Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials. ~Meryl Streep

Any mother could perform the jobs of several air traffic controllers with ease. ~Lisa Alther

Now, as always, the most automated appliance in a household is the mother. ~Beverly Jones

Saturday, December 22, 2012

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun..."

Last week a school psychologist was killed in an act of school violence. Along with her, and other adults, a gunman took down our youngest and most trusting learners. The week of the violence I received information in the mail to register my son for public school kindergarten.

I am well aware that no one really wants to hear another opinion on the issue of school violence. We have been inundated with opinions since it happened. Feel free NOT to read another opinion. Despite this, I am going to share my thoughts. I can't hold them in any longer. I'm a school psychologist and a mother of young children.

In addition to a horrific act of violence that occurred, the rumors about the "end of the world" were spreading rapidly through the teen population. The result was a lot of anxious kids in our school buildings this week. I know I personally spent a good portion of the week counseling kids regarding their fears about school violence. I am drained, as well as sad for all those people who struggled to get through this week.

So...putting armed guards in the school is going to fix all this?

I am flabbergasted at this type of thinking.

Do you really want your kindergartner walking past an armed guard on the way to their classroom? What kind of message is that?

Most of the incidents of school violence have been planned in advance. The shooters were generally intelligent young adults. Bullied and ostracized, but smart. With some attention to the routines of the guards, they would not have a hard time avoiding them. Or the guards would be the first ones killed, and the rampage would continue. Or the shooter would come in an unguarded door. The weapons these shooters have access to are only designed to destroy human lives - if that is a person's intent, a minimum wage armed guard is not going to keep kids safe.

The proposal to put armed guards in the buildings would be prohibitively expensive. Money would need to be invested in training, wages, equipment, and thorough background checks. In an economic climate where schools are financially strained, this is where we want to put our money? Academic programs and mental health services are being removed from schools.  I recently just participated in a process in my district aimed at reducing costs of support services. We can only assume the end result of this process will be fewer staff people available to support our neediest children. While I believe that districts should engage in solid planning and fiscally responsible decision making in regards to support services, who could possibly think it appropriate to reduce this type of service given recent events? Such discussions are not only happening in the district where I work, they are happening across the nation.

If this is not the answer, what do we do? I wish I knew.

We do need to make our schools safer places by utilizing appropriate security measures. We can learn from past tragedies. Our school buildings were built decades ago, when these issues were not a consideration. Money needs to be allocated to designing single-points of entry to the buildings, as well as utilizing available technology to keep people safe. In addition, the whole culture of students, staff, and parents need to change. I cannot tell you how often I see doors propped open, or adults and kids letting people into the buildings without signing in. These safety measures will only work if that are respected and utilized by the very people they are designed for. While additional security won't solve all the issues, it is not something that should be ignored.

Instead of cutting services, the mental health supports in our schools and in our communities need to be enhanced. As the economic status of families spiral downward, fewer and fewer people have ready access to the resources they need. I am not blaming parents, but the reality is that so many people struggle to make ends meet, there is not the time and resources available to get themselves and their children the help that they need. I am not a perfect parent by any means, so I don't want to touch on the subjective view of "parenting" that could enter the conversation at this point. I really do believe most people do the best they can, but can't always get the help they need.

And the most inflammatory point of all....in America we need major "gun" reform. Why in the world does anyone need access to machine guns designed for mass killing? In addition, we need to work to change our "culture of violence." We are a society that has become way too accepting of violent images, bullying, and isolation. When these happen all around us, we tend turn away and ignore it. I hate to admit it, but I am guilty of this as well.

This recent event hit too close to home for me. As I work hard to reassure my children, and other people's children, that we are safe, I have spent a lot of time thinking about these issues. What can be done? The "armed guards" suggestion nearly put me over the edge. Let's look at the bigger picture and get to the core of the issues that create school violence.