Have school shootings become a part of school life?
School shootings will happen, and we have to be ready but not in constant fear.
A school shooting is one of those things that no one expects to happen, but no one is surprised when it does happen. There have been two recent shootings with ties to universities, and another where a couple randomly opened fire at a fast food restaurant and a parking lot. While the last incident is not related to a school shooting, it happened so close to the Seattle Pacific shooting that it’s hard to not believe anything can happen anywhere at any time.
Most people think school shootings happen at high schools like Columbine, or universities like Cal Tech. As we know, they can happen even at preschools and elementary schools. The kids are not the only ones shooting.
The incident at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in December 2012 was a wake-up call for my school. We are K-8, and we realized that as teachers we are the first line of defense for our students. Some schools armed their teachers. We did not go that far. We did bring a police officer in to teach us how to shield our children with our bodies. It was a sobering day. We learned that we could not save them all, but we learned what tactics we could use to lower the body count.
Do we believe something will happen? No, you can’t live your life believing something will happen. However, my school has been the target of a bombing before and we do know that the unthinkable can happen, and you need to prepare for it. You can’t be a sitting duck.
The truth is that as teachers, we are not just responsible for teaching our children which web sites they should avoid, and not to talk to strangers or, since I teach older children, not to interact with people you don’t know on the internet. We also need to be vigilant on campus. We need to be on the lookout for who does not belong. We need to watch visitors.
More importantly, we need to watch out students. We need to get to know them. We need to get to know their families. We need to be aware if they are depressed, or isolated, or bullied. Maybe we can stop the next Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold from opening fire by listening, by being aware, and by teaching our students to be tolerant and open-minded, so that students cannot become so isolated in the first place.
First, I’d be interested in knowing the exact definition of a school shooting. I don’t believe that shootings on the level of Columbine at K-12 schools are really as prevalent as the 34 shootings this year statistic would imply. I wonder if we are taking events that would once not have been classified as school shootings and are now calling them by that name. So, I’m not 100% convinced that the frequency of violence at school has risen to a level that should be termed “alarming.”
I suppose that this means that I would classify myself in the category of teachers who do not think that a shooting is at all likely to happen in their school. I have never heard a student express fear of being victimized by a school shooting. I do not go to work with any thought that a shooting might happen at my school. Perhaps this makes me naïve, but I am not worried.
As for prevention, I do not think that there is much that we can reasonably do to prevent shootings at school. Gun control of the extent that would be needed is a political non-starter in this country. Metal detectors and security guards are not economically feasible. There is talk of having armed volunteer guards, but I doubt that we would be able to attract enough such volunteers. If we did, it is unlikely that they would continue to be interested in coming day in and day out when nothing happens to justify their presence.
I think that school shootings are simply the price we pay for having a society like our own. I don’t see how they can reasonably be prevented without massive changes that most of us would be unwilling to countenance.
I say alarming because it seems as though the frequency of school shootings has increased in recent times. According to this timeline there were 45 school shootings in the decade between 2000 and 2010. Now, there have been nearly that many this year. Yes, some are shootings that took place at a school and did not target students, but the same classification applied to the 2000s. In the past month, 10 students have been killed and 17 injured due to gun violence on school grounds. I didn't mean to be alarmist, but it does seem to be a worsening trend to me.
There is no question that the dynamics of school life have been drastically altered since Happy Days or Welcome Back, Kotter. First of all, most of these shootings have been committed by people who are mentally deranged--people who heretofore were institutionalized--or by religious fanatics, such as the officer at the Ft. Hood shooting.
In our society's effort to be tolerant of everyone, the shooter at Ft. Hood was allowed to stay in his position even though there were some warning signals that this man had radical tendencies as he was in communication by email with Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, an Islamic militant. After the shootings, reports were given with facts such as the following,
During the six years that Hasan worked as an intern and resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, colleagues and superiors were deeply concerned about his behavior and comments.
Similarly, there have been warning signals about some of the schoolchildren shooters. Adam Lanza was clearly mentally ill. Staying in his room and not even communicating with his own mother, Adam Lanza conducted extensive research on school shootings and had more than 1,400 rounds of ammunition. Psychiatric reports indicated his mental instability:
On the question of Lanza's state of mind, the report noted "significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others, even those to whom he should have been close..
Mental hospitals certainly served a purpose. The idea that disturbed people will take their medicine is not a sound enough reason to let mentally ill be loose in the population (statistics reveal that only 2% of the mentally ill are now institutionalize). The liberal movement of deinstitutionalisation is not working along with the restrictions imposed on parents and teachers to enforce discipline and teach consequences to youth. After all, history shows that every society always pays a terrible price for its weakness.
This has become so normal that our nation is in danger of becoming cynical about it. As for preventing more occurrences, the answers are complex, but it seems to me the two most important things are: better gun safety laws (background checks! clearly the laws in place aren't adequate) and improved manufacturing features, for example, locks that prevent guns from discharging unless operated by the registered owner (many of the shootings perpetrated by kids have been with weapons owned by a family member).
The other thing that seems crucially important is to improve the coping skills and social confidence of kids. It seems too easy these days for kids who feel bullied, rejected or ostracized to express their isolation and rage with violence. The obsessive use of technology and personal gadgets doesn't help: it fosters poor social skills and dogpack mentalities, IMHO. Add that to easy access to guns and ammo and you have our current situation.
Obviously there are more points to consider but those seem like some major ones to me.
I know for me personally I never walk into a building thinking: 'hmm perhaps I'll be shot by a random gunman today.' But school shootings seem to be on the rise and that is an alarming thing.
I read a book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. It covered many aspects of violence and violent individuals including assassins and lone gunmen. de Becker's solution to gun violence was to limit the amount of media attention given to these disturbed individuals.
He said that in general shootings seem to spike after a single high profile incident. The shootings that follow are essentially copy cat crimes, even if the circumstances are different. Individuals with underlying mental health conditions see the media attention as a way to make a statement, go out with a bang, and/or gain infamy. They are almost always suicide missions.
If de Becker is right I advocate limited coverage of all violent crimes. I am not saying the media should fail to report anything. However, names should not be released, the suspect's photo should never be shown, and there should be limited footage (if any). The victims should have the spotlight A) out of respect for them and their families and B) glorifying the victims takes away from the perpertrator thereby discouraging future shooters from following in their footsteps.
Unfortunately, school shootings have become a part of school life. American school children are taught from a very young how to protect themselves and others through things like active shooter drills and other kinds of drills. I don't think it is something that is always on people's minds but it is something we worry about, and are constantly reminded about through the media. So yes, it IS something we worry about. To prevent things like those from happening, there should be stricter gun laws and people who want to purchase them should go through more security checks.
As a teacher this is unfortunately always in the back of my mind that this could happen. My school practices the protocol for this type of incident at least one time a year if not more. While schools must do everything in their power to be ready for these instances it is not acceptable to live in fear of it happening. Also, I believe that there are two separate reasons as to why this troubling trend in society is likely to continue. First, our media and society places far to much media coverage on the attackers and publicizes there story to an almost sickening point. Additionally, the majority of these shooters suffered from legitimate medical conditions, but did not receive any care or help for their condition.
I think politics and the media has played a lot into the idea of school shootings. Yes, we should be more aware and yes, the issue needs to be addressed, but at the same time, I feel that by drawing more attention to school shootings only worsen the problem. Many problems have arisen as "copycat cases," as people try to prove that they can do it better. The media also always puts so much attention on the people who actually commit the crime. Who doesn't want that fifteen minutes of fame? When the Boston Marathon bombing occurred, people were commenting on how attractive the bombers were. I just feel that we need to focus more on what is wrong with the system, on the victims, rather than talking about the criminals.
I want to attend a school where I never need to consider feeling unsafe.
I personally don't agree with the ideas of arming teachers. Teachers are there to teach, not to play as police officer. I know many teachers who would not even be mentally able to handle that role. Then the question also turns to, "what happens if a teacher gets really angry?" "What happens if a student breaks into the teacher's desk?" "What about elementary school teachers?"
There have also been suggestions about placing security guards at schools. There are schools that do this, that makes each student walks through a metal detector every morning. But where is that money going to come from? We are already deep in debt, and it's only increasing. People complain about high taxes as well. How are we going to fund any of this?
I think that we as a nation need to reevaluate our gun policy laws. I know many people are opposed to changing anything, as the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms. I know that this is personal and fairly political, but I personally believe that the Second Amendment has become obsolete. It was written during a period where muskets were used, when militias were in use, when independence was just won after a bloody war against the British. It was to guarantee that if the government ever tried to take their rights away, they would have a mean of defense.
Now, we are looking at automatic and semi-automatic machine guns. Who needs these weapons? The government has nukes, should each American have the right to possess a nuclear weapon as well? I doubt that the government will fail to protect our rights as Americans. We have been a country for 238 years. I doubt that the government will spontaneously decide to declare war on the people.
I also think that we need to also as a nation consider more options and better treatment for mental problems. Many shooters have struggled with some form of mental illness, and I also think that this is a wake-up call for providing better assistance.
Students and teachers aren't always thinking about school shootings, however we are always aware that it is a possibility. You can't have the mind set "Oh, it will never happen to us." No matter what you do there is still a chance that something like this could happen. I don't think that we should always have this on our minds though because it just creates a depressing, fearful atmosphere which is not what you want in a school.
To prevent this sort of thing from happening the only thing you can really do is watch over the students. Students need to have easy access to counselors and teachers they can always talk to for help. Students can talk to someone if they feel bullied and are having violent thoughts and you can prevent what could happen later. If they don't want to talk, a friend could for them or maybe just a peer who is concerned. The best way to stop these things is at the core of the issue. Always be aware of your surroundings and look for subtle hints.