If you recently picked up a newspaper or turned on the news you may have questioned what is happening in our schools and may even have started to think whether our schools are still safe places for our children. Recent school shootings have set fear in many parents about their children’s safety in our schools and rightfully so. Since last year the number of school shootings by students have occurred regularly.
There is no wind so cold as that which blows through a heart broken by the sudden death of a child. Multiply the chill by 20 — the number of young school children killed by a gunman in Connecticut on Friday — and an entire country reels.
Even President Barack Obama, famed for being cool and collected, appeared unable to hold back his tears. At a news conference, several silent seconds ticked by as the president struggled to voice the anger and horror millions of Americans felt over the latest gun travesty.
“We have been through this too many times,” Obama said — a statement as true as it is sad. Tragic massacres are a fact of life in America. Friday’s mass shooting was the second in less than a week. But the Connecticut atrocity — captive children systematically murdered in class; hundreds of others traumatized; several adults killed too — plumbs terrible new depths.
There is no way to fully comprehend what this does to a family. And let alone how to quantify the loss. My prayers and thoughts are with those families.
But as Mayor Bloomberg said, “President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families. But ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action.”
The United States suffers more gun deaths and mass shootings than any other major industrialized country. It’s not even close. Society can blame the media giving influence, the bullies who torment, the teachers who stood by and watched a child slide into depression, the government for writing statistics and not doing anything, or even on the attackers themselves. Society will continue to place the blame and write the statistics for another school shooting. Society is at fault, because society does not accept any solution that could actually change the situation.
In these moments it’s important to consider the larger social context from which this problem emerged. In many ways this incident is an unfortunate byproduct of many of the things that are most positive about U.S. society, particularly our embrace of individual freedom.
In this country we have a right to bear arms, we have a right to privacy, we have a right to due process that’s extended to students in our schools, we have rights to free speech, and we provide special protections to disabled students in our schools including individuals who are mentally impaired. Unfortunately, these freedoms make it very difficult for schools to respond to individual troubled youth.
Freedom goes hand in hand with personal moral organization of the individual by the individual. Organized compassion, however, requires the moral organization of the society as a whole. A shooting is not a failure of the character of one man alone, or even his family and social circle; it is the total failure of our entire society and perhaps even the world, for not leveraging a sufficient level of moral organization that would have made such a crime impossible.
No man is an island. Every man is a traffic jam.
If there is one thing that makes or breaks an individual – it is his education. Schools, where children study, learn and prepare for life, thus need to provide the right kind of environment so that students can get an education properly.
In schools, students are taught languages, mathematics, science, history and a number of other subjects. They get to participate in sports activities, socialize with their peers and learn how to adapt themselves in different social situations. However, an impediment in the path of the child development at schools, comes by way of the various social issues that plague our education system.
Social problems tend to develop when we become neglectful and fail to see that serious problems are developing. Between 1988 and 1993, for example, the United States saw a phenomenal increase in youth violence.
No one we know starts out life wanting to be a substance abuser or to be poor. Most of us want to be lucky, cool, rich and successful. Some of us are; fortunately, but many of us aren’t. Part of the reason for individual success and failure has to do with what we were given biologically in terms of good health, intelligence, and the ability to stick with projects and finish them. The other part of it has to do with the families we grow up in, the social and economic conditions of our lives, and the parents, teachers, and friends who influence us.
School shootings are not a simple issue with a single solution. This violence is rooted in psychological imbalances within the students themselves, poor parenting and a decay in significance of traditional institutions along with the guilt forces they rely on for effectiveness – to name a just a few. Every psychologist, every news anchor or opinion columnists, and every politician has an idea of what must be done. Yet few of these ideas have any element of common sense and even fewer offer any strategic solutions.
In a nation nearly devoid of critical thought ‘viable’ solutions manifest as banning trench coats, backpacks, black clothing and expelling students for nail clipper ‘weapons’ or jailing 7th graders that write Halloween essays with violent overtones. In this reactionary environment panic, paranoia and irrational thought pour down like monsoon season.
Much of these reactionary plans are quickly implemented because legal issues within public schools have always been fraught with uncertainty, indecision and a liberal dose of authoritarianism. Locker searches, clothing codes, and exorcising everything questionable or objectionable pretty much defines the legal standards and acceptable limits on school powers of authority and supported by Supreme Court decisions. But what may seem surprising is that despite the already authoritarian atmosphere in public schools, the cameras and the security guards, shootings and violent actions continue.
The gun control debate is reducible to the question of whether we are individuals who make our own decisions or a great squishy social mass that helplessly responds to stimuli.
Do people kill with guns or does the availability of guns kill people? Do bad eating habits kill people or does the availability of junk food kill people?
To the left these are distinctions without a difference. If a thing is available then it is the cause of the problem. The individual cannot be held accountable for shooting someone if there are guns for sale. Individuals have no role to play because they are not moral actors, only members of a mob responding to stimuli.
The students who end up attacking their schools gave out warning signs of their plans, and that idea is the basis for the next comment. According to studies most attackers engaged in some behavior, prior to the incident, that caused others concern or indicated a need for help. Attacker’s general disposition would remain unchanged despite them harboring dark thoughts. Attackers went about their days trying to blend in with the crowd and make it through another day. This determination to blend in and not be noticed often is successful and thus proves difficult to spot.
Leading up to an attack, the attackers often reached out for help from their teachers or administrators at their schools. In many cases the students would go to their teachers to talk about being bullied, feelings of depression or even hatred. In these cases, the teachers had simply been a support for the student, but the student needed the teacher to intervene. When the teacher did nothing to help, the student feels a sort of rejection from the teacher. In more than half of school shootings, teachers were selected as targets.
If someone says “Gun ban” society replies “Second Amendment”, if someone says “Educate the educators” society replies “That costs money that we do not have,”, If someone says “Provide better education,” society in turn replies “I am sorry, America is busy fighting a billion dollar reward to protect your right to a free and public education,”.
Any number of solutions can be presented to stop school shootings, but the solutions we have now do not work. Schools’ enforcing the “Zero Tolerance Policy” is the government’s solution to the problem. The term zero tolerance describes a range of policies that seek to impose severe sanctions—in schools, typically suspension and expulsion.
A second grader in Massachusetts was suspended for drawing Jesus on the cross and was required to undergo psychological evaluation before returning to school. The government is partially at fault for creating such a terrible policy, but it is societies fault for giving the government any alternative. Society needs to solve the problem by agreeing on one solution that will significantly cut down on the chances of a child deciding that he has no other choice.
Society will suffer from the redundancy of a cycle until they can change it. America has the opportunity to halt a problem, but we are dragging are feet by denying the legitimacy of any solution that arises. America can change to make American schools safer and all we have to do is agree.
The clash that will define the future of America is this collision between the individual and the state, between disorganized freedom and organized compassion, between a self-directed experiment in self-government and an experiment conducted by trained experts on a lab monkey population. And the defining idea of this conflict is accountability.
The defining American code is freedom. The defining liberal code is compassion. Conservatives have attempted to counter that by defining freedom as compassionate, as George W. Bush did. Liberals counter by attempting to define compassion as liberating, the way that FDR did by classing freedoms with entitlements in his Four Freedoms.
On one side stands the individual with his rights and responsibilities. On the other side is the remorseless state machinery of supreme compassion. And there is no bridging this gap.
Liberal compassion is not the compassion of equals. It is a revolutionary pity that uses empathy as fuel for outrage. It is the sort of compassion practiced by people who like to be angry and who like to pretend that their anger makes them better people. It is the sort of compassion that eats like poison into the bones of a man or a society, even while swelling their egos with their own wonderfulness.
Compassion of this sort is outrage fuel. It is hatred toward people masquerading as love. And that hatred is a desire for power masquerading as outrage. Peel away the mask of compassion and all that is underneath is a terrible lust for power.
Social accountability on this scale requires the nullification of the personhood and accountability of the individual, just as the moral organization that it mandates requires removing the freedom of choice of the individual, to assure a truly moral society.
When compassion and morality are collective, then everyone and no one is moral and compassionate at the same time. And that is the society of the welfare state where compassion is administered by a salaried bureaucracy.
Choice is what makes us moral creatures and collective compassion leaves us less than human. The collective society of mass movements and mass decisions leaves us little better than lab monkeys trying to compose Shakespeare without understanding language, meaning or ideas, or anything more than the rote feel of our fingers hitting the keyboard.
This is the society that we are creating; a place filled with as many social problems as there are people, where everyone is a lab monkey except the experts running the experiments, and where no one has any rights because freedom is the enemy of a system whose moral code derives from creating a perfect society by replacing the individual with the mass. It is a society where there is no accountability, only constant compulsion. It is a society where you are a social problem and there are highly paid experts working day and night to figure out how to solve you.
Besides prescription drugs no preventative effort is being made to help students with psychological and emotional needs before they blow up into crisis and the teens see no alternative but violence to solve their accumulating internal and external problems. Unless you include metal detectors and ID cards as preventative solution, and if that’s the case you obviously haven’t learned anything on the issue yet.
The United States has no public social services available to middle class families and only limited support for the poor. Parents rely increasingly on the public schools as educator, doctor and caregiver. Paradoxically school funding and training are woefully inadequate to deal with these additional roles, hell they have enough problems just trying to teach! Declining funds per student has also forced many schools to integrate ‘challenged’ kids i.e. the mentally retarded and even the autistic in with regular classes compounding the tasks of a traditional teacher but saving dollars for the school district. The school nurse is not a psychologist; likewise few parents can afford to have their child psychologically evaluated, even if they have the foresight to identify problems early on. Consequently, to say that Ritalin and other psychotropic medications are over-prescribed would be a serious understatement.
Many of these kids have been on prescription medications from the day they first enter school and even earlier, literally their entire lives. Not only that but the schools and doctors alter and increase the drugs as they get older and are more tolerant to switching from Ritalin to Prozac to Luvox etc. Incidentally Prozac is not approved by the FDA for pediatric use but evidently that hasn’t stopped any prescriptions.
The use of these drugs is a relatively recent event, especially on the widespread almost universal scale that has been reached. The increase in suburban and rural school violence is directly related to the increase in psychotropic drug prescriptions to students in the public schools over the past 10 years. And tragically as long as the news media and many analysts focus on the side effects and accessories like guns or ‘Goth clothing’ nothing will be done about it.
The use of these dangerous chemicals will increase as will school shootings. No one really knows what long-term effects these drugs will have on brain chemistry and future adult behavior. The kids going through school now are the first generation fried on State administered mind altering chemicals and as they reach adolescence and the emotional and physical difficulties associated with it, unanticipated and unpleasant reactions are inevitable. Many things have been used as safe and effective but after several years they find out the long term costs of such chemicals; dioxins, DDT, asbestos the list is endless. And if that wasn’t bad enough the behavioral symptoms these drugs are supposed to cure are so vague that nearly any kid can qualify, it’s largely up to parental approval.
To understand the rise of the perceived school shooting problem, it is important to understand the broader social discourse surrounding youth.
Mass media plays an integral role in the public perception of school shootings as a social problem, and social scientists have examined the media framing of school shooting incidents.
When it comes to understanding the mass media dynamic related to social problems, it is worth pointing out that the profit motive behind news production may obfuscate a deep understanding of social problems and constructive generation of solutions. Frequently, journalists are caught between the need to garner attention for a profit-oriented industry and the need to maintain the ethical standard of their profession. At times, journalists highlighted the dramatic elements of school shootings, thereby undermining a sober, longer-term examination of school shooting phenomena as a whole.
The media dynamic of the Rashomon effect surrounding school shootings stems from the fact that most people experience school shootings as a mass-mediated phenomenon, rather than directly.
While the problem of school-related shootings occurred across history, it was the intense media coverage of the famous incidents, including West Paducah, Kentucky; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Littleton, that created the public perception of school shootings as an emergent and increasing social problem. Thus, the school shooting problem as broadly recognized had more to do with the media coverage of recent incidents than actual changes in levels of vio- lence in schools. Much of this attention concentrated on rampage-type incidents.
So, how does someone reach that point, a level of total selfishness and self-interest where they care nothing about other people, society, church or country? It certainly starts with their parents, the original role models for ethics and morality. But everyone is influenced by collective social standards and expectations too. If you think about it America doesn’t really have too many expectations as far as civic duties go, no compulsory military service, no compulsory community service no compulsory anything except paying taxes and doing time from K-12.
You don’t have to believe in a specific State religion, the Queen’s not going to give you a morality lecture, you don’t have to be part of the official Party for promotions, it’s an environment totally devoid of values like an undefined field without beginning or end, future or past, purpose or reason; welcome to America. All the traditional institutions of authority from Nixon’s White House to Janet Reno’s Justice Department to Jim and Tammy Baker’s Church have been discredited and I’m sure you can think of many more examples.
The things that used to have value and significance no longer do, today little if anything has value besides the basics or survival like money, food, friends, clothing, or housing. Teens just like adults realize this and they realize the nature of the social order they live in. Adults have certain faculties and common sense that adolescents and juveniles just have not developed yet; they react to the same situation in less predictable and less mature ways. As they float in the sea of nothingness that is everyday American life they react in ways that are dangerous and foolish to themselves and others. They lose fear of authority because everywhere they look it’s either hollow or has been discredited. The public school teacher isn’t going to do anything to stop them, the Principal can only give them detention or perhaps suspension which is almost a gift to some kids.
Revenge seems to be a common thread that runs through all of these events. School shootings are primarily acts of revenge. Revenge is rooted in a sense of real or perceived injustice towards the perpetrator of the shooting and injustice is the feeling that ‘I should have something that I don’t’. Many school shootings are fomented by a desire for revenge against society and a simmering anger over being denied an entitlement such as respect or personal recognition.
Extensive research has shown that the teenage brain is not nearly as developed as an adult brain and because of this emotion, reason, and a proper sense of self and others are often in an acute state of imbalance. A sense of personal injustice to a teenager may stem from what an adult would consider to be a minor or inconsequential event, yet to a teenager this situation could be of extreme significance. Similarly, the way teenagers respond to violence is also of notable difference to the way adults respond to it. Put these two things together and mix them with the ever present general state of confusion and angst as the young person struggles to construct and define their sense of personal identity, and a very volatile cocktail is formed.
Every Class A school shooting is basically about two things: power and revenge – the gun grants power to those that feel powerless, while pulling the trigger on someone confers revenge. When kids suffer abuse at home from parents and siblings, then they go to school and suffer bullying from peers and an endless series of dictates from teachers, they begin to feel trapped because no matter where they are they can’t avoid abuse. And when they see that the authority at home is part of the problem and authority at school is either unconcerned or inept at helping them they gradually realize that authority is fundamentally hypocritical since it is not based on benevolent guidance as officially stated but is instead is based on controlling and exploiting the less powerful. Consequently these kids begin to perceive the world as the ‘strong’ towering over and abusing the ‘weak’.
Feeling trapped and powerless they naturally search for a way out. The easiest and most effective way to acquire power is to get a gun. Kids easily believe that using a gun is an effective method for resolving their problems because every movie and television show they watch depicts the world through this foolish one-dimensional lens of power expression and problem resolution via deadly violence. And these kids believe that it’s acceptable to act-out their drama as a school shooting because that’s what other students have done before.
Unfortunately today, because of the increased regulation around schooling in this country, we often resort to blanket, zero-tolerance policies around weapons and drugs in schools, blanket policies around mental health screenings and the like. These policies tend to be counterproductive and poorly designed to meet the real needs of students facing these problems.
May this horrible incident offer us the opportunity to come together as parents and start helping our children.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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