By Kathleen Bartholomew
After every school shooting, this fearful question echoes in the hearts of Americans. Yet seldom do we discuss publicly what we fear privately. How can we intervene on our islands to prevent such a nightmare from ever occurring here?
Protecting our children with stronger gun laws and outlawing assault weapons are pivotal moves, and clearly, this new momentum will not be stopped. The 17 murders in Florida may finally be enough in a society where a classroom of slaughtered first-graders could not mobilize us to action.
Yet this collective resolve will not end the shootings.
School shootings are a multifaceted problem that require a multifaceted solution. There is no such thing as a single cause for events such as these. If we are to succeed in making this the last school shooting in America’s history, it is imperative that we acknowledge where we could have intervened, individually as well as collectively and understand the big picture.
In every school shooting, there was a common denominator that directs us where to look for the next would-be mass murderer: The shooter was suffering; their aching loneliness and/or mental illness perceived only in retrospect. When Norway experienced its last horrific slaughter, they realized a profound and disturbing truth: the victims and the perpetrator belonged to the same culture. In fact, the first book published about their massacre was called, “One of Us”.
Yet in America, the reigning paradigm is still “Us versus Them.”
If there is unaddressed bullying (as there is here); if you have parents who think that children who do not conform must have bad parents; if you are complacent about the numerous students lulled into the world of drugs at 14 but at least it’s not your kid, and unaware of our cocaine epidemic, if you have over-worked, under-paid social workers who struggle to find resources for teens; if you have inadequate counseling and mental health resources; divisive civic leadership, and/or a community that takes better care of its animals than its children, then yes. Our school could very well be “next.”
In light of the massive changes needed in society, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless, and only human nature to narrow our attention to our own worlds. What is required is a shift in our perceptions. Perhaps envisioning an inclusive community where all of our children feel supported and safe is the place where we can all come together.
Join the PTA today, advocate strongly for more resources for mental health as well as school nurses; ensure “Drug Free Zone” is more than a sign in our schools, don’t judge, ask what resources your social workers need, create healthy places for teens; and then fight until all these social determinants of a healthy community have become reality.
When we become a community that recognizes our individual as well as a collective responsibility to be inclusive and refuse to let any student be marginalized, when we come together and act as if every single person matters – only then will the shootings stop.
Bartholomew is a registered nurse and has a master’s in nursing. She is an author, speaker and educator. Read more about her at kathleenbartholomew.com.