An article on Florida’s new requirement for five hours of mental health education a year in high school sounds like a step forward, but the question hangs in the air: why now and not before? The article used the word stigma quite often but is that the only obstacle, besides shortage of trained staff or instructional time? (and those are serious obstacles)
We must also consider the authoritarian, conservative strain in our society we refer to as family values. In this system of thought, the man determines everything in the long run, thus all the jokes about men deferring to their wives. The truth is, in this system, the man is the final arbiter. From what I see, most woman still bow down to that. They claim not to kowtow, but it is only that they have ways around their men; it is not a matter of discussion, negotiation, sharing, mutuality….. no, that would undermine the man’s authority.
What percentage of American families are run that way? It is certainly to be judged on a sliding scale but what I would like to address is an underlying fears many families have of the very notion of mental health, even if they are not run on the authoritarian model: religion. The majority of families consider themselves Christian or nominal Christians. The latter can be pricked if they feel their religious “beliefs” are challenged. And mental health principles of personal autonomy really hit home there. Many if not most devoutly religious families feel an obligation to raise their child in their religion. My wife went through that.
Obviously, the number of people who would challenge a mental health component in the education system does no mount very high, but for the individual school district a handful of such parents can be a nightmare. However, those same parents often challenge not just mental health education (how could they when only one state has it in place?), but see the hand of relativism, multiculturalism, gender flexibility, global thinking, anti-authoritarianism, and downright collectivism in anything that allows freedom of thought. For they believe that freedom of thought leads to freedom of action, which is not what any of this teaches for minors; minors are still under the control of a governing authority, starting with the parents. But, you know kids, they’ll come running home with something some kid in class and tell their parents that that is what “they” are teaching in school. So here comes Mrs, Wigglesworth, marching down to the school if not the superintendency itself.
Most teachers know the limits; the real problem is the spineless administrator. Recently, we experienced an situation where one parent went after a teacher and a weak-minded HR person and a weak-minded principal fired the teacher, causing the district a great deal of money for no good reason. The cause was laughable, literally; anyone hearing it and knowing who it was attributed to, laughed out loud. But an angry parent can move mountains. In my old district, the rule was: one parent phone call is a complaint, two parent phone calls is a policy change.