Warning: Culture Crisis

Warning Graphic

American culture is in crisis. Our culture, like every culture, is built on the relationships between the individuals within it. And relationships rest on a foundation of trust. When trust breaks down, culture breaks down. I just spent two years researching the science behind this situation for my new book, The Chemistry of Culture. Scientists say the evidence for the breakdown of our culture is everywhere.

Anxiety, depression, and declining interpersonal skills are epidemic. Entering college freshmen are half as empathetic as they were in 2000. The CDC reported that in the previous decade teen suicides were up almost 60%.

The statistics became all too personal for me recently when, in a school where I have worked, a student left school, alerted their social media network, and then live-streamed their suicide. This happened in a school I know well. It is a good school, with a highly empathetic Principal and a caring staff. Trust me, if it can happen here… it can happen anywhere. And it does.

It was like a punch in the gut and I posted about it. Then took it down. Some people believe we should not talk about such things openly. I believe they are wrong. Left untreated, a deep wound to our flesh will not heal itself, and the crisis in our culture must be called out and addressed.

Of course, we must take care to never add additional anguish to those whom this tragedy has touched. We must never identify victims, locations, or even communities directly. But we must begin to bring this crisis out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Then we must act. The future of our society may depend on it. In so doing, we may also find meaning in our pain, help heal the wounds, and begin to prevent more suffering.

 I was touched directly by this crisis in a school I love. It has changed me. It has strengthened my commitment to make a difference. For over two decades now we have been turning our schools and teachers into testing machines. We have made student data our single focus. Enough is enough.

The pendulum has swung way too far. It’s now cutting into hearts of our students and the very fabric of our culture. It is ripping apart the social and emotional connections that bind us to one another. It’s time to change our focus. It’s time to understand the why behind we must, Maslow before Bloom!

There is good news. Scientists say that we most certainly CAN solve this problem. Culture is based on relationships, and our behavior determines our relationships. Behavior is learned, and Neuroscience is unlocking the brain chemistry behind building better relationships and culture. I survey some of the science behind these statements in, The Chemistry of Culture.

 In the coming months I will be announcing the changes I am making and exactly how I intend to support the work of building better relationships in our schools and improving school culture. If I’ve learned anything it’s that: If your culture is broken, you can’t fix anything else.

 

 

 

About Jim Warford

Jim Warford is the author of, The Chemistry of Culture: Strategies You Can Use to Create a Culture of Learning. For 15 years Jim Warford was Senior Advisor and Keynote Speaker for the International Center for Leadership in Education. Jim is an author, speaker, Leadership and Instructional Coach. He was named in March 2003 as Florida’s first Chancellor of K12 Public Schools. He stepped down in September, 2005 to become Executive Director of the Florida Association of School Administrators, representing over 10,000 Florida school leaders. As a Senior Advisor for the International Center for Leadership in Education, he works with states, districts and schools to provide coaching and executive training and support to school leaders and their staffs. As Florida’s Chancellor, he led the creation and state-wide implementation of Florida’s Continuous Improvement Model, FCIM, which resulted in that state’s dramatic gains in student achievement and an 80% reduction in the number low-performing schools. FCIM remains Florida’s required intervention for all low-performing schools. As Superintendent of the Marion County, Florida Public Schools, he first implemented the Continuous Improvement Model district-wide. As a result, school grades went from three “F”, eight “D” and only one “A” school in 1999 to twenty “A”, 16 “B” and no “F” schools in 2003. Under his leadership the high school dropout rate was cut in half. He taught applied technology courses at the high school level for 17 years and created a Computer Graphics/Video Production program that won many national and state awards. He was named Vanguard High School Teacher of the Year three separate times.
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