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After Parkland and Santa Fe

May 21, 2018

Parkland, Florida’s high school today services 3,000 students. Santa Fe, Texas’s student enrollment is 1,460.  In both schools, one student exhibited violent behavior. In the case of Parkland, the student responsible was expelled, “treated’ with mood altering drugs and “lost” to health services, his former high school and the local police. The student at Santa Fe exhibited bizarre behaviors in dress, but his demeanor did not require interventions.

In a smaller school of 500 students, both students might have been identified much earlier–but not in a school with 3,000 students or three times 500.

I know how schools like that try to cope. I graduated from North Miami high school in North Miami, Florida when North Miami was a Mecca for employment in Florida’s tourism industry and attracted tens of thousands of persons from northern states and rural areas of Florida. Teachers did their best, even using new technologies to teach basic courses, but were overwhelmed by sheer numbers of students. My high school graduating class had more than 1,000 graduates!

In any high school of gargantuan size some students will be “lost,” drop out, or be forced to leave. Some gifted students will find their calling.

Jeff Zucker, president of NBC, is a North Miami graduate. The founder of Planet Hollywood, Keith Barish, was my classmate, as was Stanley Ringler, later a Rabbi and executive with B’nai Brith. I went on to earn a Ph.D. Public speaking and debate programs at North Miami brought Barrish, Ringler and dozens of other students together and ameliorated the “mass education” we were compelled to endure.

I’m appalled, but not surprised, however, that today my former high school’s current enrollment is 2,578 schools, and that the Parkland and Santa Fee high schools also  “house” so many students.

A solution is to tear down those education “warehouses” and build neighborhood-centric schools of no more than 500 students. And, possibly, reserve one to serve as a Charter School for 500 students. That school will probably begin to attract applications from the remaining public high schools. If that happens, the other schools should be permitted to change their status.

But, will even that enable us to identify “problem” students?

The greater problem is American popular culture that demonstrates the attractiveness of violence in the form of video games, television programming  and extreme activities. All these are having an impact on “pre-Millennial” Americans.

Older “Millennials” are attracted to prescription drugs and a variety of opioids whose misuse is shattering families and killed 64,000 in 2017. Will some from this age cohort, whose behaviors do not lead to death, be attracted, later in life, to violence against fellow workers, elected officials or persons in authority?

In an earlier era, families, churches, religious colleges, and the general culture directed the actions of young Americans to socially constructive lives. No such social “controls” are effective today and the civic responsibilities of citizens were removed from higher education in the campus disruptions of 1968-1973. For forty-five years, college students have not been taught what their responsibilities are to one another.


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