Friday, March 16, 2018

The Myth of the Bullied School Shooter (or Why Just Walking Up Won't Work)

Yesterday students in my town walked out of school as part of a National School Walkout. For a mere 17 minutes - one for each Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student and staffer who was killed last month. The practical disruption of their protest was minimal. Many of the same students also went to State House in Boston for the WalkOut for Action and March for Our Lives rally and to meet with legislators.

Personally, I'm proud of these kids for participating in an eloquent, thoughtful, and well organized student-led movement. They didn't bag off school for the whole day, using fear as a flimsy excuse to go smoke up behind the bowling alley. They didn't get violent or commit acts of vandalism. What they did was protest peacefully for 17 minutes (before peacefully returning to school and resuming their classes) in the hope that their voices would be heard.

The responses from the community were... disappointing. Many people didn't seem to be aware of the fact that the student-led protest only lasted 17 minutes, and so accused the kids of simply wanting to skip school that day. Others wrote that the students were just agitators, wholly uninformed about the issues at hand. Plenty said that these students ought to be focusing on their education (as if taking part in the kind of political action that America was supposedly built on is not in itself educational). And lots of comments referenced schools, parents, and the media pushing a leftist agenda on students who are apparently, at least according to commenters, too stupid or too young to think for themselves. 

The worst responses were not the harsh critiques but rather the seemingly benign suggestion that high school students should not be protesting but rather befriending the friendless, doing 17 nice things for their peers, or "walking up not out". On the surface, it sounds like a wonderful idea - and when you divorce it from the WalkOut for Action / March for Our Lives movement it really is. Be kind. Connect with someone who is different. Support your teachers. Stand up for the bullied. We should all be doing those things.

But let's examine the idea that the responsibility for stopping school shooters rests, even partially, on the shoulders of our students.

If we take that seriously, then we have to ask ourselves with as much seriousness whether Sand Hook could have been prevented if only someone had asked Adam Lanza to lunch. Did Chris Harper-Mercer simply need a hug? If someone had just told Jaylen Fryberg he was looking good that morning, would Marysville Pilchuck High School have had four more graduating seniors? Do the people in my town truly believe that if folks had been kinder to Jeffrey Weise, Seung-Hui Cho, or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the seeds of their violent impulses would not have had a chance to flower?

The narrative that school shooters are the bullied and not the bullies goes all the way back to Columbine, but most school shooters were not actually bullied. While some school shooters have indeed stated that their goal was to teach bullies a lesson, the data doesn't hold up. Most school shooters initially target school administrators or girls who rejected them, not peers who teased them. Half of high school shooters actually have a history of bullying others (that percentage goes up when you're looking at college-age shooters).

And most importantly, while a quarter of the more than 25 million middle and high school students in America will report having been on the receiving end of bullying, only a tiny handful of those students will ever commit an act of violence.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not the social outcasts the media made them out to be. Jeffrey Weise had numerous friends, including close friends who confided in him, and said himself that thanks to his size people who might have teased him actually left him alone. Seung-Hui Cho was probably bullied but at the same time was described by others as being menacing and having a mean streak. Cho also had a history of harassing female students. Jaylen Fryberg shot his friends first, working clockwise around the lunch table after asking some of them to skip class so they could all eat together.

Walking up would not have stopped those shooters. Smiling and saying hello would not have accomplished anything there. Looking at the biographies of the shooters, you'll see that even though these young people weren't part of the popular crowd, they nonetheless would have heard words of kindness from students and teachers. And clearly Jaylen Fryberg wouldn't have benefited from an invitation to lunch.

Mount Washington child psychologist Rebecca Wald wrote, "‘Walk Up, Not Out’ is a campaign of cowardice, promoted by adults who want there to be a solution to school shootings that asks literally nothing of us. No tough choices, no exercise of political will, no speaking out to power - just lecturing kids on how to do better.” And that's a problem. Personally, I will continue to work hard to help my children learn to be kind and to build others up instead of tearing them down, but I will not ever lie to them by suggesting that by doing so they might prevent a tragedy.

The people responsible for school shootings are school shooters, not the children staring down the barrel of a gun. If blaming the perpetrators isn't enough, then as adults let's accept some of the blame ourselves. If our children are so frightened they feel the need to mobilize to make their voices heard, the first step is to admit that we haven't been doing a very good job of protecting them. The next step? Is to listen to what they have to say.

We might actually learn something.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Generational Labels are Stupid (But I Guess I'm a Xennial)

I know I'm a Xennial because I once had a poster of Dylan from 90210 hanging in my bedroom. If that sentence means anything to you, you're probably also a Xennial.  

Gen X? I think that's my parents. Or maybe they were Boomers, but I bet they didn't really feel like either. That's what happens when you're born right on the border between generations. You're too old to fit in with the just-hit-adulthood crowd and too young to hang with the somewhat older middle age fogeys.

Now that I am a soon-to-be middle age fogey - I know this because somehow a subscription to the Saturday Evening Post started appearing in my mailbox and I think that happens automatically - I have been floating around the same limbo in which my 20-year-old parents must have floated.

Definitely not a Gen X cynic but also way, way, wayyyyy out of college. Oldest Millennial (think much more mortgage and much less pink-tinged optimism)? Or the youngest member of Generation X? Turns out the answer is neither because I am a Xennial. Or part of the Oregon Trail Generation. Or (barf) Generation Catalano.

Let's not forget that generational cohorts are actually defined by nothing more than a set of dates.  (Plus a lingering nostalgia for that gum you liked that went out of style along with an ability to understand TV and movie quotes from two or three decades back.) The Harvard Center uses 1965 to 1984 to define Gen X so that Boomers, Xers, and Millennials cover equal 20-year age spans. Which is basically ridiculous since at the rate the world changes today, 20 years is like a full refresh.

And yet TIME magazine and other reputable fogey publications that I will probably subscribe to someday (right after I start writing letters to the local paper) love assigning generational traits designed to make older readers feel superior. Which is how we know Millenials dial their phones like THIS and Gen Xers dial their phones like THIS, and the former are doing it all wrong while also eating too much avocado toast which is why they can't have mortgages.

I find it endlessly fascinating - as well as extremely annoying - that the same old story plays out over. Back in my day, we couldn't have mortgages because we drank too many lattes. And who needed a mortgage anyway when your parents' basement was basically a palace you could enjoy for free? Generation X slackers were too good to take entry level jobs and a bunch of complainers. It was feared that the young adults of the 1950s were lacking in that "old American gambling spirit and enterprise." Young adults in the 1930s had no self-control and were too quick to reject all things traditional.

“We defy anyone who goes about with his eyes open to deny that there is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish,” was published in a piece called The Conduct of Young People in the Hull Daily Mail in 1925.

The knife cuts both ways, too. Boomer bashing was once Generation X's favorite hobby. Now you'll find headlines proclaiming that Gen X had a hand in ruining the world, though they apparently did it by being nihilists. Of course, other headlines have suggested that Generation X is our only hope of saving the world from those pesky kids (Millennials) so who the hell knows.

Fact is, we were all 20 once and if we're lucky we'll all grow to be 40 and then 60 and then 80. We're all going to be the newly employed entry-level workforce eating/drinking too much [substance] instead of buying [traditional stability signal]. Most of us will morph into relatively comfortable fogeys who get blissful feels whenever marketers acknowledge our buying power with another  nostalgia-fueled ad campaign. And two decades after that a new crop of young people will be blaming us for everything that's wrong with the world. It's the great circle of social sciences and it goes on and on and on.

Since I'm a Xennial I guess I dial my phone like THIS - which is very timidly because a trait I share with Millennials (but not my fellow Xennials?) is a strong dislike for talking on the phone. But I'd appreciate it if you'd pledge to hold an intervention if you ever catch me hanging up a retro Dylan poster or signing a petition demanding a 90210 reboot. That shit's just wrong.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...