School Climate & Safety Opinion

Violence Is Coming to School

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — May 11, 2014 3 min read
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How do we determine danger in our midst? We are trained as educators, teachers and leaders, who are called by a passion to work with children. Most of us are not trained as psychiatrists or psychologists or social workers. We are focused on student achievement, child development, teaching and learning. We are focused on problem solving, relationship building, meeting mandates and regulations, all while building and maintaining morale in our classrooms, buildings and districts.

In Minnesota, one responsible community observer prevented a horrible catastrophe. Reported by an alert neighbor who thought a teen entering and closing the door to a storage locker was worthy of a call to authorities, 17 year old John David LaDue’s plot to kill his parents and his sister, ignite fires to prevent access by emergency vehicles, and set off pressure cooker bombs at his school. Bombs, bomb making materials, gunpowder, firearms, and ammunition were found both in his home and in the storage locker.

Let’s not let the fact that this tragedy was averted diminish our attention and concern. What do we need to know about our students who arrive at a place in their lives that calls to them to destroy property and kill people? In the NBC News report, the school’s superintendent was quoted as saying that teachers and administrators knew LaDue as a good student who was “a little quiet” and caused no trouble. And at this writing, we know nothing of how this boy was able to buy and store all of this destructive material, some in his own home, without being noticed. What we know is this...all of us need to pay attention to our children, some of whom are crying out in silent screams.

What brings a child to idolize the actions of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine shooters or violent actions of terrorists like Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev? And how do children get to that point without notice by the adults at home and in school? Or are the calls for help falling on the deaf ears of policy makers who regulate the medical world? What is it about our society that brings some of our youth to kill, even members of their own families, and countless strangers? Finding the cause may not be our specific charge, but we must be partners with those who are in the search. Our responsibility is to answer the call, spoken by the disruptive or by the withdrawn, for understanding and intervention. Whether we welcome it or not, a moral and civic responsibly demands that our roles be alert observers. We must know the children in our rooms, our hallways and our playing fields must get our attention. We have to be able to tell when they are hurting and angry and too isolated.

Creating and maintaining environments in which learning can take place, since the advent of school shootings and stabbings, has had to include a different kind of awareness. We must be alert to who among us, in the legions of beautiful, developing, curious, young students, is suffering with such anti-social, harmful thoughts, that may call them to action. Why do some among our young people take these frightening actions? What in our culture, our homes, our society brings this out? How can we protect the rest of our communities from these actions especially when they can seemingly come out of nowhere? And how do we help those who are falling into the desperation that explodes in violence?

This particular case has a happy ending for those who avoided being killed or maimed because the planned actions of this young man were foiled. But, what of this young man and his family? How many others are there in our hallways and classrooms? How can we take care of our communities when this is about as far away from our training and professional aspirations as one can get? Violence has, indeed, come to school.

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