Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is calling for more psychologists in schools to help children "deal with fear and trauma" ("Pugh wants psychological services for Baltimore school students to cope with violence," Feb. 24).
On the surface, this seems to make sense as affected children bring high levels of anxiety and acting out behavior to school. Yet, as someone who worked as a mental health therapist in the city schools for 10 years and now as a private practitioner continues to see children immersed in the system, what I feel about this proposal is "been there, done that."
The cycle goes like this: Teachers blame parents for children's dysfunction; parents are upset with the community for dangerous conditions; the community puts pressure on the schools to remedy the children's ills, and now schools are calling for more mental health assistance.
The thing that helps to heal trauma in children more than anything else is a stable, secure environment with adults who set fair, predictable rules and offer loving, not fear-based discipline. No amount of children sitting in counseling offices and learning how to express feelings and relax their bodies is going to achieve this. Children don't internalize as much as adults. You can't give them an idea of how to cope and expect that they can carry those through in very adverse situations. The healing that can reform their feelings and behaviors needs to come through a balanced, holistic environment.
Teachers who are tired, preoccupied, short-tempered and do not extend themselves for the students cannot possibly enable this environment. Schools that put pressure on teachers to cram facts into children's heads to pass tests yet do not aim to have children truly understand the information they are being fed only create more anxiety for the child. Some of the worst injustices I have recently observed are in schools that are so busy teaching diversity and self-empowerment that the academic content is greatly watered down.
I know that social promotion is supposed to be discouraged, yet I see these children, not in special education yet with low academic skills, just pushed along. There can only be great anger on the other end of this when they finally graduate yet are unprepared to take on the world. In my way of thinking, the schools themselves need to become models of equitable treatment which could help to rectify the experiences of trauma in the lives of these young persons.
Joyce Wolpert, Baltimore