School tragedies affect us all. Trauma doesn't differentiate or discriminate, it is an equal opportunity life-changer. The age of acceptable violence, educational adversity, and classroom chaos appears to be upon us. It can materialize from seemingly nowhere, disguised as normal or blatantly obvious.
The personal toll is unfathomable, recent memories still smolder, the mental and emotional devastation is too raw to scar. The true cost of a deadly school assault is immeasurable, its long-term effect on the lives of survivors remains a topic of ongoing research.
Calculating the cost of murderous destruction to any institution or entity would be traumatic enough, but unraveling the irrational threads of reason surrounding a school attack defies logic and intellectual objectivity. It is an emotional earthquake of the first order. Overcoming the immediate aftershock of such an occurrence requires time, understanding and support.
As a country, we've been overexposed to the visual reality of the bloody scene. Reconciling the act of terror has, unfortunately, become a litany of patented responses to the horror played out in person, on TV, and on social media. How then, do we confront the unseen repercussions of displaced education? How does a learning environment return to normal with the terrifying sights and sounds of blood-spilling rage still reverberating in students' ears?
Scott Poland, President of the National Association of School psychologists, says administrators play a key role in setting the tone for helping staff and students in the event of tragedy. They must give all involved an opportunity to express their own emotions.
Managing emotions arising from the death of a classmate or friend can be difficult, near impossible for some. "The key thing is for the teacher to acknowledge the emotion he or she is feeling and to give students permission for a range of emotions," Poland advises. "Too often, teachers and principals deny students the chance to vent. The curriculum needs to be set aside in certain classes, and in a small school, perhaps every class."
Classroom shootings, once rare and for the most part unthinkable, now seem to permeate the school year on a monthly basis. The first five months of 2018 have seen 16 shootings occur from Florida to Los Angeles and in cities across the country. It would make tragedies like these somewhat easier to understand and classify if their motivations could all be squeezed neatly into a box labeled 'bullied kids', but it's not that easy.
While bullying has always been part of the outlying social fabric of education, historically, grievances were mostly settled outside the classroom, either off school grounds or in some obscure outdoor location. In an earlier, less deadly time, the bike-rack area was commonly the designated 'resolution' zone where scores were settled, be them over girls, arguments or perceived slights.
What a difference a couple decades can make. Since the end of the 20th-century, the number of deaths resulting from mass shootings at US schools has surpassed the number of killings that occurred in the entire previous century. Since 2000, sixty-six people have lost their lives in twenty-two mass shootings, compared to fifty-five victims in twenty-two school attacks since the first reported shooting in 1940, and continuing to 1999. That doesn't include gang-related issues.
With modern life in the new millennia came changing societal factors extending beyond school walls. What would seem a simple, reasonable and straightforward response to unacceptable horror besetting our schools and neighborhoods, has instead morphed into a national discussion more centered on special interests and politics, rather than on the core social contributors of mental health, adolescent gun access, family dysfunction and increased disregard for conflict resolution.
Antonis Katsiyannis of Clemson University, lead author of a report in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, submitted this statement, "One alarming trend is that the overwhelming majority of 21st-century shooters were adolescents, suggesting that it is now easier for them to access guns and that they more frequently suffer from mental health issues or limited conflict resolution skills."
The impact of these life-changing calamities is still playing out on campuses throughout the United States. While politicians debate and researchers investigate, the most positive reaction appears to be emanating from people affected the most, the students. The 'school massacre generation' will be voting soon, some already doing so.
From those votes may materialize the reasoned, yet forceful voice of a generation determined to destroy the link between education and mass death. To expect solutions to otherwise present themselves based on today's cultural reality is to expect smoke from a fire that does not exist.