What occurred inside that devastated school building in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 is a direct result of what does not often enough occur inside of school buildings: the study of emotional intelligence. Although this boy was apparently somewhere on the autism spectrum — which is itself a social skill deficit — and ended up being pulled out as a child and schooled all alone at home for a time, all children need intense social skill training. As one later classmate said of him about his experience during high school, “No one took the time to find out why he was the way he was.”
While schools can’t know what goes on in a child’s home, they certainly can endeavor to get to know what goes on inside the child’s head…and heart. They may not be privy to the reasons for a family to feature the collection of guns and rifles, and value shooting as a sport, but they can be privy to what comes into their building. As Dr. Dan Siegel says in The Mindful Brain, along with reading, writing, and arithmetic, reflection needs to be cultivated as the fourth ‘R’ — reflection on self, others and the world around us; in other words, the cultivation of attuned and pro-social behavior. Students must be taught to do it, and teachers must be taught to guide them; social skills are as vital to the survival of our society as the decoding of letters and numbers…maybe more so. How tragically ironic that a relationship-oriented principal and a dedicated psychologist went down with all the other beautiful and innocent lives on the ship of disaster that was sunk by an emotionally illiterate high school graduate, one who had quietly morphed into a sociopath due to something that was neglected decades ago and continues to be neglected in many schools all across this country. We need to be training all educators to inculcate emotional literacy in their students; that is, the ability to read and communicate with one another, which in turn enhances empathy for one another. Daniel Goleman echoes this in his book, Emotional Intelligence:
Educators, long disturbed by school children’s lagging scores in math and reading, are realizing there is a different and more alarming deficiency: emotional illiteracy. And while laudable efforts are being made to raise academic standards, this new and troubling deficiency is not being addressed in the standard school curriculum.
This can’t be a special assembly held twice a year. It needs to be part of a daily curriculum; that students are led through an exploration of their inner lives, written and orally, and are helped to respect and understand that of their classmates. We owe that to the precious children who lost their futures, to the families whose lives have been shattered by this senseless event, and to the young witnesses who will struggle to find meaning in this for the rest of their days.