Dial 988 for Help

Blue-and-white logo for the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline

I’m excited about this development, which (so far) seems to have gotten less publicity than one might expect. Starting today, 988 is a new nationwide telephone number for free mental health crisis support in the United States.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) has been rebranded as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. You can reach your nearest crisis center by calling or texting the new three-digit number, 24 hours a day. You don’t have to be thinking about suicide to use this service, and you can call if you’re trying to help someone else, too.

The lifeline fielded 2.6 million calls in 2021.

Update: Some activists have pointed out that 988 operators may sometimes send emergency services—including police officers—to a caller’s location against their wishes. Perversely, this practice may itself endanger lives, trigger mental health crises, and result in involuntary confinement or criminalization of people seeking help.

From what I can tell, the 988 system, unlike 911, does not yet have access to precise geolocation technology. However, the 988 Lifeline’s FAQ says that “currently, a small percentage of Lifeline calls require activation of the 911 system when there is imminent risk to someone’s life that cannot be reduced during the Lifeline call. In these cases, the crisis counselor shares information with 911 that is crucial to saving the caller’s life. … Currently, fewer than 2% of Lifeline calls require connection to emergency services like 911.”

Sadly, this may be important information for using the 988 Lifeline safely.

Describing a Democratic Approach to History Education

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Edit, Aug. 26, 2019: Since I posted this, my plans for Fall 2019 have changed. I will not teach the course described below at RCBC, but I will teach a different course at Rowan University, which is also a public institution.

Earlier this month, I posted a draft syllabus statement for my new courses at La Salle University. It explains how my approach to history may fit into the “Lasallian” tradition—that is, the tradition of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, the 300-year-old Catholic teaching order that sponsors that university.

Now I’d like to present a draft syllabus statement for a different kind of college. This fall, I’ll be teaching a course in the history of western civilization at Rowan College at Burlington County (formerly Burlington County College), a community college with a main campus in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. It’s my first time working at a community college, which has long been a goal of mine.

Here’s my initial attempt to explain what I think a history education should offer students at a public two-year college. I welcome criticism, especially from instructors who have worked in similar institutions.

Screenshot:

Purpose of a history course at RCBC

Text:

Public Philosophy

As a community college, RCBC invites Burlington County to learn together, making a college education something for all of us, “in an accessible and diverse environment,” rather than a privilege for the few.[1] This opens doors to greater personal prosperity and further educational opportunities. But it also strengthens our democratic society in two ways.

First, education helps you become a more responsible part of a free community. In the ancient Greek city of Athens, young citizens reportedly had to recite an oath when they reached adulthood. They swore to uphold their democratic society’s traditions in order to defend its freedom. Modern schools and colleges have sometimes adapted that oath in their commencement ceremonies to describe the ideal educated person:

We will never bring disgrace to this our city, by any act of dishonesty or cowardice, nor ever desert our suffering comrades in the ranks. We will fight for our ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many. We will revere and obey the city’s laws and do our best to incite a like respect in those above us who are prone to annul them and set them at naught. We will strive unceasingly to quicken the public sense of civic duty. Thus in all these ways we will transmit this city not only not less but far greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.[2]

At the same time, “higher” education (or education beyond high school) should prepare adults to question tradition, criticize their society’s existing values and institutions, and create new forms of knowledge and wisdom. College should expand our freedom as well as preserve it. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, who helped establish one of America’s first public universities, we should “follow truth wherever it may lead,” enjoying “the illimitable freedom of the human mind.”[3]

A college education in history, especially at a public college like RCBC, should do both of these things at once. Carefully studying the past will help you think for yourself—using resources provided by the people of Burlington County—while inspiring you to cooperate with others in making your society freer, wiser, and more beautiful in the years to come.

You may find some irony in my posting this now, right after questioning how reliably a formal humanities education improves the health of a democracy. All I can say is that this syllabus statement is aspirational and normative, not necessarily descriptive. I am setting forth what I  hope my history course will help students accomplish. The eventual outcome will depend not only upon what I do during the semester, but also what my students do—both individually and together.

Describing a Lasallian Approach to History Education

My move to the Philadelphia area is basically complete, and I can now say publicly that I’ll be returning to La Salle University this fall as an adjunct instructor teaching at least two and possibly three courses. (I’ll say more about another new position in the area soon.)

La Salle was the first external institution to hire me during graduate school, making it the place where I taught my first training-wheels-off history courses. So it’s very exciting to be back.

One of my goals as I draw up new syllabuses this year is to do a better job communicating how my courses relate to the larger institutional missions of my employers. I think this can be useful not only to students—who benefit from explicit guidance about the various purposes of higher education—but also to faculty members and administrators, who can use continual reminders during this fraught time in the profession’s history.

To that end, here’s my attempt at a syllabus statement summing up the centuries-old religious educational tradition that its namesake university claims to uphold.

Screenshot:

lasallian philosophy syllabus statement

Text:

Lasallian Philosophy

Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, a Catholic priest from an elite family, established the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in the 1680s, when basic education in France was relatively disorganized. Living together in religious communities, members of his order gave up wealth and prestige in order to devote their lives to creating schools for working-class and poor children.[1] Today, the Brothers’ primary mission is still to provide “a human and Christian education” to the world’s poor—and to enlist the rich as their allies. As their rule says, the Brothers seek common ground among people of all religious traditions in advancing “human dignity, solidarity among all human beings, and the integral development of the individual.”[2] La Salle University is one of six colleges and universities carrying out this mission at an advanced level in the United States.

In keeping with the Lasallian tradition, this history course is grounded in the belief that all humans—across time, space, and social boundaries—share a common dignity. We can recognize ourselves in each other despite our differences and conflicts. Because of this, all aspects of human history have the power to help us live more coherently and meaningfully. You should use this course as an opportunity to develop greater solidarity with other people, especially the marginalized, through acts of the reason and the imagination. In the process, you may grow into a greater sense of your own personhood.

This statement is one of several (covering student learning outcomes, course design, and basic principles of academic freedom) that I’ve been happily developing or revising this summer.

Of course, this is a statement about ideals. The reality will have to emerge in the class itself.