Seventeen students were killed by a former student of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018 in Florida. Although this incident was reported widely, there are many other antisocial activities by minors which go unreported. The U.S. Department of Education reported that between 2013 and 2015, 160 shootings took place in American educational institutions. 53% of the incidents occurred in K-12 schools and 47% in colleges or universities. Shockingly, 56% of the perpetrators were minors and got the weapons from their homes.
After this recent incident, many are suggesting reconsidering gun policies and increasing security. Although there is always room for improvement in these areas, as an educator I also wonder about the roots of this problem. Daniel Goleman has suggested emotional intelligence as a way to reduce violence in the society. Indeed, growth in emotional intelligence may control behavioral problems to some extent. Still, questions remain: What is the norm of students’ behavior? Who is their role model?
In one of my college classes, students wrote about their favorite person. Most of the students chose movie stars, singers, sports stars, business magnates, political leaders, or TV preachers. When explaining their choices, students focused on the person’s celebrity, wealth, business success, leadership, charisma, or political power.
The students’ responses reflected the norms they were focusing on and pointed to the sources of their moral and ethical worldview. Movies, television, the internet, their reading, and society in general have greatly impacted our students’ norms. These models spread societal problems such as drug addictions, premarital sex, revenge, fraud, and violence.
To live safely and securely, our students need norms of behavior instructed by the Bible and Christ’s life. The scriptures advise us to “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Similarly, Ellen G. White says, “The future happiness of your families and the welfare of society depend largely upon the physical and moral education which your children receive in the first years of their life.”
It’s not easy to lead our students to God when societal norms contradict biblical principles. But there are many practical steps we can take. Here are a few to consider:
- Be compassionate, reacting to student misbehavior with kindness rather than condemnation.
- Encourage other students to provide a positive influence by speaking up when others do things against their principles.
- Pray with and for students.
- Show respect for students by giving them information about why the things they are doing are problems instead of simply rebuking them.
- Encourage students to make positive choices, but provide them with the freedom to choose.
To encourage a safe educational environment and society, teachers should introduce Jesus as a model to the students. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). He is the absolute norm for a happy life and a healthy society.