. . . and I might just be driven into teaching out of sheer outrage.

Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle reports in his June 18 column Trauma Techniques:

One day last month, representative of the California Highway Patrol visited classrooms [in Oceanside, CA] to deliver some bad news: Some classmates of theirs had been killed in traffic accidents. Alcohol apparently was involved. The students, as might be expected, were stunned. Many wept. Some screamed. School stopped as people comforted each other.

Then, a few hours later, the administrators announced that it was all a joke. Well, not a joke – it was an educational experience. The administrators had set up the stunt to make the students understand how very sad death is, and how drinking booze and driving is a bad thing. It was something the students will never forget, the administrators said, and oh how true that is.

[. . .] These are professional educators, and they are comfortable with the following pedagogic theory: Trauma is good for kids. It’s an effective teaching tool. Why not teach American literature the same way? Harpoon a real whale and watch it die – “Moby-Dick” brought to life! They’ll remember that.

[. . .]Have we really forgotten our own teenage years? Grief and death and desperate unhappiness were not strangers to us then. Those dark feelings were fueled in part by a sense of powerlessness. So maybe the children of Oceanside thought they were getting a handle on things – bam, the teachers play a joke. Although, as school Superintendent Larry Perondi said, “We did this in earnest. This was not done to be a prankster.”

Oh, like that makes a difference.

There are so many things wrong with this incident (to paraphrase Dianne Wiest from “Parenthood”) that the more I think about it, the angrier I get. Exactly how many adults did this idea get run passed and approved by in order for this school-wide charade to play out? Even in a smallish school, it would take a fair number. That means there are a lot of grown-ups charged with caring for young people who hold a number of insulting assumptions about them beginning with the belief that unless they are put through false suffering children and young people, categorically, don’t understand the reality of suffering and death.

I guarantee you that there were many, many kids in that school who had already lost parents, lost friends, faced life-threatening illness and injury, the violence of war, or other traumas. Teenagers don’t need adults to playact “real life” for them–they’re already living it just like the Big Kids (who in this instance exercised the sort of poor judgment our society often casually attributes to the young).

Instead of achieving their goal of teaching teens about the dangerous consequences of drinking and driving, I’m betting the adults in that high school taught their students never to trust another word that comes out of their teachers’ mouths from now until graduation day.