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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why School Shootings May Never End in America

By Peter DeWitt — May 24, 2018 5 min read
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We hear a lot about the causes and the possible preventions right after a school shooting. We know that there are debates about mental health and gun control. Politicians on both sides send their thoughts and prayers to the families of the killed, and then go to their respective sides of the aisle in Washington.

These are debates that have been around since Columbine, Sandy Hook Elementary, Parkland, and now the recent massacre in Santa Fe. After Parkland, kids took to the streets to demand something different, and then Santa Fe happened and we realized that this is a case of one step forward and two steps back. It doesn’t mean student protests didn’t matter, but it wasn’t the end to violence that we all prayed it would be. We need to keep moving forward with encouraging these students to have a voice.

Following the Santa Fe shootings, someone on Facebook posted this article from the Washington Post focusing on that school shootings are extraordinarily rare, as if to give another side to the debate. I’m sure that article did nothing to make the parents of those killed in Santa Fe, Parkland, Sandy Hook and Columbine feel any better.

Every day teachers, students, leaders and parents hope that their school will not be the next big news story. Some believe that they can stop school shootings from happening where they are, but unfortunately, we are learning that school shootings are our new normal, and the Washington Post article, as well as this list of shootings in our nation’s history, will teach us that very little will change about this new normal we are facing.

We Live in a Violent World

Some of you reading this probably find yourselves afraid of going to the mall, work, grocery store, church or favorite restaurant, because history is now teaching us that these are all hotbeds for tragic shooting events. Our new normal shouldn’t feel so normal. It used to be that people were afraid to fly because their plane may crash, and now they’re afraid of going to public places because that is more dangerous than getting on a plane.

The other day, I was asked about the shootings. Truth be told, I never know why I’m asked about it. I have never been through one, for which I am thankful. Perhaps it’s because I spent 19 years in public education, 8 of which were spent as a school principal where we had to do lockdown and lockout drills, and prepare for the worst. Most of the questions focus on finding a root cause.

Wouldn’t that be easy? A root cause...

Everyone looks for a root cause. If we could just get to the root cause, all of these shootings would just go away. We could press the reset button, and start all over. However, what we know is that we cannot start over; there is no one root cause.

Sadly, we aren’t prepared to look at the contributing factors in all of this insanity we hear about on the evening news, and are becoming desensitized to it in the process. We wish for the ability to see all of this before it happens, as if we are in the movie Minority Report with Tom Cruise. There are just too many root causes that create a perfect storm for random children who want their names known as the cause of those horrific events.

In America, we have our need for guns to protect ourselves. On the other side of the gun debate, we have actors in Hollywood touting gun control at the same time they star in movies that have the greatest amount of violence. Hollywood, and the actors, producers and directors there send a very different message than that gun control they so hypocritically tout.

We have parents who feel the need to keep up with the Jones’s so they work overtime every week and miss out on time with their children, who are suffering because they don’t sit at the dinner table anymore and talk things out. And after dinner children go to play their violent games, that their parents say they don’t play. At the same time the video game industry says they have no part in all of this, even though children can play the part of the criminal killing cops, and running down pedestrians, at the same time we watch the news and see that this is all happening in real life.

We live through our devices where we prefer to talk to our virtual friends more than we care to focus on our own family who are sitting in front of us. And as we spend more time in our virtual worlds we find that we have access to everything we want, whether it is real or not.

And finally, we ignore mental health issues. We tell ourselves we are supposed to suck it up and be strong regardless of the situation, to the point that it makes people snap under the pressure. And we keep losing innocent lives to violence and self-inflicted harm.

Unfortunately, the real root cause is our society. We value violence and being number one. We value ‘things’ more than family, and we don’t value talking things out as much as we value vilifying those who disagree with us. We contribute to this violent world we are in the middle of, and if you don’t think so, go click on your Facebook page to see what you have posted or what your friends have posted.

In then End

Children who just want to attend their school and learn so they can have a better life, go to school one day where their life is quickly extinguished. And as sad as many of us are about the whole situation, we merely go on about our day and wait for the next story to come along so we can send our thoughts and prayers again.

School shootings may never end in our country until we take a deep look within ourselves, understand whether we make positive or negative contributions in life, and then start to really look at those around us and understand if they are suffering in silence and need our help.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (Corwin Press. 2016), School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press. 2017), and Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018). Connect with him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.