Saturday, December 15, 2012

Processing the Sandy Hook Massacre

This blog post will probably offend you.

As a frequent habitue of social media, I have read a number of reactions to the Sandy Hook massacre from left, right, and center. I have felt the urge to respond to many of them. In many cases due to their logical fallacies. I chose to respond in a more general way in this blog post in order to process my own emotions and thoughts to this horrific event. Many dear friends and people I hold in high esteem have also made and repeated these remarks. By responding indirectly, I hope they see this is not an ad hominem attack. If you have made any of these statements, please do not take this personally. I understand why you made them - for the same reason I am writing this. I feel your pain and anguish. I have been moved to tears over this event repeatedly. As a passionate educator, this massacre is also an attack on me and the vocation I hold as a sacred calling. We are all struggling to adequately express our soul shattering sorrow. I truly hope that I do not bruise or damage our friendship in the least way.

Full disclosure: In recent years I have undergone an evolution of philosophical change, I have transformed from a deeply conservative religious and political perspective, to quite the opposite end of the spectrum. Long time friends and family have noticed the changes without comment, and I suppose this is my philosophical  'coming out,' if I may borrow the phrase. I say this because it is germane to my reactions. The main impetus for this transformative journey is the cold hard look I took at many of their logical fallacies and, instead of continuing to accept them on faith, applied scientific principles and critical thinking skills to them - and found them wanting. Faith is indeed "the evidence of things not seen," but I have reached a point where I cannot continue on an unseen path. Attempting to follow this path has taken a deep toll on my life. Perhaps at some future date I will share more, but suffice it to say that I wield a cutting discernment when dissecting the logic of any statement of belief.

There have been two polarly opposite, yer equally idiotic, quotes bandied about that I feel the urge to address. The first goes something like this:

"Just think, one person with a gun could have stopped this."

It makes me want to scream, "You idiot, one person with a gun DID this." You are seriously deluded or insane if you think allowing citizens to pack guns would prevent this. (Treyvon Martin anyone?) Really? You want teachers to pack pistols in the classroom? Oh, here's a better idea, how about we let the students strap on their six-shooters? Get real, this isn't the wild west anymore. 

On the other end pf the spectrum is this statement:

"One person tries to bring a shoe bomb on a plane, and everything changes. 31 school shootings since Columbine, and nothing changes."

Really? You want the TSA in our schools? Have you been in an airport lately? The gross violation of our persons and the indignities we are subjected to there, you want to visit that upon our children in schools? I know there already schools where that is taking place. Its a shame and a disgrace. Typically they are schools where the students are at most need and with high populations of impoverished people of color. Bringing a prison-like atmosphere to those schools is such an abhorrently repulsive act of institutional racism, that it sickens me. The bitter irony is, the schools where these massacres have taken place are overwhelmingly white and affluent.

The call for gun control, while an understandable reaction, is misguided. Guns are already there. Even with the enactment of further laws, they will not go away. As much as I hate the vacuous patois of "guns don't kill people, people kill people," there is truth to the statement. Further proof of the inadequacy of gun control is the series of mass knife attacks on children in China's schools. Indeed, the same day as the Sandy Hook massacre, 22 elementary school children were brutally hacked and stabbed in China.  Pro-gun advocates, hammer the bully pulpit of 'we just need to execute these criminals, that'll stop it." Unfortunately that is nothing more than uneducated drivel. In China executions are swift and frequent, yet in the same year they executed one attacker, there were three more.

Again, disclosure, I am a gun owner and have, in the past, carried concealed weapons for protection. Growing up in San Francisco, I carried large knives to school from the time I was in middle school. I went to middle school in Hunters Point in the mid-70s, when it was one of the most violent ghettos on the west coast. I know the fear that causes people to arm themselves. I also grew up on a healthy diet of reading Louis L'Amour westerns and embracing the romantic ideals of manly men who strapped on their pistols and exacted justice on their own. So I understand the appeal that that myth has. However, at some point, you have to learn the difference between the mythic ideal and cold hard reality. I understand the appeal and fascination of guns. I enjoy shooting. There is a raw power and exhilaration in wielding that much power. The bigger and more powerful the gun, the greater the appeal. I recall the excitement of shooting my cousin's AR-15 assault rifle when I was a teenager. When it popped off a 3-round burst, it was quite a rush. It is a very dangerous and seductive appeal.

Therein lies the danger. I'm not going to go off on how movies and video games are destroying our culture and causing these events to occur, but there is something to be said about their influence. In much the same way as John Wayne and Louis L'Amour tough guy westerns appealed to my generation, there is no doubt that violent video games, where gamers are immersed in an environment of mass slaughter has a similar seductive appeal and wields an influence on some minds. This is not to say that they should be banned anymore than we should ban guns. Healthy minds can discern the difference between fantasy and reality. Persons of good moral character are not prompted to crime because of the availability of a weapon, and evil people will not be prevented by their absence.

These massacres are a mental health issue. There is no doubt in my mind that the perpetrators have a severely damaged psyche. There is no way that a mentally healthy person could do such a thing. Even if you subscribe to the theory that these attacks are due to the impetus of evil, you must agree that an evil mind is a damaged mind. As an educator, I have to wonder what happened. What was the formative cause of this damage? Could it have been spotted and prevented? I cannot grasp the twisted thought process that could produce such violence, particularly to children. Indeed I would be very afraid if I could, because if you could understand I think it means you are capable of doing the same.

What are we doing in school and society to prevent this? Mental health issues are treated as a justice issue, and understandably so. For far too many years, mentally ill persons were institutionalized and marginalized in horrific conditions. However, is our current system any better? When our streets teem with homeless people, many of whom suffer from mental illness, and acts such as this massacre are perpetrated by mentally ill people we have to pause and reflect. For a number of years I worked closely with a special ed classroom for emotionally disturbed students. I have to be honest, I don't feel we were doing things right. Most of what we did was bound by ADA law and restrictions. What about scientifically backed educational practices for these students? What is the best way to educate and treat them? I don't know, because I wasn't trained. Yet I was their teacher, trying to do my best, bur feeling wholly inadequate, Please don't misunderstand, in no way am I comparing my students to muderers, they are not the same at all.

I can't help but feel that the perpetrators of these horrific massacres somehow were failed by society. Make no mistake, I am not painting them as innocent victims. They are sick, deranged individuals that for some unknown reason committed horribly evil acts. But I believe that we are all responsible for each other. We are "our brothers keeper." We have a duty to prevent these things from happening. Banning or carrying guns won't solve it. Executions and internment won't stop it from happening. Horrifyingly, there may indeed be nothing we can truly do to prevent it. Religion and morals, 'turning to God' wont' stop it. Theocratic societies suffer the same horrors as well. Somehow, we must find a way to meet the needs of our students and children to develop them educationally, physically, and psychologically into the kind of people who would never do such a thing. This is my dream.