Response to School Shootings Should Focus on Deeper Underlying Causes

Response to School Shootings Should Focus on Deeper Underlying Causes

Rage is growing among disaffected youth in schools where bullying, gang violence and intimidation are widespread.

Supporters say armed teachers provide a deterrent that could also limit the carnage in the event of an actual attack.  Critics point out that armed defenders present in earlier shootings failed to make a difference.  In general, allowing more relatively untrained gun owners to carry guns will lead to more not less gun violence, they say.

These are not the only possible measures.  Another is stronger “violence-prevention.”  One of the most disturbing aspects of so many recent shootings is that law enforcement was aware of the shooter’s penchant for violence – and lacked the wherewithal to intervene.  Nikolas Cruz had posted a You Tube video suggesting he might attack and his social media sites were filled with lurid images of violence.  The FBI was notified but did nothing, apparently.  Even his former school had concerns about him after his knapsack was discovered to contain live rounds of ammunition.  But officials didn’t ban him from school property.

In some ways, the problem we are dealing with is endemic to a free society with a “free” market.  The gun lobby believes weapons should be sold with as few restrictions as possible.  Students, former students and even outsiders should be allowed to enter public schools at will.  Even extensive background checks on gun owners, or attempts to intervene on possible future shooters, run up against the deeply-ingrained American ethos of personal freedom and individual privacy.

Some believe the problem lies in better mental health programs and monitoring.  In part, perhaps.  It is amazing how many of the shooters were considered perfectly sane and rational by their loved ones, who never heard the rage and never saw the violence coming.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters at Colombine, came from stable family backgrounds.  Klebold’s parents were religious pacifists.  None of that mattered as their children passed through adolescence and became increasingly troubled and angry and anxious to find some way to prove themselves to the world.

And there’s something else critically important here:  In nearly all of these cases, the shooters were bullied and taunted – often mercilessly – by their schoolmates and in the end felt trapped and unable to express themselves freely.  “I’ll show them,” is the recurring rallying cry of nearly every angry student with a gun.  “Anti-bullying” policies, while admirable, may not do much to alter the deteriorating social and emotional climate of so many of today’s schools.

In the final analysis, the problem lies not in our guns but in our culture, especially our school culture.  Schools, even in affluent neighborhoods, have become cauldrons of fear and intimidation, with many students anxious about simply showing up for class.  “Safe” schools doesn’t just mean safe from mass shooters, it means safe in general.  Many youth are falling into dark holes, creating their own nefarious bonds, and taking their vengeance and despair out on those around them.  Mass shooters are merely the most extreme expressions of this pent-up malevolence.

Some parents are suing schools that expose their children to “hostile” learning environments — and they are winning, too.  But the larger issue is how to get families consistently involved in their children’s lives during their formative educational years.  Insisting that schools have a “duty of care” should not blind parents to the need to participate in school management and oversight.   They are your kids — and it’s your tax money.

With this latest spate of school shootings — 18 since the first of the year, according to some reports — a dangerous new trend is emerging.   A suffused and angry rebellion is brewing nationwide in our educational institutions for youth.   But that rebellion is likely to grow — with more mass shootings — unless the deeper underlying causes of rising school violence are addressed.

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  1. Michael Patrick Lewis says

    Sorry, but that’s no solution. The “cultural problems” you’ve outlined are as old as the Bible, at least, probably older. You may be surprised to learn that (from personal knowledge) every school in Broward County has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. They have anti-bullying campaigns and people come around to do seminars where all the students are invited. Do you think that makes a difference?

    • Stewart Lawrence says

      You missed the point? I wasn’t referring to school policies at all. Of course, the parents delegate the “care” to schools and go about their business. Overworking, drinking and drugging, surfing for porn, excessive shopping, gambling, having affairs, taking up yoga. The usual litany of mass distraction and family self-abuse. You are no expert, Michael. Please don’t pretend to be.

    • Stewart Lawrence says

      I wrote about bullying and the quality of the school climate at some length after Newtown for the Huffington Post. If you have written something else of some depth, would love to see it.

      Gun control versus mental illness is a fake news debate. We need to keep the focus on the schools themselves. The issue is the quality of the school climate and the lack of real engagement from families .

      Schools in some cases have improved but not necessarily because of school policies per se, as you point out — they have improved because parents have sued or threatened to sue the schools for failing to fulfill their “duty of care” responsibilities. Nothing quickens the institutional mind faster than the threat of a major pay-out.

      When education departments get together and talk about the schools they don’t talk about outlier issues like AR-15s and mental illness. I have been a part of these discussions. They are too busy addressing the real sources of fear and intimidation that come up every single day, in big ways and small.

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