Spelling Tests, Chocolate Milk...Oh, and Bullets...
I was walking past an elementary school today and saw all the security around it. No wonder. How many school shootings will need to occur before we change as a society? Why is the freedom to have as many guns on the streets available to anyone who wants one prevailing over that of the safety of our children?
My mind harkens back to the easy accessibility of my own elementary school, where, in the late 1970s, school shootings didn't seem to be a concern. Back then my biggest stress was what would be on the menu for school lunch, or would I pass a spelling test. It feels so twee looking back at us hiding under our desks in the eventuality of a nuclear bomb dropping. Oh, the naïveté!
Now, students must practice all sorts of safety protocols in the event an active shooter arrives at their doorstep. The reality is, these kids are practicing hiding from guns before they even know their multiplication tables - and we need students who know academics, not the domestic terrorism that's visited more than 300,000 at 320 schools in the past decade.
There's a little history in US school shootings and I wonder where we can learn from it. The earliest occurred in what's known as the Pontiac's Rebellion school massacre on July 26, 1764, in which nine students were killed, leaving two very traumatized survivors. Before 'Merica was even a nation, school shootings were a problem. Over 200 years later, we're smart enough to develop a solution...but won't. Does it have to do with gunmaker's profits? Follow the money...
Everyone has a different perception of when mass shootings began to multiply in a more modern sense. In Maria Esther Hammack's article "A Brief History of Mass Shootings", she writes “In 1966, when the University of Texas tower shootings happened in Austin (http://behindthetower.org/), the headlines of the day failed to recall any mass shooting that happened before the turn of the 20th century, almost as if these had been erased in our society’s collective memory.” But read the history and weep: https://www.k12academics.com/school-shootings/history-school-shootings-united-states. Is this phenomenon due to willful ignorance or something else?
Perhaps a great part of the way we remember and think about shootings comes from how they are portrayed in media. Every shooting is sensationalized, while we simultaneously become desensitized to hearing about each heartbreaking event.
Keep in mind the reality of television ratings: news reports don't truly exist to transmit "news" - they are there for broadcast corporations to sell advertising. Looking at things squarely, when there's a shooting, more people watch television to stay abreast of events. And then they buy the things that were advertised, much to broadcasters satisfaction. That's why news is so competitive - the quicker and more dramatic news is presented, the more ads are seen and product bought. It sounds macabre and it should.
So, what are the pure facts on the current state of school shootings? The numbers are scary, to say the least. According to the Washington Post in 2021, “While school shootings remain rare, there have been more in 2021 - 34 - than in any year since at least 1999, despite most students not attending school for the first two months of 2021."
When I hear these statistics, I can’t help but wonder if we'll ever stop acting this irrationally or if our progeny will look back and think how absolutely gonzo-crazy this is. What about the students who have only ever known a world consumed by reports of mass shootings and gun violence? If someone has only ever grown up with this reality, it's only natural that they'll develop coping mechanisms out of a need for survival. If every student and parent allowed themself to be acutely aware of the prevalence of school shootings, how do they even begin to protect themselves mentally. It makes sense WHY we desensitize ourselves to this onslaught of tragedy so we can carry on our day-to-day lives, however, it comes with disastrous consequences.
Show me someone who has solutions - we can't keep watching news reports that relay the shocking outcomes of unnecessary and senseless violence. No other country in the world suffers these kind of losses.
David Zalubowski/AP Photo Parents gather in a circle to pray at a recreation center where students were reunited with their parents after a shooting at a suburban Denver middle school Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colo. (CPR NEWS)