“The general Government…can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an Oligarchy, an Aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form; so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people.” George Washington
People that I love are afraid. People that I love are deeply saddened. People that I love are angry. People that I love have grown cynical. My daughter worries that her beautiful sons may become targets for a crazed gunman at their schools. A former colleague in education just wants to cry as he hears his students asking what they should do if a shooter comes to their classroom. A principal fields the concerns of his teachers who now see every backpack brought into their classrooms as potential trouble. A former student struggles to recover from the trauma of being in the recent shooting incident in Las Vegas, and even as she makes progress news of more tragedy shakes her confidence. She attends a movie to help alleviate her stress and overhears children discussing what to do if an attacker brings havoc to the theater. As a nation we are deeply troubled and we want to do something, but all we hear are the same knee jerk reactions from our President and Congress and little desire to do anything other than say prayers or blame everything on guns. We already think we know that this will end with nothing being done almost ensuring that there will be yet another mass shooting sometime and somewhere in the future.
Washington D.C. has lost it’s resolve and worries most about invoking the ire of the various and sundry bases. Instead of representing all of the people our leaders now see themselves as only being beholden to a narrow group of people who finance their campaigns and mold their political philosophies. They don’t seem to realize or care that vast numbers of citizens need them to work for them as well. This should not be a nation of laws built only on the voices of about thirty percent of the electorate at any given time. Our lawmakers and executive should be attuned to the concerns and desires of the nation as a whole. While each elected official certainly has a foundation of devoted supporters, most elections are won with the votes of independent thinkers who choose sides based on a multitude of reasons. They need to be heard and their opinions heeded. All ideas both pro and con must be considered without knee jerk reactions. Taken together answers to the problems that face our nation will be found, but if our leaders continue to voice the same tired platitudes nothing will be done. It is up to the virtuous citizens of our country to demand a sincere effort to curb the murderous trends.
Gun violence is a plague on our nation. We have all heard that most of the shooters in such incidents would not have been subject to many of the proposed laws. The thinking appears to be that since none of the suggestions for solving this dilemma would be a hundred percent effective then it is best to do nothing at all. On the other hand there are those so focused on gun control issues that they continue to miss the point that law abiding gun owners fear that their rights will ultimately be curtailed. Both of these groups need to set aside their prejudices regarding this issue and open their minds and hearts to the myriad suggestions that are circulating among the people of this country.
One of my former students noted that this is a heart issue. He was of course alluding to the social, emotional and mental health aspects at the core of many of the shooters’ motivations. While there are exceptions, in general most of the killers have displayed signs of gravely deviant behavior long before embarking on their murderous sprees. All too often they live in isolation, growing more and more dark while those who know them either throw up their hands in frustration or turn away entirely. We have to create avenues and programs for helping them even if ultimately that means committing them to psychiatric care facilities. It will be difficult but the process of dealing with those whose minds have become sick is almost always a long journey. We should not leave the individuals or their families to travel alone.
A former principal posted an article about a teacher who uses a simple exercise to find the students in her class who are feeling alone or being bullied. Each Friday before they leave her room she tells her pupils to name four people with whom they would like to sit in the next week. She prompts them to tell her whom they most admire in the class as well as the names of students about whom they are worried. She spends hours over the weekend studying the responses so that she might identify the loners, the unloved, and then she makes certain to reach out to those children and their parents. This same teacher insists that parents attend tutoring sessions with their children. She wants the adults to understand what their children are learning, but mostly she wants to create a bond between the school and the families.
We need far more of this type of involvement from our teachers and our schools if we are to identify troubled souls long before they are so sick and enraged that they are killing others. Dividing large schools into smaller, caring groups can often solve the problem of having students fall through the cracks. In one of my former jobs each teacher belonged to a team that consisted of educators representing each of the core subjects. All of the the team members taught the same students and met several times each week to stay apprised of any brewing troubles whether they be academic, behavioral or both. They discussed ways to support one another and their students. Part of their discussions always included making note of pupils who had become withdrawn or who appeared to have few or no friends. Such a team approach needs to be implemented in all schools so that no child will become a cipher.
I recall a teacher with whom I worked talking about the community efforts to help children when we were growing up. She noted that if one of the neighborhood kids did something vile his/her actions were immediately reported to the parents. The youngsters understood that they were being watched and protected. They realized that there were many people who cared about them. I loved such stories because they reminded me of my own situation. My father had died when my brothers and I were very young. The people of our neighborhood quietly took on the job of helping us. There were wonderful men who encouraged my brothers to join sporting teams and taught them how to build things. All of us were included in the family circles of so many of our nearby friends People took the time to let us know that we were not alone and should not be afraid. We turned out well through the efforts of my mother, but also because of a vast support system from the people who lived near us. Thus it worries me that we have so little interaction in many of our local communities these days.
Of course there is also the issue of controlling the use of guns in our nation, even knowing that there will no doubt always be an illegal underground just as there always is in such instances. There are many common sense things that we can try that will have no effect on law abiding gun owners. The old Brady Bill from the Bill Clinton era had some notable ideas. Perhaps we should revisit that law and then find ways to improve it. It makes sense to strengthen the kind of background checks that we presently have to fill in the cracks that exist. We can take another look at tightening the ages at which individuals can purchase and own guns to mirror the laws for alcohol. We have to ask ourselves what type of guns and ammunition need to be prohibited. The average gun owner doesn’t require an arsenal for protection, so instituting such changes will hardly affect most people but it may help to reduce the availability of weapons for those contemplating mass murder.
We can tighten security at schools with architectural changes and the use of technology. We don’t need to arm our teachers. That will only create a whole new set of problems. If we want to hire well trained guards, we need to understand that they will not provide a complete answer. It will only be by admitting to the complex nature of overhauling the many problems that lead to such tragedies that we may begin to reduce the violence.
When I was as young as many of the victims of the horrific massacre in Florida movements to end the egregious war in Vietnam and to provide basic civil rights to all Americans began on high school and college campuses. It was when students across the country joined the efforts of adults who were already working to foment change that more attention was drawn to these issues. A revolution not unlike that of the founders of our country began to unfold and it continued until all of the collective voices exerted enough pressure that they were finally heard.
In this present time there are plans for young people to mount a campaign to bring about changes to make our schools and our movie theaters and our music venues safe again. I applaud them in advance and urge them to remain patient and willing to stay the course. I believe that this is a watershed moment in our country being lead by the virtue in the body of the people. I suspect that George Washington would approve.