I am writing this a couple of days after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. If history is any indicator, sadly, by the time you read this article it is very possible that another mass shooting will have occurred in a school … or in a move theater … or in a mall … or in an airport … or at a concert … or in a restaurant … or at someone’s residence … or in a place of business … or in some other public place.
It has been almost 19 years since the mass shooting in Columbine High School. That seems to be the starting point for this mass shooting madness, at least in a school setting. According to recent news reports, there have been 25 fatal school shootings in this country since that April day in 1999. Twenty-five.
Watching the news following the Parkland murder spree, I was struck by the conversations that occurred between news anchors and our nation’s politicians, because they were exactly the same conversations that occurred after the Columbine murders 19 years ago. Within hours this tragedy was, once again, turned into a political debate over gun control, just as it was almost two decades ago. In other words, nothing has changed.
As I sat there listening to the conversations, I couldn’t help but think that once again our “leaders” are completely missing the point when all they do is talk about their party’s gun control platform. In the wake of tragedy after tragedy, it would seem logical to engage in some kind of respectful debate about our gun laws in an effort to discover if anything can be done legislatively to stem this murderous tide. But, why aren’t the discussions centered more on why we as a society are producing so many people who are willing to massacre their brethren with no regard whatsoever for their lives?
When I was in school 50 years ago it was considered a major disciplinary issue when a “hood” came to school with his pack of cigarettes rolled up in his T-shirt sleeve, and today we are worrying about assault rifles in our hallways. How in God’s name did we get here?
I regret to say this, but when talking to school administrators about the many challenges they face today, the most common answer heard anymore is that our schools need more access to mental health professionals because of the intense behaviors we are seeing in children as young as 5 years old. In other words, instead of simply worrying about teaching children how to read, write and do math, schools are being asked to help them deal with mental health issues the likes of which many of us have never seen. Again, how in God’s name did we get here?
Since we now have almost two decades of proof that politicians pontificating about gun control laws has solved nothing, how about if we change our course of action? How about if we gather mental health experts and doctors, along with anybody else who has expertise in the workings of the human psyche and begin discussing why we are creating these individuals in record numbers and what we can do to reverse this horrible trend? How about if we work at discovering what is prevalent in today’s society that is helping create these monsters? If we engage in these discussions with experts instead of politicians, at least we would be attacking the problem from a position of competence and knowledge instead of political biases. Wouldn’t that be better than what is happening now?
What I am certain we would hear from the experts is that what we are seeing is a by-product of a society that has done a pathetic job of protecting our children. We know, for example, what constant stress, abuse and neglect does to a child’s mind; how those factors often turn children into uncaring, unfeeling adults; yet we see in our schools stressed, abused and neglected children every single day.
We know that our children, who are now being born in record numbers addicted to drugs through no fault of their own, have minds that are forever altered by a parent’s behavior over which they had no control, and that many of those children now attend our schools, many with behaviors that are absolutely unmanageable.
We know that allowing children to view violent videos, play violent video games, or view pornographic images is unhealthy, but children are exposed to these things all the time. Do we honestly think that these activities do not desensitize them to abhorrent behavior?
We have people in record numbers walking the streets with documented cases of mental illness, because it is their “right” to do so, even though it jeopardizes the rights of everyone else in their vicinity.
Yet, when a tragic event like that which recently occurred in Florida occurs, all we can talk about is gun control? Is that really the best we can do when this problem is so much bigger than that?
This is not a problem that a law will fix, and it is not a school problem. This is a societal problem, and it is high time we acknowledge that. If we don’t begin having conversations about what we are doing to create these monsters, then this trend will never end, and God help us all.
What is saddest for me is that this lunacy has been occurring throughout the entire lives of my 11 and 9-year-old grandchildren, so they think this is normal. There is nothing normal about it, and I am just sick that this is what we have left them. Can’t we do better than this?
Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.