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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Catharsis

Picture found here
The horrific tragedy in Connecticut has affected me--as I'm sure it has so many of you--on a variety of levels.  As I watched the news and learned more and more of exactly what happened at Sandy Hook, a school, for heaven's sake, I wept.

I wept because, of course, they were just so little.  And all they did was go to school.  They went off to school for a day of reading and learning and laughing and having lunch in the cafeteria and smiling at their teachers who were there to help them.  Maybe today would be somebody's birthday in their class, and they would have  cupcakes or little mini Snickers bars. 

Instead, someone blasted his way into their school with an assault rifle and slaughtered their classmates and their teachers. And instead of Sandy Hook becoming the first name ever associated with a school shooting, it joins a community.  Instead of Sandy Hook being a rarity, it lands on a fairly lengthy list.

After the two teenaged gunmen strode the halls of Columbine in April of 1999 and killed fifteen people, including themselves, nothing meaningful regarding sensible gun regulation happened.  I was teaching at the time, and our school's reaction was to devise a security protocol and institute student I.D.'s.  My students wanted to talk about the I.D.'s, mainly how silly of a response they were.  "The Columbine shooters were Columbine students!" they pointed out.  "That's not the reason," one student said darkly.  "They want to be able to identify the bodies."

As I was watching the coverage and crying, I was also angry.  Angry because Columbine had meant nothing, obviously.  Angry because it seems as if politics is more important than, ultimately, commonsense safety of our schools and our neighborhoods.  Why is the NRA allowed to bully our legislature?  Do students have to die so that people can take their guns to National Parks?  Buy guns freely at gun shows?  And do you mean to tell me that guns make us safer when the USA has more guns than any other large nation, yet we have more gun violence and gun deaths than any other large nation?  If you put fifty people in a room and give them all a gun, does that make the fifty-first person who goes into the room safer?

I also became angry because I thought of those poor teachers who went to school that day prepared to teach, yet walked into a survival situation.  I thought about how our country as a whole does not value teachers.  How many times do I hear about how teachers are merely overpaid babysitters?  How they only work nine months a year; how "those that can, do and those that can't, teach?" 

I became angry when I thought about the shooter, who was only a twenty-year old young man.  How disturbed he must have been!  Did he ever get any help, or could his mother, who was his custodial parent, not get assistance because of some problem with insurance?  I thought about all of the baloney that Rick and I sometimes have to go through just for prescriptions.  Why is our health care system such a mess?  Was this a contributing factor?

Lisa, over at Anali's First Amendment, said she was trying to write it out.  Write about the Sandy Hook tragedy as a sort of catharsis, to release her grief and make some sense of her feelings and reactions so that she could regain some serenity. 

That's what this post is, too.  I couldn't put something up here in this space without first acknowledging this event.  It was too vast for me to go unmentioned.  And it was too much with me to go unwritten.

The writing is not as refined as I would normally like.  I didn't go for style.  It's not pretty.  It's not impeccably researched.  It's probably not even coherent.  Now, look out for this last part because it's raw and ugly, but it's very, very much what I want to say.

I knew that this time, because the victims were very little children and because there were so many, that there was a better chance of getting some real discussion on gun control.  Maybe not actual Gun Control Capital G And C, but at least some substantive talk.  Because no one gives a good goddamn about teenagers getting shot up, it would seem.  I do, but who cares what I think?  But we all know that until some poor deranged shooter goes into the Congress and shoots a bunch of these stodgy old men right in their zippers(which seems to be the only thing that they do care about), no one in Washington will have a sense of urgency regarding commonsense legislation about regulating guns in this country. 

How telling that not a single pro-gun rights senator would appear on today's Meet the Press.

17 comments:

  1. Do students have to die so that people can take their guns to National Parks? Buy guns freely at gun shows?

    Obviously, the answer is yes.

    Catharsis comes hard. Yours is coherent, and the style is fine.

    Here is my attempt, if you're interested.

    http://retirementpastels.blogspot.com/2012/12/sunday-whirl_16.html

    Peace,
    JzB

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  2. Thanks for the link Nance. Like you, I wasn't sure how coherent my post was. It's so hard to find the right words. I know it's bad English, but I couldn't NOT write it. Maybe if enough of us show how angry and upset we are, things will change. I saw a tweet that the tobacco industry was considered untouchable for a long time, but they were taken down, at least in this country. Maybe this is what it took for something to happen. It makes me ill, but I hope something positive can come out of this.

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  3. Their age strikes me too. Not that it's any better if the kids are older, but kids are so *excited* at that age. Since I'm a teacher consultant, I work with kids from age 5 until age 17 and there is nothing like kids who just starting school and who think everything is exciting. How in the hell are the survivors ever going to think of school as an exciting and awesome and safe place again? How can any of us?

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  4. Thanks for writing this. I haven't been able to say anything yet, at least online. I can't even think about it. Instead, I find myself focusing on stupid things, like how confused and incorrect most of the first reports were. Or how annoyed I am by people on Facebook who post things that say the reason these things happen is because there's no God in schools anymore. Focusing on those things helps me to keep from dealing with the pain and horror of the whole tragedy. It's not mature, and it's not helping to foster a dialog, and it's not doing anything towards gun control or help for those with mental illness. But it's my coping mechanism at the moment.

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  5. I'm fascinated that no one who is pro-guns showed his or her face on any of the Sunday morning news shows. These people usually push each other out of the way to be noticed, but not a peep. I'd like to believe that they are feeling guilty about what they've allowed to happen in this country, but I suspect that they are just plain scared that someone might shoot them down on sight. The irony almost makes me smile.

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  6. Ally--I don't think it's because of any actual violence against them. Anti-gun people are unlikely to resort to that. I think they are unwilling to be on what will be perceived as the side unsympathetic to 20 dead children. Later, they will say that they wanted there to be time for the heat of emotion to die down, for rational, clearheaded thinking. Bullshit. Those people are cowards.

    j.@jj--People who are such fierce God Warriors cannot have it both ways. They cannot keep invoking God all over the place, yet ignoring the same God that allows things to happen. Did God create natural wonders? Then it is the same God who sent the hurricane or tornado which destroyed your home. Are you thankful to God for sparing your parent? Then it is the same God who took someone else's. And which God should BE in schools? Whose? Sigh. You are so right: It is not Helpful. Another HUGE reason I am not on the facebook. A playground/studyhall for the vastly immature much of the time.

    I was very proud of and moved by the President's speech last night. I hope he leads strongly on this issue.

    TeacherPatti--That's part of my point, though. It shouldn't have even happened at Sandy Hook. The deaths of 15 teens and adults at Columbine SHOULD HAVE BEEN ENOUGH to get smart gun legislation passed. Virginia Tech should have been a reminder. Aurora should have sealed the deal. Teenagers are way too young to die as well. The little girl at Gabby Giffords' meet and greet in Arizona was way too young, and no one cared. THERE WAS EVEN A RAFFLE HELD FOR THE SAME KIND OF WEAPON USED IN THAT SHOOTING AS A FUNDRAISER. You know as someone involved in education that kids of all ages can be excited and engaged in learning. My teaching career of 30 years was full of excited 15-16-17-18 year olds! Of course tiny 6-7 year olds will definitely tug at all of our heartstrings. They are relative babies. But Congress should have stopped this after Columbine, when teenagers died AND THEY DID NOTHING.

    Lisa/Anali--The best thing we have in our corner now is a second-term president and a shifting electorate who are tired of the status quo and open to change. Lots of attitudes are shifting. I can only be hopeful.

    Jazzbumpa--Thanks for chiming in. Nice to see you back here. As I left my comment over at your corner of the Interwebs, I started zooming around and visiting a lot of spots. Lots of people feel compelled to talk about this. I think that is a good idea from any standpoint.

    Hope to see you back here often.

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  7. I too wept. And this post says it. In clear and succinct style.
    Here in Canada we have a different gun culture and a lot less access to the kind of weapons that poor deranged young man used. But our laws and attitudes do not prevent school shooters - not all of them. We had a maniac open fire in a technical college some years ago, a young man in the prairies do a copy-cat of Columbine, a few shooters target someone specific. Other killers of children and wives have resorted to a bow and arrow and knives.
    What I think we need to address is the attitude to mental illness that leaves the killers out on the streets.
    I wonder, sometimes, if the fictional killings we see so much of on TV and movies add to the carnage.
    Worth a lot of thinking. After the poor little children are sufficiently mourned and we can go at it with more objectivity. I wish.

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  8. It's all so sad and so hard to take in. I think the answers (partial solutions? I don't think there will be one thing that works) have to be on several fronts. I'm sure you have read the post of the mom of the 13-year old who says she is the shooter's mom (or the mom of all the shooters to date). She is not, of course, but her child is violent and she can't control him, and imagines that he, too, could be/become one of these mass killers. How many other moms are in the same situation?

    There are so many questions and so few answers. It seems that CT had some of the strictest gun control laws and the shooter (btw, I hate calling him that, but I hate calling him anything) tried to get a gun, but couldn't. So he, as we know, took his mother's guns. Why would a mom target practice with a son who had such issues? It seems she didn't know to what degree he had issues. It's all so sad and overwhelming. This tragedy is heartwrenching and yet I feel guilty for not feeling as intensely when other such tragedies have occurred. There was just the shooting in the Portland a few days earlier. I felt sad, but not to this profound degree. Those families' lives have been altered in a way that they can never recover. No actions/memoriams (a big debate between bloggers right now) seem right or sufficient. I feel at a loss, but feel guilty for even saying that as I have not suffered.

    Shirley

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  9. Clinton, at least, signed into law the assault weapons ban. Then Bush let it expire. AFTER 9-11! In favor of giving attention to terrorists and homeland security? Because most of the worst terrorist attacks in this country are perpetrated by its own sick citizens who have no trouble accessing the type of arms that the average person does not need to "protect" themselves and their precious property. Our precious property is US, and our CHILDREN. They are the future. What kind of a future are we giving them? I know the answer is not as simple as gun legislation, but that would certainly be an important step. It is my fervent hope that many of the men in congress grow a pair of cojones and finally stand up to the NRA. In fact, I have a secret fantasy that the NRA is having a national convention and someone walks in with an assault rifle and... shows them the other side of the 2nd amendment.

    Just venting of course. And thinking of those beautiful children and the brave teachers who lost their lives so senselessly.

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  10. I have trouble being coherent on this subject because I don't understand the gun "culture" at all. I guess I get the hunting thing - but otherwise I'm of the opinion that owning guns is just bizarre. So often I can understand many sides to an issue, but on this one I am blinded.

    I also agree about mental health - and with that issue I can see all the messy sides. After all, who really knows the heart & mind (whether sane or crazy) of a person?

    I just hope that smarter people than I am are going to be on the case.

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  11. The Bug--I doubt that intelligence is all that necessary. Look what the so-called brightest minds in government have wrought already. Gun culture is something very alien to me as well. Although I took a marksmanship class in college for a phys ed credit, I took it simply because it did not require any physical exertion, bad fashion, or a ball. Period. I was very good at shooting a .22 Army rifle. Once I certified and got my A, I never did it again, unless you count shooting at squirrels and stray cats in my backyard with a BB gun. And if someone needs to take away my BB gun, I AM OKAY WITH THAT. HERE IT IS.

    Ortizzle--Sigh. Oh, I know. What do some people think will happen if they don't have their gun(s)? I have never, ever had one in my home or in any home in which I have lived. I do not feel less free. And the 2nd Amendment? When was that written? All I'm saying.

    Shirley--It is so natural for all of us to feel more horrified, more moved, more outraged, and more intensely invested when confronted with the bodies of twenty children. It just is. My grief and shock during Columbine had much to do with my personal experience as a high school teacher and parent of a teen at the time. And now, more than a dozen years later, with the intervening shootings we've witnessed via the media, this one has become, as it's now known, a tipping point. And thank heaven it is. Shame on everyone if this moment gets wasted because it is "too complex" and "there are no simple answers." Yes, it is complex, but they can start with some simple answers and go from there.

    Mary G--Thank you. And access is critical, I think. I can't even pretend to understand why this sad young man's mother had such weapons in the house, attainable by a son who had emotional or mental problems readily known to her. Yet, I am aware of a similar situation within my circle of acquaintances. It is a terrible blind spot that parents can develop, perhaps; perhaps it is just a part of the gun culture that Bug and I are so ignorant about. It would be different if they were all putting only themselves at risk, but that is obviously not the case.

    As far as any delay, I wish I could agree with you here. But delay is fatal here. Waiting means that the urgency goes away, and the moment is lost when momentum is lost. Better to strike when the iron is hot, as the old cliche goes. Do it while you feel the pain so that you don't have to feel it again.

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  12. I tried to "write it out," too. But there's still so much in me. I cried when I arrived at school today. I walked into that teeming mass of teenage humanity and tears began coursing down my cheeks. Two students gave me a hug. I hiccuped, plastered a smile on my face, and soldiered on. That's what we do.

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  13. Melissa B.--"What we do" is so sadly overlooked too much of the time by too many Americans. And because most teachers are polite and have a martyr streak a mile wide, and because we/they have their students' best interests at heart and know that The Job is bigger than they are, they simply go on and accept the relatively low pay, the disrespect, the lack of professional status, and the back of everyone's hands. Sigh.

    Everyone should thank a teacher. Thank him and/or her for his/her service. Remember what he/she did for you, for your child, for the neighborhood in which you live. Did you ever have a lousy teacher, or two or three? Me, too. But did you ever have a crappy boss, rude salesperson, or clueless nurse? There are less than stellar examples in every profession and service.

    Stop in to your child's school with a thank you letter and name names. Leave it at the office and make sure it gets to the teachers so that they can feel appreciated.
    They will need it this week. Trust me; this week will be hard on all of them everywhere as they come under intense scrutiny with increased security protocols and procedures and the feeling that what happened at Sandy Hook could have been or could someday be them.

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  14. At the end of the day, I don't think this incident will change anything permanently because most of the people in this country have the attention span of a gnat. I personally like guns and know how to shoot them, but I don't own one now and have no interest in ever owning one. I would also have no problem with guns being outlawed altogether, as that would most likely cut down on the number of violent deaths in this country.

    In theory, I don't have a problem with responsible people owning guns, but we all know that "in theory" never really works out that way in real life, and guns will inevitably end up in the wrong hands. In this country, everyone has the right to his own opinion, and I can see that gun owners would want to go on owning their guns. The problem with the pro-gun group is not the individual owners who are thinking and responsible, but groups like the NRA who are supercilious arrogant assholes, and who insist on pushing their agenda, your anti-gun opinion be damned. They wrap themselves up in the second amendment and call you anti-American if you disagree. Until gun opponents get their shit together and raise more money than the NRA, gun laws in this country will not change--period. I just read the other day that the NRA spent over $16 million dollars in the last election to get and keep their candidates in office and push their agenda. The Brady Campaign spent less than $10,000. No contest.

    There are so many reasons that this particular shooting occurred: easy access to guns, an incapable, uninformed, or oblivious parent, mental illness, lack of good health care, and who knows what other little factors. Sadly, this combination happens fairly frequently, and we have the history to prove it. Gun control would certainly help, but won't fix the problem entirely.

    My opinion about teachers is this: good teachers are one of the biggest assets any country can have. They are giving the world and its information to the next generation--this is a critically important role in society. How absolutely ridiculous that they are viewed as second class workers: "Oh she's just a teacher." That always sounds to me like the speaker thinks the teacher could have done something else, but chose to settle for being a teacher instead because he or she just didn't have the drive or ambition to do more. In addition to having to deal with this mindset from the general public, many teachers must also deal with students and locales that put them and everything around them, in some level of danger every day. And we wonder why teachers burn out quickly. Could this situation be any more ridiculous?

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  15. LaFF--What cogent remarks! Thank you for taking the time to post this in Comments.

    You make so many excellent points: the fact that money is buying our so-called elected officials and election results far too often; that the same mitigating factors keep adding up to gun violence and complicating the problem; that America's interest in correcting even the severest of problems is at best capricious and at its worst more of a NIMBY mentality; and, finally, that teachers are under an immense pressure that is largely unnoticed by the American public, yet the public are quick to place blame upon schools even as they defund education and complain about Why Johnny Can't Read, the result of which is always to come down harder on the teachers.

    Bless all of them still in The Trenches. I think of my colleagues every day, moreso when something like this occurs.

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  16. Nance, You expressed many of the same feelings I have. I still cry when there are TV reports of the tragedy.

    In no way do I support the NRA. We have no guns in our home and neither my parents nor my husband's ever owned guns. My parents wouldn't even allow a cap pistol in the house because "guns aren't toys."

    That being said, I have no hope that a satisfactory solution will result. I would love to see a ban on assault weapons, but the reality is that there are already so many out there, that even if the sale of all guns were outlawed immediately, anyone who wanted one could surely find one or buy one on the black market.

    Others have proposed placing armed guards in every school. Even in small school buildings, a guard might be 5 minutes from an attacked area. In larger schools, it might take 15 minutes to travel from one end to another. And, I would assume that if someone were planning an attack s/he might learn where the guards are and shoot them first.

    And then there are those who want to arm teachers. I'm a retired teacher, too. For the most part, I loved my fellow teachers, but like the rest of the population, there were a few who were a bit strange ---and they would be the first to volunteer to carry a gun and the last I would trust with one. And if the guns were locked in desk drawers, what happens if a deranged student breaks in and uses the school's own gun to kill?

    Really, what can we do short of putting iron bars on all doors and windows, turning our schools into virtual prisons; (I'm sure some students think they are already.) Maybe we need high fences with razor wire at the top and locking gates around each school, far enough from the building, that if an alarm system alerts that an intruder has breached the fence, at least there might be time to go into lock-down mode. It may be practical, but so draconian, I hate to even mention it.

    What can we do to keep people from becoming so angry that they want to kill? Psychologists tell us that in 99% of the cases, the perpetrators have told someone of their plans. But we don't listen or don't want to hear it. And we don't want to become a totalitarian state where everyone is going about ratting on everyone else.

    Maybe we need a campaign of compassion and anti-violence. But that would take years to implement and/or see effects. And, of course, there would be parents complaining that we were teaching values and that we were turning children against their gun-toting parents.

    Am I being too negative here? I honestly cannot think of one good solution to the problem. It seems hopeless to me. There will be more shootings in schools, malls, theaters, churches, or even at fire scenes. Everyone will pay lip-service to taking action to prevent it. Nothing will happen ---unless, as you say, someone shoots a a convention of NRA members or members of Congress in their zippers ---or better yet, wallets.

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  17. CJ--And your remarks here echo my own thoughts as well with regard to solutions. There are obstacles to every single one.

    When our city approved funds to build a new high school, the idea of a Community Use building was floated. All I could think about was Columbine and the idea of security. Our high school is in the middle of downtown, and it is not the most desirable area, even residentially. We often had people wandering in off the streets to simply use a bathroom or vending machine! Once in a while, we had students from other schools and communities slip in looking for a particular kid to settle a score. And we have some parents who are very combative, not only with their own kids, but with staff or other kids/parents as well.

    Our schools are closed on Election Days now because of security issues.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is the same thing you are: there really is no such thing as a completely safe school. The gunman in Sandy Hook simply blasted his way in with his gun. Columbine had armed security; it still resulted in 15 deaths. Our high school is over a city block long and comprises three buildings of three floors. People will still die. And people still need to get out of and into a school throughout the day, and for all kinds of legitimate reasons. It's such a thorny problem.

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Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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