Why in any of the languages I barely or fluently know just doesn’t get to the heart of what many of us are really asking. So far this year according to a CNN article there have been 44 school shootings in America (32 of them at elementary or secondary schools). That is almost a shooting per week in the very structures we’ve designed to nurture and grow our future.
I love my students, not like I love my own children, but it is a maternal mix of pride and frustration cemented in the sometimes naïve belief that ‘my’ kids can achieve anything they set their minds to — with a little push from all of us. I began my teaching career at what some might think as the worst place to teach: a charter school for the kids who got kicked out of inner-city public schools. Minority students were the few who did not have facial piercings, multiple gang tattoos, and/or parole officers. Most of my afterschool meetings were not with parents, but with social workers, police officers and drug/violence counselors.
To say these kids were intimidating is an understatement, but they had me hooked by the end of the first week. Somewhere along the line I earned their trust and respect, and they rewarded me with the children they were — and oh my goodness the high I got from seeing them learn and discover more than their failures. I moved from that school to others, which eventually led me to overseas teaching, where I have had the opportunity to meet teenagers from all walks of life — from the uber privileged to the scorn of society and everything in between.
Those early years taught me that no matter how abused, how absurd, how unimaginably horrid students’ lives could be that they still had a light in them; they still had hope, and unlike many adults in their world they could still be reasoned with if given the chance. In my 17 years of teaching I have met only three children who no longer had that light – one was the epitome of apathetic (and hopefully still reachable at some point in her life); two made my blood run cold. Out of the thousands of adolescents I’ve worked with I have only met two that I’d bet money on were sociopaths — and yet, while I have no idea where their lives have taken them, they did not pick up a gun and shoot their peers during their high school years (who knows what they’ve done since then, but I have not seen their names in the headlines so inshallah they’ve found some sort of normalcy that doesn’t include damaging others).
The Santa Clarita school shooting was done by a child who showed no signs of trouble, other than he struggled with mourning the loss of his father two years prior. One witness described him as a cookie cutter kid. On his 16th birthday, this child decided to pull out a gun, randomly shoot those in front of him and then shoot himself.
Within 16 seconds a child transitioned from a beacon of hope to a monster. Whatever triggered him to do this has now caused irreparable damage to countless others, ending the lives of three children (himself included). Our children are annihilating themselves (literally and figuratively), and this is not normal — not even for kids who witness or take part in violence and destruction on a daily basis (their violence is a misconceived code of survival, which is a whole other subject, but in essence does connect —- why are those children in that situation in the first place?).
Forgive me, but what in the fuck is wrong with us?
Why are we still tearing each other apart blaming this and that and not being the adults our kids deserve us to be? Gun control isn’t our only issue here (although it is embarrassing that absolutely nothing has changed yet), we are an angry, frustrated lot caught up in a downward spiral of corruption, fear, coercion, bigotry and the poisoning of my profession. That last bit must play into this because why else would so many of us cave to manipulative messaging and our base biases? Educated, critical thinkers would know better than to allow that nonsense to rule our newsfeeds and conscience.
I remember my language arts standards used to include teaching the avoidance of accepting logical fallacies and the importance of objectivity: two concepts that feel as extinct as the Zanzibar leopard and the West African black rhino (just two of the many species dying off during our lifetimes). Yeah I know that’s an awkward analogy, but let’s keep in mind our children — the incredible sponges of all around them — are growing in a world where life and logic are under attack.
Of course we still teach these things, but we’re mandated to focus on so many other things now because of test results or political expectations, which all connect to funding, which we need to do our jobs — and the mandates continually change without really changing, but the ‘changes’ take up so much of our time we get lost in the vocabulary and paperwork that goes with it all. We can only attempt to model rational thinking in an irrational world. We teach our kids to do the right thing, but let’s be really honest with ourselves: we are not practicing what we preach. And I’m saying we because I am part of this problem as are you.
Going back to my first years at the inner, inner city school. While I was a novice teacher, some of my best teaching took place there because I had the freedom (ah there’s a word that’s feeling a bit shallow these days) to tailor my curriculum to meet the needs of my students, and then guide them to their next levels — all with outdated materials, incompetent management, and unsafe classrooms. Before I lose you, I am not saying teachers should be left alone to do whatever we like. We need standards, we need continual training, we need guidance —- just like our kids do. We also need to be included in the decision making that impacts what we’re constantly being told to do or not do.
Just like our kids, if you throw too much at us and you don’t give us a chance to share what we’ve learned in the way we need to share it (don’t even get me started on the paperwork trail we have to follow to prove we’re collaborating, assessing and incorporating rigor into our worlds) we get confused, lose our focus, and, sometimes, implode. We’re old; exploding takes too much energy for us. Some of us give up and just go through the motions or leave the profession. Others become militant with their words — mostly through teacher chat boards or in faculty break away corners (we don’t really use our break rooms for breaks anymore). A few lose their shit with the kids.
And that’s just my profession, which I do so very much still love, regardless of not always understanding the way it’s managed (and that’s not to say the folk managing it are the bad guys; they too are being pulled this way and that and running backwards on a treadmill trying to do the right thing). I’m sure it’s the same in other professions. Are we at a time where the cogs are destroying the folk who turn them?
How many of us go home deflated, disenfranchised to bury ourselves into the distractions our phones, TVs, or computers provide? How many turn to drugs (legal or not) or booze to put some calm into the crazy? I’m not judging: lord knows I love my wine and champagne and my Netflix. I’m currently writing in my blog (while ignoring my husband and dog) to work through my shit now, which I will share to distract you with — all thanks to the same technology I sometimes blame for our bad.
My point is that while we the people have always struggled with the balance between the work world and our real worlds, it feels that maybe the crazy has taken over a bit too much. We can debate until the cows come home, but come on we all know something is very, very wrong — just as Hamlet knew about Denmark (I cannot believe I’m at a time in my life where I’m seeing literary characters I thought of as weak and sniveling in my own being).
Our children do too.
This wrong begins with our us versus them mentality. It’s definitely wrapped with greed, politics, climate change (yep), and all the uglies that continue to surround us, but it’s rooted within our divide.
I’m not smart enough to know how to fix any of this, BUT the teacher, mother, critical thinker in me knows that we will remain impotent to preventing the death of our children, our future, until we realize that the them we blame for all of this is us. We cannot keep sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to cure what ails us.
Our school shootings have become the metaphor for our own crazy. We have got to figure out a way to make this stop. And, yeah, I know my little rant in my little blog won’t change anything, BUT it’s done. I’ve taken my first step and posted it despite the fact that I try so hard to keep my views private because I just don’t want to bother with the fallout from folk who might not agree with me or like what I say. I like playing it safe and keeping my shit to myself. I am not here to blame you; I’m here to say come on people we can do this. We can hold our leaders — in all aspects of our lives — accountable and tell them to act like the adults we teach our children to be. We can remind them that they are just as accountable for doing their jobs and fulfilling their mandates as we are ours. We can change the goddamned cogs if they are destroying the essence of who we are.
Our babies need us to do this. We need us to do this.