Leadership and Influence

A commentary on how much leaders empower their followers

A February 12, 2020 Washington Post article titled, Trump’s rhetoric has changed the way hundreds of kids are bullied in classrooms, caught my attention. It reported:

2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.

The news article sites examples such as:

Two kindergartners in Utah told a Latino boy that President Trump would send him back to Mexico, and teenagers in Maine sneered “Ban Muslims” at a classmate wearing a hijab. In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating the president’s proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and, as she confided to her mother, told the girl: “This is Trump country.”

In 2017, the LGBTQ-rights organization Human Rights Campaign reported on a new survey of more than 50,000 young people ages 13-18 “revealing the deeply damaging fallout the November [2016] election had on youth across the United States.” The survey included respondents representing a diversity in gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and religious background. Seventy percent of those surveyed reported witnessing bullying, hate messages or harassment during or since the November election. Of those who witnessed such behaviour, 79% said it occurred more frequently following the start of the campaign.

I wondered how much my country is affected by this constant rhetoric we hear from our news media. The late and former Canadian Prime Minster, Pierre Trudeau, once said about the United States, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Canada is very much influenced by the United States, and not always in a good way.

CBC News did a series examining the impact of peer-on-peer violence on students and parents. Its October 29, 2019 article,  ‘I get nightmares’: How racial violence in high schools is taking a mental toll on students,  says:

In a first-of-its-kind survey commissioned by the CBC with 4,000 youths aged 14 to 21, more than half of young people that identified as visible minorities say they’ve been subjected to racist names or comments. One in eight said it happened more than five times. The survey also revealed that 41 per cent of boys reported being physically assaulted in high school, and 21 per cent have been threatened with a weapon — a significantly higher percentage than girls.

Although it was not stated, or even implied, I can only speculate that many of the racist bullies where inspired by rhetoric heard by political leaders in Canada, and especially the U.S. How can young impressionable minds not be influenced by the constant racist and xenophobic rhetoric coming from a person touted as the most powerful leader of the free world? Leaders empower and inspire people and the current resident of the White House is empowering children to bully. I am keenly aware after teaching for 35 years how much power my words had and how those words influenced my students. Teachers are leaders, and any leader empowers their followers.

Leaderonomics is a leadership development organization based in Malaysia that began with the purpose of transforming nations through leadership. Its article, Leadership Is Influence, defines influence “as the ability to move others into action.” It goes on to say, “Whenever we can change someone’s thought process and convince them to pursue a course of action, we have exercised influence, hence demonstrated leadership. The heart of strategic influencing is to gain willing cooperation instead of mere compliance.”

When I observe our world leaders, many of them use influence to gain compliance as opposed to cooperation. The recent Senate Impeachment hearings were more about complying with their political party as opposed to cooperating to determine if the U.S. president did indeed commit a crime.

An article titled, Influence and Leadership, says:

Leaders lead by mobilizing people around a compelling vision of the future, by inspiring them to follow in the leader’s footsteps…Leaders lead by modeling ways of thinking or acting…The best leaders are teachers, mentors, and role models–and they accomplish the vast majority of their work through influence, not authority.

Leaders should inspire us to be the best we can, yet I see many world leaders modelling selfish and bullying behaviours. What our world is sadly lacking is leaders who inspire people to create a better world. The Born This Way Foundation was created to build a future that supports the wellness of young people through an evidence-based approach that is fiercely kind, compassionate, accepting, and inclusive. I share their vision. I wish to do my part in creating a world that is kind, compassionate, accepting, and inclusive for everyone regardless of age.

Mohandas Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Leaders can inspire us to do that. The Dalai Lama said, “I believe that individuals can make a difference in society. Since periods of change such as the present one come so rarely in human history, it is up to each of us to make the best use of our time to help create a happier world” John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” We can all do our part in creating a better world, and as I’ve said in some of my previous posts, there is a very simple solution to bullying, and that is following the Golden Rule, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a rule that is recorded in many world religions and philosophies (see Wikipedia).

These Statistics are Shocking!

A commentary on bullying statistics

EducationCorner.com has some disturbing statistics on what students today have to deal with. It reports:

90% of students in grades 4-8 report have been harassed or bullied.

28% of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying.

20% of students in grades 9-12 experience bullying. (stopbullying.gov)

Over 160,000 kids refuse to go to school each day for fear of being bullied. (Nation Education Association)

6% of students report having witnessed bullying in their school, and over 71% say bullying is a problem.

Over 10% of students who drop out of school do so due to being bullied repeatedly.

Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying.

The Daily Mail article, Secret Service study… reports that

“most [75% according to statistics above] students who committed deadly school attacks over the past decade were badly bullied, had a history of disciplinary trouble and their behaviour concerned others but was never reported, according to a U.S. Secret Service study.”

Canadian Red Cross says

Over half of bullied children do not report being bullied to a teacher

71 % of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems, but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene.

Over 71% of  young people say bullying is a problem, and they are right. These statistics prove it. I find these statistics alarming, especially as a retired educator. I spent my entire career dealing with school bullies. I’ve always tried to address bullying problems when they arose—which was often. When I read that 71 % of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems, but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene, I am astounded. Is this a perception problem, or are many teachers all talk? Just because some teachers say they intervene, doesn’t mean they do, and what is that intervention? Is it a “tongue lashing,” some form of punitive action, or forcing the bully to apologize? I’ve tried all these methods and none of them curb bullying.

During much of my teaching years, I considered bullies to be “bad” kids who needed a good dose of discipline, which  meant punishing them punitively with detentions, expulsions, and even corporal punishment. Yes, corporal punishment was used when I first began teaching. Typically, the aim of punitive approaches is either to punish the offender or satisfy feelings of revenge. Now I look at the problem of bullying differently.

American author, Joel Osteen says,

“Keep in mind, hurting people often hurt other people as a result of their own pain. If somebody is rude and inconsiderate, you can almost be certain that they have some unresolved issues inside. They have some major problems, anger, resentment, or some heartache they are trying to cope with or overcome.”

 Joel Osteen is right! Bullies are really hurting people who take their pain out on others. As the adage says, “hurting people hurt people.” I am convinced that when we start addressing the hurts of people who bully, we will begin to heal the hearts of these bullies. One less hurting person is one less bully!

My book, “A Shattered New Start,” is written with this mindset and shows the human side of bullies. It is a story about a bully, Ryan, and his victim, Jonathan. Here is a teaser.

Young People Who Inspire Me (Part Two)

A commentary on social activism.

In my last post, Young People Who Inspire Me (Part One), I talked about Greta Thunberg, Áine Peterson, and Malala Yousafzai, three young people who inspire because they are making an impact in our world. I would like to continue with that same theme.

Greta Thunberg

First, an update on 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She is participating in the first ever Youth Climate Action Summit which brings youth climate campaigners together from more than 140 countries and territories to share their solutions to climate change on the global stage, and deliver a message to world leaders that we need to act now.

In her address to the UN Youth Climate Summit, she said, “Yesterday, millions of people across the globe marched and demanded real climate action, especially young people. We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable.” (see Greta delivers message). Her phrase, “young people are unstoppable,” caught my attention and I hope she is right since it is the youth that have  the most to lose.

CBC’s article, Protest for Climate Action, reported that millions of youth were taking to the streets in roughly 150 countries around the world on September 20,  as part of a global strike demanding world leaders gathering at a UN climate summit to adopt urgent measures to avert an environmental catastrophe. This worldwide strike was inspired by Greta, and these were her words to the demonstrators in New York:

“Right now, we are the ones who are making a difference. If no one else will take action, then we will…We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?”

I am excited about what is happening, as it gives me hope for change. I believe the world must change and UN Secretary-General António Guterres who spoke at the UN Youth Climate Summit said it best when he said,

“I have granddaughters. I want them to live in a livable planet. My generation has a huge responsibility. It is your generation that must hold us accountable to make sure we don’t betray the future of humankind.”

I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I want my children and future grandchildren “to live in a livable planet.” I’ve seen many science fiction movies that portrayed an uninhabitable world because we humans left the planet in ruins. The UN Secretary-General is right. The youth must hold my generation accountable. Let’s be honest; my, and previous generations, have exploited planet Earth for profits. American politician, Bernie Sanders, said, “What a disgrace that it takes a 16 year-old to tell world leaders what they won’t acknowledge.” He is right! So, I say, bravo, to Greta. I support your cause and wish you success.

Craig Kielburger, age 12

Craig Kielburger, a Canadian human rights activist and social entrepreneur, is another young person who inspires me. I used him as an example  of how one person can make a difference when I taught high school Social Studies. He is the co-founder, with his brother Marc Kielburger, of WE Charity, as well as WE Day.  In 2008, Kielburger was named a Member of the Order of Canada.

Craig Kielburger’s story starts in 1995, when at age 12 years old, he saw the headline, Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered, in the Toronto Star newspaper. This was a story about a young Pakistani boy, a child labourer, turned child-rights activist who was killed for speaking out against the carpet industry. Kielburger did research on child labour and asked his grade seven teacher to speak to his classmates on the topic. Several students wanted to help, and the group of pre-teens started “Kids Can Free the Children” (later named WE Charity).

In December that same year, Kielburger travelled to Asia to see for himself the conditions of child labourers. While there, he learnt that then Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, was travelling to India. He requested to meet with Mr. Chrétien, and was initially denied.  Kielburger was granted 15 minutes with Chretien, and he advocated for Canadian action on the issue of child labour, making headlines across Canada and internationally.  Kielburger attracted international media attention with features on 60 Minutes and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Remember, this young man was 12 years old when he was inspired to act against injustice. I have taught many 12 year-olds, and don’t recall any of them being that aware of injustice in the world.

Time Magazine’s article, The School Shooting Generation Has Had Enough, tells the story of the Never again MSD movement. The days after the Parkland shooting—On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire with a AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others—Parkland kids publicly called out the NRA’s influence on national politics, and shamed the leaders they considered responsible for the nation’s slack gun laws.

Cameron Kasky in centre

The Never Again MSD group was co-formed by Cameron Kasky and his high school friends in the first four days after the shooting.  After a vigil, Kasky invited Wind and Whitney (the other cofounders) to his house, and they came up with the name “Never Again.” The next three days after the shooting, the group gained over 35,000 followers on Facebook. The group organized a nationwide protest on March 24, 2018, where nearly a million kids across the country left class for the National School Walkout to protest the school-shooting epidemic.

The Never Again group has lost the attention of the media and is no longer making headlines. Since the groups inception, many attempts to discredit the Never Again movement have been attempted in the form of verbal attacks and misinformation by right-wing Republican leaders. Wikipedia provides specifics.

Many have spoken out about school shootings. Here are some of the most noteworthy in my opinion. Richard Patrick, an American musician, singer and songwriter, said:

“We live in a crazy time. Every other week, there’s a school shooting. There’s always some nutty thing and I’ve always wanted to kind of understand the crazy.”

Florence Yared, a Parkland school shooting survivor, spoke in Tallahassee, Florida. This was where five people were shot and wounded at the University Village Shopping Center. She passionately said:

“The right to bear arms … does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…We cannot protect our guns before we protect our children.”

Brandon Wolf, Pulse nightclub shooting survivor, also spoke in Tallahassee. He said:

“After first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook, what did you do? Not a damn thing. After 49 people, including my two brothers, were murdered at Pulse, what did you do? Not a damn thing. You plugged your ears and turned your eyes and hoped that we would stop talking. Now we’re here again. 17 people are dead. 14 of them are children. And what did you do yesterday when given the chance to do something about it? Not a damn thing.”

According to Wikipedia, there have been 28 school shootings in 2019, and that doesn’t include the many that have been thwarted. The young people behind the Never Again MSD movement have just cause.

Young people—high school aged when they started—are leading the way for change and speaking out against injustice. Why? Because they have Didaskaleinophobia, the fear of school or fear of going to school. An American High School student, Jillian French, said, “We shouldn’t have to be scared (when we leave for school) that we are not going back home.” Like Greta Thunberg, high school aged youth have to tell leaders in the U.S. what they won’t acknowledge.

I applaud these young people, support their cause, and wish them success! Thank God for youth! They just might save the world.

Young People Who Inspire Me (Part One)

A commentary on impressive young people.

Often, my commentaries are about something negative happening in the world, and there are no shortage of those stories. The other day I was watching CTV News and they reported on 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, arriving in New York City to attend a conference on global warming. A while back, I saw a video of this young lady’s speech to the U.N, and she inspired me then.

Now, I’ve spent a career working with young people, and I’ve taught many who inspired me to be a better person. I’ve also taught many who were troubled and not so inspiring. Today’s youth are often portrayed as “bad news” by much of the media and it seems to be the ‘bad ones’ who make the headlines. On August 28, CBC ran this headline; Verdict in October for youth accused of shooting German tourist west of Calgary. In July the country was consumed with this story: How 3 killings in B.C. turned into the cross-Canada pursuit of 2 teenagers. There are no shortage of stories about “bad youth.” It made me wonder about the “good youth?” It seems the youth who are making a difference in our world are seldom recognized, so this post is dedicated to the “youth who inspire me.” Allow me to introduce some of them.

First, I’ll start with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. I first heard about Greta when I saw a video of her U.N. speech when she was 15 years old. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

This is Greta’s story according to Wikipedia. Thunberg says she first heard about climate change in 2011, when she was 8 years old, and could not understand why so little was being done about it. Three years later she became depressed and stopped talking.

In 2018, at the age of 15, Thunberg took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament holding up a sign calling for bold climate action. Her “school strike for the climate” began attracting media attention and other students then engaged in similar protests in their own communities. Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and she has inspired student strikes that took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were at least two coordinated multi-city protests involving over one million students each. I can’t help but admire these students who are standing up for the planet. Why wouldn’t they, since they are the ones who will inherit the mess my, and previous generations, left for them.

This teen is a much needed “mover and a shaker” on an issue our political leaders are ‘dragging their feet’ on. Why is climate change being touted as ‘not a big deal’ by many political leaders? Because of money, because making changes affects the economy, and likely the biggest reason, to maintain the lifestyle of the wealthily. The United Nations has said that “climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment.” Thank God for Greta Thunberg because she is motivating our youth to speak out, and take action; Greta has given young people a voice. I applaud this young lady!

CBC News has a story, Climate activist Greta Thunberg lands in New York harbour after Atlantic voyage, The 16-year-old landed in New York after crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a zero-emissions sailboat to attend a conference on global warming. She is set to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. The teenager refused to fly to New York to avoid a plane’s fossil-fuel emissions. This is a 16-year-old with integrity; a person who lives by what she preaches.

Global News reported a few days later that People’s Party of Canada Leader (a leader of a new political party in Canada) Maxime Bernier attempted to discredit Greta Thunberg by calling her “mentally unstable.” Mr. Bernier is one of those political leaders who thinks Climate Change is being exaggerated. Essentially, he is a Climate Change denier.

From CNN

CNN has a story entitled, A 7-year-old wants to build a wall to highlight kindness around the world. The article explains that when 7-year-old Áine Peterson saw images of child migrants being detained at the US-Mexico border, she had to speak out about injustices in the world. The article says, “While some politicians see a divisive wall as a solution to the immigration crisis, Áine, who calls herself ‘the Kind Crusader,’ envisions a wall to bring people together. All the art work she is asking for has to be revolved around kindness, like giving shelter to those in need.” Aine says in a video promoting her campaign, “I want to put together a kindness wall, with art from people all around the world.”

Now I have taught 7-year-olds, and in my experience, this is no ordinary 7-year-old. No 7-year-old that I have worked with has a sense of injustice like Aine does. This is one special kid who deserves to be listened to. She is one to watch and is one who will have an impact on this world.

Another impressive young lady is Malala Yousafzai. She is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She is known for her human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school.

Here is her story according to Wikipedia. In early 2009, when she was 11, Malala wrote a blog detailing her life during the Taliban occupation of Swat Valley in Pakistan. She rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television. On October 9, 2012, after taking an exam, Malala Yousafzai and two other girls were shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism. The 15-year-old was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious in critical condition. The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of support for her.

Following her recovery, Malala became a prominent activist for the right to education, especially for girls. She founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization. She was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, and then aged 17, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. In 2017, she was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship and became the youngest person to address the Canadian House of Commons of Canada.

This young lady is making a difference in this world. She comes from a part of the world where females were, and maybe still are, denied a basic human right of education. Article 26, of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, it says; “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” Malala is fighting for a basic human right. Sadly, we still live in world where the sexes are not equal and basic human rights are denied to some people. Those of the female gender are not treated equally to males. As Plato once allegedly said, “If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.”

I applaud this young lady for her work to achieve equality between the genders. As Ban Ki-moon, the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, “Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.” Malala deserves to be recognized for her important work.

These are three young people who I admire for their bravery and passion. I will introduce others in my next post.

DNA: The Mystery Molecule

A commentary on the effects of trauma.

DNA: A double helix molecule

One of many subjects I taught in high school was biology, otherwise known as life science. One of my favourite topics to teach was on DNA which stands for Deoxyribonucleic acid. I always told my students—because that is what science told us—that DNA doesn’t change except when a mutation occurs. A mutation is a change in the DNA’s code. A number of months back, my daughter, who is presently studying in Ireland, talked about a study she read about.  The study was done on Holocaust survivors where the researchers determined that genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered were capable of being passed on to the next generation . I was quite fascinated with this idea as I had always believed change cannot occur in DNA unless there was a mutation.  This suggests that a person’s life experience can affect succeeding generations.

How can our life experience change our DNA? I wanted to know, so I did some research. There is a branch of study know as Epigenetics which studies how a person’s experiences can affect how their genes are expressed.  LiveScience says these “epigenetic changes are biological markers on DNA that modify gene expression without altering the underlying sequence. It says researchers have found that environmental factors, such as trauma, stress and even diet, can activate epigenetic changes.” In case you are not sure what is meant by gene expression, it is the process by which genetic instructions—the DNA code—is used to synthesize gene products. These products are usually proteins, which go on to perform essential functions as enzymes, hormones and receptors.

More specifically, environmental factors may alter a person’s genetic expression though chemical tags attached to DNA that turn genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that these tags might somehow be passed on to future generations thereby affecting the way their DNA is expressed. A CBC article talks of a McGill University study where researchers found that rat offspring raised by mothers that were anxious and non nurturing became anxious when they became adults, whereas offspring raised by relaxed, high-nurturing mother rats became relaxed adults when they grew up.

This has huge repercussions.  A CBC article, Researcher proposes study on how residential school trauma may have affected genes, tells of an indigenous researcher who is wondering if the experiences of residential school survivors had lasting effects on their genes.  Another CBC article, How ‘vicarious trauma’ is passed down from parent to child in military families, says there is a new generation of children grappling with effects of parents with PTSD from Afghanistan deployments. It is documented that children of traumatized people are at increased risk for mood and anxiety disorders and the article suggests this might relate to epigenetics. A Scientific American article, Changing Our DNA through Mind Control? reports a study that found meditating cancer patients are able to affect the makeup of their DNA.

National Human Genome Research Institute has an article, Child abuse leaves epigenetic marks, which sites research showing that Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) patients who were abused as children have different patterns of DNA methylation, the process of replacing a hydrogen atom with a methyl group,  and gene expression compared to those who were not.

Researchers at Tulane University School of Medicine have found that exposure to violence, suicide or the incarceration of a family member can leave lasting marks on stretches of DNA called telomeres in children. Telomeres are repetitive sequences of DNA found at the end of chromosomes that act as protective caps. Telomeres shorten a little bit every time a cell replicates until they reach a certain limit whereby cells will no longer replicate.

Science Alert has an article, Depression Can Physically Change Your DNA, Study Suggests, which describes how researchers from the United Kingdom have found evidence that depression doesn’t just change our brains, but also alters our DNA and the way our cells generate energy.

An Huffpost article, Suicide and Trauma May Be Woven in DNA for Native Americans, says researchers found that Native people have high rates of Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) and health problems such as post-traumatic stress, depression, substance abuse, and diabetes which are all linked with methylation of genes regulating the body’s response to stress.

from http://www.howmanypeopledied.net

I’ve already referred to the study on Holocaust survivors, where a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital did a genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had to hide during the second world war (see Holocaust). The researchers also analyzed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders compared with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. Their conclusions:

This is the first demonstration of an association of preconception parental trauma with epigenetic alterations that is evident in both exposed parent and offspring, providing potential insight into how severe psychophysiological trauma can have intergenerational effects.

Perhaps there is more to this. Science Daily has an article called, DNA Is Dynamic and Has High Energy; Not Stiff or Static as First Envisioned. It says researchers are now saying DNA is not stiff or static. It is dynamic with high energy existing naturally in a slightly underwound state and its status changes in waves generated by normal cell functions such as DNA replication, transcription (the making of ribonucleic acid or RNA), and repair. The article says DNA is accompanied by a cloud of counterions (charged particles that neutralize the genetic material’s very negative charge). In other words, there is an energy field around a DNA molecule.

The article, Quantum Entanglement Holds DNA Together, Say Physicists,  says a group of physicists claim that the weird laws of quantum mechanics may be more important for life than biologists could ever have imagined. They say DNA is held together by quantum entanglement.

These physicists describe a simplified theoretical model of DNA in which each nucleotide—the main building block of DNA—consists of a cloud of electrons around a central positive nucleus. This negative cloud can move relative to the nucleus and so moves back and forth like a harmonic oscillator. When the nucleotides bond to form a base, these clouds must oscillate in opposite directions to ensure the stability of the structure.  In other words, energy is a part of the DNA molecule.

The Metaphysical Institute, maintain that humans have an integrated energy field known as the Aura which has a number of layers that surround us and permeate our bodies and cells. The different layers or fields within our Auras each have different purposes. The institute says all diseases, illnesses, injuries, mental and physical problems are caused in part by disturbances in energy fields. Research has found that disturbances show up in the fields before any disease or other problem appears.

Researchers discovered that DNA naturally fluoresces, is an article by Phys.org. The article says a Northwestern University team recently caught fluorescing, the property of absorbing light of short wavelength and emitting light of longer wavelength, in DNA. In other words, DNA involves the absorption or emission of energy. Some are even suggesting that one of the major functions of human DNA is that it receives and transmits energy. Some spiritual writers say the passing on of environmental influences of DNA involves the molecule’s energy field. This comes to no surprise to me as Albert Einstein once said,

“Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality that you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy, this is physics.”

No matter how these genetic changes are passed on to future generations doesn’t matter. What matters is that science is showing that trauma affects us humans genetically and so therefore can be passed on to future generations. Now that we are aware of this, it is imperative that we take preventative measures to prevent traumas such as violence, racism, or anything that creates stress. I know that is a tall order, but for the sake of future generations, it is imperative that we do so!

Could Meditation be the Answer?

A commentary on the use of mindfulness programs in schools.

If you have  been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a retired teacher who taught for 35 years. I still substitute teach from time to time, so I stay in touch with the teaching world. I’ve spent my career wondering what the best way to deal with disruptive, reluctant learners is. I often debated whether to kick a disruptive kid out of class, keep them in at breaks, send him or her to the office or just tolerate them. When I began my teaching career, the school I was at practiced corporal punishment in the form of strapping students. Physical abuse is not the answer either.  In 35 years I have never found an ideal method.

I recently came across an article on a blog called: The Way of Meditation. The article was titled: School Replaced Detention with Meditation. Now this intrigued me. I meditate regularly and it certainly has made a difference in my life. The article quotes the Dalai Lama who said, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Wow!  That would be amazing. Just watching the news occasionally tells me there is an enormous need. Not only that, could this be the answer to a school’s discipline problems?

The article tells of Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, a city located in the state of Maryland in the United States. This school starts its day with a breathing exercise over the PA system and ends it with an after-school program of yoga and meditation in addition to the usual sports activities. The school’s staff guide students through breathing and other centering exercises in the Mindful Moment room, which is a calming space with cozy cushions and beanbags, lit by glowing pink Himalayan salt lamps. When one of the students become a discipline problem, he or she is sent to the Mindful Moment room. In the room, unruly students are guided to sit, breathe and meditate in order to calm down and re-center. They are also counselled to talk about what happened.

Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama

Now what a fantastic idea! A Mindful Moment room—meditation room—instead of a detention room. I wish I had thought of that. In another article, Meditation is Imperative: Schools Replacing Detention…, it tells of a dialogue with the Dalai Lama after the Paris Attacks in November 2015. The Tibetan spiritual leader claimed that humanity bears part of the responsibility for the emergence of global terrorism. He said praying to God for a solution and using the hashtag of the likes of #PrayforParis won’t do much to help. I agree! His most impactful statement was, “Let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.”  He’s right! Praying to God or wanting governments to fix things hasn’t worked so far. As the Buddha says, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”  

The Guardian’s article: One of San Francisco’s toughest schools transformed by the power of meditation, tells of Visitacion Valley middle school in San Francisco, California, which is a school surrounded by drugs and gang violence.  Students at this school were often stressed out and agitated as on one occasion three dead bodies were dumped in the schoolyard. In 2007, a meditation program called Quiet Time was brought in to deal with worried students. A month after the meditation program began, teachers noticed changes in behaviour. Students appeared happier, worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of conflicts fell dramatically.

Now, I began to wonder if there are schools in Canada that practice mindfulness. In case you are not familiar with this word, the Mindfulness Institute of Canada defines mindfulness as “a state of being fully present in the present moment, with acceptance and without judgement.”  This is really the same thing as meditation as the Free Dictionary defines meditation as “a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.” It seems there are schools in Canada that have instituted this practice.

Young girl meditating

According to Macleans.ca, in the city of Toronto, Ontario,  the District School Board introduced lessons in mindfulness to all of its 200 Grade 9 students. In six workshops over a two-month period, led by the school’s teachers, students practiced breathing, “body scans” (a meditation exercise that draws attention to different parts of the body), and learned to “surf the wave” of difficult emotions, like anger and anxiety. The article reports that the “response was overwhelmingly positive.” Another place in Canada that has adopted mindfulness is in Vancouver, British Columbia,  where Renfrew Community Elementary School is located. In this school students begin their day by heading outside to do tai chi.  The school’s assemblies always start with a mindful breathing exercise.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that mindfulness is the answer. Change.org has an online petition to remove Mindfulness Programs from Canadian Public Schools. The petition’s authors argue that legislated meditation in Canadian public classrooms is unlawful, and are alarmed that mindfulness stems from Buddhist meditation. They argue that if mindfulness meditation is permitted, then what is to stop decision makers from forcing students to engage in mandatory Transcendental Meditation? Or mandatory hypnosis? Or require all students to eat bacon three times per day, regardless of their vegetarian or vegan standing. This seems to me to be somewhat of a paranoid reaction, none-the-less, everyone is entitled to their point of view.

Forbes.com published an article titled, Science Shows Meditation Benefits Children’s Brains and Behavior, which lists the following benefits of meditation:

  1. Increased attention: A study in 2013 showed that in boys with ADHD, with an eight-week training in mindfulness, significantly reduced hyperactive behaviours and improved concentration.
  2. Increased attendance and grades in school: One school district in California prolonged its school day in some of its “high-risk” schools in order to add meditation into the day. These schools have reported better attendance and grades, fewer suspensions, and happier, less aggressive kids.
  3. A reprieve from outside trauma: Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to help kids who are dealing with stressors such as neglect at home.
  4. Better mental health: One study found that an afterschool program consisting of yoga and meditation helped kids feel happier and more relaxed.
  5. Self-awareness and self-regulation: A study found that a mindful yoga treatment helped kids improve their ability to self-regulate, or control themselves, over the longer-term in a one-year study.
  6. Social-emotional development: One study found that a social-emotional learning program coupled with mindfulness was more effective than a classic “social responsibility” program as kids using mindfulness in their treatment had greater empathy, perspective-taking, and emotional control, compared to the control group.

The Harvard Gazette reports an eight-week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, a study which involved taking magnetic resonance images (MRI) from 16 study participants two weeks prior to the study, determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s grey matter in just eight weeks.

If you are not familiar with the nervous system’s grey and white matter, here is a quick biology lesson. Grey and white matter are found in the brain and spinal cord. Grey matter is found in brain areas that control an individual’s perception, such as how things are seen or heard, the formation of memories and the influencing speech and emotions. White matter connects one region of the brain or spinal cord to another transferring nerve impulses in and out of the grey matter.  Medical science has always told us that grey matter cannot rebuild, but Harvard’s research seems to suggest otherwise.

There is no doubt in my mind that meditation, or mindfulness, reduces stress, promotes relaxation, improves personal happiness and induces feelings of peacefulness. I have personally experienced it. As a retired teacher, I would have welcomed anything that curbed undesirable student behaviours, improved student work habits and grades, and made the classroom a better learning environment. If mediation–mindfulness programs–does that, then I say bring it on.

It’s Time to Give Youth a Voice!

A commentary on giving youth a real voice.

From CBC.com

CBC News reports in its article,  Thousands of students in U.S. walk out of classes to protest gun violence, accounts that students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida staged  a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the Florida school shooting victims from February 14.  This walkout was exactly a month to the day after an expelled student using an AR-15 assault-style rifle treaded into the school and opened fire, killing 14 students and three of its staff members. More than 3,000 walkouts were planned throughout the U.S. The purpose of the protests was to pressure federal lawmakers to pass gun control laws. Parkland students argue such laws will prevent other students from having to face the kind of trauma they experienced. As a retired social studies teacher, this is exactly the kind of activity I encouraged my students to participate in; to make their voices heard.

According to Wikipedia, there have been  219 (assuming I counted correctly) school shootings since the April 20, 1999. Why this date?  That is the date of the Columbine High School massacre where two Columbine students killed twelve students and one teacher as well as injured 24 others. They finished their massacre when they committed suicide. I especially remember this event because 8 days later, in Canada, a 14-year-old boy opened fire inside the W.R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, killing student Jason Lang and seriously injuring another student. In Canada, during the same time period, there have been three school shootings according to Wikipedia, one of which was in a college. When you compare Canada to the U.S., it clear that American students have just cause for concern.

Each time there is a mass shooting south of the border, the United States regime debate gun control, but nothing changes. Laws change minimally if at all.  Time.com makes an interesting statement saying, “though they [the students] may not be old enough to vote, they are making their voices heard outside the nation’s schools — in some cases, by physically getting up and leaving.”

That statement got me thinking. Do young people, those under the age of 18, have a voice or are they marginalized? Observing what is proceeding with the students in the U.S. and seeing them take a stand, I would say young people have been marginalized. The legal voting age in Canada and the United States is age 18. Now I’ve always bought the argument that young people are not ready to have that responsibility. They are not knowledgeable enough or responsible enough to be given the right to vote. Thinking about that, the same argument could be made about adults, those over age 18. I’ve met many, many adults who are not knowledgeable or responsible when it comes to politics. I now believe that age is not a factor.

Being curious, I wanted to know how many countries in the world have lowered the voting age to less than age 18. According to Worldatlas, Legal voting age by country, there are 15 countries plus the European Union, with its 28 member countries, that have voting ages less than 18. This is a topic I have discussed with my social studies classes over the years and I remember having some lively discussions with my under 18 students. Most advocated for the right to vote.

Craig Kielburger is a Canadian author and activist for the rights of children.  In 1995, when he was age of 12,  Kielburger saw a headline in the Toronto Star newspaper that read “Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered.” This was a story was about a young Pakistani boy who was forced into child labour in a carpet factory at the age of four. Kielburger researched child labour and asked his seventh-grade teacher to speak to his classmates on the topic. As a result, a group of pre-teens started ‘Kids Can Free the Children’ which later became ‘Free the Children’.

In November of 2000, Craig Kielburger is quoted as saying:

Lowering the voting age to 16 is not a novel idea. Brazil has recently given the right to vote at all levels of government to 16-year-olds in that country. France, England and Australia are also contemplating lowering the voting age. Last month I attended meetings with world leaders at the State of the World Forum in New York City and met with the Japanese Minister of Finance to discuss youth issues during a trip to Japan. On November 27 [date of a Canadian federal election], however, I shall be denied the right to cast my vote for the individual I believe should lead my own country. Why? Because I am 17 years old. The time has come for Canadians to take a serious look at lowering the voting age to 16.  (see Giving Youth a Voice).

In an electoral studies research article prepared in 2012, Voting at 16: Turnout and the quality of vote choice, it says in the abstract,

Critics of giving citizens under 18 the right to vote argue that such teenagers lack the ability and motivation to participate effectively in elections. If this argument is true, lowering the voting age would have negative consequences for the quality of democracy. We test the argument using survey data from Austria, the only European country with a voting age of 16 in nation-wide elections. While the turnout levels of young people under 18 are relatively low, their failure to vote cannot be explained by a lower ability or motivation to participate. In addition, the quality of these citizens’ choices is similar to that of older voters, so they do cast votes in ways that enable their interests to be represented equally well. These results are encouraging for supporters of a lower voting age.

What struck me in this research was, “failure to vote cannot be explained by a lower ability or motivation to participate…the quality of these citizens’ choices is similar to that of older voters.” Age does not seem to be a factor.

A Capital News article,  Four reasons Canada should lower the voting age, gives the following four reasons for lowering the voting age.

  1. It might encourage a higher voter turnout. In Canada we have something called ‘Student Vote.’ On its website, it says, ‘Coinciding with government elections, students learn about government and the electoral process, research the parties and platforms, discuss relevant issues and cast ballots for the official election candidates. The results are shared with the media for broadcast and publication following the closing of the official polls.” If we are having our youth do this, why not grant the youth actual voting privileges.
  2. Young people would adopt the habit of voting. It seems to me that is what ‘Student Vote’ is attempting to do.
  3. Expand the notion of democracy. As the article says, students are taxed when they work so they should have the right to vote.
  4. The teenagers of today are engaged in their world and want to make a difference. My experience working with youth for 35 years as an educator, is I have seen many students speak passionately about world events and their role in it. It was not uncommon for me to hear a student say (paraphrased); “You adults are messing things up in our world so maybe it is our turn to have a say.”

The Guardian article, Have faith in our generation, quotes 16 year old, Chloe, from Scotland who says, “Politicians need to let go of old stereotypes and have faith in my generation.” The article explains that teens argue: ‘When we turn 16 we are trusted with responsibilities such as consenting to sexual activity, buying lottery tickets, and marrying or registering a civil partnership. It is absolutely absurd to grant young people these responsibilities without letting them have a say in their own future.’ I would also add that teens are considered responsible enough drive, so why not vote.

According to the article, Scottish 16-year-olds have proven they are engaged and capable of handling the right to vote based on the statistic that 16-year-olds had a greater turnout at the 2014 independence referendum than 18 to 24 year-olds.

I guess it’s official. I’ve had a change of mind. I do think the voting age should be lowered to age 16. We ‘Student Vote’ anyway.  Why not give them a real say? I have taught some very intelligent and passionate teens over the years who are educated on issues and know their position on issues. Yes, there are those who don’t care, but there are many people who have voting privileges who are apathetic. The fact that 31.7% of eligible voters did not vote in Canada’s 2015 federal election proves this.