OPED: What our schools really need

Dr. John H. Jackson
Tribune News Service

A few months before the tragic shooting of 17 students and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the young gunman attended his mother's funeral and was asked if he was upset. His response provides insight into the road that disconnected him from his humanity: "I'm just upset that no one cared to show up." We need no clearer evidence that hurt people are more likely to hurt people.

For educators, that carries an important message: You can't reach a child who doesn't think you care. Self-actualization through education is, on psychologist Abraham Maslow's famous hierarchy, a higher-order need. It is virtually impossible to improve learning outcomes without supports that address students' more basic needs, including their sense of being loved and belonging.

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Our public schools and educators, who teach more than 90 percent of America's children, are charged with teaching students who are stable as well as those in pain. Fortunately, most students don't exhibit their pain in the way the gunman did, but educators everywhere know there are too few resources and supports to address their students' needs.

Rather than provide the resources needed to close this gap, President Donald Trump and others have been calling for "hardening" our schools. But more guns, police officers and metal detectors in learning spaces is the antithesis of what we need to create a healthier living and learning climate.

Research from Johns Hopkins University shows that nearly 50 percent of school-going children have been exposed to traumatic events, ranging from physical or sexual abuse to living in chronically chaotic environments. These cause mental and physical health challenges and make students more likely to display negative behaviors or do poorly in school. If these children do not get adequate support, they are prone to negative health indicators including drug abuse, obesity, heart disease and cancer.

For policy to truly address gun violence, it must create loving systems where children and families get the supports they need. Otherwise we'll continue a culture of violence and hatred.

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The Schott Foundation for Public Education, which I lead, recently released the Loving City Index, an analysis of the availability of cross-sector supports needed for all students to have an opportunity to learn. In the 10 cities highlighted in the report, the highest level of supports offered was 53 percent. On average, cities only provided 42 percent of the vitally necessary supports.

Even though we are in the midst of a nationwide tragedy, we are witnessing hope and inspiration which can lead to meaningful change. We applaud the Parkland students who marched to Tallahassee and on to Washington, D.C., to advocate for action, declaring #Enough. We also applaud the youth and parent advocates in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore who have been pushing for healthy living and learning communities for their children and families.

Applaud, yes. Send your prayers to the families who have been impacted in Florida, definitely. But the moment demands more — we should all stand up to proclaim #Enough.

— Dr. John H. Jackson is the CEO and president of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. You can follow him on Twitter @DrJohnHJackson