In my last post, I released statistics about violence among our tweens and teens. Some were discouraged by what they read as happening with our youth. It is troubling and difficult to comprehend this violence could be so widespread and recurring in a progressive country like ours.
We are not powerless to prevent school shootings
When we look at the news, we are confronted again by the reality of youth violence.
Just a few days ago, on a normal school day in Sparks Middle School, three hours turned into horror for students, staff and all involved. A 12-year-old student brought a gun to school and shot students, a teacher and himself. It was shocking because he was seen as a good student and rather passive. There were some hints that he was bullied. He used phrases like a bullied student would, shooting other students.
I am sure they are reeling from shock, horror and extreme fear. Without doubt, they are a traumatized group of middle school students.
And this is not the only recent shooting.
Reports of school violence have continued.
- Last week, a student at an Austin, Texas, high school killed himself in front of other students.
- In August, a student at a high school in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, shot and wounded another student in the neck.
- Another shooting took place at an Atlanta-area middle school in January, though no one was hit.
- That same month, a California high school student wounded two people, one seriously.
It is alarming that our students cannot go to school without fear.
Their days are stressed by a sense of potential violence that could impact them and their friends. Because safety in our schools is declining, students are dealing with more prevalent fear and anxiety. We know that these types of fears affect relationships, learning ability and many other aspects of school life. We also know that students do not react well to these situations; that is, they can respond in extremes ways. It is a scary for both them and parents.
Even though this type of event surfaces heroic acts of many, the sorrow and fear that it creates all over our country is significant.
Obviously, there are always issues raised about what could have or should have been done in any shootings or violent situations. I am not going to spend energy blaming parents or other students for bullying. Blame will not solve the issue of violence.
However, it is clear that in school shootings, there are emotional or relational causes that underlie the actions that follow. When perpetrators are sensitized to issues faced, such as bullying, they can become hyper-aroused, desperate, and dangerous. This is why all of us need to think about and work on the environment of our students.
Aside from academics, our students need safe places to process the difficulties of their lives with someone. I believe if every student had someone (other than in his/her family) with which to share life, there would be a huge reduction in this type of violence.
I know it is true because I have watched it happen with our students at Lakeside.
As you know, our staff work hard to keep our students safe and in a relationship with an understanding adult.
The more we have mentors in the lives of our students, the more they will be able to process difficult life events. In turn, processing these events will give them understanding and balance in perspective. This is not easy to do in large schools but it is something that all educators ought to be reaching for.
I think the price of not bringing focus to this issue is too high. We need to make changes in our schools.
We are not powerless. We have the advantage of being able to build friendships with our teenagers and that is our best option for preventing violence.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
We also need school principals, coaches and teachers to gain empathy for the students who are bullied. They need to watch videos that show bullying and the impact of such bullying on the victims and the perpetrators. They also need to speak to the students and share their own stories about having been bullied and made the target of ridicule and name calling. They need to share how they felt and what they did in response to such treatment. It is simply not possible for the adults in a school to not know that bullying is going on and not to know the perpetrators and victims. I think it is a big lie to say that principals, coaches and teachers did not know it was going on when there is a shooting. I think the truth is adults more often than not turn a blind eye to abuse and bullying and I think in large part because they do not want to feel the pain of helplessness, powerlessness and shaming that is evoked in witnessing such bullying and abuse. And, there is a strong cultural myth that kids and particularly boys need to ‘learn’ how to handle bullying and how to stand up to it. Boys particularly are taught to be ‘tough’ and any admission of ‘weakness’ such as acknowledging bullying is viewed as cowardly. Adults accept violence as a part of life but it does not have to be — we make the world we live in.