What the Hell is Happening with Schools in the US?

What the Hell is Happening in US Schools? - Hectic Magazine
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From the possibility of being shot, through strict censorship, up to corporal punishment – for people from the EU this may sound like a nightmare but this is the reality for thousands of US school-goers.

As a person who was brought up in Poland, I can’t imagine going to school in the US The biggest threat to school-goers in America is also one of the hardest to comprehend from a European perspective the problem of school shootings. It’s impossible for me to understand the fear and uncertainty that parents have to face in a country where firearm-related injuries are the leading cause of death among children and adolescents.

In Poland and in all neighboring countries, and actually in the whole European Union, the number of school shootings this year is zero. In the US, there have been 29 school shootings in the last eight months. As it’s reported by Educational Week, there have been 121 such incidents in the US since 2018, leaving 89 people killed and 230 injured. What’s more absurd is that authorities still have no idea how to tackle this problem. A good example here can be the still-ongoing case of the Uvalde Shooting, where police forces not only didn’t prevent the massacre but also neglected their responsibilities during the incident and lied to the public afterwards.

It’s disgusting how desensitized people are. said Itzia Crespo, who went to school in Phoenix, Arizona. We cry, we get angry but at one point you just start to feel helpless and you think “Well, there were people injured but at least nobody died in this one”. If that’s the bar, that is just horrifying.

The Modern Censorship

But gun violence is definitely not the only problem that US schools are facing nowadays. Another is the book ban that is now expanding to more and more titles around the country. According to data collected by PEN America, 1,145 books have been banned by school districts in the United States between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022. The ban is focused on K-12 (classes from Kindergarten to 12th grade).

And those aren’t some niche, radical texts. Some of them were made into popular movies and TV series, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky (banned in Texas, Kansas, and Florida), Call Me By Your Name, by André Aciman (banned in Virginia), or Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (banned in Texas, Kansas, Florida, and Georgia), or even Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (banned in Florida and Oklahoma).

But why aren’t those classic novels, which play a very important role in our culture, allowed in the classroom? School curricula have become the newest front in the contemporary culture wars. Parents, teachers, and school officials believe that ideas or concepts presented in those works may be harmful to children. Those are mostly depictions of homosexuality or critical race theory (which describes racism as a social construct that is embedded in legal systems and policies).

Some of those fears are well known in Poland, such as the idea of “sexualization” of children or teaching unpatriotic concepts. But the book ban itself is something that citizens of the former eastern bloc are particularly sensitive about. Freedom of speech, as opposed to any kind of censorship, is still one of the most cherished and esteemed values in the region.

Teaching Violence

The possibility of being shot and learning under strict censorship are not the only factors that constitute the nightmare that is the US school system. Another problem is definitely corporal punishment. Hitting a child as a way of teaching is legal in 22 states. The bodily integrity of a pupil is something obvious to every school-goer, teacher, and parent in the EU, so it comes with great surprise to hear that another districts in the US decided to bring back spanking as a form of discipline for students.

Corporal punishment has been illegal within the United Nations since 1991, when the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was signed and ratified by almost every member state. The only state that didn’t ratify the UNCRC is the United States. It means that although the US did sign the convention, it’s not legally bound to abide by it.

Corporal punishment has been unanimously criticized by the specialists. It’s not only ineffective but is also linked to mental illness. Evidence shows corporal punishment increases children’s behavioural problems over time and has no positive outcomes. – says WHO report from November 2021. Corporal punishment is linked to a range of negative outcomes for children across countries and cultures, including physical and mental ill-health, impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, poor educational outcomes, increased aggression and perpetration of violence.

Proper world view

But what if that horrifying triad of death, censorship, and violence is just the tip of the iceberg? Looking at those three issues from a far I can’t help but think that their origin is one and the same. It seems like a mayor systemic problem underlies all of them.

For some, the issues of school shootings, book bans and corporal punishment aren’t even the worst challenges of the US school system. When I asked Itzia about her opinion she said that the biggest problem from her perspective is the lack of the global perspective in our history lessons. A lot of US schools aren’t updating their textbooks for years and they’re relying on old ways of viewing the US that are very colonial and leave out the actual origins of this country.

At first I was surprised. If I would have to go through active shooter drills as a teenager (as she did) I wouldn’t be so worried about the curriculum. But at the same time, teaching kids the full history of their country – about it’s diversity and problems it faced, as well as showing them other parts of the world, where those problems are just abstract, may present them with a different approach. And maybe then the next generation wouldn’t have to go through active shooter drills at all.

Wiktor Knowski