Tuesday, April 29, 2014

School Violence

After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I wrote and published a short story called "Gentle Hands."  The main character is a teacher who defends his school against four armed militants long enough for the police to arrive.  Violence in schools is not a new thing.  When I did my internship at a high school in West Phoenix in 1991, the school had metal detectors and armed police officers.  The threat of gang violence was real and tangible.  I taught freshman theatre twice a week, and although I loved the students, I was constantly aware of their unspoken fear of a violent outbreak.  It's not easy to teach or learn under those circumstances. 

The Columbine High School attacks made us all realize that the threat of violence in schools extends beyond the inner city and into our lily-white suburbs.  That shooting should've been enough to wake up our country, and it might've for a little while, but violence continues in our schools.  After the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech, the nation was once again asked to confront the issue, but the imagery and horror disappeared from the nightly news shortly afterward.  A quick look at Wikipedia can show you just how many school shootings have happened since I started teaching 23 years ago.  85.  85 school shootings since the fall of 1991!  This doesn't even include all the times when students have brought guns to school but haven't fired.  We had one such incident at our high school.  The armed student made it as far as the school bus before fleeing into the nearby woods.  He was one of my drama students.  I admired him.  I still do.  Obviously, there was something going on in that young man's life that drove him to such an extreme.  How do we know?  How do we help?  Not sure.

You might think I'm heading toward some liberal rant about banning firearms and canceling the Second Amendment.  I'm not.  Just because I don't carry a gun doesn't mean Americans shouldn't be allowed to carry them.  We are a free nation.  We have the right to keep and bear arms.  Should there be limits?  Obviously, but I'll let our elected officials argue over that.  I'm just a schoolteacher.  I want our kids to be safe.  But, human beings are violent, aren't they?  Horror stories appeal to our innate desire and proclivity to violence.  This isn't a new theory.  I'm not a psychologist.  I'm not even that smart anymore.  Stephen King wrote about all this in his essay "Why We Crave Horror Movies."  It's worth a Google.  We each have to keep our inner alligator fed, he explains.  Better than actually doing real violence, right?  Maybe that's why I enjoy writing the way I do.

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