There is no bigger hot topic right now than that of School Safety. From Columbine High School in 1999 to Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, there is nothing more horrific than the thought of our children being put at risk of violence. Oddly, greater gun control and prohibition on weapons in schools (and in society) have not diminished these actions. Rather, they have become oddly (and sickeningly) more commonplace. Until Sandy Hook Elementary, these events seemed primarily relegated to High Schools with older students and not the youngest of our students. Now, the possibility of an unstable person coming into an Elementary or Primary school to bring harm is an ever present reality. In addition to the revulsion and shock that we adults experience when we hear of a “school shooting” (we have even developed our own vernacular for the situation), the phrase, “not another one” seems to come to mind. How horrible that we, as a culture, are allowing ourselves to become comfortable with the idea of these events.
So where, exactly, does that leave our most precious commodity–our children?
Clearly, enough public debate has happened on this subject since Columbine in 1999 that the only thing that we can be certain of as a society is that this problem is not going to be solved in the near future. Many solutions have been batted around and, while most of them are truly unfeasible, they are likely to be ineffective as well. The American society is not quite ready to turn the mirror on ourselves and face the ultimate source of evil….within ourselves. We are far more comfortable banning something inanimate and can’t fight back. We add technology (metal detectors, cameras) and talk about the problems (radio and television advertising, press conferences, news stories), but yet, we never quite seem to make any progress.
Personally, I think the only truth can be found in hindsight. Looking back over all of the school shootings that I am aware of in the United States, with the exception of the Sandy Hook shooting, one of the few things that these situations have in common is bullying.
According to the website StopBullying.gov, bullying is defined as: “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. “ This site has a lot of great information for anyone seeking to learn more.
I think nearly every adult has a pretty good idea of what kinds of behavior constitute bullying. Most of us have known a bully, been bullied, or known another victim. But, the proverbial situation of shaking down the kids in the school yard for their milk money or their lunch treats has been surpassed in a world of technology. Now, harnessing the power of the internet, threats and misinformation can circle a community faster than a lightning strike.
Also, the tenor of our schools have changed. Many parents are so glad that their children aren’t being victimized in these politically correct times, that they are unaware that their child has become the bully. Some don’t believe that Junior could possibly have done anything wrong–ever. These helicopter parents inadvertently promote this bad behavior by demonstrating it (often non violently, but by being ever present and always in charge).
Gone are the days when standing up to a bully can end the situation by relieving the imbalance of power. This is a society where bad behavior is rampant and rewarded (ever watch reality television?) and gossip is commonplace (guess what these celebrities had for lunch!). The victim is not allowed to stand up to the bully. They are further victimized by facing discipline or suspension for the school for having physically lashed out at their bully, even in self defense. The only acceptable defense in our school systems is to become a better, more compliant, victim. Ironically, the religion free zones called schools have taken the Christian tenet of “turn the other cheek” to the illogical conclusion that there is some sort of enlightenment involved in being victimized.
Of course, very seldom does anyone question why the schools are doing such a horrendous job at monitoring the student’s behaviors and minimizing bullying.
Our children are our most precious resource. Having worked in both public and private high schools, I can tell you that bullying is rampant. Fights can break out, injuring onlookers, outsiders can enter the school with less than stellar intentions, students can enter wanting to “right the wrongs” that they feel have been inflicted on them. Not that these things happen every day, but they can and do happen. Years before Sandy Hook Elementary School and the horrors that occurred there, my husband and I decided that we could do better by my keeping our two sons home to learn rather than returning to either public or private schools (my children have attended both in the past). This gave us the opportunity (and awesome responsibility) of building up their psyches and letting them have a childhood without fear of bullying, etc. Unfortunately, no matter how hard some schools work at eliminating bullying in all forms (and some truly do), it is something that involves everything from societal norms that embrace the lowest common denominator of behavior to lack of parenting skills, things that schools are not equipped to fix.
Did you miss an earlier post in this series?
Till next time,