There have been at least 239 school shootings in the United States since Sandy Hook in 2012, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. The most recent, in Parkland, Florida, left 17 dead. I have addressed what I consider the root issue my entire adult life.

A student survivor pleads, “When will it end?”

It will end when our adult nation stops hijacking the deeper purpose of schools: serving the true needs of growing children.

We adults have convinced ourselves that by rigorously preparing children for college, jobs and citizenship, we are best serving them and their future.

But school shootings highlight negative student attitudes toward school as established and run by adults. Generally, students do not like school, often resist it or are apathetic; they endure bullying and indulge in cheating, neither of which adults can control. All of this brings out the worst side of students.

There is also underlying resentment that those with the “right” talents — academic and athletic — get the majority of attention in school. Since we are a nation that believes in equality, this bitterness, combined with bullying and access to guns, may lay the groundwork for a school shooting.


Step back and consider a more natural definition of school.

• Children go to school eager to participate and learn. Watch nearly all the hands go up to answer a question in any kindergarten class — whether they know the answer or not.

• “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a universal truth. So school in particular should be a unified community of adults and children.

• We need to honor our country’s founding respect for the unique potential of each child. This will gain a child’s trust, and, with adult support, it will help develop the child’s character and self-assurance.

These points will turn what we know as school into a safe sanctuary of children, teachers and parents working together. Children will then develop the confidence and motivation to achieve their best in college, jobs and citizenship.

I offer a simple solution to ending the school violence: Develop the sanctuary first, then the sanctuary will develop a much more powerful school.


Instead, we adults created schools mirroring capitalism, replacing the natural growth motivation of curiosity with competition, creating standards for students to reach that bring out anxiety and defensive attitudes, leading to “we-they” relationships with growing youth.

I once believed in the conventional school, too — as a successful coach, teacher of calculus and administrator. But I’m close to kids, and I eventually realized all these high standards we were setting for kids ignored their unique identities and potentials.

So I ultimately founded Hyde School, devoted to the premise that every individual is gifted with a unique potential, which I sought to support with a new college curriculum emphasizing character: courage, integrity, concern, curiosity and leadership.

Looking back 50 years ago, I remember the high school dropout I accepted who is now an honored MIT professor, or the kid who was unable to pass algebra who is now a business leader. Unique potential is a powerful motivation.

Today, I’m pleased to see it spread to public education. For example, at our Hyde-Bronx School, in a district in which only 49 percent graduate from high school, 95 percent of our first graduating class in 2013 was accepted to college, and now nearly 60 percent are projected to graduate from college, six times the national average for such communities.

The real power here is confidence in one’s unique potential.


I am not proposing that we change the preparation for college, jobs and citizenship. I am proposing that the first and foremost duty of the school is to serve the student, to develop his or her unique potential, character and ultimately self-confidence. The student then becomes an active and motivated participant in preparing for college, jobs and citizenship.

This change will give students a major role in their schools. As it is now, adults do a great deal of the work. Much of it would be better handled by motivated students.

This change may be difficult for many adults, but remember, we are doing it for the welfare of our children and for a much stronger and safer America.

Joseph W. Gauld of Bath is the founder of Hyde Schools.

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