The head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools has a firm message to parents: If your child’s school is unsafe, get them out. And if you have to, home school them. Your kid’s life may depend upon it.
Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug Free Schools, presented these words while keynoting a state bullying conference in Connecticut on Monday, November 22nd. His candor and politically incorrect comments (for a D.C. political appointee) can be heard around the 01:37:30 and 01:40:00 timer marks of his video recorded session, which ran from around 01:02:00 to around 01:59:00 on the tape:
Federal Policy and Presentations Still Skewed Versus Comprehensive
While it was refreshing to hear him acknowledge that physical safety must be addressed, it would be more refreshing to hear greater attention to this aspect of school safety. Unfortunately, the Obama/Duncan/Jennings Administration minimizes the issue of violence. In fact, Kevin Jennings boasts that this Administration “redefines school safety” by going “beyond safety as the absence of threats” and instead focusing on bullying, incivility, and school climate, as he describes in the Connecticut presentation.
Unfortunately, this Administration has gone from one extreme to the other. Instead of emphasizing in keynote presentations like this the need for comprehensive and balanced approaches to school safety, Kevin Jennings and his colleagues continue to skew federal policy and funding on one area: Bullying and school climate. A skewed focus on bullying and climate is no more appropriate than a skewed focus on policing, security equipment, and emergency planning. We need a comprehensive approach, not one extreme or the other.
Bullying as Sole Cause of Suicides Questionable; Contagion Risk Still Ignored
It is also concerning that we again have a dramatic presentation directly linking bullying to suicide at the end of his presentation, where he uses slides of recent suicide victims to drive home the anti-bullying agenda. While the media and political hysteria around bullying has stated or implied a single direct link between bullying and teen suicides, suicide experts agree that multiple factors influence suicides. Experts also indicate 90% of individuals who complete suicide have diagnosable mental health issues at the time it occurs (see prior articles one, two, and three).
Again, it seems the U.S. Department of Education, like the media, special interest activists, and political opportunists, continue to ignore suicide contagion effect considerations. Given the public recording and distribution of this presentation on a news site, greater attention should have been given to suicide contagion considerations.
Jennings Presentation an Intriguing Mix of Passion, Politics, and Policy
Kevin Jennings gives a passionate and articulate presentation. He is a politically polarizing figure, to say the least, and in his presentation clearly distinguishes the Obama Administration as being different. In fact, toward the end of the presentation he even notes that the Obama Administration “inherited a mess” and in his 18 months he has not been able to do everything he hopes to do.
Jennings’ detractors, as well as his supporters, should view the whole presentation. It has a bit of everything: Passion, persuasion, politics, humor, and policy.
One take on the speech can be found in a blog post on Kevin Jennings presentation by gay rights advocate Michael Petrelis.
What’s your take?
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