I had a disturbing conversation this week with a friend who has a child who’s going through a hard time. Based on what the friend shared about recent communication with school officials and my experience working in the public school system, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to speculate that the school administrators had a meeting Monday morning where they made a list of kids who might do something that would put their school in the news, and then came up with a checklist of things to do with these kids and their parents which included encouraging them to leave the mainstream classroom environment. Obviously this is pure speculation, but I have a hunch something like it is happening at a lot of schools right now, because of the CYA/liability-driven culture that I was a part of as high school teacher.
I don’t know if other government jobs are like this, but the most tedious parts of my job as a teacher were the parts that were structured for no other purpose than to make it easy for our assistant principal to walk the halls with a clipboard and check off a list of objective items they could quickly and objectively observe to “evaluate” whether I was doing a good job. The most farcical item was the learning objective I was supposed to write on the board for each class session in education jargon speak citing whichever benchmarks I was covering. I always wondered when a student was going to raise her hand and say, “What in the world is all that, Mr. G?” The kids never asked me about it, but most of them didn’t pay any attention to what I wrote on the board anyway.
In any case, I worry that this clipboard checklist environment is going to create an oppressive way of responding to socially isolated kids who “fit the profile” of school shooters. As I’ve shared before, I used to be one of those socially isolated kids. Will they start pulling kids out of mainstream classes if they don’t raise their hands enough in class or sit by themselves at lunch or even dye their hair a funny color?
I do think it’s important to be on top of the social dynamics that are going on in the classroom. Too many teachers are oblivious to bullying and other social issues. I remember specific incidents in which I looked the other way as a teacher because I didn’t know how to address social problems which didn’t constitute a violation of the rules or a threat to classroom order. I would like to think that with more experience and confidence, I would have been more on the ball.
Of course there’s only so much that the adults in schools can do, and I understand that having a safe school environment on the macro level has to be higher on the priority list than the social confidence and comfort of each individual student on the micro level. Honestly, I think it’s the youth pastors of our country that need to step up by challenging their kids who are solid Christians to be intentionally inclusive to other kids who seem like they’re lonely.
This is tricky, because there’s a very fake “I’m a Christian so I’m supposed to be nice to you” way of doing it. A lot of the cheerleaders who I went to Young Life with engaged me that way in high school. Maybe they really were trying to be friendly, and my dour cynicism was the issue. But there has to be a way of reaching out to kids who are lonely that isn’t disingenuous or paternalistic. I think Jesus’ exhortations in Matthew 7 are a good guide. Just don’t put on a show for other people whenever you do it. And rather than just smiling and saying hi, take a big risk and invite a kid to a social event that will be a game-changer for how you and that kid are perceived by your friends.
Okay, I realize that Christian youth don’t read my blog. But if I were a youth pastor, I would put this in the center of the table as a basic missional challenge for our youth group over the next several months. I would hold their feet to the fire on this. Because if Jesus were hanging out at a high school, He would be kicking it with the outsider kids. Like my Young Life leader Phil Weeber who decided he was going to shoot potato guns with a socially awkward 16 year old on the weekends instead of hanging out with people his age. It’s little investments like that through which God can completely change the destiny of a person. So whether this applies directly to you or not, love; don’t profile.