Too Many Young Lives

I haven’t written anything about school shootings because, frankly, it’s difficult to put those emotions into words. As a junior high teacher, I’ve felt a plethora of emotions, from sadness to anger to fear to frustration. Why have our children become so violent? Why do these kids hurt so badly that they think shooting up their schools is the only answer? Will I have to face this one day? What if I can’t protect those children in my care?

Since the most recent shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, many questions have weighed on my mind, but one in particular. Please note that this blog is not meant to judge anyone. We are all trying to find answers that don’t seem to exist. We’ve heard suggestions of more gun control, tougher security in schools, cracking down on bullying…all reasonable points. Why does no one ever seem to ask what families are doing? What can we do to support families? Why are we asking our schools and our government to fix this, and we aren’t demanding families do anything? Perhaps someone somewhere has begun studying these shooters in order to find common denominators, but we don’t hear that; we hear that we need tougher gun laws. I want to know what these kids have in common. I want to know where society, whether it’s school, government, or family, fell short for these kids.

As a mother, I cannot fathom finding out one of my kids was responsible for killing someone, let alone several people. That pain is unimaginable, so I am not blaming the parents, but rather asking if they noticed their kids were hurting or angry? Did they spend time with them or try to get help? I would think I know my girls well enough to know that they have crossed over to a very dark place, but do any of us know our kids as well as we think we do? Did these kids associate with their family? Were they often alone? Are there mental health services in all communities? Is it accessible to all families?

Most of the shooters have claimed to be bullied. I know bullying is a huge issue, but folks, it’s nothing new. I graduated over 30 years ago, and I can still tell you kids who were bullied, but I don’t know that we had ever used the term bully at that time. And there certainly weren’t school shootings. I used to read my third graders a book called The Hundred Dresses, written by Eleanor Estes in 1944. Do you have any idea what it’s about? Bullying. A young poor girl was made fun of because of her dresses. In 1944. Were there school shootings in 1944? What has changed? I don’t think we can just blame it on the accessibility of guns; farm kids have always had access to guns. How can we give kids the skills to cope when things don’t go their way? How can we teach them to stand up for themselves without hurting others? How can we teach bullies to treat others with respect? How can we help families model that behavior?

Social media and video games. What role do they play? Violent video games have also been blamed for the increase in violence in our kids. While I’m not a fan of those games, and don’t see what good can possibly come from playing them (trust me, I just see kids falling asleep in class because they’ve stayed up all night playing these games), I really don’t know that they’ve impacted the number of school shootings. When we were kids, we played cops and robbers, and kids played soldiers and pretended to shoot one another in play. Heck, I remember in first grade we played cowboys and Indians in gym class, with each group trying to capture the other. That would be completely politically incorrect in 2018. My own grandsons, who are four and six, love to play soldier. Their dad was in the Army, so they know our soldiers are heroes, so they love to pretend they are American soldiers, and can turn most anything into a gun. Do I think they will parlay that play into something deadly? Absolutely not.

Social media is something I really question. Kids read about other shooters, and their teenage mind sees them as heroes – kids who are now infamous, but no longer have to face their problems. They can “follow” anyone, anywhere, including people who might encourage immoral behavior. Social media has made bullying easy, and adults are none the wiser. Where do we draw the line between giving our kids some privacy, and knowing enough about their lives to keep them safe?

One thing I think we’ve lost in recent years is a sense of community. When I was a kid, all the moms and dads in our neighborhood had authority over us. If a neighbor corrected me for doing something wrong, my mom backed the neighbor up. The parents looked out for all of the kids. Now we don’t dare correct someone else’s child for fear of being sued. What happened to wanting the best for all of our kids? If we had that sense of community, would more kids feel loved and cared for? Would we be more likely to notice when a kid is so angry that he’d shoot up his school?

I wish I had answers rather than so many questions. I feel fortunate that my school and my community is being proactive. My school has made several security upgrades, and will add a resource officer this fall. I’m glad I teach at a small school where I know almost all of the kids. I pray for the future of our schools and our nation’s children. They should not have to be afraid to go to school; I should not have to be afraid to be their teacher.

Love your kids, love your nieces and nephews, love your neighbors’ kids, love the kids in your community. Compliment kids when they do something good. Say hello to a kid who looks lonely. Ask the neighbor kid if he or she is doing okay. Pay attention to kids. I don’t think our government or our schools can “fix” the problem; they can only try to keep the shooters out. But us? We might be able to fix the problem by noticing our children, by making sure every one of them feels loved.

 

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We’ll Never Understand

As a teacher, I cannot sit back taking in all of the news out of Connecticut without posting my thoughts.  Those thoughts are constantly drawn to the families, teachers, students, and faculty who have been so brutally subjected to the worst this world has to offer.  I spent Friday and Saturday battling tears as more details were available.  I know no one involved, but how can any teacher, parent, or compassionate human not feel deeply when he sees pictures of innocent children whose lives were ended abruptly, and at a place that is supposed to be safe?  How can we not be impacted when we have such blatant evidence that evil exists?

I went for a run Friday afternoon with a friend, and she asked what, as a teacher, I would do in that situation.  I have asked myself that same question countless times in the past three days.  I don’t think any of us can say with any certainty, but I believe my ‘mommy adrenaline’ would kick in, and I know, without a doubt, I would do everything in my power to protect my students.  As the stories of the teachers’ bravery come out, many seem surprised that teachers would go to such extremes to protect the children.  Let me tell you, I do not know of any adult with whom I work who would not do the same thing.  You see, we love your children.  You might complain that I kept your child in for recess when you didn’t think it was necessary, or I give too much homework, or not enough, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty of teaching, what is important is that I care deeply.  Teachers and parents might not always agree on the best way to handle children, but I hope parents know that we would all fight like hell for your kids.

I kept picturing my students’ faces this weekend, and I know the faith they have in me.  That’s big.  I truly couldn’t wait to see them this morning.  I just wanted them to know that I love them.  Really.  I cannot imagine how the teachers in Connecticut will cope when they go back, nor can I imagine how scary it will be for the kids.  How unfair.  And then my thoughts go to the parents.  No parent should have to bury a child, and when that child’s life ends so senselessly, it is that much worse.  I think of the wrapped presents beneath their trees that will go unopened.  The Christmas outfits that will go unworn.  The stocking that will be left hanging.  And I am sad.

We can argue gun control and mental health, but that gets us nowhere.  On the news earlier, they had a story about a woman who had a card with money inside on her car when she returned to the parking lot after shopping.  It said something about being in memory of a child who died in the school shooting, and that the only way to fight evil was with kindness.  It said the giver had decided to do random acts of kindness in memory of those who had died, and asked the the receipient pay it forward.  The woman was so touched that she decided to pass it on.  That’s what we should do.  Don’t argue about gun control or make this tragedy political.  We all have different opinions; who cares.  Let’s all become better human beings and reflections of goodness.  Let’s make someone’s day a little brighter.  If, through this horrific crime, we all become a little more compassionate, a little more accepting, just maybe evil will be defeated.

May God bless all those who lost loved ones, the children who saw things they should never have to see, and the faculty who will be going back to school ready to love those kids, and the community that will never quite be the same.