Elliot Aronson (2002) paints this picture, “For a great many youngsters, the high school atmosphere is extremely unpleasant. For some, it is a living hell” (p. 211). This is because students are not always kind to other students. There are of course other reasons as well and many of those reasons are the personal issues that students are dealing with outside of class. Aronson continued, saying, “Given this kind of social atmosphere, and given the fact that teenagers spend almost half their waking hours embedded in that atmosphere, it should not be surprising that occasionally, some of these students… do damage to themselves or others” (p. 211).
All people have personal issues that they need to deal with. I will give an example from my life.
I have BP, bipolar depression, and it is something that I am continually aware of. For ten years my life was hugely influenced by it, because I did not know that something was physically imbalanced in my head. The last 12 years though I have been aware of the illness and have been largely stabilized by medication. Still the monster, BP, is always watching and ready to take control.
The depression cycle is what effected me most significantly. The manic spells were relatively mild, but the depression was deep. I hate and fear the depression cycle. I also feared to tell anyone about it. I felt that people would judge me harshly, be disappointed in me and I would hurt the ones I loved by bringing them fear because of my romancing the ideas of suicide. Finally my hand was forced and I told my family. There was a great feeling of relief to have others know and give me support. That support is what led me to define the problem and get medication to stabilize my moods.
More recently I was listening to music by Kimya Dawson and her song Competition really struck me with a powerful remembrance of my depression and I liked what she said.
...I’d wake up and I’d hear them say, “You’re fat, ugly and stupid you should really be ashamed. No one will ever like you you’re not good at anything.” And, sometimes I’d rise to the challenge, but other times I’d feel so bad that I could not get out of bed. And on the days I stayed in bed I sang and sang and sang about how crappy I felt, not realizing how many other people would relate. Now people send me emails that say thanks for saying the things they did not know how to say. And the people in my head still visit me some times and they bring all of their friends but I do not mind. I play my guitar like lightning. When I sing, I like it when you sing too loud and clear, different voices different tones saying, ‘yeah we’re not alone.’… (Dawson, 2006)
I realized that I wanted to make an art piece for both the manic and depression cycles and a third work that would tie the other two works into a cycle. The reason for this was to help other people who may be struggling with BP to know that someone relates to them, that they are not isolated in their struggles. I look at these works and they help me remember how bad things are without medication and what depression could feel like in the minds of others. This reminder brings awareness which in turn brings empathy that allows me to better relate with family, friends and students.
Every student has some package they are carrying with them. I have students whose parents have died, sometimes quite recently. I have a student who has no mom, but who has a dad who is an abusive alcoholic. I had a past student who was always in pain from never-ending migraines, he ended up killing himself to just get away from the constant pain. I had a student who loved softball and was very good at it, but her knees went bad and she couldn’t play anymore, and to top it off she had to have both knees replaced at age 16. There are problems of some kind in everybody's life. Students need support and kindness like I got, when I told my family of my bipolar and they did not hate me. For me, it was like having a three-hundred pound anvil lifted off of my heart. One major component of classroom compassion is students working with students, building them up and working together. Alfie Kohn in his article Caring Kids (1991) said that, “A dozen years of schooling often do nothing to promote generosity or a commitment to the welfare of others. To the contrary, students are graduated who think that being smart means looking out for number one”(p. 498). Students working together and developing compassion is an important part of developing a classroom community.
Aronson, E. (2002). Building empathy, compassion, and achievement in the jigsaw classroom. In J. M. Aronson (Ed.), Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors on education (1st ed., pp. 213-225). London: Academic Press.
Dawson, K. (2006). In Dawson K. (Ed.), The competition (1st ed.). Olive Juice, NY, NY: K. Records.
Kohn, A. (1991). Caring kids: The role of the school. Phi Delta Kappan, 72(7), 496-506.