I turned on the news this morning and my heart weighs heavily over the report that a student in a Bronx high school was arrested for allegedly killing and attempting to kill two of his fellow classmates. According to CBS, “an 18-year-old student who had been involved in a two-week long argument stabbed two fellow students, killing one, at a Bronx high school Wednesday morning, according to officials.”
As I watched the news and read more about the incident, I learned that the student now in custody was incessantly bullied by the two victims and the last straw for him was when one of them threw a pencil at him. So many thoughts and feelings flood my mind. What level of bullying drives another to kill? Did the boy who was being bullied reach out for help? Were there any signs that anyone else noticed? Did anyone offer help on his behalf?
It’s very easy to chalk up this problem to another case of school violence and use it as a reason to put metal detectors in the schools, but that won’t fix anything. That’s applying a band-aid to a festering, gaping wound. That’s no different than incarcerating drug addicts when what they need is detoxification and rehabilitation. As a society, we seem to be so hellbent on addressing the manifesting action, but give little effort towards identifying and eradicating the root cause of that action.
As a teacher, I think at times it is hard to know when to take something seriously. That social-emotional piece of the educational puzzle is so huge and, unfortunately, not highlighted enough until tragedies like this happen. Now, instead of preparing to graduate from high school and move forward in life, families are making funerals arrangements, gathering bail money and legal retainer fees, or praying by hospital bedsides. What could have been done to change this narrative?
It is easy to dismiss this tragedy as a case of “things just happen.” But that’s too simplistic and doesn’t dig deeper to get to the core of the matter in an effort to prevent anything like this from happening again. The fact is that we are responsible for one another. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and, in many ways, we are culpable when our young people go astray. How can we teach our students to have difficult conversations and deal with challenging situations if the adults around them (both in person and on social media) are unable to do so?
Look at the example the current elected leader of the free world is setting! I’m not taking idle jabs at him but, real talk — he’s a bully! He went to the General Assembly of the United Nations and referred to another world leader as “Rocket Man” and threatened to wage war on his country! He called NFL players “sons of bitches” when they exercise their First Amendment rights! Who does that? Then we are flabbergasted and befuddled when our young people resort to bullying and violence to solve their problems. I don’t believe such events are mutually exclusive. There’s a connection there. Who holds us accountable for the impact of our intolerable behavior? Everywhere you go, at every turn, we as a nation are bombarded with hatred and it is spilling over onto our children.
That’s right. You read correctly – OUR children. “It takes a village” is more than just an African proverb. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a culture that holds the elders of the community responsible for the safety and well-being of every child in whose life they are involved, be it great or small. My friends and family always get on me about talking to random kids whom I don’t know about whatever guidance it appears they need in the moment when I encounter them. Most kids, believe it or not, with the right approach, respond favorably (although sidebar, yet still relevant, yesterday I did have an elementary school-aged kid tell me to “f#^* off” when I told him not to ever again run in the middle of incoming traffic to pick up his fallen Gatorade bottle).
With all the mayhem going on in our world, it’s becoming increasingly more important that we embed intention times for social-emotional healing to take place in our schools — one caring classroom at a time.