Article by: Susan Bell and Claire Bell
Secondary school teachers are a cynical bunch – particularly those who have been in the system ten years or more. In this time, we’ve sat through a lot of professional development sessions aimed at enhancing our teaching and assessment skills.
The problem with these sessions is they are often delivered by people who have never been teachers, academics who’ve rarely been in a classroom, ex primary schoolteachers or those who left the profession because they could make a better living lecturing others how to teach.
The statistics confirm many teenagers are binge drinking. The research also suggests girls are becoming increasingly aggressive due to alcohol. The alarming rise in drinking and risky sexual behavior amongst teens is fuelling the debate about how schools and parents should work together to prevent the problem.
Certainly, if I recall my teenage years they were not filled with drinking and parties – something much more prevalent now and with increasingly younger teens. I also remember it was socially unacceptable to get blind drunk, which is often the aim now, as it was social suicide. So what’s changed?
Unfortunately, the carefully prepared statistics can’t tell us that. The research only confirms that alcohol abuse is increasing – something most teachers already know – and the usual suspects were there: bad parenting, lack of school prevention programs and the media. He spoke at length about parenting and his suggestions for controlling wayward youths. He also mentioned he’d never had a drink, even as a teenager, and that he didn’t have children.
I admit, I found it disconcerting to be lectured about these things from someone who had no experience of alcohol and wasn’t a parent. It’s like taking family planning advice from a priest. Furthermore, whilst the Powerpoint presentation showed depressingly familiar images of drunken teenagers, I couldn’t help but feel desperate for more than this.
What I would have liked to see, finally, were Powerpoint slides offering solutions. I’ve had enough of the distressingly familiar statistics accompanied by pictures of drunken teenagers. Where were the slides of teenagers who weren’t drinking and who weren’t disaffected? Surely, these individuals have something to contribute to this whole affair. What are they doing to avoid the pitfalls of alcohol abuse and risky behavior? It’s as if our entire psychology focuses on the despairing and neglects the happy people.
It’s as if the very structure of our culture is crumbling due to an obsession with money, possessions and entertainment. There is, I feel, a profound societal malaise occurring which our children are sensing. We have access to more information than ever before and yet it lacks context. We have traded information for meaning, entertainment for quiet reflection and possessions for human intimacy. We don’t value the natural world unless it’s to drain its resources, so we ignore its wonder, preferring to fix our eyes on deadening screens rather than into the anxious eyes of others. In short, we’ve lost our way and our children know it.
As he packed to go, I couldn’t help wondering if the man himself contained part of the solution. Maybe if he’d thrown his slides away, turned to his audience, looked each of us in the eye and said, “Look, I really don’t know what’s going on here, but I’d like to tell you why I’ve never had a drink.” His ability to navigate life as a functional human being without recourse to alcohol and risky behavior would have had us riveted and may have told us something truly wise and useful.