In another life-imitating-art/art-imitating-life tragedy, eight students were shot at Santa Fe High School in Texas. Two weeks ago, Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glove, released a music video called “This is America,” where he danced half-naked while shooting innocent victims and then singing the line, “This is America.” The description doesn’t do justice to the satirical nature of the video, which questions our society’s ability to quickly recover from violence with song and dance and entertainment. As we try to decompress after another harsh blow to our national psyche, maybe it’s not the guns as much as it is us.
America has always had guns. In fact, our frontier history was filled with numerous uses for guns. Whether we hunted or sought “frontier justice,” America has constantly seen guns as part of the fabric to maintain our survival. Sadly, our relationship with guns is not maintaining our survival; instead it’s decreasing our lifespans. While we blame the NRA, video games, music and every other exterior, why is no one connecting the most common X-factor, which is that the victims are classmates of bitter, deranged male students.
As conservative commentator Dennis Prager notes regularly on his syndicated radio talk show, we’ve always had guns and mentally ill people, but we haven’t always had these violent outbursts. And to blame mental illness is offensive to the millions of people suffering mental illness (bipolar disorder, clinical depression, etc.) who do not act out violently on others. While hearing about the recent Texas shooting, it occurred to me that maybe the problem in the last almost 20 years since the Columbine shooting of 1999 are the ways high school students passively mistreat each other. We are so quick to blame other entities, but what about the system that is producing the outbursts?
We are never allowed to criticize schools or teachers, lest we be called monsters, but have our school systems created such a cold and hostile environment that these students feel justified in taking out their pain on random other students? Is it possible that in a school system dedicated to fighting social injustice, environmental mistreatment and animal rights, we have lost the ability to attend to the needs of those within the system? Maybe it is time schools that stopped looking only at the outside world and started having students look at those inside the classrooms.
I’m not saying this is a methodical effort on the part of schools to raise awareness on political and social ideas and decrease the need for empathy toward classmates, but in school systems that are trying to solve “the world’s” problems, why aren’t they looking at the individuals inside the daily world they inhabit?
Too often the shooters are the same demographic. White, middle-class, teenage boys. While we have correctly and positively increased sensitivity toward gay students, minority students and disabled students, have we, in fact, neglected students who don’t fall into an easy-to-lump identity group? Maybe their struggles aren’t easily definable, yet obviously their pains and anger are easily seen in these violent tirades. Nothing excuses this behavior, but maybe it’s time that schools make sure everyday life pain is dealt with as well. Often these students feel like outcasts and are tossed aside for being odd or weird, but teachers and support staff should be reaching out to them as well.
I was a teacher for years and I went out of my way to make sure the outcast students were listened to and participated in school activities. I remember having to scold otherwise decent kids that it was wrong to ostracize kids because they were “different.” No one ever did that to kids who fell into traditional targeted identity groups. Black students, gay students, etc., were never mistreated in the same way because students didn’t want to be labeled as racist or homophobic. But there is no word for neglecting the average odd student. It’s just called being mean. And in today’s society, being mean is the new normal.
America wasn’t always like this. This isn’t America. I don’t know what it is, but maybe it’s time we start focusing on all Americans and not just the fragments that make up the whole.