Today a kid brought a BB gun to the school where I teach. Fortunately, it wasn’t a “real” gun and fortunately he was caught, though I’m sure he didn’t intend to do any damage. I think it was for the accolades, though it concerns me that this would be an action taken to receive accolades. Never know though, I guess; he could have meant to cause harm and that was all he had available in the moment.
Several things strike me about this incident: 1) why he chose to do this now, so soon after Florida (I have many more questions related to this one) and 2) I’m surprised by my ability to compartmentalize and talk to my students in a calm, rational way about the likelihood of this ever happening “for real” in our school (and what we would do if it did happen because let’s be real, the lockdown procedures would go out the window along with half my class, apparently, according to them).
On the first issue, I wonder if this was a cry for help or if it was a joke or perhaps a serious attempt at causing someone harm. If it is a cry for help then certainly the manner in which it was handled was the absolute worst. The student was punished, instead of given help. I just can’t help but think of how many students behave poorly because that is the only way they have learned how to get attention. Of course, that doesn’t make it right to bring weapons of any kind to school. It doesn’t let anyone off the hook but I think the focus should not solely be on expelling the student. A child who needs help, is one who does not need to be isolated. If the student did it as a joke, then yes, perhaps punishment such as expulsion is warranted; however, still, I would think a kid who thinks that’s funny still needs help… because, it isn’t funny. Too soon, kid. Too soon. And, in the third case, definitely the students need help. I have no doubt that there are students at our school who are hurting badly enough and who feel invisible enough to resort to drastic measures. That is terrifying. The kids know and own up to this as well. I can’t help but wonder how much we could do, as adults, if we just listened more to our kids. Would they, then, be so compelled to act in lethal, dramatic ways in order to get our attention? In order to feel like they’ve received relief or justice? I think part of the problem in our country is that we punish first and don’t try to understand. We exile and don’t offer compassion or understanding. We don’t listen. As my parents used to say, “it’s my way or the highway.” And more often than not for these kids, it’s the highway. We have an authoritarian institution and it isn’t working.
On the second issue, you can probably tell I have many, many feelings/thoughts on the subject of school shootings and particularly on them hitting so close to home. It worries me, deeply concerns me that I might actually have to worry for the life of myself and the lives of my students. They can be horrible messes but I love them dearly and would do whatever it took to keep them safe but, EFF, I hate that I’m in a position where I actually have to think through HOW I would keep them safe. I naively stuck my head in the sand for so long, But, this event, serious or not, drove home in a very direct, tangible way that this is a real problem and it is a problem that could affect anyone. It scares me. Yet, as I said earlier, I was able to express some human concern while still having a rational conversation with my students. I believe they appreciate adults keeping it real with them and talking to them like adults. They deserve to know things and to have their voices be heard. Granted, they have the worst plans (or most idealistic and original) for how to handle a shooting, should it happen (climbing onto the roof, calling the police, getting naked and climbing off the roof; or, making a break for the stairs and the exit door; or, using their backpacks as a means of blocking the shooter). I suppose if I’m being honest, there aren’t any “good” ways to deal with something so horrendous because nothing that horrific should ever happen.
I think contemplating this reality though has brought to light some interesting things about our natural fight, flight, or freeze responses though. The kids were confused by the fact that I’d just stay in the room and take my chances. Ideally, they’d stay, too. I doubt that’d be the case. It’d be pandemonium. Understandably so. But, definitely, I am a freezer. I freeze in traumatic situations. I would hope that my adrenaline would kick in and I wouldn’t be useless. Who knows. Geez! And then it hits me again. Why do I have to be thinking and talking about this? Why is this the reality of our schools and our country? Why do I know which of my kids has a natural flight response and which of my kids has a natural fight response? I shouldn’t know that. I shouldn’t have to know that. But, I freaking do. Because… America.
That’s all I’ve got. I’m just disheartened at reality right now.