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Masking the Real Issues

LongIsland.com

By the time you read this column, weeks will have passed since that tragic morning in mid April when a deeply troubled college student murdered more than two dozen classmates and two faculty members. As ...

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By the time you read this column, weeks will have passed since that tragic morning in mid April when a deeply troubled college student murdered more than two dozen classmates and two faculty members. As a nation, we are still numb from this horrific happening.


New fear has erupted across America within our larger educational communities. Parents of school age children everywhere have taken on additional worries, especially as they prepare to send their older children away to college.


Once again, the media has tried to shape the conversation around the aftermath of this national tragedy. From my perspective, I would urge you to be cautious and not allow the media to tell you how to think and feel.


Unfortunately, the sensationalism that has emerged is deeply troubling. Too often, after a terrible tragedy occurs, people initially respond by pointing the finger and assigning the blame. It's too painful to take pause and really look at what might have caused this terrible nightmare.


In the case of the Virginia Tech massacre, it was a human nightmare that could have occurred on any high school or college campus in America. We can all play that "should of, would of, could of" game. That approach does nothing but fuel the already existing pain and resentment.


On that April morning, no school community in America was prepared to handle the course of human events that have forever changed us. In some ways, it is easy to assign blame to campus security and school administrators. Who could have forecasted such horrific loss of life?


The danger in the aftermath of Virginia Tech is to seek to put in place all kinds of regulations and procedures that will continue to give people a false sense of security and mask the real issues that will continue to go unaddressed.


The Virginia Tech massacre is not about greater gun control, although we do need to continue the national conversation on this very troubling issue. It's not about merely renewing and strengthening campus security or creating dozens of new administrative procedures that in cases of crisis will never be practiced and will only become part of a useless paper trail.


The national conversation must go much deeper. To me, this unfortunate human tragedy has much more to do with a nation that is failing its' people, especially its' young on so many different levels.


As more and more is revealed about the troubled young man responsible for this horrific tragedy, it is becoming clear that his severe, untreated mental illness fell between the cracks of a bureaucracy that is more committed to protocol than helping people. We have a system of mental health around the country, and specifically within our own state, that is shaped by financial efficiency and not human need. That obsession with efficiency has, and will continue to victimize the poor, needy, wounded and broken among us. Ultimately unchecked, it will cost many more innocent lives!


Take a moment and think about the profile of each of the killers in our most recent school killings. A recent study of school shooters during the last decade indicated that bullying and lack of respect were motivating factors for lashing out and hurting others. Other research regarding schools across the country indicated that bullying is seen as a normal part of daily life that no one seems able to control.


Bullying and lack of respect is rampant on high school and college campuses across America. In a culture that is deaf and silent to the bullying, we need to realize that the bullied are crying out for help. By our silence, we encourage violence as a response to the hurt, pain and alienation these troubled students feel.


If one looks further at the research studies regarding bullying in the United States, it is shocking to discover that they suggest more than half of all students are bullied at some point in their life. They also indicate that bullying victims most often commit suicide and experience severe depression and anxiety. Many isolate themselves and engage in cutting and other self-destructive behaviors.


For better or for worse, we've created a climate across the country that is not empowering our children to develop positive coping skills when it comes to dealing with depression and other life challenges. Most adults don't have a clue as to what the average teenager faces emotionally in a day or in a week. The stress at times can be overwhelming.


After every tragic school shooting, our major response has been to install metal detectors, increase security measures and staff and build bigger and higher fences around our school campuses. After a school shooting and tragic loss of life, rarely has a school community looked at life on campus and the relationship of students, faculty and staff.


After the Virginia Tech massacre, how many school administrators from around the country met to discuss their response to this national tragedy? How many began the conversation talking about student life, relationships and how we can make them better? If the truth be told, probably most conversations, if they were even had, were focused on improving security, installing security cameras and putting more money in the budget for security personnel.


A better conversation would have been to discuss how we could strengthen relationships among students and better reach out to the students at risk. Thus, maybe we need to look at how many people constitute our mental health teams, what their caseloads are like and what kind of support groups are available for students at risk. As a school, do we address in an aggressive way, the sensitive and potentially volatile social issues that challenge our students daily?


So many of our students come from broken relationships. They don't know how to form healthy, life giving relationships. They grow up seeing dysfunction and lack of respect all around them. A growing number of students do not know how to cope appropriately with stress, emotional pain and human conflict. That is underscored by the escalation of student violence across the country.


It is clear that President Bush's education reform plan, "No Child Left Behind," is clearly failing a growing number of our children. It is not enough to raise the academic bar at the expense of doing nothing to build the character and integrity of our children. If, in the process of learning, we fail to teach them about self-respect, coping skills, problem solving, peer pressure and positive self-esteem, we impair them for life.


We will perpetuate a climate that will continue to create an environment that supports violence and hate as a major means of coping and survival. The campus killings of April 16 are a chilling reminder that we still don't get it. Sick people are not born, they are made. Our human landscape feeds and nurtures their sickness.


It is imperative, if we have learned anything from the killings on April 16, we have learned that we must do things differently in the future. We have to become more focused on all of our students' holistic growth and development. We have to provide the resources that will foster positive growth and development among our young. We must provide our communities with the resources to support people of all ages who are at risk. We have to work harder at removing the stigma of counseling and also at seeing that those resources are available to everyone in need.


If our major response to the Virginia Tech massacre is merely to generate more paper around new regulations and procedures regarding public safety that won't be followed or implemented, then we've learned nothing at all. And shame on us!