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Why I Dropped Out of Grad School and Quit My Job Working Within the Public School System (Part One)

Updated: Feb 29

I heard somewhere that you should teach from your scars, not your wounds.  Well... I'm not entirely sure whether this is a scar, or a big gaping bloody wound, but I am also unsure of whether I am teaching, or just relating a messed up experience I had, so fuck it, here it goes. 

Around this time a few years ago (2020*), I underwent what would be a final descent into the torture chambers that attending grad school, and working within the public school system, had become for me.  See, my heart had long since taken its leave of these matters, yet, as has too often been the case, I remained.  The social and financial pressures were just too great, and regardless of the level of despair and confusion I had as of yet reached, I could not find it within myself to walk away. 

The last dance began with my second-to-final class required for the completion of a master's degree in school counseling.  I was so close!  Thus far in my graduate schooling I had been able to put forth minimal amounts of time and effort, and still quite easily maintain a solid B average.  I can honestly say that I generally spent about an hour a week completing the necessary course work.  The better part of my energy throughout my time in grad school was not used in the actual learning of material, or completion of tasks, but in my utter opposition to, and contempt for, the tediousness of endless amounts of busy work and formatting standards.  It was a world in which APA standard and peer-reviewed journals were treated as Gods.  Don't bother acknowledging that APA formatting will be completely obsolete when you leave the school system, or that people have submitted bogus papers to demonstrate how easily an article can become "peer-reviewed", along with the sheer amount of information published in such journals that is later indisputably disproven; these things were without fail held in higher regard than the student's ideas and intelligence.  It was also an environment in which an individual's credentials carried more value than their competence as a human being.  This left me completely frustrated and pissed off.  I had come this far in my studies as a result of beating down that voice of better judgment—relentlessly sounding the alarm somewhere in the back of my skull.  "If you can just sacrifice your pride for a couple years buddy, the world will be yours!"  Never mind that in this case the world meant a 40,000 dollar a year salary, working within a system that would attempt to control essentially every aspect of your daily work, it would be great!  Wouldn't it?

Most anybody would assume that if you were this close to graduation, you would just go ahead and get the damn degree, but they haven't met Dr. Yelgdim, the gremlin gatekeeper crouched at the entrance of academic prowess.  Meeting the expectations of graduate school was fairly simple business, aside from my own bitterness, and Dr. Yelgdim, who decidedly had a stick up her ass, and happened to teach no less than half the classes required, within the school counseling masters program at the University of the Northeast.  She was also the head of the entire department—go figure—which I had to wise up to quickly, before too many irreversible and heedless emails were shipped off.  Before long, my number one priority in grad school had become making it through the experience without allowing the brainwashing to take hold—a tall order indeed.

Many of my professors were easy to work with, a natural give and take was at play, and I was able to soldier on pursuing this highly esteemed piece of paper.  I almost sailed my way into a graduate degree, but Dr. Yelgdim was having none of it.  She was the hurricane that hit just miles off of the beach.  A foreshadowing of what was to come came early on.  It was my second or third class of the program, and with two weeks left to go, I checked the syllabus and determined that I had already obtained enough points for an easy B in the class.  For me, this meant that I was done.  No more work would be necessary.  I nervously triple checked the syllabus and point requirements to make sure that this was the case—it was—and then called it a day.  A couple of weeks later I checked the final grades for the course and found that I had been given a C.  What the fuck?  I quickly blast off an email to Dr. Yelgdim.  I am informed that the syllabus was incorrect.  I then sent off another email asking how I could be faulted for a mistake on the behalf of the professor, to which I was then thoroughly berated.  In a few short words my integrity and eagerness to learn were called into question, and the grade would not be changed; unless that is, I wanted to take her up on her "one-time", persnickety offer of making up the work I had previously forfeited—I didn't and I declined.  This was my first taste of Dr. Yelgdim.  Admit to being wrong and make it right?  I think not.  Allow the student to determine the grade they are happy with earning for the course.  Nope.  It is at this juncture that I am officially beginning to have flashbacks of that "overactive" young boy I once was; seated at his desk in grade school, completely and utterly incapable of humoring this nonsense of sitting still all day, let alone satisfy the whims of an old lady who would prefer if I were just drugged with Ritalin, or some other legalized amphetamine for children. 

Now fast forward two years, same time of year, and I am back in class with Dr. Yelgdim.  Program Development, a real treat!  Since the first debacle with she-who-cannot-be-named, my tactic had been to play nice, and if all else failed, play dead.  Limit interactions to an absolute minimum necessary for course completion, in order to ward off complications.  If I could just say enough nice things to her, and if possible, make her feel bad for me, maybe she wouldn't make my life a living hell.  Wrong!  Her job is to make your life a living hell, and she excels at it.  I even went so far as to send her a very heartfelt and sentimental email, explaining my traumatic history within the school environment, and admitting that I am very likely jaded in my interactions with all authority figures, and more specifically, professors.  I thanked her for all of her help, and expressed my eagerness to finish the degree and begin a new career.  Her response was just as kind, and I came away feeling that maybe we had come to some sort of a truce.  Well, whether or not we had reached an understanding on a personal level, it would in no way rectify what was to come. 

As my dismay for grad school grew to a fevered pitch, so did the ridiculousness and obscurity of the required course work.  Up until this point, many of the courses were misleadingly applicable to actually providing "counseling" to students.  Mental health counseling that is, as opposed to the other type of counseling that is far more pervasive within schools, which entails the ushering of as many students as possible into this desperately flawed and problematic—though not hopeless—machine called modern society; where they are forcefully encouraged to go to college and get jobs that will leave them despairing and soulless—with home mortgage sized debt as an added benefit. 

In the early portions of the degree, I attended classes of substance and utility, with titles such as: Psychosocial Analysis, Intro to Addictions, Group Counseling, Psychosomatic Illness, Psychopathology, and Mental Health Theory.  Come to think of it, the better portion of the courses I took were based in psychology and mental health counseling.  Why this was the case when so little of this is actually utilized within the schools I would be working in, is a mystery to me.  I suppose it goes about as far back as the Industrial Revolution, this being when the profession of school counseling officially made its debut.  At that time, the primary function of a school counselor was unashamedly preparing students to be fit for work in factories, and other common forms of employment for those times.  Unfortunately, little has changed aside from the settings in which the jobs will be performed.  It was worlds away from our current big tech and social media age, within which we are seeing epidemic levels of mental illness, combined with soaring suicide rates, much of which is seen in our youth populations. 

It is for these reasons that I had determined that when I became a school counselor, the mental and emotional well-being of the students I worked with, would be my main focus; just as it had been throughout my time working as a social worker in a local high school.  Prior to dropping out of grad school and completely changing course, I was hell-bent on the notion that once I got my foot in the door as a school counselor, I would do things my way. After all, I had been mostly successful with this approach throughout my time working within the school system thus far.  I considered myself the small ax, steadily chopping down the big tree, taking down the system from within—if you will.  But as I drew closer and closer to the reality of being a school counselor, the less than savory truth of how difficult this would actually be, became more and more obvious.  Case in point, they saved the stuff that would actually turn out to be the bulk of what school counselors are expected to do, for the latter segments of the degree; courses such as Research Analysis, Program Development, and Career Development—that are completely geared towards the serving of the system, rather than the individual student—quickly became the self-evident top priorities of the training I had gotten myself involved in.

It reminds me of a conversation I listened to between the comedian Joe Rogan and the rock star drummer Travis Barker.  Rogan is interviewing Barker, drawing out many of the juicy details of his rise to success.  Rogan begins describing how excruciating his experience in high school was, and Barker expresses that this was his experience as well.  Barker then recalls his times of talking with his school counselors, wherein they would ask him what he wanted to do in the future, to which he replied, "I don't know, I just want to play drums in a band."  The counselor's retort was as you might imagine, "Well that's not an option!  What college are you going to?"  It was at this juncture that Joe Rogan had such a brilliant observation.  Why is that not an option?  Says who?  There are countless successful bands and tons of drummers...  Travis Barker then remarks that it would be great if they just encouraged you to do whatever it is that you are passionate about.  As I would find out, exploring all of the options is not what school counselors are expected to do, and addressing the mental and emotional well-being of a student is something you might attend to if there happens to be extra time.  Disillusionment with a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance is beginning to set in...

Disillusionment- Lack of illusion.

Cognitive Dissonance- What we feel when our actions and behaviors are out of alignment with what we know to be true.

This is something to pay very close attention to, because the areas of your life in which you have become disillusioned, and are experiencing cognitive dissonance, are the very areas that are some of the key culprits behind chronic pain, mental illness, disease, and addiction.

To paint a better picture, and give you an idea of the degree to which this second-to-last class was a gigantic thorn in my side, I should probably tell you about the other 95% of that summer.  I was lucky enough to have a few months off of work, both because of some sort of virus that was plaguing the world, and also because I worked at a school and school was out for summer.  By the grace of God I had found a house to live in, in relative solitude, in the woods near a small mountainous Idaho lake town.  I spent my days and nights stone sober: eating, reading and listening to podcasts, playing music, meditating, writing, hiking, running, paddle boarding, and enjoying—or trying not to go insane—the time away from humanity with my dog Jane.  It was both terrifying and beautiful.  It was raw, exposed, and unadulterated by any of the distractions of "normal" life.  It couldn't have been a better chance to heal and learn to relax again. 

During those first few weeks—having recently been deeply inspired by the work of Dr. Joe Dispenza—I had resolved to meditate as intensely, and as often, and for as long, as what was humanly possible for me at that time.  I endured a handful of three plus hour continuous sits, and even had several days in which I sat in meditation for eight hours or more.  I was aided by the fact that as much as I wanted to spend time outside, the region in which I was living was being hit by some lovely June snowstorms, which were only punctuated by rapturous thunder and lightning storms.  During this time, the runs and hikes that I did attempt to go on, left me terrified and scurrying for shelter.  Every few days it would seem as though summer had finally arrived, the sun would burst forth to shed its light and warmth upon me and everything else, and I would find myself on the beach by the lake.  One day I sat down in a chair at the house and closed my eyes to meditate, as the sunshine gleamed through the window.  Somewhere around the halfway mark of this three hour sit, I found myself visualizing how pretty it would be to be sitting here in the winter, gazing out at the snowfall while the furnace rumbled.  At the end of the meditation I opened my eyes to find it snowing, with six inches of fresh snow blanketing the forest floor.  How about that for manifestation!  I have since learned to be careful with what I wish for, you never know how soon you just might get it.  During this time, I had also become single-mindedly intent upon starving out not only my emotional addictions, but all others as well...  For instance, I had turned off the phone, covered all the clocks, and even put down the beloved guitar.  Sounds insane?  It was, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  I was only able to keep up this charade for a few weeks, as the pent up emotions of decades kept pouring forth at staggering levels, and in the end, I was forced to reckon with the fact that I had gotten myself in way over my head.  I then painstakingly found a more bearable method for healing, and began to respect my own limitations a bit more.  Soon, I settled into a natural rhythm that was more realistic, as well as kind, to myself.

Early on in the summer I completed an online grad school course with a professor I was quite fond of, and then, to my consternation, became aware that the next course—starting the following Monday—would be another ten rounds with Dr. Yelgdim.  I was determined not to let it bring me down...

The first week or two of the eight it would take to complete the course, went by without any major upheavals.  The previously mentioned letter was sent, and Dr. Yelgdim and I exchanged polite and respectful words.

The Universities do not teach all things, so a doctor must seek out old wives, gypsies, sorcerers, wandering tribes, old robbers and such outlaws, and take lessons from them.  A doctor must be a traveler.  Knowledge is experience.  -Paracelsus (1493-1541)

I must have been starting to get cabin fever, because it was at this point that I decided it would be a good idea to hop in my car and take an unplanned road trip; west to Portland, Oregon, continue on to the ocean, and then follow the coast south until I felt like turning around and coming home.  I would have nothing at all to worry about, that is, other than Jane and I's survival, and that pesky laptop and school work I would need to find the time to do while out on the road.  Because I had not been paying attention to any news, my first stop in Portland, Oregon, was interesting...  I didn't stay long and somehow intuitively avoided the more treacherous areas of the city, while on my sunny morning run.  I chatted with a nice elderly woman who cursed the "crazy liberals" for destroying their beautiful city, and received a compliment on the Sublime band cut-off T-shirt I happened to be wearing that day, from a young lad mowing lawns.  I was again reminded that no matter what the news has to say, people are mostly good.  From here I made my way to the coastline.  I snuck Janey into a sleazy hotel in Seaside; slept in a tent off the side of the highway in a gorgeous clearing a few hundred feet above the ocean, somewhere outside of Coos Bay; and even spent one night stuck and fogged in, off the side of one of the narrowest stretches of coastal highway in Northern California, about 300 miles north of San Francisco. 

I had never done anything like this alone before—much less sober—and it was testing me in unimaginable ways.  I walked for miles along the Oregon coastline under gray and ominous skies, Jane putting her paws in the ocean for the first time and making dog friends; while I pondered the plight of a deceased sea lion washed ashore, its corpse rotting in the open sand for all eyes to see.  I took a side road so I could be a witness to a massive penitentiary somewhere near the Oregon/California border, hoping that it might trigger some sort of contemplation, and shock me out my lack of appreciation for the advantageous and blessed life I have led.  We drove lonely and unknown roads below the towering Redwoods of Northern California, and pitched a tent on a desolate windy mountain peak, in the sun, high above the coastal cloud cover of Big Sur.  All of this relatively unscathed. 

What scared me more than any aspect of being out on the open road alone, was sitting down, opening up my computer, and discovering what sort of outlandish demands would be placed upon me by Dr. Yelgdim.  I worked up the courage and sure as shit, in addition to several assignments I would need to complete and discussion forums I would need to participate in, a major project was due this very week.  I would need to find somewhere quiet and with WiFi, where I could bust this thing out as quickly as possible.  With two days to go until the designated due date, I was nearing San Francisco.  I realized that I would have to pay for a hotel room and get to work.  Because I'd never been there and UCLA is in the Berkeley area of San Francisco, I figured this would be a nice area of town to get a cheap hotel...  Call me a snob, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting.  I don't know if it was the hungry ghosts haunting the streets, or the ragged roadside RVs and camp-trailers, that outnumbered those you'd see in an actual campground in Idaho, but anyways...  I got my stuff situated in the room and headed out for a trail run in the high hills, attempting to unwind before taking a stab at this much dreaded project.  Up in those misty hills, the sullen looking hikers were about as confused with the over-the-top friendly Idahoan, charging down the trail, as I was with the electric outlets used to charge phones, somehow installed right into the damn trees! 

After an unexpected run in with a gal who may very well have been the leader of the much feared antifa gang—out with her cronies boycotting Whole Foods—and our unspoken agreement that buzz cuts were the shit that summer and that Jeff Bezos is a douchebag, I rerouted to the next nearest grocery store.  I arrived back at the hotel room that night to find that whoever was in the room directly above me, did not have the same idea in mind as to what this night would entail.  I was thinking organic ice cream, quiet, and school work; they were thinking of taking hits off a crack pipe, getting laid, and possibly some verbal sparring to top off the evening.  Fearing retaliation, I went and “told on” these people to the front desk worker, because whatever they were doing was highly disturbing.  It changed nothing.  Needless to say, I said fuck it and decided to see if I could work on the project the following morning.  I put meditation music on in my earbuds and attempted to get some sleep. Despite my best efforts to persuade it otherwise, my body remained convinced that we were in an active war zone.  I persisted, as I was determined to get some rest, due to the fact that the following morning would be my last chance to make an attempt at this both confusing, and demanding, project. 

During the few moments that I did sleep, I dreamt that a tsunami had come crashing down and water was hammering against and shattering the windows all around me.  I woke up.  I'm not sure what happened first, or if it happened at the same moment, but I remembered what was going to be required of me that morning, and also felt that all too familiar jolt between the shoulder blades.  Neck seized and severe pain set in.  The noise above continued unabated, late check-out was obtained, the earbuds with meditation music went back in, and I sat at my computer and hammered it out.  It was easy to keep my gaze focused upon the computer screen, because I couldn't turn my head at all in either direction, without a severe shock of pain reverberating throughout my entire body.  Somehow, I managed to get it done. 

I then packed up my stuff and enjoyed the comfort of the last warm shower I might be having for a couple of days.  I felt a wave of gratitude and relief, reminding myself that I was free—and not in school—at least for a couple of days.  On the way out, I ran into the dude who I'm pretty sure was leading marching drills in the room above me the previous night; he was cool, and gave Janey props for not needing a leash, as we found our way down the corridor and exited the hotel. 

I put the whole thing behind me and we continued on our great adventure.  I soaked in the sights as we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and through the city, careening my stiff neck this way and that—slightly traumatized—but confident that things would ease up as I re-entered the wild.  Now, what happened on the remainder of that trip towards southern California, then returning on an inland route following the eastern facing Sierra Nevada's, is likely a story for another time.  Possible tales from that portion of the trip include how I almost met Alan Watts, discovered that the "biggest snowboard store in the world" resides in Atlantis, and encountered an enlightened Hispanic man working in a tire shop in Mammoth Lakes, CA.  Meanwhile, back at the home-front in Idaho...  A big ol' fat fucking F was waiting for me...

The remainder of that class was a nightmare.  Dr. Yelgdim's instructions for assignments and projects were both vague and confusing.  Her expectations remained specific and illusive.  Being a "good" student and remembering the advice that my Dad had given me prior to heading off to University for my bachelor's degree, I did not hesitate to inquire as to what exactly Dr. Yelgdim wanted.  Without fail, these inquiries were met with appalling shortness and what seemed to me to be intentionally unhelpful feedback.

When I encountered that F—the first that I had received in grad school—even after the amount of suffering I had gone through in order to complete the project, my immediate reaction was to go into a state of fear.  I feared that I would fail the class.  I feared that I would have to retake the torturous class.  And I feared a prolonged period of time before I would be able to wash my hands of graduate school once and for all.  I played the victim.  I worried.  And I worried some more.  Never mind that Dr. Yelgdim assured me I would not fail the course as long as I kept trying, I didn't trust professors, and I certainly didn't trust her.  Or rather, I did trust, I trusted that her failing to honor her word was a very real possibility.  Never mind that I spent four weeks allowing this situation to gnaw at me and keep me up at nights, and in the end, got a B in the class anyways... 

I was massively relieved to have come through to the other side of this course and have a little break.  I checked my school email, and the next and final course of the degree started two days hence, and guess who's teaching it?  Fuck!  So much for that break...  Oh and guess what, after that class you get to do a 300 hour unpaid internship, and who do you suppose will be supervising the entire Goddamn thing?

Now it was decision making time.  Time to say no.  Time for a break, which would eventually lead to completely withdrawing from school.  As crazy as this may seem, my heart just wasn't in it.  Deep down, I knew that a career as a school counselor would be nothing more than a variation of the same torture I had just endured.  I could not fake a respect I didn't have for this professor any longer.  I had been ready to jump for a long time and the time had finally come.  Dr. Yelgdim spartan kicked my ass off the edge I had been standing on, and for that, I will be forever grateful.  The problem was the lack of truth.  The lack of integrity.  The lack of acceptance and willingness to address what is really needed from counselors in the school system.  The soul cannot tolerate a lie.  I am not afraid of hard things, I am afraid of selling myself out for someone else's nefarious purposes.  If I had to pinpoint a decisive moment in my decision to walk away from this degree and career, it would likely be one of the last interactions I had with Dr. Yelgdim.  I posted in a discussion forum towards the end of that final class, something along the lines of how I would use my future position as a school counselor, to help students deal with emotional trauma and mental illness.  That I would attempt to show them that they can find a path in life that works for them, and one that they can find meaning and purpose in.  I wrote about how it is imperative that school counselors begin addressing the mental health, and emotional well-being, of their students as a primary function; because if these things are not intact, college and career will be meaningless.  Dr. Yelgdim responded to my post with something along the lines of, "This really won't be an option for you.  We need to do what the parents want, and that's for their kids to go to college and get a good career."  And at that, I was done.  Clearly, I was not going to be allowed to provide what these kids truly needed within this setting.  The system just isn't set up for it.

I tell you all of that so I can tell you this.  I learned many things on that venture, but because one of the primary purposes of this blog is to enlighten people to how their body and physical pain is assisting them in finding truth, I want to unpack a particular aspect of this story, that has major implications for the manner in which the mind-body connection functions.  One of my greatest passions in life is helping myself, as well as others, to understand just how relevant the mind-body connection is to all of our lives.  I know that there has been a general increase in awareness around this topic as of late, but I do not think that most people understand its full scope and implications, or how to use this knowledge to their benefit, within the context of their own lives.  I feel that if I can show people how having developed a knowledge and understanding of the mind-body connection, has improved my ability to navigate life in the most advantageous manner possible, it will encourage and assist others in doing the same.

What was my body attempting to communicate to me during that cursed morning in the hotel room in Berkeley?  As I had a chance to turn the whole scenario over in my mind during the weeks following the end of that trip, it became clear the extent to which attending grad school antagonized every fiber of my being.  If I was able to handle all the stress of being alone out on the open road—with little to no pain—but a bit of school work was able to throw my body into all out chaos, what sort of conclusions might be drawn from this?  It showed me that the majority of the pain we experience is not coming from the everyday stresses of life, but from those areas of our lives in which we are deeply conflicted.  I began to realize just how much this one life decision was draining me, which then led me to start asking myself important questions such as: Do I even want to be in grad school?  Is this degree actually going to improve the quality of my life?  Is this a challenge I need to overcome, or a burden I need to lay to rest?  What could I accomplish if I put half the time and energy I spend worrying about this schooling and all it entails, into something I am actually passionate about?  Am I doing this because I believe that it is the proper path for me, the path that will lead to the greatest fulfillment, or because it is what society has programmed me to believe?  Does this feel hard?  Or does this feel wrong?  All of these questions are basically just variations of the very poignant question posed by one of my favorite modern day spiritual teachers, Byron Katie, "Is it true?"

The body talks.  The body will say no for us, if we are unable or unwilling to do it for ourselves.  It will say no in all manner of ways; everything from migraines to bad backs, hemorrhoids to ulcers, random pains and disturbances striking any number of regions within the body, and many other forms of illness, such as autoimmune diseases and even cancer.  But, fear not, each and every one of these maladies has been and can be healed from, by individuals who wholeheartedly engage themselves in the mind-body healing process.  The body will communicate to us in whichever way is most effective in getting our attention.  Is it any wonder that Dr. Gabor Mate named his insightful and groundbreaking book, exploring the connection between stress and illness, When the Body Says No

The problem is, most of us are completely unaware that this form of messaging is occurring, and do not possess the skill set needed to decipher what the body is trying to convey.  We assume that something is wrong with our body and attempt to solve the problem in a manner that compliments this belief.  We head off for a chiropractic manipulation, a prescription, a surgery, or a list of exercises; and the message that was attempting to be communicated goes completely unrecognized.

I was lucky in that I hit a point of physical pain from which there is no return, and no help to be found, which left me with no other option other than to learn to take heed of what the body is trying to show me. 

Writing this today, I am aware that none of this really had anything to do with Dr. Yelgdim.  She was merely playing her role in this grand play called life, my life.  Without her, who would play the antagonist in the story, and how else could I be the victim—and hero—in this story?  You can be sure that she felt she was doing exactly what was needed, and was the hero in a story of her own making.  For characters like Dr. Yelgdim, we must be perpetually grateful.  She provided me the opportunity to learn to walk away, to use the power of my own free will, something I was unable to do in my younger years as a student.  I feel that perhaps I have been able to remedy some long unaddressed karma, some unattended business laying in wait.  With the grad school situation nearing its end, I was also being pulled back into my current position as a social worker at a local high school, by unseen forces greater than what I could withstand...

Whether you teach from a wound or teach from a scar, teach from where you are.

We are caught in acts that are not harmonious with our deepest wisdom, that's where the pain comes from, you are living your lives in a way that is not harmonious with your deepest wisdom.        -Ram Dass

Additional thoughts…

I recently came across a few pages I had saved from an otherwise burned school counseling textbook, entitled Exploring School Counseling.  I immediately recognized why I had chosen to save these pages and was momentarily shocked as I re-examined what lay therein.  They addressed much of what I have written about in the pages of this blog and also what will be discussed within the sequel.  I briefly felt, "oh shit, maybe I've made a big mistake!"  But it only takes a few seconds to remember that I am not writing about the ideals and course material I encountered in an assigned textbook or class, I am recounting what I actually found and experienced in grad school and working within the public school system—an entirely different reality—far from any intellectual fantasy about how things might look someday in the future.  It's easy to draw fanciful conclusions and make nice sounding proposals from the outside looking in, when you are not entrenched in the true nature of how things actually are.  It is only fair that I share a few excerpts from the chapter of the book called "Advocacy", as what they contained was thoughtful, meaningful, and potentially valuable.

From Exploring School Counseling:

"Those in the school counseling profession have "talked a good game" for many years, contending that school counselors are leaders of change.  However, when speaking of change, school counselors' focus was primarily on change in the school counseling program, developing the school counselor's role description, and increasing the number of counselors in the schools.  All of these issues are worthy arenas for advocating change and growth.  Yet today's society demands a different type of advocacy role for school counselors.  The new vision for today's school counselors is as advocates for the academic success of all students in an equitable environment." 

My thoughts: 

Key words, "equitable environment"...

From Exploring School Counseling:

"Because existing barriers sometimes seem to block advocacy actions, some counselors choose the path of least resistance, avoiding their advocacy role.  School counselors sometimes give varied reasons or excuses as to why they stop short of acting on behalf of the student.  Personal obstacles might include fear or anxiety about speaking up, being labeled as a troublemaker, being apathetic, and a false sense of powerlessness." 

My thoughts: 

The use of the word "sometimes" in the first sentence of this excerpt is laughable for reasons I feel are quite obvious.  What is noted here is also far from limited to school counselors, in my experience it can be applied to anyone working within the school system, who is interested in real change.  And I would ask whoever wrote this, "what do you mean "false sense of powerlessness"?"  The entire system is rigged against change. I attempted to challenge the system for six years in my role as a social worker, and the powerlessness seemed anything but a "false sense."

More from Exploring School Counseling:

"Some may feel that they are intimidated by what might happen if they stand up for students, especially if other school personnel disagree.  These and other concerns may result in professional paralysis that results in no action by the school counselor.  While these are legitimate feelings, school counselors must realize their important role in advocacy—for students, for programs, for self.  Failure to do so could result in detrimental experiences for students, families, and for the school counseling program in general." 

My thoughts:

This definitely describes the experience of one who is attempting to advocate for students and overall change within the school system, I would add that while "failure to do so could result in detrimental experiences for students, families, etc.", proceeding with this sort of advocacy in a manner that would necessarily challenge many others working at the school, could also result being fired...

More from Exploring School Counseling:

"The school counselor should, above all else, be an advocate for students.  Parents or teachers may become caught in power struggles or emotionally entrenched in a situation.  The school counselor must always step back and say, "What is in the best interest of the student?"  This may not always be the easiest stance to take, but it is the school counselor's responsibility to advocate for the child and mediate between the adults involved, if necessary."

"It is difficult to advocate for something that does not seem beneficial to students.  If a school counselor has feelings of discomfort or is hesitant to participate in or lead activities toward or for a cause, he or she should really explore the reasons for hesitancy.  Examination of the personal and professional level of commitment and emotional response should either affirm the school counselor's next steps in the advocacy process or encourage the school counselor to develop the skills needed to advocate successfully.  If a school counselor feels strongly about a decision or action, he or she must have the passion and commitment to take a stand and be prepared to defend the position.  Balancing passion and commitment with the ability to communicate valid reasons for taking a stand is a skill that often takes time to develop and attain finesse." 

My thoughts: 

Well touche!  Couldn't have said it better myself, but doesn't this seem like a bit of a tall order?  Does this author realize the amount of bureaucratic bullshit a school counselor has to sift through, then juggle?  When exactly is all this advocacy going to happen?   Does this author realize what happens to employees who attempt to challenge those above them in a hierarchical structure?  Does the author realize that said counselor may have bills to pay, a family to support, and therefore a job to keep?   And the meeting of resistance is not an "if", in my experience it was faced at every possible turn.  Why would anyone willingly sign up to play in a game that they know has been rigged against them?  Shit, I hadn't even got out of the gate before massive resistance was being hurled my way...

And last but not least from Exploring School Counseling:

"One of the most valuable lessons to remember in our school counseling career is that appropriate and ethical decisions are not always popular.  However, in order to be an advocate for a student or a cause, school counselors may have to take a stand on what they feel is in the best interest of the involved parties.  As a school counselor-in-training, you will hopefully develop skills to facilitate dialogue, explore issues, and respond to conflict or disagreement.  Singh et al. (2010) identified seven themes that school counselors who self-identify as social justice agents use to advocate for systemic change.

  • -Using political savvy to navigate power structures

  • -Consciousness-raising 

  • -Initiating difficult dialogue

  • -Building intentional relationships

  • -Teaching students self-advocacy skills

  • -Using data for marketing

  • -Educating others about the school counselor role of advocate

My thoughts:

Whoever wrote this text book clearly has an understanding of what is needed within the school system, and more specifically, from school counselors.  Unfortunately, there is a monumental disconnect between these ideals and what is actually possible within the confines of the system as is.  For instance, at the highschool I worked at—likely not vastly different than any other high school—there were three school counselors for the 2000 attending students at the school.  Now let's suppose that all three counselors were brave and empowered enough to actually advocate on the behalf of the students, and stand out among the herd—unlikely—that is still only three people out of an entire staff working towards changing a firmly rooted and entrenched system.  What individual counselor is going to be able to consistently shoulder this burden for any extended period of time?  Not to mention the complexity of the problems needing addressed or the resistance and outright disapproval they will meet at every turn.

What I am attempting to address is what I actually encountered and bore witness to down here on planet earth.  The reality is that if the real issues are going to be tackled, academics and standardized testing will likely have to take a back seat.  The psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs of the students will need to become a primary focus.  This is something that is very threatening to those in higher positions of power, who are more interested in things staying the way they are.  Really, it is at its most essential the same problem you face when attempting to change any system, whether it be political, economic, healthcare, etc...  If it adversely affects the interests of the powerful, it will without fail be made exceedingly difficult to accomplish any meaningful or significant progress or change.

I will step into my role as a Mindbody Spirit Guide and writer.  Working towards advocacy from within a system such as this, seems a fool's errand and a waste of precious time.  Luckily, the channels of information are no longer limited to a select few and one can create awareness from the outside, without having to deal with all the hurdles and gatekeepers they would meet trying to change the system from within.  Part two of this blog will take an in depth look at what one actually finds when they attempt to "take a stand" within the public school system.  It could be titled, "experiments in advocacy within the public school system"... It is sure to be a good time!

Love your struggle and remain free,

1 Comment

Hi Tyson, very interesting and well written experience. I can't wait to read the second part


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