Apr 28, 2008, 13:58

My Webster's dictionary defines the word "underground" as something secret or hidden. In Emotional Growth/Therapeutic Schools and Programs, this term is used to describe behaviors the students try to hide from adults. It means the students might pretend to obey the rules, but as soon as they are out of the sight of staff, they revert to their own rules, which might consist of forbidden behaviors. This might include drinking alcohol or ingesting drugs, smoking, hazing or any of a number of activities that are not approved of by "The Establishment." In a school or program with a somewhat weak structure, the students can easily believe the administration is not serious about enforcing the rules. It is almost like an unspoken game of cat and mouse, that is, the students' understanding of reality is these activities really are ok, so long as they don't get caught.

"Secret" or "Hidden" agendas or activities (thus an underground) are very common in society. We all have attended schools or worked at companies where we quickly learn that "how things really work" is different from how it is formally described. For example, the boss might brag that his/her door is always open, but woe to the staff who interrupts him/her. Or, the school administration might brag that their campus is alcohol free, not even noticing all the empty beer and liquor bottles on the dorm window sills on Saturday or Sunday morning.

Looked at in this way, the existence of an underground seems almost a fact of the human condition. We all know people who present themselves one way while hiding parts that are very different, sometimes for good reason. Some families may present themselves as happy and normal while actually being very dysfunctional. The same goes for businesses, government agencies and politicians. We are so used to this that the first time we get involved with anybody, whether it be an individual, community group, company, politician or government agency, after listening to what they say, we immediately try to figure out how things really work. We expect to find unspoken rules that are often more important than the spoken rules. It is usually surprising to us when we find a person or group that say what they mean and mean what they say.

The problem with an "underground" is the person who plays by the rules often can be at a disadvantage, while somebody that is manipulative can have an advantage. This common dynamic sometimes explains how a person who seems to break all the rules can still be successful materially, at least in the short term. In this view, the honest person is restricted by the truth, but the liar isn't.

This very common type of "underground" in a society might be one of the reasons so many young people turn radical, crying "hypocrisy" and criticizing society in general. They see adults often not doing what they say they are, so they can use this as a justification for their own manipulating or lying. They claim they are just doing what adults are doing. Others might be so confused by the inconsistencies of what is said versus what is done, they have no idea what is expected of them versus what is right.

Mature adults know that reputations are hard won, and easily lost. They also know that once a person gains a negative reputation others do not trust them, and in the long term, that person has a serious disadvantage. Young people usually do not have the experience to realize this so they act on a distorted idea of how the world works. Consequently, some experience problems for themselves having no idea why everybody seems to be turning against them. They flounder, become angry and desperately need a healing experience to clarify their thinking so they can be successful in the long term.

Private Emotional Growth/Therapeutic residential schools and programs have learned that one of the most important healing techniques is to create an environment that is so wisely structured there is virtually no underground. These schools and programs have learned how to create highly structured programs without a confusing mass of rules where any kind of underground behavior or agendas are brought out into the open for all to see and analyze. When negative underground behaviors are exposed to the light of day, it becomes apparent to virtually everyone how self-destructive they can be. That realization is the first step toward healing.

Structuring a school or program in a way that eliminates an active underground is very difficult, requiring constant vigilance, a highly structured program and a staff that universally understands the importance of providing a school or program that actively exposes any sign of an underground. The students also have to support the idea of everyone being open and honest, which requires a lot of positive peer pressure from older students who have learned why lying, manipulating and other negative behaviors are self-destructive. It requires a method that allows a student who lies, for example, to be verbally confronted by those hurt by those lies in a controlled environment which eliminates the possibly of a physical fight developing. The student can then learn how lying is self-destructive. This also requires adult staff to be positive adult role models the students can relate to and trust.

At first glance, since a type of underground seems so prevalent in society and seems to be an integral part of human nature, the job of creating a place that can eliminate an underground even for a short time, would seem impossible. However, those young people we call struggling teens do need an experience of openness without an underground to be able to clarify their thinking and understanding of how they have been self-destructive. Quality private Emotional Growth/ Therapeutic residential schools and programs have developed this very important element, which explains much of the reason for their success. One of the main reasons schools are described as highly structured is to facilitate exposing any developing underground. In a school or program without an underground, children can clarify their thinking, decide what their important values are, make life decisions on a more rational basis and be prepared for a life without getting lost again in society's underground.


May 02, 2008

As usual, an excellent essay. Succinct, clear, to the point, and informative and most importantly, user friendly and easy to implement plan for success.

In our society today, the underground mentality is pervasive. Flip on the TV and watch for 30 minutes and watch maybe 5 different programs during that 30 minutes, and you will see this practice. Watch the news and you will see it being reported and being used by news anchors. Listen to politicians and you will see and hear it, as they explain that we have laws already on the books, but we choose not to enforce them for this or that reason. Go to a public school and this is where you will witness it day in and day out, and if you are a public school student, you will experience it for 8 to 10 months per year, year in and year out. And, this is the place where students are becoming more and more emotionally ill as they live through this paradox……………….

M. Jerome Ennis MA. Ed

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