Gang bangers shot a student yesterday while he was walking through our school parking lot after classes had ended on my campus for the day. This is a teacher’s perspective, a point of view that comes from a person who had just left that very same parking lot not 5 minutes (literally) prior to the gunfire.
And as the cliché goes, we all know that bullets when they leave the barrel of a gun have no name.
I am sad but not dispirited. I am hurt but refuse to be jaded. I am concerned but not fearful because giving into my fears is the means by which everything I aspire to do with my life, career, work and goals will be undermined. If educators such as myself buckle and cave in to the terror an event like this most absolutely causes then every objective that I as an individual and we, as a society, purport to hold dear is at risk. I can’t give in to the fright because if I do, the “bad guys” most certainly win.
Now more than ever, we need the “good guys” like me. We need our teachers.
Yet, who are the bad guys anyway? Is it solely the 16 year old kid who pulled the trigger that is responsible for this heinous act? Most certainly yes! And no, too. I mean I work with teens for a living and if there is one thing which is absolutely certain it’s that behavior such as this does not happen in a vacuum. Without even knowing the perpetrator I can already tell you a few things about him.
He had a history of academic underperformance. There were clear patterns of truancy. He almost certainly has a prior juvenile record as a result of a few (more minor) scrapes with the law.
Oh yeah, our schools weren’t meeting his needs, too. That’s right, this kid is 100% to blame but it’s also “our” fault, as well. (And by “our fault” I do, indeed, mean yours and mine.)
Whereas this teen most certainly could have benefited from being exposed to an academic curriculum that clearly and emphatically illuminated the importance of non-violence and provided tools for conflict resolution that enabled a child like this to recognize that there are other ways to handle disagreements with fellow teens outside of “grabbin’ a gatt”, this teenager was instead exposed to things of such monumental worldly importance as comprehending the differnence between similes and metaphors. Instead of sitting this student down to help him shape a sense of self identity that included positive feelings, emotional empathy and high self-regard, we made sure to sit this student down and give him multiple standardized bubble tests year after year after year that primarily sought to measure his deficiencies instead of seeking to reward and validate his strengths. Instead of serving the needs of this child, we spent our time trying to shape this child in a way that served the needs of us.
And we failed. (Yet again.)
If being a teen is anything, it’s about searching for one’s own identity and the identity that this felon latched onto was one of being “hard”, being “down” and being “accepted”. Whereas most right-minded people view this teens actions as horrendous, despicable and punishable (as do I) what most people fail to recognize is that this teen views his actions as brave, heroic and noble, regardless of how bastardized his interpretation of these words are inside his own inner vocabulary. The child who pulled this trigger did so because his own sense of identity taught him that shooting 4 bullets into a crowd of people on the campus of a high school is the “right thing to do” and no matter how convoluted his logic, it’s his logic. Not mine. Not yours. Not most of ours. It’s his.
And it’s a logic that he learned.
It’s a logic that he was taught.
It’s a logic that blossomed in the absence of a proper teaching of logic (and by that I mean “moral” logic). Teens who do things like this – and there are literally hundreds of thousands of them across our country – do so because of what they have been taught to do. And by not taking the initiative to overtly teach teens between right and wrong in school what we do is leave a vacuum that obviously, nature abhors. (I am not even going to digress into the “It’s the parents’ job to do this argument. Okay it is. But they ain’t doing it, so now what? Allow this to continue on unabated. Gt real, people!)
Kids are very much like nice patches of rich land. We can plant metaphorical roses or lemon trees or chrysanthemums – whatever we want. However, if we choose not to plant anything (as we are doing by an outdated sense of what constitutes core curriculum in our schools these days) these rich fertile patches of “kid land” do not remain as such. Weeds grow.
And not that kinda weed.
Ask any gardener, the absence of tending to rich, fertile land means that, by definition, neglect will blossom and ultimately evolve into a destructive force that will inevitably consume the entire terrain.
Now, in no way am I ready to go all soft and cuddly on the kid who shot up my high school campus yesterday and say that what we need to do as a society is give this teen a warm hug. However, being that no one died in the shooting, what is most probably going to happen is that we are going to convict the kid and send him to jail where, for the sake of argument, I’ll approximate he’ll do 8 years behind bars. (There’s a HUGE chance he’ll do much less time but that’s a different matter.) And where does he end up after 8 years in jail?
Even more “hard”. Even more “tough”. Even more felonious.
This is why the helicopters really circled my school and the news media published all the Student Shot at Lynwood High School stories. It’s not just a tale about a monster, it’s a tale about a monster who is going to grow into an absolute sociopath and we, as citizens are almost entirely disempowered to do anything about it. All we can really do right now is sit back, watch our TV screens with panic in our hearts and lock our doors. The time to have been able to do something, to authentically intervene, has, for the most part, passed.
And that’s what is truly tragic.
But the media wins. I mean the news media is serving us a double dose of fear and the fact is, it’s bad for all of us, but we are mostly like cigarette addicts who know it’ll eventually kill us but for now, the taste of the tobacco and the hit of nicotene feels really good. I mean I had a student get into Stanford last year. I don’t recall them sending any helicopters to cover that event. I also had a kid get into M.I.T. No channel 7 ABC news coverage then either. Matter of fact, I’ve had scores and scores of kids do scores and scores of amazing things this year – far too many to list – and yet not one story in the mainstream media pops out in my mind to highlight either my high school’s, or any of my student’s, remarkable and positive accomplishments.
But one kid gets shot in the ass and here comes the cameras.
So what can be done? Well, I am searching for those answers myself. It’s why I write the books I do, it’s why I endeavor to help other educators all across the nation in the way that I do, it’s why I showed up today at my school less than 24 hours removed from the shooting and put in a hell of an excellent effort at reaching my teens with an eye toward reaping real results.
But I tell you this, one thing I know for sure: our schools need to change. We are all party to this calamity; each of us is culpable in some small way. After all, am I not my brother’s keeper?
Am I not an American teacher?
So before you shake your head and say, “Oh, what a shame,” when you read the headline, “Student Shot at Lynwood High” ask yourself, how can I help to be a part of the change.
Because America needs you… and we are all responsible. Please help to do something.