When is the American education system going to wake up? After teaching 25 years with detached court connected students on parole or probation, I have witnessed, based upon the objectives of “No Child Left Behind” and the middle school system, an educational infrastructure that has evolved into a depersonalized system that is producing students that are detached from society. Cold-blooded murder Adam Lanza is an example of that educational culture. I challenge you; research the history of rising juvenile crime rates, our enormous urban dropout rate and mass murderers. These issues are directly connected to the transition to the urban middle school system and the elimination of extracurricular enrichment activities. School districts are so focused on test scores and benchmarks that they have forgotten an important goal, to raise our children to be positive, productive citizens. We have a large demographic group of young people who feel disconnected from society. We need extracurricular activities and specially designed classes to get students interpersonally connected. If these basic principles are not taught in the home, they can be learned in school. We must teach every student empathy, compassion, camaraderie and honor.
Recently while watching Washington’s Most Wanted, a former student, 16-year-old James “J.J.” Stimpson Jr., appeared on the screen for investigation regarding the murder on South 56th Street several weeks ago. Viewing his boyish face was crushing and my heart sank as I thought of an intelligent, witty, handsome young man who senselessly ruined the lives of others. Could we have saved J.J.? I say yes. Tacoma Public Schools needs to return to the junior high system of seventh, eighth and ninth grades and offer more extracurricular programs. Fourteen and 15-year olds are too young and unprepared for high school and as a result feel detached. We need to bring back junior high shop classes, clubs, competitive sports and activities that connect students to their communities. If we continue to focus mainly on test scores and benchmarks, omitting the human factor in education, horrible incidents such as what happened in Newtown, Conn. will continue to be a part of our daily lives.