Thursday, April 17, 2014

Questions to ponder about the future of our youth

Having spent nearly two and one half decades in Ontario classrooms, with adolescents, as one of their instructors, I am sensitive to stories about young people, especially stories that just might be indicative of something gone awry in their lives.
In the last several days, in the waters off South Korea, in Calgary, near Pittsburgh PA, and in Nigeria, stories involving trauma and young people have caught my eye.
While not all of these stories were perpetrated by youth, (South Korea witnessed a ferry capsize and the death of nearly 300*) others were incidents initiated by young people, one under the "guise" of an Islamic terrorist organization# while the other two were apparently the result of a young man's "snapping" and wreaking havoc among his peers, one in a high school in Pennsylvania** and the other at an end-of semester party in Calgary.##
Some scholars, including among then Carl Jung, have argued that events in human history are connected to other events; some scientists studying quantum physics have argued that when a butterfly dies in one part of the world, that death is 'recorded' in another part of the world. And there are already those, considered expert in the field of trauma intervention who posit that perpetrators of violent acts are more likely to be imitators than creators of those events.
However, whatever theorist's lens we choose through which to view these events (excepting one that declares them completely random and un-connected) one is prompted to wonder what is happening among the young people, and why?
  • We are witnessing masked men, refusing to declare any state association in eastern Ukraine, while obviously unofficially representing the interests of Russia and its president Putin; we are also witnessing the recruitment of hundreds of young men for the purpose of joining quasi-military gangs to fight for a religious "manifesto" in several parts of the world;
  • we listen to the echoes of 'sanctions' that have little if any impact in response to this latest Russian Machiavellian move; 
  • we are witnessing the slaughter of thousands in a seemingly interminable and unstoppable civil war in Syria, with all sides receiving support from what have commonly be called "state" actors;
  • we are experiencing the chasm of a deep divide between those who have and those who have not, with little if anything being done to stem that tide; we are also learning of serious reports about the imminent decline of the many eco-systems that provide food, clean air and water for human survival;
  • we are listening to stories about university graduates clawing their way into employment following graduation, with minimal efforts at attempting to link further training to job vacancies;
  • we see racial and ethnic skirmishes in many urban centres where technology makes "instant mobs" both easily achieved and frequently massed;
  • we witness rhetorical gestures of hollow ideals by men and women whose capacity to initiate fundamental change seems capped by both their imagination and their courage to resist the 'status quo' that supports both the acquisition of wealth as the highest human achievement and, naturally, puts those who have wealth at the top of the "influence" totem-pole of our political systems
  • we listen to and read stories that document a spike in heroin addiction deaths among the very wealthy in north-eastern United States, with the problem growing across the continent;
  • we learn about "law enforcement officers" armed with tasers patrolling the corridors of high schools "to protect students" who, if engaged in a conflict, are then tasered and suffer life-changing injuries;
And yet, we all wonder what is going on in the lives of these young people that might make them less than sanguine about their future, including the potential of their lives to impact the needed changes that they (and we) can see begging for attention, around the world. With the exception of the Korean ferry incident, in which mostly adolescents were the victims of a disaster at sea, the other incidents beg our collective and concerted attention, through a maze of many cogent questions:
What kind of world are we leaving for those who follow?
What kind of world would we like to leave for those who follow?
What kind of price are we prepared to pay in order to demand better answers from our governments than those that preserve the 'sinecures' of those in power?
What kind of new societal and cultural forums do we need to address our issues, from a perspective that puts the "public good" ahead of personal, regional and national self-interest?
How can we move toward a definition of "the public good" that includes all citizens of the planet, not merely the tribal instincts of small ghettos of racially homogenized and ethnically pure groups?
What are the new and pragmatic definitions of "power" both hard and soft in a world that knows intimately and profoundly the futility of military conflict?
How are we going to curb the negative ambitions of those experiencing the greatest scarcity (of learning, of food, of responsibility, of empathy and support) from becoming a tidal wave of survival demands?
What are the new 'canaries in the coal mines that we have yet to identify, and then to monitor, in our path to the survival of our best and most creative institutions and individuals?

*Nearly 300 people were feared dead last night after a ferry carrying hundreds of secondary school students sank off South Korea’s southern coast as they were en route for the holiday island of Jeju.
The Yonhap news agency said at least four people, including one student, were dead, and about 290 were missing, in what is looking like the country’s worst ferry disaster in decades.
The ferry was carrying 459 people, of whom 164 have been rescued, coast guard officials said. They included 325 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, just south of the capital Seoul, when it sent out a distress signal at 8:58am in waters 20km off the island of Byeongpoong. (By Clifford Coonan, Irish Times, April 17, 2014)
##Calgary police say the son of one of their own is a suspect in the worst mass murder in the city's history, a bloody and baffling attack on a group of university students at a house party.
Five young people were celebrating the last day of classes at the University of Calgary when they were stabbed to death early Tuesday. A suspect was arrested a short time later after he was tracked down and bitten by a police dog. (By Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press, in HuffPost Alberta, April 15, 2014)

#Heavily armed Boko Haram Islamists kidnapped more than 100 girls from a school in northeast Nigeria.
The radical group, which has attacked schools in the area before as part of their anti-government rebellion, carried off the students from the school in Chibok in Borno state late on Monday.
Witnesses said they saw gunmen arrive in trucks and on motorcycles and overpowered soldiers that had been guarding the school ahead of their yearly exams.
Officials said the gunmen killed a soldier and police officer and took off with at least 100 students and as many as 200.
“Over 100 female students in our government secondary school at Chibok have been abducted,” said Audu Musa, who teaches in another public school in the area. (By Lucy Kinder and agencies, in The Telegraph, April 15, 2014)

**A 10th-grader suspected of committing a stabbing rampage at a Pennsylvania high school on Wednesday has been charged as an adult with four counts of attempted homicide and 21 other counts.
The suspect, identified as 16-year-old sophomore Alex Hribal, injured at least 22 people before being taken into custody, the Associated Press reports. The teenager reportedly had a “blank expression” on his face as he slashed at his victims. He was being held without bail Thursday in a juvenile detention center.
Many of the victims—at least 21 students and a security guard—were critically wounded and hospitalized, though there were conflicting reports about how many. (By Sam Frizell and Denver Nicks, Time, April 9, 2014)

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