When violent events such as those in Uvalde happen, it would seem obvious to expect that many children and adults will be more anxious about attending school this fall. Add to this, in our local community, the impact of the tragic events of the Collins family murders at the hands of an escaped convict. The Tomball community and Tomball ISD students and teachers have been directly impacted by these tragedies. Allowing for the expression of grief within the community will be very important in the coming days and weeks ahead and in the coming school year. We need to promote the reverence of life and the solemnity of this moment of loss.
So many types of brutality and violence exist today, from road rage to random shootings, and it exists in so many places: shopping venues, schools, workplaces, entertainment venues, really anywhere. Are we finally going to have the political will to take a tiny step towards what other western societies had the will to fully achieve in the 90’s? Are we finally getting tired of “being safe nowhere?” Even before the days of Columbine we could witness the spreading epidemic of mass shooting incidents. Gun ownership did not help the Collins family. There is a prevalent degradation of reverence for all forms of life. When added to other factors such as the degradation of the environment, the economic hardship of the current times, homelessness, and the prevalence of technology taking over the human quality of all of our interactions in society, then the bleak picture of where we currently stand becomes clear. Add uninhibited, easy access to powerful guns by children, enabled by the exaggeration and aggrandizement of second amendment rights, and you have conditions we currently experience. Columbine, sadly, was only the beginning. We have simply rinsed and repeated for decades and added social media to the mix.
As a teacher executing active shooter drills throughout this time period, I have had to answer the questions from students that naturally come, such as, “What if the shooter comes from this entrance over there, what should we do?” I have had to imagine these nightmare scenarios, trying to assuage the fears of students (and myself!) and assure them of adults’ resolve to do everything we can to protect them. But deep down, each of them recognizes how vulnerable we are. We are sitting targets, whether teachers start packing guns or not. This is truly the gravity of the matter. It makes me want to shout from the mountaintop, “Do something, America!” I could not agree more with the comment made by Lexi Rubio’s parents, victims of the Uvalde shooting, that right now, guns are more important than children in America. Deplorable, but true. We have failed an entire generation of children by perpetuating a lack of reverence for life. Guns don’t make us safer.
While I personally don’t carry a gun, many in my family do, and they do not want to see a complete ban on weapons. Living in Texas, I do respect the prevalent desire to protect gun rights. But, these horrific acts will continue as long we continue to do nothing about the lack of reverence for life. If we lived in a healthy society, then things would be different. In that case, we could all own as many guns as we wanted and nobody would ever get murdered because everyone would act responsibly. In that imaginary world, we would all “be safe,” but that is not the current state of the world. Guns don’t make us safer, friends. Making it harder for the deranged to get access to guns will make it *a little* safer.
As a teacher, I now have to regularly plan my own tactical, defensive responses to potential attacks:
What are the weak points of security in my classroom?
How will we respond to get our students to safety?
Where are the safest areas to go in the event of an active shooter and we can’t escape?
What will I or can I do if we have to stay in place?
Lastly, if it comes down to it, how will I attempt to protect my life and the lives of my students if a shooter enters my classroom? I call this plan, “my last ditch effort.”
Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate needing to plan my defensive tactics when I became a teacher in 1995. The only words I can think of are “gut-wrenching.”
Sensible limits through gun laws could help in the immediate, short-term. Gun laws have been effective at reducing these kinds of incidents in other countries. This to me, feels like a mental health crisis of the highest magnitude, one that governmental gun regulations will immediately “help,” but not solve. This is a deeper issue of societal mental health.
Along those lines, the argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is true. For that reason, more intensive mental health measures are needed. We need both. But perhaps like many, I struggle to understand what motivates someone to commit such deeds. This is a very important line of questioning because we have an individual and a societal responsibility to identify people with mental illness who pose potential threats to themselves or others. For us to do our part, gun buyers should have to present three or more verifiable character references in order to process their purchase, or perhaps requiring waiting periods and/or proof of evaluation by mental health professionals for those under the age of 21, or restrict the purchase of guns to 21 and older altogether.
But, I repeat, gun laws alone do not solve this problem. Then there is better mental health treatment. Early and regular mental health check-ups provided for free as part of preventative health care are desperately needed. Health insurance plans have long been too skimpy in providing for mental wellness. Disorders can be uncovered and treated much earlier and especially at critical points in child development: at ages 6-7, ages 12-13, and the crucial age=17. This would enable a much more proactive approach, allowing greater mental health support for a developing child and for the family as a whole, while something can still be done about it, when the person is young. Additional regular mental health screenings during the mid-life crisis age of 41-43 would also be helpful for many parents, as the early 40’s is also the age of many parents when their children hit those rocky teen years of 15-17. Through studying the profiles of previous mass shooters, identifying the common points, and then screening and achieving early identification of mental health disorders, we can work towards reducing crime and other societal impacts of poor mental health.
Realizing that schools are often the targets of these incidents should also tell us something, namely that society must address the reality that schools are not always the ideal places of actual learning and nurturance that they were intended to be. Often schools are the backdrop for where seeds of violence are planted: child bullying, and in some cases, the worst forms of psychological and physical abuse are perpetrated and perpetuated, whether by other students or adults, tacitly or directly. This makes schools natural targets for such attacks motivated by revenge. Awareness of bullying, who gets it, who gives it, and why, increased throughout the early 2000’s and anti-bullying campaigns were a good start, but it has not been nearly enough to combat the problem in schools.
From the ages of 7 to age 14, students absolutely need three things that most children are not currently getting: 1. Sufficient daily access to nature and the outdoors with an adequate amount of physical activity to offset the overuse of electronics, 2. a deep bond with at least one positive authority figure outside of the home that they respect (a teacher a coach, or other adult mentor), again – to offset the overuse of electronic media influence, and 3. regular exposure to images of goodness, beauty, and truth – again to offset the detrimental influences of a morally degraded society. Those alone would greatly help the current mental health crisis. Everything about academics would also improve if we focused on these three game-changers and stopped acting as if test scores were the most important.
In future posts I might take each of these three issues point by point to examine more closely why they are so crucial to child health. But these stand out as the most potent. We could also explore and evaluate the effectiveness of previous anti-bullying campaigns and determine why these have failed to address the mental health crisis in schools.
There is perhaps a fourth need that could be addressed as students mature into middle and high school, and that is providing a relevant purpose for being at school. Most adolescents who struggle, do so because they lack a sense that school adds any meaning, value or purpose for them. Jumping through hoop after hoop merely to pass a test year after year is not enough of a reason to come to school, especially if you face daily bullying. If there is no sense of purpose and you experience physical or emotional bullying as well, then it’s easy to take your own life or easily take someone else’s. Families and schools need to re-establish the reverence for life as a core societal value regardless of distinct religious beliefs or faiths. All of these issues are addressed through the following principles:
- Humans consist of mind, body and spirit, and to educate well, all three must be addressed. (Children are not robots.)
- Humans develop in distinct seven-year periods that have distinct needs. (Stop treating kindergarteners like college applicants.)
- Relationships matter for all phases of development, but between age 7-14, the teacher as the primary AUTHORITY FIGURE for the children in the community/society needs to return. (Communities need to have the backs of teachers, as we have now moved forward to join police officers and other first responders who risk our own lives on the FRONT LINE.)
- Teacher autonomy to meet the needs of students, more voice in government and leadership.
- Emphasis on the long-term moral development of the student rather than immediate academic knowledge to pass tests, or surface, skill learning. (Stop killing education with overemphasis on test results. We are raising human beings, not making widgets.)
- Emphasis on cultivation of social health within the classroom, not just a smattering of anti-bullying campaigns thrown around that come and go with the local politics.)
- Teachers that intentionally engage in and are supported by activities that support their own mental, physical, and spiritual health to enable us to do this important, societal work with our most vulnerable population – our children.
[For more about these seven principles, take a look at Alliance for Public Waldorf Schools/Waldorf Education.]
Lastly, I see the potential for well-informed astrology to offer helpful insights into an individual’s psychology. Astrology is the ultimate study of patterns. I am not talking about the kind of soda pop astrology most people are familiar with here. I am referring to serious research with the aid of big data. Astrological and statistical analysis could help identify people with greater potential for mental health disorders, thereby helping to prevent murders and suicides through earlier identification and earlier treatment. One team of researchers at Astrology-Zoadiac-Signs.com found that the water signs were the most deadly serial killers of all the zodiac signs, according to their research of 500 serial killers. In another example of astrological research, one British astrologer, who compared Eric Harris’ chart to that of the Dunblane shooter found that both mass shooters had Mars and Saturn in a similar, stressful condition. Harris was one of the Columbine shooters. Read his piece here.
If we were to conduct greater statistical analysis of all known mass shooters on file, would we find more specific markers for mental illness that would enable better identification? How would mass shooters differ from serial killers? There are so many more potential astrological and other psychological and health indicators that could be discovered: early learning disabilities, prevalence of existence of other health conditions, existence of suicidal tendencies, but so much more research is needed in general.
Sensible laws, improved mental health screenings for young people, and required character references for any person seeking to own guns, improved methods for identifying those with mental health disorders in general, and improving mental health in schools and bullying will help. These types of endeavors could bring together people from a wide variety of fields and disciplines. When we come together to intensively address the problem of epidemic violence and do more to support mental health in our society as a top priority from multiple disciplines, it can be assured that more ways to identify and treat mental health disorders will be found, resulting in restored reverence of human life and greater wellness throughout society.