This time it was a community college in Oregon. Once again, someone’s son decided that the answer to whatever disappointment, isolation, or rage he was experiencing was to shoot up a school full of innocent people. This time, it was people like my students. This time, it was people like me.
With that introduction, those four lines of simple prose, I’m keenly aware that I’ve already lost part of my audience. This is because I know that some who read those words will write me off as just another blasphemous anti-gun Wack-a-Doodle. I’m even related to some who’ll call me that, trust me.
But, see, here’s the thing…
This week, I will be back on a campus that looks a lot like the one in Oregon. My day will start with office hours, meetings, and really bad coffee from the cafeteria down the hall. And despite the coffee and meetings, I will still find myself, at some point in the day, reminding myself that I have one of the best jobs in the world. This is because each day with college students is different, and lovely, and full of fine people searching for answers to big questions. This week, as I stand lecturing in a classroom with one entrance and nothing to hide behind, I’ll also be thinking of the English instructor murdered last week in Oregon. He was nearing retirement, like me. I wonder if the poetry of Dylan Thomas touched his heart in the same ways it touches mine.
This week, in other classrooms throughout the state, four other members of my extended family will be teaching, too. Two of our young adults will be starting their days in college classrooms. All the youngsters in the family will be learning all the things youngsters learn in their elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. In all, fourteen really important members of my family will be in school buildings somewhere. Do your own head count. Imagine life without just one of the tallest or smallest of your own tribe coming home from school safe and sound next week. See how fast it gets personal for you, too.
I have this pink sheet taped to the wall of my office cube. At the top it says Lock Down Procedure. Its presence there is supposed to give me a feeling of empowerment and control. I’m tired of talking about guns. Let’s talk about this sheet. I want to talk about how telling me to duck and cover will actually help keep me or my students safe on a campus with multiple buildings, multiple entrances, and a single security guard, armed or not. I want someone to tell me how the sheets in the classrooms where my all my people spend the bulk of their days teaching or learning will keep them safe, too.
I’d really like more real conversations about why so many young people are not being taught skills to cope with the inevitable trials and disappointments that all human beings face, too. Oh, and some honest dialogue about cutting funding for school counselors at every level of education. That would be awesome. I want brutally frank discussions about the fine balance between data privacy and the potential merits of identifying which students are most at risk of becoming weapons of mass destruction before they actually are.
And finally, I want to talk about what has changed in our culture, because as an educator for over twenty years, I truly believe that something has. I want to know whether or not graphically violent video games and films passed off as “entertainment” warp the minds of the most fragile among our youth and why so many young men are so very, very angry. I want to talk about the lonely ones and the bullied ones and the invisible ones. Bring those conversations from behind closed office doors and into the light. Because we know these kids exist. They are sick and lost, smoldering and soul-less. And I really, really want to know why. And then, I want to know what to do about this. This.
I want to know for my students and colleagues. For my family members and yours, too.
Because we know that when they snap, these young men don’t go gently into that good night alone.
Forty five of them have already proven that this year.