I grew up in the 1970s and 80s. We did have an irrational fear of Russians nuking us, but other than that, I led a fairly fear-free childhood (well, in terms of going to school). I never worried that I'd be shot or hurt in a school building. I never had to huddle, silent, in the corner of a classroom as an armed shooter simulation played out in the hallways. Kids were mean sometimes, but none ever took that meanness so far as to shoot up schools. Many kids at my high school openly had guns and hunted. It honestly didn't occur to any of us that anyone would bring the guns to school for the purpose of shooting people.
What has happened in the last 20 years that school shooting news is commonplace and almost an accepted part of life in America? As I watched news of the latest horror in Florida, tears streamed down my face. All I could picture was my own precious children shot down in cold blood. All I could feel was the fear those students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School must have had pressing in their brains and on their hearts as they ran screaming from their school, watching classmates and teachers senselessly gunned down. I have a moment of worry every day as my kids drive off to school. Will a kid who's really hurting bring a gun today and shoot them? Would a potential shooter think about what amazing people he planned to murder?
People like to blame guns/social media/video games for these shootings, but the real answer has to lie much deeper. From what I've seen in my years of teaching in several states across the country, kids are isolated in general and pressures are so high to achieve more and more from a very young age. School standards are not developmentally appropriate. Kids have fewer and less forceful consequences for their behavior, and more poor behavior is tolerated much longer than it should be. Parents aren't as present, despite the reputation of helicoptering over their offspring. These, plus the relative ease of availability of firearms and other weapons, add up to disaster.
The question is what can we do about it? People are tired of platitudes, if my Facebook feed is any indication (one friend threatened to unfriend anyone who offered up "thoughts and prayers" to Florida families, and I have no doubt he was serious). I feel so helpless and bereft of ideas. The reality is that gun laws are unlikely to change much, despite the clear need for stricter regulations, and if my criminal brother is any reflection of the overall criminal element, changes in laws are unlikely to keep people determined to get their hands on a weapon from procuring one - legally or not. And then there's the whole political issue of NRA contributions.
I do think we need better, government-subsidized mental health interventions and threats made by people to be taken seriously and investigated - a news update tells me that several tips were sent to the FBI about the Florida shooter (I refuse to write his name) that were simply filed away. Yes, it takes time to follow up. Yes, many of the tips will turn out to be nothing to worry about. But are we willing to take that chance? I look at the faces of my children. They trust me to keep them from unsafe places - and I send them to school every day. I hate the nagging worry that I may be willfully sending them into the firestorm of a hurting person who sees no other way to work through the pain. As a teacher, I worry about the safety of the 25 young people in my care every day. I'm trained on what to do in case of such a situation. I don't ever want to use it. I WILL go out of my way to get help for any kid I see who I think needs it. I WILL talk to my kids EVERY DAY and make sure they're connected to other people and find out what's happening in their schools. Some of the things they share are shocking; some are not. I WILL report anything weird I hear that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I WILL e-mail and call local, state, and national representatives to express my concerns as a mother and a teacher, and I encourage you to do the same. Please put down devices and really TALK to your kids. Get them (or their friends) help. Make sure they're connected and invested in their school and community through activities and sports. Take action if you hear anything untoward. Call for mental health services and stricter gun regulations - what does a teenager need with a gun anyway outside of parental supervision?
Personally, I don't trust our current administration to do much more than cry crocodile tears as part of a media show. Any change needs to start with local action and grow from there. Any change needs to begin in the hearts of today's kids.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.