Post Sandy Hook: Random Thoughts about School Violence

Earlier this week I was visiting a student teacher at a school in Brooklyn, not to far from where I live. As I was getting ready to leave, we were chatting with her cooperating librarian as the phone rang. She excused herself to take the call, then returned seconds later to say that there would be a lockdown drill that day at the school so certain preparations should be made. I thought to myself, that’s deep, and probably a really smart thing to do. Looking out the fourth floor window, I thought to myself, if someone came in here guns blazing, there’s nowhere to go but down.

I’ll never forget the day of the Columbine school shooting. I was working at my first post-college job at Afropaedia, LLC, sitting at my desk (which was also on the fourth floor) and gazing out the window at the traffic in Harvard Square, when one of my co-workers came in and told me that two teenagers had opened fire at a school outside of Denver. For the first time ever, I watched live news as it was happening on my computer screen for the rest of the afternoon. There was nothing more we could really do that day except try to comprehend what had happened.

Today, I had a very similar kind of afternoon in the wake of the Sandy Hook, Connecticut shooting. My first inkling of the incident was from Twitter, which I had visited to take a break from grading papers. Totally not the mindless departure I had expected, it kind of derailed the rest of my afternoon. My heart was pounding as I saw news images of children not much bigger than my daughter being carried in their parents’ arms away from the school.

As a parent and a teacher educator today, my heart just broke. I’m sending my child into a school system that has to respond to school shootings with preparedness (and, I’m glad they do). I’m preparing teachers to go into those same schools as professionals. I felt a completely different sense of purpose today as I went to pick her up, so lucky to have my kid home safe, and full of gratitude for her teachers who keep her safe all day.

At a certain point, though, this weird wave of exhaustion washed over me, thinking about the conversations that will repeat over the next howevermany news cycles about the second amendment, how schools need to be more prepared for crises, what kind of music the gunman was listening to on his iPod, how media images of violence inspire kids to kill. It’s such a red herring. The real issue is gun control: limiting access to guns, and also changing social perceptions of weapons, teaching children that guns are NOT TOYS, and that violence is NOT PROBLEM SOLVING. Social services across the board, mental health care, the works. I am all for popular culture analysis, but like that Brooklyn school, let’s keep it real. Every time this happens, and nothing changes, it just ups the ante. Every time we just critique culture without trying to change that culture through policy and education, we’re just spouting empty discourse.

On our way home from school, we stopped into a local bakery to get a cookie (why not?) and there was a TV, volumeless, showing President Obama’s response to the shooting. Per habit, I always try to face her away from ambient TV, and in this bakery, she’s much too busy choosing her cookies. But I watched Obama wipe the tear from his eye as our cookies were placed in their white wax bag. I can only hope that he is as weary of these bullshit conversations about Marilyn Manson and The Basketball Diaries as I am and ready to take issue with the real issues here.

About Jessica Hochman

I am an assistant professor at Pratt Institute in the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) where I also coordinate the LMS Program (school librarians, for the uninitiated). I live in Brooklyn, NY.
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One Response to Post Sandy Hook: Random Thoughts about School Violence

  1. Your Dad says:

    My smart, wonderful daughter and husband… Her smart, loving brother and fiancée.. Their smart, innocent children, all five alive, inquisitive, and active little girls..
    I ask myself, why is it you all have to think about this kind of irrational, sickness that possibly will frighten you and your children.
    It’s Guns! Assault weapons! Semi automatic hand guns! Why do we have them?
    In my youth we saw a president assassinated. Later it was ML King, then it was Robt Kennedy. My mom told me to take the target rifles we owned up to the police station and turn them in. I’m not naive enough to think that will happen tomorrow, there aren’t enough strong willed mothers around who would demand that be done. But…
    Tonight I wrote to one of my senators to ask what I could do to get into the conversation about gun control. Life does go on, but I have a real knot in my stomach from today’s tragedy and and a hole in my heart. I can’t even begin to think about the “what ifs” without getting involved.
    Love to all.

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