Monday, April 18, 2011

School Shootings: Remembering Columbine.

School Shootings: Remembering Columbine 
By Jeff Bennington author of Reunion

According to Wikipedia, the first recorded incident of school violence occurred on July 26, 1764, in what is known as the Enoch Brown Massacre where a group of Indians retaliated against the community in what is now Franklin County, Pennsylvania. According to David Dixon ten students were scalped along with their teacher in a single-room schoolhouse. All died except one student who escaped(1).

The first recorded school shooting occurred in 1871 when Chauncey Barnes shot and killed Anna Dwight, who rejected him as a suitor(2). He then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Since that tragic day, there have been many more school shootings. I never heard of a school shooting until that horrific day on April 20th, 1999 when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 15 (including themselves) and injured 24 others in Littleton, Colorado. To me, that was a day that marked a turn in my world-view that has since been reinforced due to the many acts of violence that have followed.

School shootings didn’t start in Columbine and they haven’t stopped since. 

Did you know there have been more acts of school violence after the Columbine massacre than those that occurred the entire century before? That’s right, there have been over 100 acts of violence, including shootings, stabbings and other methods in American schools after Columbine. 

The worst attack in school shooting history occurred on a college campus in Islamabad, Pakistan in 2007 leaving 154 students dead and another 44 injured(3). Closer to home, there was the Virginia Tech shooting among others and a school shooting as recent as February 7, 2011 in Youngstown, Ohio where one student died and 11 were injured(4). And then on March 25, 2011, in my home state, there was a school shooting in Martinsville, Indiana where a 15-year old shot another student(5). The most recently publicized shooting occurred in Rio de Janiero where 11 elementary students were gunned down(6). Of course there are many, many more that I didn’t mention.

The point is... school shootings are an ever-growing reality for us and for our children. They shoot fear into our hearts, but do they still shock us like they did in 1999? Our society has grown numb to many things, but I hope we never become so calloused that we shrug off this disease that has infected the entire human race.

The death toll is staggering. The number of students who will live the rest of their lives with scars or in wheelchairs is frightfully unfathomable. School violence is an enormous problem and yet the solution is elusive because we cannot predict the future, and according to the U.S Secret Service, it’s just too hard to profile a school shooter; their profiles are too varied(7).

As a novelist, I feel a responsibility to include social issues like school shootings into my work, because the world needs to do less escaping and more watching. When it comes to our kids I believe we need to change in a few areas. Here are a few:

  • Focus less on ourselves and pay attention to what’s going on around us. It’s not enough to hear the news that a school shooting occurred at your school and then suddenly become passionate about the cause. When that day comes, it could be too late. Your son or daughter could be the next victim, and so could mine, an absolutely frightening and unimaginable thought.

  • Be aware that there are hurting children in every school system that are on the brink of losing it and they have learned that violence has become the attention-getter-of-choice. We need to find them, listen to them, discover the source of their pain and get them help. 
  • Reject school bullying policies that are too lenient and ineffective. It's amazing how fast the government responds to a new flu strand and yet we can't seem to respond to the bullying epidemic that is spreading like wildfire.
  • Understand that human nature cannot be put in a box and that students who are bullied are absolutely unpredictable; their frontal lobes are not fully developed, leaving them susceptible to reckless and impulsive decision making.
  • Put an end to bullying now. I’m not just talking about teenage bullying; I’m talking about adult and workplace bullying as well. Children act according to the examples we set. I often sign my books by writing “Bullies Suck!” or “Life is short, don’t be a bully” but you know, bullies aren’t the only ones who suck. If I watch someone getting bullied or mistreated and do nothing about it, I’m just as guilty!

Passivity is killing us.
I’m not an expert on school violence and bullying, but I do know that people enjoy their personal space—their comfort zones. I do too. The problem is, when we live passively, life begins to get turbulent around us and we get caught off guard when reality smacks us in the face. We have to proactively investigate our children’s friends and the particulars of our kid’s social life. We have to have open lines of communication. We have to listen, and we have to find ways of helping instead of cowering to fears, ignoring the red flags and silent expressions of distress.

Ultimately, every school shooter, every bully and every victim has a story to tell. There is almost always a trail of warning signs, patterns and cries for help that were somehow overlooked. Unfortunately, knowing the stories after the violence occurs doesn’t do anyone any good. The dying spirit of a young person will only leave so many breadcrumbs on their trail to destruction before they implode and decide to take matters into their own hands. 

According to the current trends, there will be more school shootings this month and more this year than ever. Before we let another massacre hit the news, will you do something to create change? I’m not exactly sure what that is, but we have to talk about it. We have to call out the bullies. We have to reach out to the lost ones. We have to do something! What we’ve been doing isn’t working.

I believe we need to ask if this is a spiritual matter or if this is simply a matter of policy? In my opinion, the human condition is too complicated to fix by tweaking the numbers. We can’t leave this to government and bureaucratic red-tapers. Hearts and souls are not logarithmic or statutory; they’re tender and hardened and everything in between. This is a matter of personal contact and interaction, a matter of the soul, literally in our own backyards.

As a writer, I’m trying to do my part. I’m creating the impetus for a discussion and I've written a book that I hope will bring an awareness to the many issues that surround bullying and school shootings. What about you? Will you continue the conversation? Will you Twitter this article or share it on Facebook or forward it in an email? Will you talk about this with your children? Or will April 20th, become just another day awaiting the next murderous headline? We’ve had twelve tears since the Columbine massacre to think and act and change? How are we different?  How are you different?

Remember Columbine, and pray it never happens again.

Written by Jeff Bennington, the author of REUNION, a supernatural thriller that addresses school shootings, bullying and the long-term effects of trauma. Available wherever books are sold online and in stores.

1Dixon, David(2005). Never Come to Peace Again: Pontiac's Uprising and the Fate of the British Empire in North America. University of Oklahoma Press)
2New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
3BBC News. 2007-07-19. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
4ABC.News. February 7, 2011. March 25, 2011.
6Associated Press and Salon. April 7, 2011.