There are very few more tragic events for me than hearing about the death of children.
As a teacher, I have devoted my life to helping students prepare for theirs. When a young life is cut short by accident or suicide, I am always deeply upset. When they are murdered, I am thrown into a state of utter despair. These young lives have been ended before they have properly begun. And it doesn’t matter if this happens in China, Norway, the USA or right down the road from where I live. Any time a child is killed, I mourn. I think most of us do.
But I am also confused and angry – mostly because I cannot understand why such senseless and appalling things happen. And any time someone tries to explain, I am left with a feeling that they are missing something. It is not just guns. It is not just mental health. And it certainly isn’t ‘pure evil’.
Evil is not something metaphysical or religious. It is a very ordinary thing indeed. Evil is the lack of conscience. It is an act or a thought which lashes out against humanity. It is cruel and barbaric – most often expressed in acts of destruction and violence. It is not something supernatural – rather, it is something caused and perpetuated by human beings. Killing school children is evil. And I want to know what makes this evil happen. If for no other reason than I might be able to do my bit in stopping it.
I am calling on my learning network to tell me what they think and to share their knowledge with me. I have prepared a few discussion questions below to guide you. Please post your messages to my Twitter handle (@SeanHamptonCole or add a comment at the end of this post. I would be most grateful for your ideas. (If you like, you can preface what you have to say with the Discussion Question number.)
DISCUSSION QUESTION 1: Is it fair to group student-on-student fighting and killing with mass killings and suicides at schools? Could they all have similar causes?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 2: To what extent does bullying / abuse (by peers and by adults) play a part in school violence? Are subtler forms of abuse as bad as overt ones?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 3: Are classrooms overcrowded with students more fertile breeding grounds for feelings of discontent, lack of self-esteem and alienation? Do these feelings play a part in violent outbreaks?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 4: Does the ‘gangsta’ / ‘hardcore’ lifestyle modeled by many musicians and celebrities play a role in violence at schools?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 5: Michael Moore blamed the news media for instilling a sense of fear in the American public in his outstanding documentary, ‘Bowling for Columbine’. This, he argued, leads to increased gun ownership and the increase of indiscriminate shooting. Does this idea hold water?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 6: Is there any connection between a country’s economic prospects and violence at schools?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 7: If a country is waging a war – particularly a protracted one – does this make violence at schools more likely?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 8: Almost all acts of schools violence are instigated and / or carried out by young men. Is there a connection between the fact that boys are not being taught effectively at schools and school violence?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 9: Is there a correlation between violent video games / television shows / movies and school violence? If so, what is the connection?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 10: There is often a disconnect between what one’s life and prospects actually are, and the ‘you can be anything you want to be’ message propounded by popular culture and bad psychology. Is this true? If so, can it play a role in violence at schools?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 11: Is there a relationship between a school’s distance from nature, and the tendency for violent outbreaks to occur there? (i.e.: Is there more violence in inner city schools, simply because they are so far removed from nature?)
DISCUSSION QUESTION 12: How much of a role does socio-economics play in school violence? If this is a causal factor, then why is it?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 13: To what extent does access to weapons (particularly firearms) affect the percentage of school violence?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 14: Is there are relationship between the dominant religion / world view / political views of a community and acts of violence at schools?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 15: What role does an attacker’s mental health play in their decision to commit acts of harm against school children?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 16: Do sociopathic business practices practiced by ruthless businessmen and successful multinational companies provide a blueprint for impressionable young people?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 17: Do young adult’s perceptions of the state of the world (climate change, inequality, etc.) lead in any way to feelings of hopelessness and thus to the loss of conscience?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 18: Is there any way that having more than one troubled young person involved can make it escalate worse than it would have if only one person felt this way? Does social media play a role in this?
DISCUSSION QUESTION 19: Are outmoded education systems in any way to blame for causing the feelings of aggression, worthlessness and alienation so often associated with violence at schools.
DISCUSSION QUESTION 20: What other factors might play a role in school violence?
I thank you for your input.