in the first place.

Bullying, at its core, is about relationships. The whole system promotes and allows bullying. Kids increasingly do not know how to be in relationship with each other so they resort to surviving the best they know how.

We don’t teach a “how to get along in the world” class. Kids must figure out the complexity of relationship on their own, making interpersonal interaction a Darwinian experience. Many think back to their childhood and view survival of the fittest as a positive way to learn about life. But the truth is, school is increasingly a Lord of the Flies existence, where teachers opt out of being in relationship with their students.

This leaves kids to flounder right before their eyes.

Bullying is the disintegration of intimate, caring relationships in a society gone digital. Bullying is not just a kid-on-kid phenomenon.

And here is the surprising part. IT EXISTS EVERYWHERE, especially in school between teacher and student.

Teresa is a 15-year-old who is chronically overwhelmed by the expectations of her teachers and her mother. An impatient mother demanding excellence coupled with teachers who never stop giving homework, grading and moving on to the next chapter has Teresa living in a constant state of anxiety and fear.

She has panic attacks at night thinking about her failure and inadequacy. Teresa attempted to talk to her teachers but mostly they ignore her, dismissing her as someone who has given up. Though clearly emotionally drowning in full view of everyone, no adult “bystanders” have stepped in to help Teresa.

Reaching her breaking point, she stabbed herself in the neck – all in an effort to stop the intense and unbearable feeling of rejection and inadequacy.

What makes this a case of bullying is how teachers caused Teresa’s fear and anxiety without attending to her obvious suffering. There is no relationship of caring between Teresa and her teachers. They were able to walk away (like any bully) and not take responsibility for their actions.

Too many teachers bully students to get their work done instead of being in relationship with them. Bullying bypasses the intimacy and work of real relationship. It is more than being rude or insensitive; it’s emotional harming of another in exchange for power, prestige, control, dominance or playing out unresolved issues on others.

Most kids, when asked about school, will answer that it is an impossible situation. They have no rights or privileges and absolutely no voice. Too often parents join with teachers to push, prod, threaten, humiliate, ridicule, judge, grade, embarrass, all in an effort to get kids to good student status, to get them to tow the line.

But in the end, what will work and what will always work is being in caring and respectful relationships. Everyone wins in a healthy relationship. It is harder and needs to be taught. But it is the only way to stop bullying.

%d bloggers like this: