By Yvonne Sam
The new school year will soon be upon us, and although Canada, thankfully, has minimal claim, or fame, to mass shootings in schools, nevertheless, I would like to imagine the new school year as an opportunity for school children to learn and practice humanity, as a fundamental value of our society.
Such a move is oh-so warranted, especially after the recent news of mass shootings in the US that claimed the lives of 31 innocent individuals.
Back to school is a time when we can imagine what school could be, before the reality of homework assignments that overwhelm, friendship cliques that exclude, and teenage crushes that go unrequited.
The mass shootings in the US have often been perpetrated by white men, with hatred being the motivating factor. news.sky.com/story/why-are-white-men-more-likely-to-carry-out-mass-shootings-11252808.
Hence, in order to confront this abhorrent evil that underlies the shootings, it is vitally essential that we reclaim our humanity.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, humanity is defined as, “the quality or state of being humane, compassionate, sympathetic, or generous behavior or disposition”.
Confronting the horrendous evil underlying mass shootings is compassion — a skill essential to one’s success, in school, workplace and life — and it should be taught in the classrooms, from early.
Compassion — the potential to feel and the consequent desire to relieve the suffering of others — is a basic, inherent trait that is nevertheless shaped by socialization and practice. When children see acts of compassion enacted and displayed by others, they, too, are more likely to engage in acts of compassion.
Granted, schools have long fostered and strengthened kindness, respect and empathy, especially with younger students, and the emphasis on strong interpersonal skills, like sharing and caring, have been boosted with new research-driven policies that push social-emotional learning outcomes in students.
It has been proven that children, who get along with others, are also more successful in school. However, even in the face of all this evidence, we have largely ignored the need to nurture compassion toward the “other”.
In our society we are surrounded by, yet isolated from, those who are different from us. Children, like adults, are curious, wary and even fearful of people, who come from a different racial or ethnic background; who were born in a different country; who dress, speak and worship in ways that are unfamiliar to them.
Through centuries of overt racial, and now linguistic division, we have denied our children the opportunity to learn compassion for other humans, who do not share their external characteristics.
Psychologists have asserted that humans need meaningful interpersonal relationships in order to: experience, firsthand, the humanity of the other; dissipate our stereotypes; decrease our fears; and, conclusively, to come to appreciate those outside of our defined social groups, as much as we appreciate those within them. www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/relationships
Parents do, and must, play a crucial role in nurturing compassion in children. It is incumbent on each of us to speak and act with compassion, and to have our children practice the same.
But we can have greater impact if educators join the effort. Schools are being called upon to actualize and implement policies, programming and curricula that prioritize humanity and, specifically, compassion. Policies can promote inclusion in schoolwide practices, such as the way children are grouped, the messaging and materials used in hallways, and in classrooms, and, above all, the equity and justice with which students are disciplined.
For teachers, activities that build compassion in students may prove more valuable than additional math or English worksheets.
Not to be misunderstood, but compassion is already nurtured in many schools across the country, as most school administrators and teachers strive to help their students get along and be good citizens. However, when I enter some schools I do not see the visuals or hear the values of belonging and inclusion espoused.
In my retirement era, as I reflect upon both my teaching experience and my community, I find myself thinking about the future of the up-and-coming young ones.
As I continue to read, hear and see the violence that surrounds them, I strongly feel that a shift towards lessons, encompassing compassion, is an urgent priority. Such lessons must become the nucleus and focal point, in order to promote and influence significant changes.
Such a move may well be the catholicon or panacea to halting the epidemic of hate-driven mass shootings that are terrorizing our closest neighbor, but, thankfully, not of the magnitude as the Montreal Ecole Polytechnique massacre on December 6, 1989, that left 14 University students dead. www.cbc.ca/archives/topic/the-montreal-massacre
Nevertheless, Canada cannot bask in an attitude of complacency or exemption, lessons on compassion must be taught.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.