Preventing gun violence isn’t elementary — it’s preschool
Everything you need to know about gun violence prevention is happening right here in Winters, California. There has to be an epicenter somewhere and Winters is as good a place as any for the concentric circles to ripple outward.
I made this discovery while doing a story on a nifty little preschool program developed by Janet Andersen and Cheryl Moore, co-owners of The Treehouse preschool. Inspired by a preschool educational system called “Incredible Flexible You” that teaches preschoolers to communicate their feelings and learn social skills like patience and sharing, Anderson and Moore built an entire curriculum for preschoolers and preschool teachers alike, and called it “BOOST.”
They launched BOOST at their own preschool, and with private donors and funding from First 5 Yolo, were able to hire a BOOST teacher who spends an hour and a half in each preschool classroom in Winters each week, teaching all the children the same common language and skills for learning to get along with others and succeed in school.
Consider that: All Winters preschoolers are learning the same skills, and so will the preschoolers that follow, and on and on, until this wave of youngsters with excellent communication and social skills eventually enters high school, graduates, and spreads out into the world. Imagine the ramifications if this happened nationwide.
The BOOST prompts are brilliant. I loved the “thought bubble” like the ones you see over cartoon heads. Teachers remind children that “I don’t know what’s in your thought bubble until you tell me,” which prompts the child to communicate his/her feelings: “I’m angry” or “I’m frustrated” or “I want a turn” rather than just bashing the other kid over the head with a toy truck or dissolving into a wailing, writhing tantrum on the floor.
Forget kids — I know adults right now who could benefit hugely from learning to communicate what’s in their thought bubble rather than punching someone in the nose or passive-aggressive sabotage or the good old silent treatment. If adults are this bad at communicating our anger, pain, fear and frustration, how will we teach our kids to be any different?
The real possibility of teaching very young children impulse control, patience, empathy and communication is happening right here, right now, in l’il old Winters. In particular, they’re learning to recognize when they’re upset and take a different course of action than hurting someone else.
That. That right there. Put your thumb on it. THAT is precisely what we need if we’re ever to have any hope of decreasing gun violence, and homicide, rape and even the lesser crimes of robbery and theft too. We don’t need to change the laws that control the guns, we need to change the people holding the weapons. While I’m no huge fan of the NRA, I must concede that they have a point: Guns don’t kill people — people kill people. It is just simply fact. You could stack assault weapons on every corner, and they won’t kill anyone unless someone picks one up and pulls the trigger.
I’ll even concede another NRA point: Laws only work on people who obey laws. Laws mean nothing to self-centered sociopaths who lack respect, compassion and empathy for other people. Laws are as effective on sociopaths as they are on mountain lions. Go ahead — make a law for mountain lions that bans them from killing people and eating them, and then turn a mountain lion loose at the mall and see how well it obeys the law. Save the carnage, I’ll give you a hint: the mountain lion will pay as much attention to the law as the monster who walks onto a school campus and shoots students. Laws mean nothing to predators, whether they have four legs or two.
Being a lover of things in threes, I’ll concede one more NRA point: Restrict gun ownership and criminals will still get their hands on guns… because they don’t obey laws! Criminals will just steal guns from law-abiding citizens, such as the animals who murdered Steve Carter last month, or take legally owned guns belonging to family members, as was the case in the Sandy Hook shootings. There are no gun laws that would have prevented either tragedy.
Anderson and Moore, however, have created something that CAN prevent such tragedies, something much more significant than teaching preschoolers to share their crayons. I got so excited listening to them, I could barely focus enough to take notes. Imagine the exponential benefit of all children, nationwide, learning to interact non-violently and to communicate their feelings rather than act upon them. The potential effect of compulsory BOOST education beginning in preschool is huge.
Maybe the key to preventing gun violence isn’t better treatment for the mentally ill after all. Maybe the key is equipping every single child with positive, peaceful social skills.
In every preschool in every state across the country.
But, you protest, “It will take too long to see results!”
To that, I reply, “Then we’d better get started.”
“But it’s the parents’ job to teach their kids how to behave, not the educational system’s!”
Philosophically, that’s true. But the reality is it’s not happening for all children, and it’s the ones who aren’t learning positive social skills from their parents who end up causing the most damage. For the greater good of all, it makes sense to give all children — particularly those most in need — the tools they need to succeed educationally AND socially. People who are socially successful don’t shoot up schools or murder hikers.
There’s what “should be” and there’s “what is.” Do you want to cling to your platitudes or do you want real change? If we can teach math, we can teach positive social skills. Personally, I’ve never used algebra once in my entire life after graduation. But social skills have come in mighty handy.
But, you persist, “It’s too hard!”
Is it harder than making funeral arrangements for your child after another school shooting?
“It’ll be too expensive!”
Is the cost greater than the life of just one precious child?