Education Opinion

Through a Lens Darkly

By Anthony J. Mullen — July 23, 2010 2 min read
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The 16th Street Mall

Denver, Colorado

How fortunate we are as a species to have arteries that run deeper than veins.

The young lady was handing out free copies of The Homeless News on the corner of Stout Street and 16th Street when I noticed the slightly raised red lines that crisscrossed her wrists. It is a good thing that a sheath of ligaments and fibrous tissue is layered between the veins and arteries of our wrists because such an aegis dulls the razor’s edge. Suicide should not been an easy task for a troubled mind.

A few people exiting the local CVS stop to give the young lady some spare change. Most refused the free newspaper.

The urban nomad appeared to be having a good morning until an older man approached her and whispered something into her ear. His arms are completely covered with tattoos and his face perforated with piercings. A combination human cartoon and pin cushion. She handed him the morning’s earnings and he walked away.

The young lady reminded me of a former student I once taught. She too was a cutter and eventually drifted to some nameless city. She claimed that it felt good to cut her wrists. What she really meant to express was not so perverse or callous. She cut her wrists because the pain of the razor’s edge provided a temporary relief from a far greater emotional pain that she could not release. But such an explanation would require too much dialogue from a young lady silenced by indifferent parents.

The majority of the students afflicted with emotional disabilities do not believe the meek shall inherit the earth. They live their lives undisturbed by the common pleasantries shared by happy families and friends. Leo Tolstoy once wrote about these types of people when he observed that happy families are all alike but unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Each of my students is unhappy in their own way and all face an uncertain future.

What’s a teacher to do?

Teenage depression and suicide has been on the rise in the United States and schools are replacing guidance counselors and social workers with additional math and science classes. Maybe we could incorporate the statistics and etiology of this disease in the curriculum of these classes?

Or should we seek the counsel of poets and sages? Literature is filled with tales of melancholy but even the best blend of vowels and consonants fail to elicit the true depth of human misery.

What about science? Doctors and researchers have recognized depression as a disease rather than dis-ease and use prescription pads to help sooth the pain. But too many students cannot endure the trial and error of modern medicine or cope with debilitating side effects.

Should teachers address the soul of their students? Philosophers and clerics speak of the incorporeal essence of a person and posit that a transcendent journey is needed to escape the entanglements of daily life. But such abstract thinking requires a composed mind and a bit of leisure time.

What’s a teacher to do?

The opinions expressed in Road Diaries: 2009 Teacher of the Year are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.