I walk into a classroom just about every day and lived both sides of the gun issue. Every day, I think if there will be a shooting at my school. I lived in rural New York for 28 years and thought nothing of having a loaded semi-automatic rifle lying next to me. It was normal to go out at night with a loaded rifle because I heard a noise.
When the police response is 40 minutes, people tend to protect themselves. In the 28 years I lived there, only two people were killed by gun violence that I recall. I also lived in areas where gun violence was so near that it made me understand why so many would want gun control.
Yet in light of so many school shootings, I think the real problems are being overrun by politics. Our politicians seem unwilling or helpless to do anything about the recent spike in school shootings. Regardless of where you fall on the issue, it’s likely that the country will be divided, but there seems to be one place we all agree. We need more mental health in schools.
My kids attend Sunset Elementary, and I like the school. I think the teachers and staff do a wonderful job, but they have one counselor to about 500 to 600 students. Though our counselor is excellent, it’s too much to ask of one professional. As a graduate student in clinical social work, I learned that people can be sloppy creatures, so identifying risk in individuals means closing this huge gap between professional and student. It can be even worse at middle schools and some high schools.
In light of my 16 years teaching as a college professor and my recent time in social work, I’d like to offer some pointers on reducing school shootings.
Anne Arundel County has taken an important step in identifying bullying as a public nuisance, and I understand the county is working on a plan; however, punishing kids has often proven to make matters only worse. The kids are humiliated, and humiliation, according to James Gilligan, is the No. 1 reason people commit crimes. The effectiveness of our criminal justice institutions only further prove this with an overall recidivism rate of nearly 70 percent.
In closing, I walked into a school recently and heard one young boy, who was in trouble, open up to a staff member about how his father treated him. The staff member said, “These are things you are telling me that I should not have to hear. You need to keep your personal problems to yourself.”
This is exactly what not to say. This boy, a kid in trouble for bullying, was opening up and trying to communicate. He was a tough kid showing vulnerability. He was told to shut up. It would not surprise me if this same kid does worse violence someday. If we want our kids to be safer and do better, we have to take mental health seriously and learn how to truly see and hear one another.
Graduate social work student, University at Buffalo
Associate professor at Prince George’s Community College