I admire Fred Assaf, head of Pace Academy in Atlanta, because he doesn’t shy away from the tough issues. Here is another example of his willingness to speak out on behalf of children.
In the wake of the Newtown school shooting, Assaf questions the popularity of violent video games, which many kids received as Christmas gifts last week.
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By Fred Assaf
Because I come to know 6-year-olds every year by having lunch with them in our Lower School, I know the boundless joy and optimism they have in the heart. They raise their hands when they don’t know the answer. When they run out of knock-knock jokes they know, the make up more on the spot.
They still need help opening their milk cartons. They look forward to holidays, visiting cousins, and seeing grandparents. They love their teachers, crave the structure of a school setting, and are learning to read fast and compute math at an incredible pace.
They will laugh at all of your jokes, even when they aren’t funny. They understand the needs of those around them, they play with all their classmates, and they respect their parents, their teachers, and their god.
I’m headmaster at an independent school in Atlanta. Our school begins in Pre-First (Kindergarten) and ends with 12th grade. My wife and I also have five children of our own. The events in Newtown, Conn., are unimaginable to us and our entire prayer is for sympathy and healing; there is no justice in a situation like this.
It is my tradition to have lunch with the Pre-First students (they are 5 and 6). In so doing I remind myself about my vocation and come to know the boundless energy and potential of children. It is why I teach. I know more Knock-Knock jokes than any adult my age and I like it!
And I’m plagued now by this thought — who shoots 6-year-olds? Because I lead a school I’m always searching for answers, finding a new path forward, and engineering compromise. But this idea of shooting 6-year-olds doesn’t compute; I’m not in search of a motive, as it cannot possibly explain why.
When we had our first child, our family doctor gave us a good piece of advice: “Eskimo children get used to the cold.” As parents we understood that our attitudes and behaviors would shape our children. Though all five of our sons are different, they are shaped by our values and behaviors.
And so I wonder what behaviors we as parents can change. Certainly, we can improve school security. We can provide better training. We can make it harder to get a gun than to it is to get Sudafed. I don’t know all the political answers, but I’d favor anything that makes gratuitous murder more difficult.
Which brings me to my point. As parents, we need to do our best to stop our children from the desensitizing impact of video games. A quick survey of the most popular video games includes the following top 10 games: “Halo,” “Assassin’s Creed,” “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft,” “Grand Theft Auto.”
Each of these games, simply put, eats away at a child’s sensitivity toward killing. We have “gamified” the murder of people, and our children shoot, steal, and bomb in their virtual worlds. Like the basketball player who practices foul shots, we get better at things when we practice. Their habits become automatic, reactive, and second-nature.
Raising children is a labor of love. Working in a school is a joy. When I reflect on President Obama’s query to ask myself what we can do better as parents, educators, and communities — it seems to me that we can stop letting our children kill people over and over and over again — and call it a GAME.
If you know teenagers like I know teenagers, they will find other things to do once you take away their shooting games – perhaps they will even work on their free throws.
–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog