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How to reduce school shootings

June 3, 2022

Public schools need more resources, particularly for troubled students: counselors, liaisons with the community and police — but not guns.

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

I know a way to reduce school shootings, and it does not involve arming teachers with .45s, turning schools into “hardened targets,” or cuffing, arresting and expelling students for misbehaving. 

This is based on my nine years teaching in public schools, in poor nonwhite communities.

Let’s start with a guy I’ll call Goober. Goober was an amiable fellow, by no means threatening or a problem, but not real smart. 

I asked my English classes to write at least one page a day once a week in class, though that meant I’d have to correct 162 pages that night. I’d use the weekly writing hour to call students to my desk one at a time and go over their old work.

Goober did nothing — no way, no how — on writing days or any other days. It’s not that his work was bad; he never did any work at all. Just sat there smiling. 

After a few weeks of this, I called him up to my desk.

“Goober,” I said, “you are going to write one page today. You’re not going to sit there and do nothing. You’re going to write me a page, and when you do, no matter what you write, I’ll give you an A.”

Goober smiled and nodded, returned to his desk and started writing.

Oh, boy, I thought. Victory at last.

When the bell rang and the class dropped their papers on my desk and filed out, I grabbed Goober’s. Here is what he wrote: “On Sunday my mom told me to feed the cat. So I put it in a bag and took it outside and shot it about ten times.”

End of essay.

So what was I to do?

Goober had finally written something. Hooray for Goober!

But look at what he wrote.

What was I to do? Bust him for not writing a full page — after he finally did something? Two things, actually.

All I knew for sure is that it wasn’t a full page, so no ‘A’ for Goober.

As I said, this was a poor community, its household income was less than half the national median. We had no school psychologist; I believe we had no school nurse; if we did, I’m sure she was there no more than one morning a week. I never met her.

Now, I had a master’s degree in teaching from Northwestern University, but in those two years of training I’d never heard word one about how to deal with a student like this. It wasn’t part of my training.

Our principal that year was a jerk. I wouldn’t have trusted him to butter my toast. (Heavy turnover of principals is normal in low-income school districts.) 

So what was I to do? Turn in Goober to the police?

He hadn’t done anything illegal. (Is shooting your own cat illegal? Probably should be, and is in some states.) 

He’d finally done a class assignment. (Good spelling and grammar, too, short as it was, in his crude handwriting. No technical errors there; just a strange story to tell. The police had better, or worse, things to think about.

So I did what most teachers do, even today: talked it over privately with two teachers I trusted, and they didn’t know what to do either.

I had students who were in more trouble than Goober. One was beaten to death with rocks, with his hands tied behind his back. The cops called it a suicide. Just another poor dark boy.

Another one of my students murdered an old man while the old man slept. I knew this kid was trouble from Day One — way more dangerous than Goober — but there were no resources in that little town — for any of those kids, or me, or the other teachers.

So here is my idea about how to reduce school shootings, to protect students and teachers: Give public schools the resources they need.

That means money: tax dollars: More counselors, more nurses, trained liaisons — social workers — who can work with police in a nonpunitive way — unless and until punishment becomes necessary — and give police officers better training on how to work with schools and adolescents: above all, teenage boys.

This is a no-brainer. Unless you are incredibly selfish — cause your kids done graduated already, so why should you help pay for schools? Typical white man Republican.

Consider: After a white teenager shot 17 people to death at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, the Florida Legislature responded by passing a law requiring armed police in every public school, from kindergarten through high school.

Within two years, student expulsions had risen by 43%, and the number of students being physically restrained on campus quadrupled, according to The Washington Post.

When the 2020 school year opened, there were more police officers in Florida schools (3,650) than nurses (2,286), psychologists (1,452) and social workers (1,414).

Our national problem is not a vaporous “evil,” as the NRA and its captive governments say; it’s the empty lip service our Powers That Be give to children. And the irresponsibility of parents and voters.

In the three states where I taught, parents seemed to support schools from kindergarten through 8th grade. But everywhere, they said, “the problem is in the high school.”

Well, listen, folks: High school is when hormones kick in — rebellion kicks in. When parents begin to realize — or not — that they are losing control of their children. 

Wildness is a natural process of growing up — there’s plenty of ways to do it, besides slaughtering children with a semi-automatic rifle.

Our shameful, nationwide neglect of public schools, our refusal to provide them the resources they need, in the classroom and out of it, has contributed to this gruesome death toll — the worst of any nation in the world, by guns, bought, allegedly, for a man’s (usually a man’s) "personal safety."

So what are you going to do about it, America?

Whine and moan every time your property tax increases by a few mills, to support schools?

Or put gun stickers on your bumpers?

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