Another school shooting

Another school shooting-this time in Nevada. This time, the shooter was just a middle school kid. Another heroic teacher. Another newsreel featuring trembling kids and anguished parents.

I think back to February, 27, 2012, when the news reports featured Chardon High School, a school a few miles from my home. If we lived on the opposite side of the river-just a quarter mile away, my son would have been there. As it was, several of my friends and colleagues had children at the school on that horrific day. A few days later, my daughter and I visited the gazebo in the town square, where ice and slush frosted teddy bears and frozen roses, photos of the victims arm-in-arm with their friends. Stumps of half-burned candles jutted, desolate as the hearts of the townspeople.

At our school, we have taken the initial steps to learn the ALICE program, a system of school defense which incorporates good sense-for example, if the shooter is in the other side of the building, then get your students out-with active resistance. The down side of ALICE is that the program advocates using both staff and students to confront shooters. I don’t feel at all comfortable encouraging my adolescents to confront a gunman. Still, the program makes more sense than the “shelter in place/could be a sitting duck” model.

But why do school shootings keep happening? After I read a sobering list of school shootings over the past 20 years, I have noticed some patterns. First, the shootings are not by any means a phenomenon confined to the United States, for example, Rio De Janeiro, 2011 (13 dead, 12 injured,) Winnenden, Germany, 2009 (15 dead) Tuusula, Finland, 2007, (8 dead, 10 injured).  Second, frequently both students and faculty are targeted. Third, the shooter often commits suicide. Various articles, scholarly and less so, postulate bullying, ostracism, depression, video games, violent television, but the data behind these hypotheses remains scattered and largely anecdotal. None of these facts tell us definitively WHY, only that the plague spreads wider and deeper than even our hype-happy mass media imagines.

What can I, as a teacher do, short of jumping in front of an assailant or otherwise using myself as a human shield? Yes, I believe every teacher in my school would give his or her life to protect our students.

An article in Scientific American posits:

A teacher’s role should extend beyond dispensing knowledge to forging friendships with students and providing young people with adult confidants and role models. At the same time, teachers would be advised to educate students to view critically all media that glorify violence. (Scientific American, 12-17-12)

I agree, but we teachers are not in this alone. We need parents, aunts and uncles, youth leaders, counselors, mentors, coaches, band directors, librarians. We need to learn to recognize signs, to understand need, and to learn how to intervene before another child is cut down.