The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 29, 2012

Rush to judgment: Mistakes made

Editor’s note: The following is the first in a series by Carol Hoffman looking at how we raise our children in this country, how we formally educate them in our schools and how we can improve safety for our children at home and at school. Hoffman, of Dalmatia, is a wife, mother, grandmother, author, teacher, consultant and retired school administrator. She holds a doctorate from Temple University.

By Carol Hoffman

Ever since we learned of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we have been inundated by the same TV images over and over again along with a great deal of bad information. Wrong information.

That wrong information was accepted as correct, enabling TV reporters and police to speculate. Among the worst mistakes was incorrectly identifying the shooter. Another was claiming the shooter’s mother was a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Hook.

Just days later, all kinds of theories about this tragedy were being thrown around by people in the media, in an attempt to identify the cause of this tragedy. Another rush to judgment.

It is almost impossible to blame the behavior of the shooter on a single cause whenever a highly publicized tragedy occurs in this country. The cause tends to be whittled down to “he was a loner” or “his parents were divorced” or “the schools failed him or her” or “he had to be mentally ill — at least we think so” or “guns must be banned in our society.”   

It seems that once all the supposed causes are bandied about, the tragedy fades and nothing is done to address what really matters: The raising of a child from birth to adulthood and the school education of a child from kindergarten through high school.

How do we raise our children in this country? How do we formally educate them in our schools? How can we improve safety for our children at home and at school?

Together, over the next few weeks, I’d like us to explore those questions. Maybe by the time we reach the last article, we will be ready to make a commitment to a different way of thinking and doing.

Maybe we can come to realize that a rush to judgment can be not only wrong, but also harmful. A single cause explanation just doesn’t get us to where we need to go whenever a tragedy like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School occurs. It also doesn’t bring parents, teachers and communities together to make a long-term commitment to our children’s upbringing and formal education.

Tragedies tend to have multiple causes. The horrors of tragedies tend to have a short life as the images fade and we go about our busy lives. This is not a criticism but rather a way people cope with issues they assume they can do nothing about. Human nature kicks in whenever we feel helpless to correct things that are wrong for our children — at home and at school.

Let’s believe we really can improve life at home and at school.  

Let’s start with birth to the first day of kindergarten.

Then we’ll look at the early childhood curriculum our kindergarten through third-grade teachers are required to teach.

I’ll show my bias right now. While every teacher is important, kindergarten and first-grade teachers are the most important. Every middle and high school teacher should be required to spend a day in their district’s kindergarten or first-grade classroom. They will have a new understanding of what it’s like to deal with the “whole” child X up to 25 students!

Their respect for early childhood teachers will rise like the morning sun, illuminating the truths: early childhood teachers are the best observers of the young child who is already demonstrating behaviors that suggest potentially serious personality problems. A pattern of behavior —  actually misbehavior — is already observable during those early childhood years in school. Causes are more easily identified and addressed during those early childhood years than they are once children reach their teens.

To attribute the Sandy Hook killer of young children and their teachers, school principal and counselor to one cause is a faulty assumption. Many influences occurred over time to motivate a 20-year-old to plan and carry out extremely violent behavior.

I’d like us to have a serious conversation about “normal” early childhood development and the way things can go wrong along the way. In the meantime, our hearts are heavy for the children and staff who recently died violent deaths in school.  

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