Being A Psychotherapist: Things School and Books Can’t Really Prepare You For Part Two: Suicidal Clients

Another thing school and books can’t really prepare you for are suicidal clients. Sure they cover the subject of suicide in graduate school, but the training of dealing with suicidal patients is usually very brief. There are many great books on working with suicidal clients and I have read a few, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you for sitting face to face with and working with a suicidal patient.

From my experiences, there are many types of suicidal clients and they all have to be taken seriously.

There’s the client who doesn’t really want to commit suicide, but they like to self-injure and that self-injurious behavior may lead to an accidental suicide. These are often the most common types of clients, often called “cutters” and they tend to be the most frustrating since a lot of them have cluster b type personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder.

When I worked in a high school I had a whole group full of students who self-injured and ended up involuntarily hospitalizing at least one every month because while they said they weren’t suicidal, they were definitely at times flirting with death.

This picture was taken of one of my former students who likes to cut. The next day she had twice as many cuts on her arm and I was forced to involuntarily hospitalize her.
This picture was taken of one of my former students who likes to cut. The next day she had twice as many cuts on her arm and I was forced to involuntarily hospitalize her.

There’s also the suicidal client who is extremely depressed or emotionally unstable and talks about death and suicide a lot. They typically don’t self-injure and have never tried to commit suicide and don’t think they ever would, but they talk about it so often and their emotional pain is so deep that when they leave your office you often wonder if this will be the last time you ever see them.

These type of clients can also be very stressful to deal with. Often when I have had clients like this I found myself worrying about them when I wasn’t even at work, when I was on vacation,  when they didn’t show up for an appointment and sometimes I even dreamt about them.

One patient in particular was diagnosed with a terminal disease and she didn’t want to die a slow death. She didn’t think she would kill herself, but all she talked about was death and dying and her depression was so deep that it was hard to not be concerned about her when she missed an appointment. Eventually I had to hospitalize her after one particularly draining and emotional session when she couldn’t promise me she wasn’t going to go home and try to kill herself. Everything inside of me was screaming she would. She was angry that I hospitalized her against her will, but told me in later sessions that she had every intent of going home and killing herself that day and thanked me.

Another type of suicidal client is the one who never talks about suicide. Some are impulsive, but many just keep their thoughts and feelings buried deep inside.  They may never even tell anyone that they are in pain. They just attempt or commit suicide without any real warning signs. These clients take not only you by surprise, but everyone else in their lives too.

I once worked with a student for two years dealing with the grief of a parent and then one day he gave me a card thanking me for helping him. It was our last session, he was doing great. Less than a week later I got a call from his family telling me he had attempted suicide and was in critical condition at a local hospital. I was stunned. I rushed to the hospital and nearly broke down in tears as I looked down at his lifeless body. I kept replaying our last sessions together, our last interactions, his last words to me, trying to figure out what did I miss. Thank goodness he came out of his comatose state after a few days and I was grateful that he not only lived, but that I had the opportunity to process his suicide attempt with him. I didn’t miss anything. He had suddenly decided he didn’t want to live any more and wanted to be with his deceased parent.

A couple of years before that I had been part of a crisis team that was sent to two different schools after two students had killed themselves apparently out of the blue. One was a popular jock that killed himself and stunned the whole community because no one, not even his closes friends knew that he was in so much emotional and psychological pain. His friends, family and even school staff members were blaming themselves for not seeing signs that weren’t even there.

The other student apparently killed himself on impulse in the midst of an angry dispute with his girlfriend. He told her he was going to hang himself. She didn’t believe him, but that’s exactly what he did. He had no history of being suicidal and no one saw it coming.

In my nearly 8 year career as a psychotherapist I’ve dealt with hundreds of suicidal clients. My main job right now is interacting with inmates who have been flagged as suicidal. Luckily I have not had one client commit suicide although I have had a few who have made serious suicide attempts landing them in the emergency room.

Studies suggest that:

  • 1 in 4 interns/trainees will have a patient who attempts suicide at some point during their training and 1 in 9 will experience a completed patient’s suicide.
  • 25% of psychologists and 50% of psychiatrists will experience a patient’s suicide.
  • 1 in 6 psychiatric patients who die by suicide die in active treatment with a healthcare provider.
  • Approximately 50% of those who die by suicide in America will have seen a mental health provider at some time in their life.
  • Work with suicidal patients is considered the most stressful of all clinical endeavors. One third of psychotherapists who experienced a patient’s suicide subsequently suffer from severe emotional distress. Several factors may contribute to such severe distress including failure to hospitalize a suicidal patient who then died; a treatment decision that the therapist may feel contributed to the suicide; negative reactions from the therapist’s institution; and the fear of a lawsuit by the patient’s relatives.
  • 25 % of family members of suicidal patients take legal actions against the patient’s mental health treatment team.

As a coincidence, just as I was finishing this post I was informed that an inmate just purposely swallowed 18 Ativan pills in an attempted suicide and is being rushed to the hospital.

Being A Psychotherapist: Things School and Books Can’t Really Prepare You For Part One: Mental Fatique

iStock_000024633998Medium-744x418To be a psychotherapist takes years of school and a lot of reading and writing about various aspects of human behavior. Many students fresh out of school with not much patient contact or real therapeutic hours under their belt, think that they fully know what it is like to be a therapist. They don’t. While school and books definitely prepare you for sounding like a trained therapist, nothing but real experience and hundreds of hours of patient contact, can prepare you for even the basics of what it’s like to be a therapist.

Many people who see me doing my job say, “I want to do that” and I never discourage them. I just tell them that if they are doing it from their hearts then they should pursue it. If they are doing it because they think it pays well, then they should seek another career. If they are doing it because it looks easy, then they should definitely seek another career. Even students who have spent years in undergrad and then graduate school are disillusioned and thus disappointed when they actually start seeing clients of their own. A few, those meant to truly be in the field, will love it, even when it’s frustrating. Others will hate it, but stay because they’ve fooled themselves to believe they are supposed to be therapist, and most end up becoming very bad therapists… or program directors. A large portion will leave the field altogether and seek employment that is more fulfilling and they should.

So what are the things that school and books can’t prepare you for when it comes to being a psychotherapist? Well I will cover one topic every now and then instead of trying to cram a top 10 list, but we’ll start with mental fatigue.

Being a psychotherapist is exhausting. Sure it’s not the same as lifting bricks all day, but it’s a different kind of exhaustion. People will say, all you do is sit and listen all day, how can that be exhausting. Well actively listening, being thoughtful, sustaining alertness, using your memory and paying attention to someone for 50 minute stretches throughout the day is very draining. Not to mention the stories you hear and have to process. Stories that are sometimes so sad that you have to hold yourself back from tears, or stories that trigger counter-transference issues because they remind you of some part of your own life.

There is also other things that make it taxing such as doing notes, scheduling, dealing with insurance companies and billing. There’s also that part about managing risks, having to figure out how much of a risk someone is to themselves or others. My main job right now is assessing suicidality in inmates who have exhibited a risk for suicide. It can become very stressful.

On top of that, sometimes your friends and even strangers who meet you and find out you’re a psychotherapist will treat you differently.

Strangers will either be fascinated and want to tell you about their problems, or a “friends”, or they will not talk much out of fear that you are always analyzing people. We do know how to turn it off, well at least turn it down. Your friends will most likely have you as their default free therapist, yet will not offer you much advice/help since “you’re a therapist, you should be able to figure out your own problems.” Oh, I’ve heard that too many times.

It can be exhausting because being a therapist, once you’ve done it long enough, becomes who you are. You don’t leave it behind at 5pm, even when you think you do. It’s always there with you and if you aren’t careful and don’t take care of yourself, it will drain you.

The link below is to a very well written article that details some of the hardest and most exhausting parts about being a therapist.

The One Thing Every Psychotherapist’s Partner Doesn’t Get.

Helping Your Child Prepare For Back-To-School

Photo-Contest-Best-Back-to-School-Moment-mdnIt’s that time of the year again where summer is winding down and both kids and parents are either anxiously or excitedly getting ready for another school year.

Some Children will be going to school for the first time, others to a new school or riding the school bus for the first time. No matter how you look at it, for parents and children, back-to-school can be a stressful time of year.

Many parents while trying to balance work, a family and even preparing for back-to-school, often overlook their children’s anxieties about heading back to school. Without realizing it, they may be setting their kids up for emotional and behavioral failure.

It’s important that parents work with their children to build emotional resilience and help them manage their emotions in order to keep them psychological healthy and in the long run, help the parents be less stressed as well.

Children are incredibly resilient and  capable of dealing with change, often more so than adults, but it’s important that parents provide an environment that fosters communication and sharing of thoughts and feelings about returning to school. Establishing this type of environment where sharing thoughts and feelings about school are encourage will also foster a healthier relationship overall between parent and child.

There are many things you can do to help prepare your child emotionally and psychologically for returning to school. The American Psychological Association (APA) offers the following tips:

  1. Practice the first day of school routine: Getting into a sleep routine before the first week of school will aide in easing the shock of waking up early. Organizing things at home—backpack, binder, lunchbox or cafeteria money—will help make the first morning go smoothly. Having healthy, yet kid-friendly lunches will help keep them energized throughout the day. Also, walking through the building and visiting your child’s locker and classroom will help ease anxiety of the unknown.
  2. Get to know your neighbors: If your child is starting a new school, walk around your block and get to know the neighborhood children. Try and set up a play date, or, for an older child, find out where neighborhood kids might go to safely hang out, like the community pool, recreation center or park.
  3. Talk to your child: Asking your children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share their burden. Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience.
  4. Empathize with your children: Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them in the process. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad. It is important to encourage your children to face their fears instead of falling in to the trap of encouraging avoidance.
  5. Get involved and ask for help: Knowledge of the school and the community will better equip you to understand your child’s surroundings and the transition he or she is undergoing. Meeting members of your community and school will foster support for both you and your child. If you feel the stress of the school year is too much for you and your child to handle on your own, seeking expert advice from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, will help you better manage and cope.

 

How Young Is Too Young For Students To Discuss Sexual Orientation

istock_000009080325large-gay-pride-2009-news1Here in central Florida there has been an ongoing debate about how young is too young for students to discuss sexual orientation at school, especially when that orientation is different than the perceived norm.

Bayli Silberstein, a student leader at Carver Middle School in Leesburg, Florida wants to create a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at her school to combat ongoing bullying. “The bullying at our school has gotten out of hand, and somebody needs to do something about it,” stated Bayli.

While to me this sounds like something positive and something that should have been supported, the principal immediately shot it down and county administration put up a resistance so tough that they threatened to disband all groups if they had to in order to keep the GSA from being allowed to form.

They are taking so long to deliberate on allowing the GSA to form, while groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an explicitly Christian organization, has been supported for years.

The fact that the administrative body is taking so long to deliberate on letting the GSA form, to me is even further evidence that groups like the GSA are needed. If the kids who are in need of support don’t feel supported by the very administration that is supposed to support and protect them, how are they supposed to feel supported and protected among their own student body?

Under the Equal Access Act, schools can not pick and choose which groups to allow to form on campus based on what they think students should and should not discuss:

 “schools may not pick and choose among clubs based on what they think students should or should not discuss. If a public school allows any student group whose purpose is not directly related to the school’s curriculum to meet on school grounds during lunch or before or after school, then it cannot deny other student groups the same access to the school because of the content of their proposed discussions. The Act specifically provides that a school cannot deny equal access to student clubs because of the ‘religious, political, philosophical, or other content of the speech at such meetings.’” 

GSAs are student organizations that are made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and their straight allies. The groups purpose is to advocate against bullying, discrimination and harassment.

Theyare made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, along with straight supporters, who advocate for putting an end to bullying, harassment, and discrimination against LGBT and other students.

According to a  2009 survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education network,  “84.6 percent of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1 percent reported being physically harassed and 18.8 percent reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.”

A lot of the bullying that goes on against LGBT students have Christian beliefs and teachings at it’s source and Christian groups are almost always very supported on school campuses.

Here in Florida, the ACLU has been successful numerous times over the years in helping students form GSAs on school campuses.

For example, in 2008 in Okeechobee, Florida,  a  judge ruled that schools must provide for the well-being of gay students and cannot discriminate against the GSA. The ACLU of Florida also succeeded in helping students at Booker T. Washington High School form a GSA after initial efforts were fought against by the administration.

At the high school I work at there is no GSA or LGBT clubs and it’s not because administration hasn’t allowed it, but because students haven’t attempted to form one. I think this is largely because sexual orientation is not discussed, yet admittedly, it appears to be pretty accepted on campus. Many of the LGBT students I talk to are “out” and have never told me they felt uncomfortable or bullied on campus.

While working on this post, I spoke with a 15 year old, openly gay student who says he knew he was gay in elementary school, but only really knew in middle school. He personally thought that having a GSA in middle school was too soon because he thought too many people were still unsure of their sexuality, but he also admitted that having a GSA in his middle school would have helped him with issues such as bullying and coming out to his family.

On other school campuses and in middle school in particular, being a LGBT student is likely much more difficult for several reasons.

Often times, school administration and school board members are not comfortable with the thought of students discussing sexual orientation. They are also often uncomfortable with discussing acceptance and respect for students of different orientations.

However, discussing topics that are uncomfortable, out in the open, is how change gets started, not by censoring students to avoid discomfort. That’s how the culture of secrecy and bullying is allowed to flourish.

The School To Prison Pipeline

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The school-to-prison pipeline is a widespread pattern across the United States that pushes students, particularly disadvantaged students, out of schools and into the criminal justice system.

This is largely due to public institutions not properly addressing  the needs of individual students who may need extra help educationally and socially. This is often because of financial and staffing shortages.

This results in students being poorly educated, dropping out or getting kicked out of school, often resulting in arrests that develop into a cycle of continued arrests and crime which plaque not only that individual, but their community and ultimately, our society as a whole.

Hundreds Of Thousands Of Students Arrested At School Yearly

Each year across the nation, thousands of students are handcuffed in front of their classmates and taken to jail for behavioral problems that used to just result in a student being sent to the principal’s office or suspended.

A large majority of the students being arrested aren’t committing criminal acts, but displaying bad behavior. They are being arrested for misdemeanors such as “disorderly conduct”, which includes infractions such as refusing to give up their cellphone in schools with no cellphone policies and classroom disruptions. A relatively small percentage are arrests for weapons charges.

I personally have seen students arrested who had been suspended or put into an alternative school program, but came back to school either thinking their suspension was up or without truly understanding the terms and conditions of their suspension. Granted, when asked to leave campus these kids were defiant and thus arrested for trespassing, and while some were given warnings to leave campus, others weren’t given a warning at all and were simply arrested in front of their classmates.

There are definitely times and instances when students need to be arrested and detained for their own safety and/or the safety of others, but I think far too often, students are needlessly being arrested, taken down to the juvenile detention center and exposed to the criminal justice system.

An arrest record can stay with these students for the rest of their lives, even when the charges are dropped. When applying for jobs or to colleges and asked, “Have you ever been arrested”, they will will have to check “yes”.

Last week I watched as a group of girls had a verbal altercation on campus, that looked like it may erupt into something physical. As far as I could see, no one was physically being assaulted, but one of the school resource officers responding to the disruption, grabbed a girl, threw her to the ground and placed handcuffs on her. Despite everyone screaming that she wasn’t doing anything wrong, she was still detained. I believe she was eventually released to the custody of her parents and suspended, but  it was obvious by the look on her face and everyone around her, that it was a traumatizing experience.

Not only is being arrested traumatizing and embarrassing, it interrupts a students educational process and can create distrust in the school system and the law. I think far too often, arrests are made in cases such as a petty fight, minor vandalism, trespassing and minor theft, things that used to send a kid home for ten days, but now may get them arrested. I’ve even seen students tazed by officers during school fights, when they used to be broken up by teachers.

Granted, often students who get arrested have ignored warnings and instructions given by the police officer.

I wouldn’t dare want to interfere with law enforcement’s ability to do their job, especially in light of  the Sandy Hook shootings, but when police officers are on campus, the number of student arrests for minor infractions increases, many of which seem petty and unproductive.

For example, here in Florida a teen was arrested for trespassing because during her suspension she returned to school to take her final exams, and students involved in fights are often charged with battery against each other.

Disabled and Black Students Are Disproportionately Arrested

Students with various disabilities and black students are arrested more compared to their percentage of the student population. Even in schools for students with severe emotional problems, students are getting arrested for things like hitting, kicking and throwing objects, behavior that seems more related to their disabilities than to criminal acts.

While black students are more likely to be arrested than white students, it’s not because black students are misbehaving more, but historically and presently they seem to be punished more severely for less serious infractions, according to a study done by The Equity Project at Indiana University. Black males tend to be arrested more for “disorderly conduct” while white males are more likely to be arrested for drug charges. Black students are also more likely to have their cases dismissed than white students.

We can’t criminalize children for being and acting like children. Most of the students who get arrested already have had discipline or absenteeism problems before the arrest and could have benefited from an in school psychologically based program, such as the one I work for. It helps students with anger, academic, emotional, substance and behavior problems, and we even advocate for them during times when they are on the verge of getting arrested or expelled.

Unfortunately, many schools don’t have this type of program, nor the funds and staff to conduct the social services needed.

The Sandy Hook School Shooting, Mass Murder And Mental Health Reform: Parts 1 and 2

istock_000005543513smallWhen I was in undergrad, I took a class called Mass Murder in the United States.

I picked up that book today and perused through it. It was published in 2000 and due to the number of mass murders that have taken place over the last

12 years, it felt severely outdated (although much of the psychological information in it remains relevant).

Unfortunately our country has a long history of mass murder with the number of incidents and victims increasing over the years, especially in the last 10.

After tragedies like the one that happened Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it’s common that many people start wanting gun reforms and bands on assault refiles. Something that often gets overlooked, but now is finally getting some attention, is mental health reform.

According to research done by Mother Jones in November, no less than 80 percent of mass shooters obtained their guns legally.

In the 61 cases they looked at in the United States over the last 30 years, at least 38 of the shooters displayed signs of mental problems before the shootings.

This happens way too often. While assault rifle bands get the attention during terrible mass shootings, the mental health component often goes largely ignored, despite the fact that it often plays a crucial role.

Many of these perpetrators in the study done by Mother Jones had acute paranoia, delusions, hallucinations and/or depression.

At least 35 of the 61 perpetrators killed themselves at or near the scene with 7 others appearing to have committed suicide by cop.

Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 and injured 23 during the Virgina Tech shootings in 2007, was found mentally ill and in need of hospitalization during a psychiatric evaluation in 2005.

Jared Loughner, who shot 19 people including former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, had displayed signs of mental illness many years before the shooting, including yelling out in class and complaining about hearing voices. Still, he was able to purchase a gun and ammunition without a problem.

One of the bystanders who helped subdue Loughner that day after he stopped to reload, Patricia Maisch stated, “That beautiful day, our mental-health system failed us.”

Could many of the mass shootings we’ve seen over the past few years (at least 26 in the past seven years alone) been prevented with better mental health reform?

That’s not an easy question to answer because it takes into account the issues of civil liberties, medical ethics, and gun laws.

In our country, we want to make sure that everyone has the same rights to bare arms, even those with mental problems, but we have to try to figure out a way of keeping guns out of the hands of those likely to use them to inflict horror on our society.

At the minimum we need to look at how we are treating those with severe mental problems.

Our mental health system is broken, plain and simple. I’ve worked in many facets of the mental health system to know that it’s the truth.

Look around you. I am sure you know someone who has fallen through the system, needs help and is walking around with a mental illness that isn’t being addressed properly if at all. If not, just take a look at our staggering homeless population, many of which suffer from mental illnesses that are not being treated.

Too many states are cutting funding for those with mental illnesses and many people that need to be hospitalized, simply aren’t because so many mental institutions have been closed down due to lack of funding.

In the United States you are allowed to be mentally ill, which means that you can be diagnosed with a severe mental illness and allowed to not take medication, not see a psychiatrist/therapist and pretty much be ignored unless you draw attention to yourself.

It’s your right.

As a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida, I have the right to involuntarily hospitalize someone that is an imminent danger to them self/others or is at risk of self harm (i.e., running through traffic in a manic rage), but not the right to involuntarily hospitalize someone who is actively hearing voices or hallucinating, as long as they are in touch with reality and aren’t a danger to themselves or others, even if I know that person needs treatment.

Of course not all mass murders are done by people who are mentally ill. Some do it to seek revenge or have other troubles, but I can’t ignore the role that mental illness, including depression in young men, plays in mass murders.

Part 2: Stima Associated With Mental Illness May Increase Chances For Violence. depressed-teen-istock

I hate when tragedies like this happen because it often puts a stigma on those with mental illnesses who already have enough stigma.

Most people with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia are not violent. However, having schizophrenia makes a person twice as likely to be violent than a person without schizophrenia.

A person who has schizophrenia and a substance problem is about 20 times more likely to kill a person than someone without schizophrenia, so we can’t ignore the statistics.

The stigmatization of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, often make it worse for those with it, causing exacerbation of existing symptoms of delusions, disconnection from reality, social withdrawal and lack of emotions.

I’ve talked previously about how many men with depression don’t seek help because of the stigma that goes along with a man seeking help for his problems (check out my post on Javon Belcher) and how that can turn deadly in the form of suicide, murder or in rare cases, mass murder.

A patient with schizophrenia, a former academic wrote anonymously about her experience with social stigma from her disease (via writer David Dobbs at Wired):

“I was diagnosed with schizophrenia just a month after Steven Kazmierczak (quickly identified as “schizoaffective”) shot six people to death on the campus of [Northern Illinois University] … Undoubtedly primed by this shooting, wary, uncertain, without enough time to think, my doctoral adviser suspended my graduate assistantship, banned me from the university, and alerted all faculty, graduate students and staff to forward all emails [from me] to her and, under no circumstances, respond.”

Her adviser unfortunately thought that she was planning to plant a bomb on campus, and although the decision to suspend her was reversed in about a week, the damage was already done:

“Friends — my doctoral cohort, as is often the case, were a close and tight-knit group — abandoned me overnight. Students and faculty passed me in the halls, staring ahead blankly as if I were an undergraduate they had never seen and would never see again. Parties were announced, talked about, and I was never invited. Never again.”

The social rejection exacerbated her illness. She became afraid to be around people, stopped attending classes and functions on campus:

For a while I struggled through classes, overwhelmed, perhaps in equal measure, by delusions and this new and unprecedented isolation. Voices took the places of both professors and friends. Following a hospitalization (and consequent withdrawal from a semester’s worth of classes), I descended into a state of the most stunning dysfunction, unable (or simply unmotivated) even to walk from my bed to the bathroom.

Eventually she was dismissed from her program:

Everything I have ever been told was a lie. My one way out — of poverty, desperation, madness — was never more than an illusion. And then disbelief. And then, how will I ever explain this to anyone, to family, to old mentors? And then betrayal. No language this time, no thoughts; crying, crying for hours. Alcohol, unconsciousness, unbidden dreams. Even there: repeating their words, over and over and over again. Isolation so intense, there is no way I will ever bridge it. I am lost. Days go by, weeks.

Eventually her thoughts turned to violence and self-destruction:

I fixated on a single vision, me, sometimes hanging, sometimes with gun in hand and a pool of blood on the floor, outside [her former adviser’s] office. Suicide, yes, obviously, but also something more: revenge.

This person never went through with murder or violence, but she says that she understands how someone in her situation would want to commit mass murder. This is sometimes the spiraling down process of someone with a mental illness who commits mass murder.

We have to do something about our mental health system if we don’t want to see a continuation or rise in the amount of mass murder in our country.

Maybe we need stronger gun laws that don’t allow someone who has been involuntarily committed to a hospital because of a mental illness or found mentally incapacitated to purchase guns without a thorough psychiatric evaluation and extensive cooling off period, if at all.

It’s time for the leaders of our states, our country, to sit down and have a serious conversation for the well-being of our nation’s mental health.

For more information on the Mother Jones research, check out the site below: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map

Is It Okay To Use Different Academic Standards Based on a Students Race?

I was honestly shocked the other day when on the local news I saw a report that the Florida Board of Education, just passed a new race-based standards of academic acceptance which will affect all of the 2.6 million students that are in the state’s public school system.

I was shocked because I don’t remember hearing about this, and yet it has passed. Apparently there was no vote on this from the public and I was even more shocked to hear what the standards are.

The new academic standard says that by 2018, 90% of Asian students, 88% of white students, 81% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students are to be reading at or above grade level.

It also states that 92% of Asian students, 86% of white students, 80% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students will be at or above their math grade level.

Really?

Now some people will say that this is a part of Affirmative Action, but I’d like to argue against that. This is part of goals required from Florida’s waiver of No Child Left Behind. State officials say that these new standards take into account the performance numbers of current students of color.

I say that this is a way the state can take the blame away from where it really should be, and that is on failing schools, inequality of schools and teachers in different communities, poor teachers, bad parenting and failing community services and supports.

It is unconscionable to me that we would expect less of a child based on his or her race/ethnicity. All kids have the ability to learn regardless of race or ethnicity.

It is true that often things such as socio-economic status and parental educational background have a lot to do with a child’s academic performance, exposure and experiences, but to dumb down the expectations of a child based on their race/ethnicity is really backwards.

And where is Florida getting this idea from? Virginia! No offense to Virginians, but Florida is following in Virginia’s footsteps when it comes to educating their students. Some say it’s so that black and Hispanic children won’t feel bad when they don’t perform as well as their white and Asian counterparts. Really?

When I was in high school I had to pass a competency exam to graduate, my race/ethnicity played no part in this. I was expected to get the same passing score as everyone. They same went for the exit exams I took in undergrad and graduate school.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush even said that this would send a “devastating message” that Hispanic and black students aren’t as capable as other students.

Palm Beach County School Board Vice-Chair Debra Robinson said she’s “somewhere between complete and utter disgust and anger and disappointment with humanity” because of this.

We do a disservice to our kids when we are basing academic standards on race/ethnicity. We will be placing a black mark on the high school diplomas of every black and Hispanic child.

It would be better to track students individually and not group them by race/ethnicity, but that would cost the state too much, so it’s easier to just make generalized, in my opinion, racist academic standards of achievement.

A long time ago I read a book called The Bell Curve and thought it was the most racist piece of garbage I had ever read. It was largely about whites intellectual superiority over blacks. This isn’t much different.

How can black and Hispanic children feel good about their academic achievements if they are held to a lesser standard, especially in elementary, middle and high school where these poor standards are setting them up for future failure?

In elementary school I always made the honor role until one day I got a “C” and cried. My teacher consoled me by saying “C’s are good for a boy”. After that day, I never made the honor role again until the 11th grade. I was happy with “C’s” and it was only until the end of my sophomore year in high school that I started making all A’s and B’s again.

What changed? I did, not the academic standards, or even the school or teachers, but me.

I learned that “A” stood for excellent, “B” for good, “C” for average, “D” for poor and “F” for failure. I told myself I was above average and aimed to never get below a “B” and from that point on in high school, through undergrad and graduate school, I didn’t.

With Affirmative Action, yes it helps minority students get into college with lower exam scores than whites and Asians, but once in college they are expected to keep up or get out. There’s a difference between that and this.

If we tell our kids it’s okay to be below average because of your race/ethnicity, I think it will have the same affects. Kids won’t try harder, they will accept poor performance as “good for my race/ethnicity”.

Those black/Hispanic kids that are high achievers, will never feel the pride they should feel.

We already have a problem with black/Hispanic kids being stereotyped as “not as good as” whites and Asians, but this is almost like making it official.

We all learn differently and EXPOSURE and EXPECTATION go a long way to defining a child’s self-efficacy. This is not the way of solving a problem, but creating one we all will have to deal with in the future.

Politicians are always saying that they want our nation to be at the top when it comes to math and science, but I guess that doesn’t apply if you are black/Hispanic. We should be encouraging, educating and encouraging all students, regardless of race/ethnicity, to do their absolute best, and not a percentage of what is considered the absolute best.

edit: My 16 year old niece, who is black and attends a predominately black school, just got accepted into the National Honor Society for having a grade point average of or above a 3.5. Imagine if the criteria for the National Honor Society was lowered for her just because she was black. I doubt she would have the same sense of pride and accomplishment she has today.