Mind Games

The state should leave mental health to mom and dad.

This session, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 11 and House Bill 18 in response to the recent school shootings, specifically the shooting at Santa Fe High School located outside Houston. SB 11 establishes a number of new requirements to ensure school safety, many of which address the mental health of students. HB 18 is entirely about Texas students’ mental health, adding requirements to curriculum, employee training, and many programs and services designed to improve the mental health conditions of Texas schools.

SB 11 and HB 18 increasingly shift the responsibility of students’ mental health onto school teachers and administrators and away from parents. I believe this is a negative change for a few reasons.

First, I do not expect the Texas public school system to be successful in its efforts to improve the mental health of its students. Literacy is a core responsibility of schools, but as of 2017, less than half of Texas third graders read at or above the grade level standard. If our schools cannot teach most children to read, I see no reason why they will be able to successfully improve their mental health conditions, seeing as mental health is a far newer and far more complex field of study than literacy.

Second, because most students who have mental health issues do not commit school shootings, this indicates that school is not the cause of these shootings. While school safety is a problem schools should fix with measures like increasing security and drills, the mental health of students is not a problem schools should attempt to fix because mental health is an issue that can arise independently of school. Thus, we as a society should work to find the root cause of the shootings and work to improve mental health conditions in that area.

The mental health of students should always be the responsibility of their parents.

Furthermore, whether you believe those who commit school shootings are driven to do so by mental health issues combined with a lack of community, increased societal polarization, a rise in white supremacy, or something entirely different, these societal problems arise outside of school and should be fixed outside of school.

Third and most importantly, the changes made in SB 11 and HB 18 are not positive changes because mental health simply should not be the responsibility of schools, regardless of the issue of school shootings and safety. Instead, the mental health of students should always be the responsibility of their parents.

SB 11 and HB 18 are symptoms of a larger shift in how our culture views schools. Instead of just viewing school as a place for academic learning, we increasingly view it as a place for young adult daycare and moral growth.

In the mid-twentieth century, public schools in America began including sex education in their curriculum. Unlike biology, which teaches facts about the human reproductive system, sex education teaches students certain behaviors they should or should not engage in. Sex education is a form of education that should be included in a child’s moral upbringing; thus, parents should be responsibly to teaching it to their children.

The same goes for the health education taught to students starting in elementary school. It is one thing for a school to teach (likely in a biology class) the reasons why lean proteins are good nourishment for a human. It is another for a school to teach (likely in a health class) that students should eat certain foods and avoid others. While the information may be the same, the framing of the information is different. This difference is what is wrong with health education. It is assuming responsibilities which should belong to parents and which would belong to them otherwise.

One of the most popular critiques of homeschooling is that homeschooled children miss out on important socialization. This criticism is based on the idea that a main component of traditional schooling is socialization. This view of schooling is fundamentally flawed because it takes something that should happen in the home—the moral, social, and emotional development of children—and puts it in the schoolyard. Schools should be responsible for teaching academic subjects, and parents should be responsible for socializing their children.

Sex and health education and socialization are all important parts of developing a child into a rational, mature, and productive adult. However, parents have a personal relationship with their children, know their children best, and are thus best suited to ensure good sex morals and practices, healthy living, and good socialization. For these same reasons, the responsibility of ensuring good mental health conditions should be in the hands of parents, not teachers and administrators.

Before the start of my senior year of high school, my school replaced our college counselor with a therapist. I believe therapy can be beneficial for many high school students. However, I do not support the change my high school made. The college counselor had helped students navigate the tricky and complex college application process, a subject necessary for students’ advancement of academic achievement. While I missed not having a counselor to help advise me with choosing a college, I know for many other students therapy could be more helpful and necessary than college advising. That fact does not take away from the other fact that therapy is not the school’s job. The school’s job is to help students learn and succeed academically. Students who would benefit from therapy should seek therapy through a different avenue.

This is not to discount the school teachers and administrators who serve as wonderful mentors to their students and help them grow into wonderful young adults. We all can name at least one teacher or administrator who had a positive impact on a non-academic area of our lives. But such leaders make these impacts out of the goodness of their hearts, voluntarily reaching outside the bounds of their jobs.

The changes made by SB 11 and HB 18 likely will not stop school shootings. They are symptoms of a larger prevailing view that school teachers and administrators are responsible for making children into mature, socialized, healthy, rational young adults in addition to literate, academically educated young adults. Contrary to this view, we should hold parents, not schools, responsible for raising their children. This means we should encourage parents, not schools, to keep their children in a healthy mental state.

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