The local newspaper has an article on services for students as they return to school. Some are new and some are extensions of existing programs like guidance counseling. The issues roiling the waters of “the best years of your life”, i.e. high school, are anxiety, depression, and suicide. This area, known as the East Valley of Maricopa County, Arizona, has had more than two dozen suicided among children 12 to 19 in the last year.
The phenomenon of serial or copycat suicide has occurred before. Underlying it are the mental health issues cited: depression and anxiety. The gap between what is happening in our society and the understanding of those responsible for providing for the well-being of our children is enormous. I am speaking mainly of state legislators. One I talked to ten years ago and who does a good job of being a mayor now referred to my school as an inner city school, showing little understanding of what was happening in the schools around the area. After all, political leaders are charged primarily with maintaining a thriving and expanding economy; issues regarding children are best left to less serious people like teachers and counselors.
And then along comes a burst of tragic events: fatal car crashes, shootings, sexually transmitted disease, suicides, and our leaders do what they do best: pound the table and demand answers. When they get the answers, they don’t like them. We have guidance counselors but administrators are much happier with those counselors checking credits for graduation and get college and scholarship applications together. Mucking about in the lives of children and their families stirs up very unpleasant matters like unemployed fathers, mothers with multiple partners, alcoholism and drugs, child abuse, and other things that are supposed to be found in slums and ghettos, not in nice suburban areas like the East Valley with all its churches.
But what are our children hearing? Why is it that when my colleague and I would use the word Mexican in class, students would shush us, telling us that that is a slur. So the president of the U.S. is an American and the president of Mexico is a Mexican…… somehow that doesn’t fly? No, because these kids hear the word Mexican as a slur in their homes. Then they hear the president talk about Mexicans as vermin, about asylum seekers as terrorists, about Muslims as suspect and foreign to our way of life, and yet they see around them Mexicans and Muslims and a few Syrians here and there and wonder who is right, the authority figures who urge acceptance and tolerance or their family.
This is not to slight the social problems, the psychopathology that runs through our society, but you have to realize what it means to a child to try to understand why it is OK to shunt the Black kids off to detention and for the Mexican kids to be anxious about the status of their parents and for their parents to hunker down and vote for Trump – all this is OK and they are supposed to focus on their studies as the adults try to ignore the contradictions and growing hostility among the people around them. These worries have been borne by minority kids and poor kids for forever, but now the middle class, the White kids, are suffering, too.
These are the fruits of policies designed to push wealth and privilege to the top and away from the mass of people. We talk about the hollowing out of the middle class as if that is only about finances and economics, jobs and savings, taxes and financial opportunities; but it is about services in health, education, security, and other spheres of life. The deterioration can only be glimpsed from inside the protective ambiance of a middle class life; we see gas prices going up, home values dropping, but maybe those are just fluctuations. What we need to be looking at is education monies being siphoned off to what are essentially private schools: the charters. We need to see clinics closing for lack of funds for staff. We need to watch as the shift in security measures goes toward imaginary dangers like Mexican gangs and Black thugs. Those in charge of education are at least beginning the speak out (Note Red for Ed here in Az). Health care workers just look for jobs elsewhere and special interest groups focus on abortion access and breast cancer – both worthy issues but leaving the vast preventive care for other health issues to the side. The Border Patrol, ICE, Homeland Security, even Health and Human Services participate dumbly in what are clearly illegal actions – the taking of children from their parents without evidence of abuse. If any of us saw a person hitting a child in a restaurant, we would intervene or at least call the police; as a Child Protective Services social worker, I was not only authorized but required under penalty of law to intervene any time – on or off the clock – I saw abuse of a child occurring. Therefore, were I still so authorized and saw an agent of the government taking a child from a parent, I would have to step forward to prevent it, including calling the law on the law.
Sadly, our whole country is standing by watching this happen while the Trump administration “tries” to reunite families. On the border, it’s child kidnapping, in our schools, it’s “benign neglect.”