There are no possible reasons to comprehend why an ‘Idiot with a gun in Newtown’* would go into a school and take lives. None.
In a comment on Angela Maiers post, There Is No Lesson Plan For Tragedy – Teachers YOU Know What To Do, I said,
I’ve seen a number of blog posts where educators are suggesting the topic of “Am I safe?” and “Could this happen here?” after the school shooting. That bothers me. I’m willing to bet that hundreds of thousands of students that might have felt safe in their school, and would not have questioned their own safety, will now think of that question and perhaps be more frightened than if that question did not get discussed.
Our world is full of graphic, horrific things that our media chains make sure that we are bombarded with. I wonder if ‘Idiot with a gun in Newtown’ would have chosen a school if other gunmen didn’t have their photos and names plastered across tv screens every time one of them decides to get on countless lists of people who have done similar deeds. I also wonder if we should be sharing ‘highlights’ about these same things in school… without specific resources and support networks in place to deal with how these things can affect students. Well intentioned teachers are not enough.
If a student were to share their fear of safety as a result of this event, I think we need to be reassuring and supportive, but let’s also be aware that students may not share our same fears, and let’s not project our own thoughts and fears into the innocent minds of our students that we care so much about.
Please note that I did not disagree with the post, I simply shared a concern for well-intentioned teachers that may not know how best to address such a tragedy in their classroom.
Both in a private Direct Message on Twitter, and also in a comment reply on Angela’s post, I had responses which suggest that my message wasn’t clear. After almost 7 years of blogging, I’ve come to realize a couple things about my writing style: I can tend to sound like am an opinionated know-it-all expert (false); and, I can tend to touch on topics which are sensitive but don’t necessarily do so with clarity and tact (true). I’m not an expert in the field of grief. I’m not sure how this tragedy has affected teachers or students beyond myself personal experiences. I invite other opinions. Here is my attempt to explain my comments above further…
We know the difference between saying,
“Don’t spill your milk” – (for which a child must create an understanding of what spilled milk looks like, and as a result might emulate that understanding which has been impressed upon them).
“Be careful with your milk, as you walk carefully to the table” – (which instructs the child on what to do to be successful).
We often get results based on the pictures we fill our young impressionable students’ heads with. Tomorrow, I fear that well-intentioned teachers could stir up thoughts of fear for personal safety in young minds, as concerns about Newtown are discussed. As I said, ‘I’m willing to bet that hundreds of thousands of students that might have felt safe in their school, and would not have questioned their own safety, will now think of that question (Am I safe?) and perhaps be more frightened than if that question did not get discussed.’
That might be an over-exaggeration. But it might not be. As I said in my second comment on Angela’s post:
I’m not a child psychologist. I don’t pretend to have all the answers… [but] I’m aware of a number of parents that have shielded their children from the brutally detailed media coverage. Do we not also have an obligation to those families not to bring fear into their schools?
I’m not a school psychologist but neither are the thousands of teachers who will be trying to make sense of this with children in their classrooms. Ignore the issue? No. Make it into a major discussion with every student whether they or their parents want you to? No.
Are we sure that when speaking in depth about such horrific events, that we are sharing a caring and supportive message to all our students, or could our act of speaking about these things actually invite our students to fear such a thing happening to them?
Here is some, (in my opinion very solid), advice that has been shared with respect to such an incident:
- Refrain from sharing images or video of the incident.
- If discussions do take place within the classroom, we recommend they be limited to a brief sharing of facts.
- There will understandably be some anxiety around this incident and staff and students may have some level of emotional impact from the news.
- Please watch for any changes in behaviour, particularly among vulnerable students, and refer appropriately to your school counsellor as needed.
In this day and age of live coverage, instantaneous news, twitter and Facebook sharing, and over-analysis of every possible horrific event that happens around the globe, we would be fools to bury our heads in the sand and pretend like nothing happened. But how much of this do we need to bring into our schools? That’s a legitimate question I’m not sure I have an answer for, but I suspect a likely answer could be ‘less than we already do’.
Furthermore, while I want our schools to be safe, I don’t want to see prison-like entryways and I don’t think we need to have drills for students to deal with the potential of a local version of the ‘Idiot with a gun in Newtown’. Maybe I’m naive but I also don’t think we need to take our shoes off at every airport because one ‘Idiot with a bomb in his shoe’ tried to blow up a plane. We need safety protocols, we need to be smart and safe, we don’t need to make our schools look and feel like places that aren’t wonderful, or places where catastrophe is as likely to happen as learning.
There is another tragedy that I’ve avoided bringing up until now, but feel compelled to discuss because the topic is so intricately related. Our community lost Amanda Todd to suicide in October. Her story has now been shared around the world. Some teachers have shown her video, where she shared her story, in their classes. I don’t think I would.
The video shares a young girl’s very painful experience, from her own perspective… One students might connect with even more than we do… One that we have a hard time looking at objectively, and students will find even harder to look at objectively. A teacher/counsellor that I am friends with has mentioned how a significant number of students that she works with have spiralled into darker-than-normal places since Amanda’s death.
Another friend shared with me that, “Even though I don’t know Amanda’s family or friends, her suicide impacted my family, too. My son has just gone through a very dark year: two of his friends committed suicide, his girlfriend attempted suicide, and when Amanda passed away, his depression returned for a while. Our world is far too sad sometimes.”
There are ways to share the story and not share the video. How young is too young to show it? Do the counsellor in the school know it is being shown? Is suicide an issue for one of the students in the class? In the school? Are all students ready to see the story from this angle? Are you sure? I don’t buy the idea that since kids can see the video on their own, then we should show it as well as discuss it at school.
There are some wonderful anti-bullying messages that have come from Amanda’s death. But I fear that her story can take vulnerable students to places we would rather they didn’t go. We need to be aware of this, but do we need to bring her personal story into our classrooms?
In both my face-to-face and digital worlds, I’ve met some of the most amazing, caring and well-intentioned educators. But I have to wonder if, with our intentions to deal with stories like Newtown, or Amanda, are we over-sharing? Are we unintentionally creating fear? Are we unintentionally stirring up emotions that may ripple beyond our classroom discussions? Should some of our discussions be intentionally short and clinical as a classroom, and deeper when we, as experienced and caring educators, see individualized signals or cries for help?
Let us think about how we show that we care. Let us not be the purveyors of fear.
*I referred to the person who murdered children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last Friday as ‘Idiot with a gun in Newtown’. It would be a whole other blog post to speak of how horrible our news media is at iconicizing (not sure if that’s a word) murdering, evil, or deeply disturbed people who commit violent acts. On this principle, I do not name this murderer here. I chose to convey him as a nameless ‘Idiot with a gun in Newtown’. If that offends you, sorry.