“The living, the living give you thanks,
as I do today.
Fathers declare to their sons,
O God, your faithfulness” - Isaiah 38
What does it mean to be ordinary? Are we made to assert our own individuality radically separate from others? What is freedom for? Are we free so we can tell others how different we are?
How do we help children balance the tension between developing a sense of self and the reality that our communal life requires at times a denial of self?
These questions come to me frequently and I suspect it has to do with the vocation I live. I imagine parents can relate to these questions as they interact with their children, especially when children start to see the world and their own self in it more vividly.
The more time I spend with adolescents, the more I see the struggle that besets them. The question of “who am I?” seems to spiral into “it is just so hard to be who I am”. Much of this struggle I believe comes from the voices and narratives that surround these adolescent children: the unreal world of social media purports to give them solutions to self-identity, and none of those solutions are quite honestly working.
These thoughts are coming to me now as I observe our beloved students in the dreadful month of January. January is the season of midterms, and golly does it propose a challenge to student and teacher alike. Our common existence is obstructed by this expectation to rise to the occasion. This is often the darkest month of the year, and I am not sure anyone would disagree with the lived experience of a grim January.
Pivoting back to how darkness plays out in adolescent development, the trends are increasingly alarming. Back in December, the “The United States surgeon general … warned that young people are facing ‘devastating’ mental health effects as a result of the challenges experienced by their generation, including the coronavirus pandemic.”
The report cited significant increases in self-reports of depression and anxiety along with more emergency room visits for mental health issues. In the United States, emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose 51 percent for adolescent girls in early 2021 as compared to the same period in 2019. The figure rose 4 percent for boys.
Globally, symptoms of anxiety and depression doubled during the pandemic, the report noted. But mental health issues were already on the rise in the United States, with emergency room visits related to depression, anxiety and similar conditions up 28 percent between 2011 and 2015.
Tough news for sure. I am fairly skeptical about news for reasons not relevant now, but I will say that as an educator, I can confirm this news with my experience. I honestly wonder who would disagree.
When reading news, sometimes I deploy a strategy that I wouldn’t encourage my students to employ when trying to closely read a text. I fast forward to the end. The aforementioned article ends with this statement: “This is a moment to demand change.”
Okay, great. Bad news followed by a plea for change. What type of change? Are we parents brave enough to make the changes necessary to counteract the flood of insidiously degrading imaging and narratives that spew into our child’s minds, hearts, and souls from this now inherently divisive device?
These are the ideas taught in the school of social media: Be you by making yourself seen by others. Be different from anyone else, otherwise no one will notice you. Be exceptional, even when it means following ideas that are both fallacious and inhumane. Just don’t be ordinary, because ordinary doesn’t trend.
I figure honesty is the best policy so I want to honestly report two claims I recently told our junior high and high school students:
The world won’t do you any favors, and mental toughness is something that starts with daily decisions to do what is good and right in the face of perceived inconveniences.
We would all be better people without a mobile device that pretends to connect when it rather divides and destroys our daily competence to do our duty to God, others, and self.
In simple terms. The change we need is this: no phones and a truly humanizing education.
That is why this school exists. We strive to be ordinary in the daily duties associated with our vocation to God and family. There is nothing wrong with being ordinary. God made us this way.
I highly encourage all parents to review this information put out by our partners from the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education. It is a superior distillation of what makes this version of Catholic education truly good for all children.
Thank you again for partnering us in the education of your children. We have a noble task and a daunting one at that, but I believe we are making a positive and edifying change together!
- Derek Tremblay, Headmaster