The following account of a teenager being killed in a road accident highlights some strange (to me) US cultural practices, which seem to be spreading to other places, and I wonder if anthropologists or sociologists have studied them. It also illustrates one of the effects of secularisation on modern (or is it postmodern) society.
Orland girl, 16, hit by plow truck dies — Maine News — Bangor Daily News:
A paramedic who lived nearby performed CPR on the teenager until an ambulance arrived. Hayes was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor where she was pronounced dead at 11 p.m., police said.
According to Roy, speed and alcohol were not factors in the crash, and no charges were filed against Malenfant.
Hayes had been a student at Bucksport High School last year, but was being home-schooled this year. The school’s crisis team was activated and teachers informed students of the accident during an extended homeroom period Friday. School counselors were available during the school day and were busy meeting with students throughout the morning, according to Assistant Principal Dan Clifford.
What seems strange to me is that the school activated “crisis teams” and that “counselors” spent many hours meeting with students.
I could understand such activities if this were one of those incidents where a pupil went berserk and shot and killed many pupils and teachers at the school, as has happened from time to time. In such a case one could understand the need for trauma counselling for the classmates of the killers and the killed. I can understand it in a case where a mine dump falls on a school and a large proportion of the pupils are killed, and those who survive had a narrow escape.
But this accident involved an ex-pupil, and didn’t even take place at the school. Why the need for the school’s “crisis team” to be “activated” and for “counselors” to spend many hours with pupils?
I wonder if some of this is media-driven. In news reports of such incidents, one sometimes sees reporters asking school officials whether such counselling is being provided, and asking in a way that seems calculated to make the school authorities feel guilty if it isn’t.
The report was posted on the alt.obituaries newsgroup on Usenet, and most of the people there, even the Americans, could remember no such “crisis teams” when classmates were killed in road accidents in their school days in the 1970s and 1980s.
In my own school days in the 1940s and 1950s I can remember three fellow pupils being killed in road accidents.
One, when I was in Standard I (Grade 3) at Fairmount School in Johannesburg, was a girl called Valerie, who was killed when going to Vereeniging over the weekend. I learnt about it from fellow-pupils. Her empty desk was a reminder for some days afterwards, and then the teacher rearranged the class seating. Another, Keith Littleton, a couple of classes below me, was killed when going home from school on his light motorbike. The third, George Jefferay, was in my class at school, and a friend, and he was killed a few months after we had left school, also riding a light motorbike. Crash helmets were not compulsory in those days.
In the last two cases, we went to the funerals. Keith Littleton died after a day or two in emergency care in hospital, and so the school had special prayer meetings for him. In the case of George Jefferay, I made prints of photos I had taken of him at school, and took them to his parents, whom I had not met before.
In all these cases, the concern at the school was with those who had died and their families. Instead of the school providing “counselling” for the pupils, the pupils were focusing on ways of comforting the families of those who had been killed. And also in the last two cases, a memorial service was held at the school. OK, that was a church school, and American schools are not allowed to have prayer meetings and memorial services, because of their idea of “separation of church and state”.
But what happened in the case described as happening in Maine looks very much like the “establishment” of the secular religion of psychotherapy.
My own children, who went to school in the 1980s and 1990s, also experienced the loss of school mates. One was electrocuted when he was playing with some electrical appliance. Another was also killed in a road accident. My son, who was 12 at the time, was in the same Boy Scout troop, was a pallbearer at his funeral, along with the other scouts.
And why is it that “counselling” is given such priority? There seems to be a tendency to promote “victim counselling” for crime victims. I can’t help feeling that a more urgent task of a “crisis team” would be to organise a collection to help be bereaved family with funeral expenses, or to help crime victims to replace what has been stolen by robbers, and in the case of death, showing solidarity by attending the funeral.
It is surely not the job of the school to provide counselling, unless, perhaps, for something that happened at the school itself.
But I get the impression that if a family lost their home in a fire or flood or some other disaster, possibly with some members of the family being killed, these schools would not seek to collect food and clothes and find shelter for the survivors, but would concentrate instead on counselling those who ought rather to have been helping. And the media will not ask whether their “crisis teams” provided those things, but rather whether they provided counselling for the other pupils. Instead of spending huge sums of money on “crisis teams”, rather help the family with the medical and funeral bills. Help the victims, not the spectators.
If my computer was nicked, I’d really appreciate help from someone who would help me to recover my data. But counselling me on my loss would thrill me as much as a time-share sales talk.
That may seem like a banal note to end on, but the whole thing seems to epitomise the banality of modernity.