Policy Matters Blog

In It For the Long Haul

When we hear the term long-haulers these days, we often think of those poor souls who are fighting a COVID-19 virus infection for a much longer amount of time than is usual. Often, side effects are more pronounced and longer lasting for these folks, and sometimes those changes in their health are permanent.  

Or maybe we think about the truck drivers and over-the-road warriors who are struggling to keep our supply chain moving and keeping all of us consumers in a much better frame of mind. Unfortunately, some of those recent truckers have been associated with antivaccine and antimandate campaigns, regarding mask wearing and health related restrictions as somehow threatening American freedoms. Convoys have assailed capital cities in a few countries like Canada, the United States, and France to disrupt traffic and draw attention to their complaints. These are mostly becoming a moot issue as the world seems to be easing restrictions and returning to a more recognized semblance of what our lives were like before the pandemic.  

But I think of advocacy and activists as long-haulers. To advocate for any cause worthy of our efforts means that we are committed to change in some form or another and measure success by seeing the fruits of our labors when accomplished. This is where that “long-hauler” thing comes in.  

In our mission to help children thrive, school psychologists advocate for a variety of issues, from mental health and academic achievement to antidiscrimination and social justice causes. Sadly, in far too many instances we have not yet seen the kind of success we expect. And there are times when we actually seem to have lost ground in our efforts to effect change. We find ourselves rehashing old arguments to a newer group of stakeholders and potential change agents because ‘our truths’ were not believed or were judged not to be worth the effort to make change. We are often told that such change would be deemed too costly from a political standpoint.  

NASP has long been responding to crisis events and school shootings, yet they continue to plague us. Statistically they are rare, but they involve the worst possible outcome when the lives of children are tragically cut short. Over the years, we have benefitted from our PREPaRE program and response training along with all the efforts at influencing and guiding school safety measures with an eye to how all children are being affected. Yet with every incident, a hue and cry is made for more and better mental health service provision without being accompanied with funding or essential change. Hand wringing and “thoughts and prayers” abound, but not much fundamentally changes nor are tangible resources attached.  

Similarly, NASP has been a champion for equity and social justice where others confuse and stymie change with false flags of “equal” and “all” to maintain the status quo. Despite hard data and good research to bolster our arguments, the narrative too often is captured and turned against those of us who long for a more meaningful way of treating all our children. Here again, progress is made when implicit bias and disproportionality are recognized, but not much happens in the way of changing standard operating procedures. 

So if our causes are just, and we are committed to seeing change accomplished, we must be in this for the long –haul, and we must be impervious to frustration when we find ourselves making the same arguments and pitches to a changing audience. Our messaging must be consistent, and we must include everyone in order to make lasting change.  

As a student in junior high school a long time ago, I was introduced to Greek mythology. One myth that stuck with me was the tale of Sisyphus. For those who have never heard the story, Sisyphus angered the gods and was sent to Hades to experience the eternal punishment of rolling a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down the hill just before he reached the summit. Much has been made of interpreting the meaning of this tale. Albert Camus says that Sisyphus is the “absurd hero” because he recognizes that he must abandon hope, and Camus uses this example as a metaphor for the individual’s persistent struggle against the absurdity of life. But others say he ultimately finds meaning in the struggle itself. Still others note that Sisyphus teaches us to never give in to disappointments or try to escape failure. We should accept failure in the same way we accept achievement. That no matter how much we feel we have lost the argument, we will never back down until we fulfill our potential. 

So, we all have to ask ourselves: Are our disappointments in a lack of progress toward improving childhood for all and strengthening our profession still worthy of our best efforts and resources? Do we find ourselves too tired to rise to the occasion and roll the boulder back up the hill if that is what incremental change feels like? Or do we accept the descriptor “long-hauler” because the goals of advocacy are too important to quit? 

Personally, I have never known any school psychologist that was not committed to making every child’s experience better in some manner, and they are all fiercely proud of our profession. So yeah, I guess I too am a long-hauler.